Ilya Prigogine and the inevitability of the OODA “loop”

Fans of Boyd’s Strategic Game will recall the quote from Order Out of Chaos that Boyd included as Chart 18 and this bit of analysis from Chart 19:

Prigogine called far-from-equilibrium forms like the vortex, ‘dissipative structures.’ The name comes from the fact that to keep their shape these structures must constantly dissipate entropy so it won’t build up inside the entity and ‘kill’ it with equilibrium … [These dissipative structures] can survive only by remaining open to a flowing matter and energy exchange with the environment … The structure is stabilized by its flowing. It is stable but only relatively stable—relative to the constant energy flow required to maintain its shape. Its very stability is also paradoxically an instability because of its total dependence on its environment. The dissipative structure is autonomous (separate) but only relatively separate. It is a flow within a flow.

The idea of a dissipative structure heavily influenced Boyd’s thinking on Orientation, which he would characterize as a far-from-equilibrium process, and eventually on the entire OODA “loop” and the processes that support it:

By pulling all this together, we can see that the key statements, OODA loop sketch, and related insights represent an evolving, open-ended, far- from-equilibrium process of self-organization, emergence, and natural selection. (The Essence of Winning and Losing, 4)

New research out of MIT now suggests that the idea of dissipative structures not only explain the the OODA “loop,” but make its existence and indeed the existence of life itself inevitable:

The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. (“A New Theory of Life,” by Natalie Wolchover, in Quanta Magazine, a publication of the Simons Foundation)

Although the article doesn’t delve into organization theory, it might be that the same process operating at the macro level explains why a large degree of bottom-up self-organization can produce devastatingly effective organizations. But I speculate.

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