The clips below are instances of self-organizing phenomena in nature. The first is what is known as a Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction. In both cases we get instances of self-organization when the system is in a far-from-equilibrium state. An equilibrium system is a system that balances out influxes of energy in a distributed, minimal way. Thus, for example, up to the threshold of a phase transition to boiling, water distributes heat equally throughout its molecules as it is heated. A far-from-equilibrium system, by contrast, is one that continually takes in influxes of energy from the outside and releases energy from the system, much like a hurricane which is also a far-from-equilibrium system. There has been some speculation that this sort of phenomenon is what accounts for patterns in leaves, mollusk shells, and striped animals like Zebras. I am not quite sure what the disequilibrium is in the Belousov-Zhabotinski system, but it’s quite beautiful to watch:

The second system is a lovely example of what is known as a “chemical clock” or a Briggs-Rauscher reaction. Chemical clocks rhythmically oscillate between different colored states when heated up. This is quite remarkable as it entails that all of the molecules making up the solution are somehow undergoing continuous phase transitions in a synchronized manner with one another. Compare this with what takes place when playing billiards. The balls hit one another, transfer energy, and then stop. Not so with chemical clocks.

This is not your father’s materialism.