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Scientists Debate GaiaThe Next Century$
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Stephen H. Schneider, James R. Miller, Eileen Crist, and Penelope J. Boston

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780262194983

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262194983.001.0001

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Gradient Reduction Theory: Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life

Gradient Reduction Theory: Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life

Chapter:
(p.172) (p.173) 15 Gradient Reduction Theory: Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life
Source:
Scientists Debate Gaia
Author(s):

Dorion Sagan

Jessica Hope Whiteside

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262194983.003.0017

This chapter argues that nonequilibrium thermodynamics, informed by a general version of the second law that applies equally to open and closed systems, connects flow processes of life to nonlife in illuminating ways. Energy delocalizes or, in the words of Eric D. Schneider, “nature abhors a gradient.” Investigating how this version of the second law informs the natural organization of complex flow systems, we rethink the teleological status of systems, such as organisms and Gaia, usually covertly or overtly endowed with “purpose” or “mind.” This chapter’s conclusion is that teleology as found in purposeful organisms, including humans, derives from inanimate flow systems thermodynamically organized to reduce ambient gradients—this is their function, their prebiotic physiology, and their materialistic purpose.

Keywords:   nonequilibrium thermodynamics, Eric D. Schneider, complex flow systems, teleological status of systems, prebiotic physiology, materialistic purpose

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