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Science, Reason and Passion

Author(s): Ilya Prigogine

Source: Leonardo, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1996), pp. 39-42
Published by: The MIT Press
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Science, Reason and Passion


Thecultural atmosphere that

attheoriginof classical
IlyaPrigogine presided
Western scienceis briefly
ofWestern sci-
enceis theformulation of lawsof
nature, whichleadto a determinis-
ticdescriptioninwhichfuture and
7 he role played by passion and, more generally, question Joseph Needham posed


. ....-i_

e same role nowever,

I^1 ........

irrational elements in processing knowledge is a subject of so forcefully. ThesoTessixteenth-

h and
contradict every-
major interest, and one so immense that I can hope only to seventeenth-century founders of thingwesee around us.Every-
scratch the surface in discussing some of the aspects with Western science must surely have wherewesee thearrow oftime.
which I am most familiar. had unsurpassed enthusiasm and Therecentdevelopments innon-
At first blush, we seem to be dealing here with a paradox. faith. The Florentine architect . architt physicsandinthedy-
namicsof unstable
Isn't science by definition beyond passion, beyond even the and humanist Leon Battista to a newconceptof lawsof na-
pressing needs of society? This is what Einstein thought-he Alberti claimed that "Men can do turenomoreassociated with"cer-
hoped scientists could getjobs as lighthouse-keepers. One can all things, if they will."This motto titudes"
as with"probabilities."
includes thear-
hardly help wondering how creative these lighthouse-keepers applies to the great men of the rowoftimeanddescribes an
would be in the long run: I fear that after a few years, they Renaissance:Renaissance:
Leonardo, Kepler, er open,evolutionary
would sink into solipsism and pointless wrangling. Galileo, Bacon. The very titles of coming theCartesian that
Science is the expression of a culture. Its boundaries are Kepler's major works show how putsHumans outsideNature.
hard to define. In the nineteenth century, Faradaypreferred completely they are the expres-
to be known as a "naturalphilosopher" rather than a "scien- sion of a magical view of the _
tist." Indeed, the word "science" was not used in its present world: The CosmicMystery,Celestial
meaning until the seventeenth century. At any rate, it refers Physics, The Harmonies of the World. Mystery, physics, har-
to a dialogue with nature. But nature is not a given; it implies mony-what an odd trio for one of the great founders of
a construction in which we take part. I have alwaysliked what modern science. How can men do "all things," as Alberti has
Heisenberg reports Niels Bohr said during a visit to Kronberg it? Francis Bacon has the answer: men can do all things pro-
Castle in Denmark: vided they obey the laws of nature. But obeying the laws of
Isn'tit odd how this castleseemscompletelydifferentwhenwe nature implies knowing them. During the Renaissance and
think of it as the place where Hamlet lived?As scientists,we long after, the ideas of omniscience and omnipotence were
believe a castle is made of stones, and we admirethe waythe closely linked, as they still are in the minds of a great many
architect assembled them. The walls, the verdigrisroof, the scientists and non-scientists. Only very recently, with the new
church beams-these make up the castle. Nothing should
sciences of instability and chaos, has this connection been
changejust becauseHamletlivedhere, yet thatchangesevery-
thing. Suddenlythe wallsand the rampartsspeaka totallydif- called into question. The emotional element was quite evi-
ferent language. Still all we reallyknow about Hamlet is that dent during that formative period of Western science, but
his name appearsin a thirteenth-centurychronicle.But every- since the end of the eighteenth century, the emphasis has
body knowsthe questionsShakespearehad him ask, and the been on reason, on logical necessity. Kant doubted that there
human depth they reveal;he too had to have a place in the
was any such thing as scientific creativity. The laws of nature
world,here in Kronberg....
had been deciphered once and for all by Newton; all that re-
How can one fail to recognize in Bohr's meditations here mained was to apply them to an ever wider range of phenom-
the leitmotif of his life as a scientist: the inseparability of the ena. Today we know that this triumph of classical science was
question of reality and the riddle of human existence? What ephemeral-our contemporary view of time, space and mat-
is the castle of Kronberg, independent of the questions we put ter has little in common with Newton's.
to it? The stones can speak to us of their molecules, the geo- Yet the idea of a "limited"creativitypersists. Thomas Kuhn,
logical strata they were quarried from, perhaps of the extinct in his famous book, TheStructureof ScientificRevolutions,distin-
species they contain in fossil form, of the cultural influences guishes between two different states in the activities of scien-
that worked on the architect, or the questions that pursued tific communities: normalperiodsand the "anomalous"periods
Hamlet to his death. None of these matters are arbitrary,nor he associated with paradigm changes. New paradigms come
do they permit us to sidestep reference to Hamlet, whose pres- forth only when contradictions appear and force scientists to
ence here gives them meaning. Bohr's reflections very clearly revise their hypotheses, and only then are emotions triggered.
show his assumption that the questions of the reality of nature
and of human existence are inseparable. How can one be in-
Ilya Prigogine (educator), Campus Plaine ULB, CP. 231, Bd. du Triumphe, B-1050 Brus-
different to problems that involve our existence? How can one sels, Belgium.
not see them simultaneously with the eye of reason and the This paper was presented at the International Workshop on Art and Science, which was
organized by the World Academy of Art and Science and presented by Ente Nazionale di
eye of passion? Energie Alternative (ENEA) in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scien-
People often wonder why science was born in Western Eu- tific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the European Economic Community
(ECC), in Vinci, Italy, 11-13 December 1992. The proceedings of the conference, includ-
rope instead of China, a country that contributed so much to ing this article, were published in Art and Science:Studiesfromthe WorldAcademyof Art and
the development of our experimental discoveries. This is the Science,special issue of WorldFutures:TheJournalof GeneralEvolution40 Nos. 1-3 (1994).

? 1996 WorldFutures LEONARDO, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 39-42, 1996 39

There are certainly examples that bear and uncertain world, and defined an
physical phenomena as either reversible
out Kuhn's thesis: one is the discovery of ideal existence permittingescape from or irreversible in time; the latter pro-
life's afflictions.And we knowhow im-
Planck's constant at the beginning of this duces entropy. Hence Clausius's cel-
portant the idea of cyclic time was in
century. But I think that on the whole, antiquity.But, like the rhythmof the ebrated principle: entropy in the Uni-
scientific creativity is far from being lim- seasonsor the generationsof man, this verse is increasing. (In the thought of
ited to paradigm shifts in Kuhn's sense. eternal return to the point of origin is that day, the Universe was the isolated
itself markedby the arrowof time. No
No contradictions appeared in physics system par excellence.)
speculation, no teaching has ever af-
when Boltzmann inserted the arrow of firmed an equivalencebetweenwhat is Few physicists or mathematicians took
time into the structure of physics, or done and what is undone, between a Clausius's law seriously. Boltzmann was
when Mach sought to rethink the limits plantthatsprouts,flowersand dies, and an exception. For him, the nineteenth
a plant that resuscitates,growsyounger
of mechanics by questioning the prin-
and returnsto its originalseed;between century was the century of Darwin, and
ciple of inertia. And what about a man who growsolder and learns,and the notion of evolution was an essential
Einstein's relativity (to which we shall re- one who becomes a child, then an em- element in the description of nature. He
turn)? Was it not an attempt to realize a bryo,then a cell. tried to go further and give a dynamic
grandiose dream-that of putting all of interpretation of the increase of en-
physics in geometric terms-that harks Yet Newtonian dynamics-the theory tropy. I shall not go into the details, be-
back to both the Platonic and Cartesian that became identified with the triumph cause the examples Boltzmann studied,
traditions? of science-implied this radical negation from the kinetic theory of gases, are in
I mentioned the impact of Newton's of time right from the outset. I think we all the textbooks.
synthesis:I believe it was in itself a curious can find the roots of this negation in the Like Darwin, Boltzmann thought that
amalgam of reason and passion. The theological conceptions of Newton's day. irreversibilityoccurs at the level of popu-
most important part of Newton's synthe- Leibniz, for one, held that God knows no lations. Collisions between molecules
sis was his enunciation of a law of nature. distinction among past, present and fu- lead a large system, such as a gas, to a
This altogether original concept is pecu- ture. "Asufficiently informed person," he state of equilibrium. But the publication
liar to the Western scientific view. wrote, echoing Saint Thomas, "could at of Boltzmann's findings triggered a cri-
Newton's principle links forces with accel- any given time predict the whole future." sis. Did it not run counter to logic to try
eration. This principle-verified a thou- (It is worth noting that Leibniz lived a to infer the irreversibility of dynamic
sand times over, and the basis for all fur- hundred years before Laplace.) Since for lawswhich, as Newton had shown, are re-
ther extensions (quantum or relativistic God there is no such thing as time, there versible in time? The great mathemati-
mechanics)-has two essential character- should not be for the well-informed sci- cian Henri Poincare had very harsh
istics: it is deterministic, and it is revers- entist either. Thus the negation of time words to say about this: he thought
ible in time. Being deterministic means became part of the scientist's credo. Even Boltzmann's effort was self-contradictory
that if we know a material body's initial today, most scientists share this opinion; right from the start. This negative judg-
conditions, we can calculate its position at any rate, it is the point of view ex- ment should have provoked a crisis in
at any moment in the future or in the pressed in the works of Feynman, Hawk- physics, since it called into question the
past. Being reversible means that future ing and David Ruelle: fundamental laws very basis of our thinking. What does it
and past play the same role. However, ignore the arrow of time. Phenomenol- mean to think if there is no flow of time?
these characteristics-especially time- ogy rejects the arrow of time in the same And do we not know today that the brain
reversibility-seem to contradict outright way. But what is a science that casts life, is actually a time-oriented organ? The
everything we see around us. Whether at and we who create this science, into phe- future, our plans for tomorrow, are pro-
the level of our own experience, or in the nomenology? cessed in a different part of the brain
phenomena around us-in chemistry, How can we accept, as Einstein did, than the one that stores our memories.
geology or biology-past and future play both the idea that determinism reigns ab- Oddly enough, Boltzmann's defeat was
different roles. Everywherewe see the ar- solute and the idea that the creation of considered a triumph. A triumph of
row of time; how could it have issued theory is due to the free play of the hu- nontemporal vision. Did Einstein not re-
from non-time, from a fundamental law man mind? I think this is an example of peatedly say, "Time [as irreversibility] is
that ignores time? This is a subject that an emotional attitude that clearly marks an illusion"?
has interested me throughout my scien- the limits of reason. I have always been This brings us to the personality of
tific career. In view of this radical nega- fascinated by this paradox of time, and I Einstein, who I believe illustrates better
tion of time, it seems to me that the par- would like to say something about it now. than anyone else the conflict between
ticular position of dynamics cannot be Let us go back to the nineteenth cen- reason and passion. Why did he try at all
understood without appealing to emo- tury, in particular the years following costs to eliminate time as irreversibility
tional elements. In a recently published Darwin's publication of TheOriginof Spe- from the fundamental equations of phys-
book, Isabelle Stengers and I wrote, cies (1859). This work introduced into ics? He knew well enough that, like every-
the sciences a new paradigm based on one else, he was getting older day by day.
Perhapswe need to startby emphasiz- the idea of evolution. Darwin not only What did it mean for him to say that time
ing the almostinconceivablecharacter sought to demonstrate the fact of evolu- is an illusion? Perhaps he was expressing
The questionof
of dynamicreversibility.
time-of whatits flowpreserves,creates tion, but also suggested what the under- his faith in our symbols: if there was no
and destroys-has alwaysbeen at the lying mechanism, based on fluctuations time direction in the relativityequations
centre of human concerns. Much and amplification, might be. he wrote, that was because there was no
speculationhas called the idea of nov- Six years later, Clausius's enunciation time in the Universe. But this does not
elty into question and affirmedthe in- of the Second Law of Thermodynamics
exorablelinkagebetweencauseand ef- explain why it was so important to elimi-
fect. Many forms of mystic teaching came about, in a way, as physics' answer nate time. A passage in which Einstein
havedenied the realityof this changing to biology. The Second Law classifies explains what scientists are may help us

40 Prigogine,Science, Reason and Passion

understand his motive. Describing the Einstein came to place the universalityof this is true, and that our period is indeed
people who the Angel of God would law above the existence of individual be- one of reunification, of a quest for
spare if ordered to drive the unworthy ings. We must bow before the beauty of unity-witness the deep interest in na-
from the Temple of Science, he says, this vision, but today we can better mea- ture shown by so many young people to-
Mostof them are odd, introvertedand sure its fragility. day, and man's growing sense of solidar-
lonely individuals who, despite their We are all familiar with Einstein's sci- ity with all living beings. To exemplify
common traits,actuallyresemble each entific itinerary: first special relativity, the transition towards this new stage, I
other less than do those who havebeen then generalized relativity,leading to an shall tell you something of my own per-
driven out. What led them to the
extraordinary synthesis linking matter, sonal experience.
Temple?. . One of the most powerful
motivesthat drivepeople to art and sci- space and time. And lastly, the applica- I received a humanistic education,
ence is the urge to get awayfroma hum- tion of these ideas to cosmology. In ac- and my adolescence was marked by po-
drumexistence,withits painanddesper- cordance with his belief, Einstein sug- litical insecurity; this made me all the
ate void, to escape from the bonds of
gested the existence of a static universe, more sensitive to time as the framework
ceaselesslychangingpersonaldesires.It in some way the realization of Spinoza's
drivessensitivepeople to transcendtheir for changes in the human condition. I
personalexistenceand seek the worldof ideas at the level of the Universe. was an avid reader of Bergson, and his fa-
contemplationand objectiveknowledge. Einstein thus aspired to describe the Uni- mous "Time is invention or it is nothing"
Thismotiveis comparableto the ardent verse in geometric terms. He took up, in remains engraved in my memory. Dur-
desirethatdrawsa city-dweller out of his
a new way, Descartes's idea of the world ing my scientific studies at the Free Uni-
noisy,chaoticsurroundingsto the peace
that reigns on the mountain heights, as extension, in contrast to the world of versity of Brussels, I may have felt, with-
where his eye roams far through the thought. History teaches, however, that out altogether realizing it, how difficult
calm,pure air and caressesthe peaceful all dualism is fragile, and Einstein's geo- it is to accept a science in which time is
lines that seem createdfor eternity.But metric universe was to turn unexpectedly
besidesthis negativemotive,there is an- only an illusion. As KarlPopper, another
other, positiveone. Man tries to shape into a temporal universe, an evolving uni- witness of our times, has written, such a
for himself, in some adequate way,a verse of which the famous residual radia- conception "brands unidirectional
simpleandclearimageof the world,and tion at three absolute degrees is probably change as an illusion. This makes the
to triumphoverthe worldof experience the most direct proof.
by replacingit, to some extent,withthis catastrophe of Hiroshima an illusion.
Doubtless Einstein best embodies the This makes our world an illusion, and
ideal that defines this vocation of phys- with it all attempts to find out more
Thus science appears to be a way to es- ics-the ideal of a knowledge that strips about our world."
cape from reality, to withdraw from a from our conception of the world every- In effect, I felt the same shock that
world fraught with self-interest and con- thing that he saw as merely the sign of Bergson did, and my intellectual career
flict. Boris Kusnetsovhas written an inter- human subjectivity.The ambition of cer- was similarly placed under the sign of
esting account of Dostoyevski'sinfluence tain mystical practices has alwaysbeen to the study of time. But, faced with the
on Einstein, who said repeatedly that he escape from life's bonds, from the tor- same dilemma, I reacted differently. Far
owed more to Dostoyevski than to any ments and disappointments of a chang- from wishing to assign limits to science
other thinker. This may seem odd, but it ing and deceptive world. In a way, and restrict it to the study of reversible
becomes clearer if we think of Einstein's Einstein took this ambition to be the phenomena, I was convinced that if sci-
basically pessimistic attitude towards the physicist's vocation and, in so doing, ence studied only these, it was because it
problems of existence. He was a very translated it into scientific terms. Mystics was treating only overly simple phenom-
lonely man who acknowledged few seek to experience the world as an illu- ena in which irreversibility had no part.
friends and a few students, and had, he sion; Einstein intended to demonstrate Hence my conviction that irreversibility
said, difficult relationships with both his that it is indeed no more than an illusion, would make its entree into science only
wives. We might add that he saw the on- and that truth is a transparent and intel- with complex phenomena.
slaught of anti-Semitism and the night- ligible universe purified of all that affects My work began with traditional ther-
mares of two World Wars.It is hardly sur- human life: nostalgia or painful memory modynamics, as expanded by Theophile
prising, then, that he thought of of the past, dread or hope of the future. De Donder, my teacher. I was struck by
Dostoyevski as a witness of human suffer- But this idea of liberating man from the constructive role of nonequilibrium
ing, especially the absurdfacet manifested dread or hope of the future stems from situations. We can find a simple example
in cruelty to animals and children. a profoundly pessimistic position. What of this in the thermodiffusion effect,
Einstein clearlyexpressed his deep-rooted is man's role? To withdraw from this which shows how the production of en-
attitude that for him, as it had been ages world, or to participate in the construc- tropy generally has a dual role corre-
before for Lucretius and Epicurus, sci- tion of a better one? Science-which, as sponding to the simultaneous creation of
ence was a way of escaping from the hu- we have seen, began under the sign of a order and disorder. Let us take a system
man condition and contemplating the Promethean affirmation of the power of with two components, hydrogen and ni-
splendors of reason at work in nature. In reason-thus ended in alienation. What trogen, mixed homogeneously in a con-
1916, when Einstein was seriously ill, he can man do in a deterministic universe tainer with two compartments, A and B.
told Max Born's wife, who had asked him in which he is a stranger? This is the If we subject this system to a heat flow
about the fear of death, that he felt such anxiety expressed in so many recent writ- from outside, the external constraint im-
solidarity with every living thing that it ings, like those of Jacques Monod, who poses a temperature gradient inside the
mattered nothing to him to know when a speaks of man as a gypsy on the outskirts system. The thermodiffusion effect con-
particular existence within this infinite of the Universe, or of Richard Tarnas, sists of the fact that one of the compo-
becoming began or ended. who writes "For the deepest passion of nents, say the hydrogen, will concentrate
According to Kusnetsov, it was by ex- the Western mind has been to reunite in compartment A, and the other in com-
tending Dostoyevski's pessimism that with the ground of its being." I believe partment B. Even in this simple case, we

Prigogine,Science, Reason and Passion 41

have two coupled phenomena at work. nineteenth century and those of creativity in all domains. Each domain
The heat flow leads to a positive produc- Kolomogorov and many others in the has it own specific aspects, of course, just
tion of entropy, but the diffusion acts like twentieth-played a great role. Their as each historical period has its own out-
concentration gradients (this is what is studies made it plain that not all dy- look. Sometimes we live mainly on the
called the thermodiffusion effect); were namic systems are similar. Dynamic sys- heritage of the past, and explore its
it able to act alone, not coupled to the tems cannot be limited to regular or pe- wealth; this is when science is "reason."At
other process, it would lead to a negative riodic examples such as the pendulum other times we seek new perspectives, and
production of entropy. This effect shows or the movements of the planets. try to guess what direction we are going
that irreversibilityis a dual phenomenon, To the contrary, most dynamic systems to take. These are the times when passion
for it corresponds to dissipation (there are unstable. The trajectories fly apart and reason mingle inextricably.
the heat flow) and the formation of or- exponentially, so far that their traces are Let us go back to Jacques Monod. At
der (here the thermal diffusion). inevitably lost after a certain amount of the end of La nouvelle alliance, Isabelle
This is, of course, only a very simple ex- time. These discoveries refute the objec- Stengers and I wrote,
ample, but one that struck me forcefully tions once made to Boltzmann's work. Jacques Monod was right: the ancient
and, in some ways, oriented my scientific And as my colleagues and I have tried to animisticalliance is indeed dead, and
itinerary, leading me first to study the show, one can go further and formulate with it all the others that sawus as vol-
constructive effects of nonequilibrium. laws of dynamics that account for this untary, conscious subjects, each with
our own projects, each enclosed in a
Today nonequilibrium physics is in full chaos. However, these laws apply only to stable identity and longstanding cus-
development. Surprise follows surprise: wholes, to statisticalsituations, not to tra- toms, all citizens of a world made for
regular temporal structures, oscillating jectories (or individual wave functions). us. That purposeful,staticand harmo-
chemical reactions, irregular temporal Laws so conceived tell us not what is nious world was destroyed by the Co-
structures (dissipative Chaos), spatial (or going to happen, but what may happen. pernicanrevolutionwhen it hurled the
earth into infinite space. Nor is our
Turing) structures. The constructive role Consider the Universe at its inception. world that of the "modern alliance":
of nonequilibrium is now an established Was it not like a small child who might the silent, monotonous world from
fact, but how can it be reconciled with the become a musician, a lawyer or a shoe- whichancient spellshad been castout.
essential contents of Newton's Law,which maker, but not all of these things at the clockworkworldoverwhichwe had
supposedlybeen givenjurisdiction.Na-
implies equivalence between past and fu- once? So irreversibilityseems to be based ture wasnot made for us, or delivered
ture? As I said before, this is the paradox on instability. This, of course, leads to a up to our whim. As Jacques Monod
of time. The time paradox is closely re- substantial unification of our image of says, the time has come for us to as-
lated to others-the quantum paradox, the world, making all of nature's varied sume the risks of human adventure,
but if we are able to do so, that is be-
the cosmological paradox-which in the aspects consistent with each other.
cause this is the wayin which we now
last analysis are also linked to the role of Here in this room we have air-a gas-
participatein culturaland naturalevo-
time. In a nutshell, the quantum paradox eous mixture in equilibrium-and we lution. This is the lesson nature
derives from the fact that the fundamen- have living beings: nonequilibrium sys- teaches,wouldwe but listen. Scientific
tal equation in quantum mechanics is tems par excellence. This varietyis made knowledge,drawnfrom the dreamsof
inspired-that is supernatural-revela-
symmetrical in time, hence it is our mea- possible only by the constructive role of tion, can be seen todayas at once the
surements, our interventions that give di- the arrow of time, which shows the fun- "poeticecho" of nature and a natural
rection to time. In quantum mechanics, damental distinction between the prop- processwithinnature:an open process
man is the father, rather than the child, erties of matter in equilibrium and in of production and invention in an
of time. Modern cosmology also posed nonequilibrium. open, productiveand inventiveworld.
The time has come for new alliances-
the problem of time, but in a highly dra- Such a formulation, which takes ac- ties that have alwaysexisted but were
matic way, with the discovery of the big count of instability and fluctuations, also long misunderstood-between the his-
bang. What could be more irreversible transcends the traditional conflict be- tory of man, human societies, human
than the transition from a pre-universeto tween the "two cultures," for the so- knowledge, and the adventure of ex-
a universe such as the one we know?This called human sciences cannot be orga- ploringnature.
is not the place to go further into these nized without the fundamental notion Our time is one of expectation, of
problems; they are studied in detail in my of evolution. anxiety, of bifurcation. Far from an
book Time,Chaosand the Quantum. "end" of science, I feel our period will
Clearly, we must face up to the fact see the birth of a new vision, of a new sci-
that the very notion of a law of nature CONCLUSION ence whose cornerstone encloses the ar-
must be revised. We can no longer be It is time to end. row of time; a science that makes of us
content with laws that affirm an equilib- Science is a dialogue between man and our creativity the expression of a
rium between past and future. In this and nature. A dialogue, not a soliloquy, fundamental trend in the universe.
paper I have dealt mainly with the ideo- as the conceptual transformations to
logical conflict between reversible time which we have been led over the past few Bibliography
(as formulated, for instance, in decades have shown. Indeed, science is
Prigogine, I. Laws of Chaos, Laws of Nature (forth-
Newtonian physics) and irreversible be- part of that search for the transcenden- coming).
coming (as it appears in thermodynam- tal that is common to so many cultural
Prigogine, I., and Stengers, I. La nuova alleanza
ics). How can we go beyond the superb activities: art, music, literature. (Turin: Einaudi, 1981).
intellectual monuments represented by This relationship to the transcendental
Prigogine, I., and Stengers, I. Time, Chaos and the
classical, quantum and relativistic phys- has haunted man since paleolithic times. Quantum: Towardsthe Resolutionof the TimeParadox
ics? This is where a major event-the The questions were not posed in vain; (New York:Harmony Books, 1993).
renovation of classical dynamics follow- they have led to what we consider the Prigogine, I., and Stengers, I. Trail tempoe l'eternitt
ing Poincare's fundamental works in the most striking manifestations of human (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1989).

42 Prigogine,Science, Reason and Passion