In this book chapter (1987), titled "Broken symmetry, emergent properties, dissipative structures, life," Phil Anderson and Daniel Stein criticize defining life as a dissipative structure (a definition put forward by Prigogine and colleagues) based on a stability argument. They answer the question

"Is there a theory of dissipative structures comparable to that of equilibrium structures, explaining the existence of new, stable properties and entities in such systems?"


"Contrary to statements in a number of books and articles in this field, we believe there is no such theory and it may even be that there are no such structures as they are implied to exist by Prigogine, Haken and their collaborators. What does exist in this field is rather different from Prigogine's speculations and is the subject of intense experimental and theoretical investigation at this time."

The main argument of the text is that experimental attempt had failed to produce stable dissipative structures, and also that there are theories showing that the dynamics of these structures are chaotic and unstable (not proven in the text). My question is

  • What is the current state of this debate?
  • Are there new experimental/theoretical results proving or disproving the existence of stable dissipative structures?
  • If so, is this theory applicable to living systems?

It looks like lots of new sources keep assuming the existence/stability of dissipative structures, ignoring this text.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps self-organized criticality (SOC) by Per Bak is relevant to this issue. But this is also quite an ancient model (1987) $\endgroup$ – Aleksey Druggist Apr 4 '18 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @stochastic, this is a nice question, which I hope it will get an answer soon. But please stop making trivial edits to bump the question into the front page. It only introduces noise for reviewers. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Aug 8 '18 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good question but a bit obscure — essentially what the bounty system was made for. If you put a +100 bounty on you’ll probably get a better result than bumping. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Aug 8 '18 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'm hoping some expert will weigh in on the topic of discrete time crystals in non-thermalizing quantum systems, which AFAIK seem to be stable, rigid dissipative structures. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Thorngren Aug 26 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ why are, say, (Bénard–Rayleigh) convection cells not examples of stable dissipative structures? ( @RyanThorngren , you love these things) $\endgroup$ – Ruben Verresen Aug 30 at 14:29

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