The End of Certainty:
Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature
Written by Ilya Prigogine
(New York: The Free Press, 1997, 228 pages)
Reviewed by Sally Morem
In his latest book, Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine examines time’sconstructive role in the evolution of matter, of life, and of humanculture.Prigogine’s study of chaos and self-organizing systems is a sustainedeffort to overthrow the stranglehold that the concept of determinism hashad over Western science, philosophy, and theology since the era of thepre-Socratic Greeks. He asks, “Is the future given or is it underperpetual construction?” As a lapsed Presbyterian, I can sympathizewith his struggle with this scientific version of Calvinisticpredestination.The problem, simply stated, is as follows: If nothing is determined, howcan lawful chains of cause and effect occur, but if everything isdetermined, what then of free will and creativity?To get at this conundrum, Prigogine enlists the aid of an unlikely ally— entropy. Entropy plays a very different role in Prigogine’s universethan in the well-noted Second Law of Thermodynamics. To Prigogine,entropy is the arrow of time that brings order and life to the universe,not a sentence of heat death. Our evolutionary universe changes everymoment, each state built upon what preceded it. Cause and effect areleft intact in this indeterministic universe; chance leaves the systemopen at every fork in the path of change to truly novel systems andstructures.