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Broken Symmetry, Emergent Properties, Dissipative Structures, Life: Are They Related?

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We conclude that there is no analogy visible between the stability, rigidity and other emergent properties of equilibrium broken symmetry systems, and the properties of dissipative systems driven far from equilibrium. The latter types of systems have never been observed to, nor can any mathematical reason be found why they should, exhibit the rigidity, stability, and permanence which characterizes the thermodynamically stable broken symmetry systems. A case point of a driven system that might have exhibited broken symmetry but failed to do so is described. The reason this is unfortunate is that many authors have chosen to use such systems as the laser and the Benard instability as models for the nature and origin of life itself, as an emergent property of inanimate matter. It is indeed an obvious fact, noted since Schrodingers 1940 book, that life succeeds in maintaining its stability and integrity, and the identity of its genetic material, at the cost of increasing the rate of entropy production of the world as a whole. It is at least in that sense a stable dissipative structure-i.e., an existence proof by example. Let us then conclude by reiterating our main point we still believe, since in fact we understand the process in all details, in the reality of emergent properties the ability of complex physical systems to exhibit properties unrelated to those of their constituents. But we do not believe that stable dissipative structures maintained by dynamic driving forces can be shown to exist in any inanimate system, and thus we do not see how speculations about such structures and their broken symmetry can yet be relevant to the still open question of the origin and nature of life.

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  • Physical Chemistry
  • Nuclear Physics and Elementary Particle Physics

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