Dissipative Structures – About the Vortex

Dissipative Structures – about the Vortex 

There is a class of physical structures which have been labeled “dissipative structures” by Ilya Prigogine, biologist, in Fritjof Capra’s 1997 book Web Of Life.

Dissipative structures include living things like cells, organisms, trees, internal organs, people, but also include some non-living structures. Thunderstorms, cyclones and tornadoes all have characteristic shapes and are also dissipative structures. The least complex one is a vortex in flowing water.

The dissipative structures highlight the coexistence of change and stability. A stable state and characteristic form is achieved while there is a high flow of energy through the system. The acting forces are linked in self-balancing feedback loops. In a water vortex, the factors held in balance are rate of flow, water pressure, centrifugal force, gravity and friction. The result is a beautiful lively structure of great stability. Under special conditions a vortex can even split in two, like a living cell, known in biology as bifurcation. I’ve filmed this phenomenon in my work, “Smoke Vortex” for the House project.

The more complex the inputs the more varied forms and behaviour of the structure, eg. the variety of forms in tornadoes.

Cameron Robbins, 2008