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5.0 out of 5 stars A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle
Many people presume that the integration of various domains of science into a single unified "superscience" will ultimately show that everything reduces to physics. In fact, one earlier reviewer of "The End of Certainty" closed his review saying, "Biology is, in the end, physics."
There is a way in which biology could be "reduced" to...
Published on Aug 31 2001 by Peter V. Giansante
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars His most detailed updated book
by the late Nobel Laureate on the controversial issue of time's arrow. It's not clear he succeeded but his passion was never missing. He has consistently held in his books that nature is probabilistic even though his explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, that entropy can only hold constant or increase in an isolated system, has evolved. (For instance in acceding...
Published on Aug 24 2007 by Glenn L. E. May
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars His most detailed updated book,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)by the late Nobel Laureate on the controversial issue of time's arrow. It's not clear he succeeded but his passion was never missing. He has consistently held in his books that nature is probabilistic even though his explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, that entropy can only hold constant or increase in an isolated system, has evolved. (For instance in acceding to Frank Tipler that gravity breaks invariance.) Much of his motivation seems to have been in sorting out why Boltzman and Gibbs failed to satisfy the science community that their statistical physics explained the 2nd law, due to reversible classical equations and Poincare recurrences. However in order to make his probabilistic argument he may have created a loophole. He points to the Langevin equation as an irreversible equation with noise (friction) and he says Poincare should have connected nonintegrability with irreversibility and most dynamics are nonintegrable. However everyone agrees some (simple) systems are reversible (pendulums etc) so how can all of nature be stochastic? Maybe because the noise terms tend to but never go to zero? However in addressing the arrow of time he suggests gravity which is ignored in thermodynamics as are all interactions; but this explanation is also used by others in deterministic models. So it may never be provable who is right; but if his loophole is real I think there may be a simpler explanation.
Statistical entropy in all of it's variations is an excellent inference tool but it is about an observer's measurements and not underlying properties of the system being measured (frequentist approaches come close but usually have to extrapolate). In this case Poincare recurrence maybe non-physical, a mere statistical fluctuation with no actuality. (Prigogine says it is false because he introduces new microscopic dynamics, I'm just saying it may not arise in reality but only through statistical assumptions which depend on observer uncertainty.) I agree with the explanation at the website secondlaw.com that the thermodynamic explanation of entropy is fundamental as it is a measure of energy diffusion, and not randomness or uncertainty as the tool of statistical entropy would imply. In this way the 2 approaches are not contradictory; the statistical is merely a measurement tool for observers while the thermodynamic is real dynamics requiring no observers (ice melts, water crystalizes etc long before man was around). The current argument in wikipedia that statistical entropy is considered more fundamental because the others can be derived from it is silly; there are many types of subjective entropy measures, the basic frequentist vs Bayesian approaches, there is volume entropy such as for measuring expanding gases, configurational entropy such as for crystals etc; however there is only one thermodynamic entropy, Clausius's dS = <>q/T (for reversible systems; calculations change of course with potential variables of volume, pressure and temperature). If anything this should be viewed as fundamental as it is a direct measurement of the physical movement of heat. One should not confuse information theory and measurement techniques with real underlying dynamics. When some authors say 'entropy is not a property of a system, it is a property of our description of the system' they are referring to statistical entropy measures and not real thermodynamics. As Prigogine says 'irreversability is not just in our minds', that it applies to nonintegral systems identified by Poincare but not the connection. The very same wikipedia current description, possibly by a different author, accedes the point: "The problem with linking thermodynamic entropy to information entropy is that in information entropy the entire body of thermodynamics which deals with the physical nature of entropy is missing...information entropy gives only part of the description of thermodynamic entropy. Some, authors, like Tom Schneider, argue for dropping the word entropy for the H function of information theory and using Shannon's other term 'uncertianty' instead."
If Boltzman had accepted that his equation was not fundamental but an inference tool then most of the debates would likely not have arisen, including Prigogine's criticism of an excellent tool that did not deserve to be criticized on that basis. However what he has done is to show mathematically how irreversibility can apply at the microscopic level for nonintegral systems (in agreement with macroscopics) due to non-local persistent interactions but has to be measured statistically at the level of ensembles and not individual trajectories. This is quite a feat even if controversial. Nevertheless the standard entropy calculations apply for equilibrium systems and the arrow of time is still mysterious though possibly linked to gravity as he says. It would have been nice to see some discussion of entropy of non-equilibrium systems for which there is no universal agreement. For instance it is said that 'the rate of change of entropy with time for a nonequilibrium stochastic process is always positive.' [B.C. Bag; the following references are also available on the net with a simple author search.] This might suggest he already solved the problem and gravity is not required? But-
R. Metzler et. al. say 'Prigogine introduced novel microscopic laws which are irreversible with time. One reason for this ongoing discussion is the absence of rigorous mathematical proofs of irreversible properties in the thermodynamic limit...ensemble averages do not give a basic explanation of irreversible properties, since they contain an average over infinitely many trajectories. Ergodic theory does not help either, since it needs time averages over infinitely many trajectories...In this model we introduce a model with deterministic time reversible dynamics which can be analysed in detail...The Poincare return time is known exactly...' However this takes us back to the usual complaints about statistical fluctuations. [Is there a real arrow of time if everything is eventually reversible?]
Castagnino and Lombardi have developed an interesting approach to the question of the arrow of time. [Clearly Prigogine failed by his own admission and his gravity conjecture!] 'In fact time reversal invariant equations can have irreversible solutions. [e.g. the pendulum is time-reversal invariant...however the trajectories...are irreversible...]...The traditional local approach owes its origin to the attempts to reduce thermodynamics to statistical mechanics...[however] only by means of global considerations can all decaying processes be coordinated. This means that the global arrow of time plays the role of the background scenario where we can meaningfully speak of the temporal direction of irreversible processes, and this scenario cannot be built up by means of local theories that only describe phenomena confined in small regions of spacetime...the geometrical approach to the problem of the arrow of time has conceptual priority over the entropic approach, since the geometrical properties of the universe are more basic than its thermodynamic properties.'
Obviously the debate continues. While Prigogine may not have solved the arrow of time, his work on correlations is important as these are assumed away in classical physics but they are critical to life!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)Many people presume that the integration of various domains of science into a single unified "superscience" will ultimately show that everything reduces to physics. In fact, one earlier reviewer of "The End of Certainty" closed his review saying, "Biology is, in the end, physics."
There is a way in which biology could be "reduced" to physics, but only if we learn to define "physics" very differently than we do today. Prigogine shows why biology CANNOT be reduced to context-independent, deterministic contemporary physics. (Read Robert Rosen's "Essays on Life Itself" for the most profound and fundamental explanation, based on non-integrable, complex, "impredicative loops of efficient causation".)
"The End of Certainty" is an important work because it points toward a revolutionary realignment of fundamental physical principles, theoretical perspectives, and even scientific methodology. In fact, it draws together many of the crucial elements that ultimately will result in the inevitable emergence of a fundamentally transformed model of scientific epistemology. It's an important snapshot of a pivotal stage in the evolution of scientific knowledge.
There has not been a coherent major shift in the foundational paradigms of physical science since the emergence of relativity and quantum physics in the early 20th century. The pioneers of those physical models, if not the models themselves, behaved as feuding brothers from the start. That disputatious relationship is perhaps best typified by Einstein's famous rebuke of the indeterminacy of quantum physics: "God does not play dice with the universe."
As usual, the enhanced perspective offered by an additional century of scientific enterprise shows us that neither side in the quantum dispute had an exclusive lock on the truth. If nothing else, Prigogine's work is a masterfully conceived reminder that we are fortunate to live in a time when a vastly larger shift in scientific world-view is imminent.
This book's importance derives from its elegant (though highly technical) presentation of so many of the founding elements of what Erwin Schrödinger predicted would constitute a "new type of physical law". In fact, the controversy between Einstein's perspective and the views of quantum physicists like Schrödinger-a controversy that once commanded so much attention-has faded into an historical amusement. Instead, our advantage in standing on their shoulders is that, with the benefit of teachers like Ilya Prigogine, we can see beyond their semantic squabbles. It turns out that their views were congruent in at least one significant respect: both Einstein and Schrödinger knew that contemporary physics is inadequate to explain more complex phenomena...like biological life.
That congruence is obvious in comparing Schrödinger's statement-"We must be prepared to find a new type of physical law prevailing in (the structure of living matter)."-with Einstein's equivalent assertion-"One can best feel in dealing with living things how primitive physics still is." Their scientific integrity and humbling lack of intellectual arrogance put all of contemporary physics on notice to expect the revolution whose epistemological lineage runs straight through Prigogine, who drops the other shoe in "The End of Certainty" when he irrevocably shatters the myth of time-reversible real-world processes. In doing so, he permanently exorcises "Laplace's demon", Pierre-Simon de Laplace's mythical entity that would be able, if physical processes were reversible and the precise position and momentum of every particle in the universe were known at any instant in time, to calculate the entire past history and future evolutionary state of the universe.
You'll sense the evolution of physics itself when Prigogine delivers some founding concepts of the new physics: time-irreversibility, far-from-equilibrium metastability, and the self-organizing nature of complex systems. He writes, "Once we include these concepts, we come to a new formulation of the laws of nature, one that is no longer built on certitudes, as is the case for deterministic laws, but rather on possibilities."
"The End of Certainty" is somewhat easier to assimilate than Prigogine's earlier works. Nevertheless, if you don't have a formal background in physics, you might find some parts of this book to be fairly rough going. Don't let that discourage you; focus on Chapter 1, Sections I through III. You'll find phenomenal insights there, like Prigogine's explanation of Henri Poincaré's proof that contemporary physics' belief in reversible, closed-system, deterministic modeling actually precludes the arrow of time, obviates self-organization, and prohibits the existence of life itself. In short, Prigogine shows that Poincaré proved that biology CANNOT be reduced to contemporary physics, and he even proved why (the existence of Poincaré resonances). It's an exquisitely beautiful insight.
"The End of Certainty" is not a deeply controversial book, at least not among credible scientific minds. Prigogine's work is revolutionary in many ways, but it is neither disputatious nor provocatively unorthodox. It's too rigorously tied to mainstream science to suffer the kind of rejection that a less credible or less elegantly constructed work would invite. Even if it is not fully understood by contemporary physicists, neither is it seriously challenged or disputed. His work is so overwhelmingly supported by empirical underpinnings as to be incontestable. The Nobel Prize committee concurred; as a Nobel Laureate for his work in dissipative systems, Prigogine is well respected in the world of cutting edge physics. He's the E.F. Hutton of the new physics; when he talks, serious scientists listen.
A final word: Don't sweat it if you're intimidated by some of the mathematics and graphics in "The End of Certainty". Don't worry about what you might be missing if you don't assimilate every bit of it. I didn't have to get it all on the first reading, and neither do you. In fact, you don't need to understand any of the mathematics or geometry to get value out of the non-technical portions of the text, which constitute the majority of the book. The only prerequisites for getting value from this book are literacy, an open mind, moderate intelligence, and a burn to understand the natural world. If you qualify, you're in for an illuminating perspective when you read it.
4.0 out of 5 stars New physics for 21st century,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)I did buy this book some time ago and then I was fascinated. I studied the basis of his theory, but unfortunately, Prigogine passed away recently, before I can discuss with he some topics in more detail.
The greater part of the book is written in a natural style, but some sections are highly mathematical even for the majority of scientists! This mathematical presentation has a curious explaining. There are several version of Prigogine's theory, but the first versions had been "abandoned", and then Prigogine details the new approach: "Star-unitary theory for LPS outside of Hilbert space".
An earlier reviewer said that the book provides a solution to three of the most important problems in science: (1) Time's arrow. (2) The measurement problem in QM. (3) The existence of freewill. Precisely, I am working in those and other questions, and I do not believe that claim was completely correct (and perhaps Prigogine believed the same, because in his last communication, said me "The questions that you ask are very difficult."). In my opinion, the novel theory is conflictive both in mathematical and physical details, but I consider that, at least, the aim of the School is correct one. Irreversibility and uncertainty are two fundamental features of our universe. I see that orthodox physics (including particle physics and the so-called String-M theory) is incorrect and/or inapplicable. I believe that, whereas other "popular" books (The Quark and The Jaguar, The Elegant Universe, etc.) should be "relics" in 21st century physics, Prigogine's book will be then a basic work.
The contributions of Prigogine's physics to the understanding in other disciplines, as chemistry, are not clear. In fact, I believe that the impact of recent Prigogine's ideas into fundamental chemistry has been "insignificant", because his revolutionaries ideas in physics are an outcome of their previous chemical investigations (Nobel Prize for Chemistry). For example, in his complex spectral theory, energy is an imaginary quantity, and this is in direct conflict with standard quantum theory postulates. However, in theoretical chemistry, one always defines a transition state by means of an imaginary frequency. As said Prigogine in a recent Solvay conference, "all of Chemistry deals with irreversible processes". I cannot say the same of physics.
The book is very good one, but I disagree in one point. When one writes a scientific paper for publication in a specialized journal (as Physical Review), one can write about everything. Referees and other scientist can either accept or reject your work in scientific grounds. When one writes a popular book for non-expertises, one must be the most "neutral" possible. If this is not possible, one must to "alert" to the reader. This book is not neutral and, in some restricted sense, shows several theories and ideas as been of broad acceptance or current use in science. Of course, this overemphasizes the scientific status of the so-called Brussels School and minimizes the importance of other interesting points of view. In my opinion, this is not a correct attitude. For example, the "diagrammatic" method developed by Brussels School in the 60's (and illustrated in the book) is broadly not used by scientific community. See, for example, "Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics" by Robert Zwanzig for a view in more standard formalisms. In addition, I also must say that some previous Prigogine's ideas in dissipative structures, kinetic potentials, etc. are not standard, and other, as the "universal" criterion of evolution (following production of entropy), was experimentally shown to be false. Of course, other contributions of called Brussels School are simply impressive, for example the extension of scattering theory of particle physics to more general situations of chemical kinetics. Effectively, you have read fine, orthodox S-matrix of "fundamental" physics can be derived as an idealized asymptotic version valid for typical accelerator experiments! I am sorry, but I must said that Chemistry is not applied QED.
Conclusion: The book describes an excellent philosophical view in a "new" physics, and for this reason it may be a central piece on your collection. Nevertheless, I consider that the scientific way proposed is a little conflictive and some mathematics may be modified!
4.0 out of 5 stars Tightening the Science Net Meshes. But Still Missing Much!,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)In a world gone crazy with Bohr's "observer-driven collapse of the wave function", Everett's surreal "many-worlds theory", and Einstein's discomforting "reversibility of time-flow direction", Prigogine stands as possibly the sole (or last?) defender of commonsensical notions of time in physics (which equals to say, of sanity!). He is the Champion of Time, bow, arrow, and all! His weapon: a "bow" of decades of successes (including a Noble Prize) in nonequilibrium thermodynamics. His ammunition, a quite peculiar arrow: the arrow of time. But just as happens with many literary characters, not only his virtue but also his vice may spring out of the very same source; in his case, his "sane" notions about Nature...
This book will very likely prove readable by most general readers, like myself, provided the technical parts are carefully skipped, and the central ideas are correctly spotted. It truly presents essential insights to issues like: the emergence of complexity; self-organization; the nature of matter; determinism vs probability; and the validity of time symmetry in both quantum mechanics and classical mechanics equations. As to issues like the actual existance of a flow and arrow (direction) of time (which, by the way, is the very subject of the book) and the existence of free will, the book may be too far from conclusive...
It seemed to me (only top experts could really tell for sure) that Prigogine showed compelling evidence supporting the idea that, contrary to the prevailing notions in the field of physics, there is time asymmetry both in quantum mechanics and in classical mechanics. And also, that reality at both these levels is not deterministic, but truly probabilistic. He further showed that determinism should be replaced by a probabilistic account of events both in situations where we have finite knowledge about the initial conditions and in situations where we have infinite knowledge (we are done with Laplace's Demon at last!). This alone is already a breakthrough, even though probably not news to well-informed members of the physical sciences community.
I found Prigogine a little bit contradictory (it might be that Nature itself is contradictory in this regard) when talking about determinism/time-reversibility. Sometimes, I got the impression that it only exists in idealized (non-real) situations, and sometimes I understood it as if it does exist in certain specific (real) situations.
I also found his rejection of Gödel's time-reversible interpretation of Einstein's equations far too emotional, instead of being based on experimental-mathematical grounds. As far as I know, this viewpoint, too, has experienced considerable growth over the last 10 years or so (the studies about CTC - closed timelike curves), and it seems to be a quite respectable field of inquiry. Time-flow reversibility does not seem less crazy to me than the fact that we have to use imaginary numbers (that is, numbers that do not exist at all!) in theories that deal with some very basic properties and behaviors of matter, like quantum mechanics and chaos.
Even though physicists usually equal time symmetry (in physical equations) to time-flow reversibility, and asymmetry to irreversibility, I don't see why this has to be so. Nor does this book clarifies this issue any further to the layman (it is interesting to point out in this regard that even the probabilistic collapse of the wave function is considered by the prevailing views of physicists to be symmetrical/reversible, according to Penrose in The Empreror's New Mind). Our suspicions and complaints about the mysterious nature of time are very much justified: space gives us 3 dimensions, bidirectional and with no compulsory flow. Time, on the other hand, gives us just 1 dimension, unidirectional and with compulsory flow. At best, we can slow it down, by traveling close to the speed of light (quite comforting, isn't it?).Time alone is responsible for most of our losses in life (unless you get exiled or something...). I think that, interpreting "time symmetry" as "time reversibility", scientists have actually tried to solve the unsolvable.
In our quest to understand the Universe, we often find three kinds of questions: first, those that can be proved or disproved, like the old statements "The Sun revolves around the Earth" (disproved), and "The Moon revolves around the Earth" (proved). Second, questions that can be proved, but not disproved, like the existance of God or of life after death. Third, questions that cannot be either proved or disproved, like the existance of consciousness in other human beings than ourselves (or in dogs) and (to me) the actual existance of time flow.
Prigogine says that in this book he tried to follow (or discover?) a "narrow path" between utter determinism and total randomicity, probably hoping to find room for free will in between. Although I think he did a brilliant work, I feel that he got stuck in this Narrow Path. His work refutes determinism, but instead of presenting phenomena or advancing mechanisms to support free will, it only casts us into the depths of utter chance. In spite of that, when talking about self-organization in dissipative structures, Prigogine passes on the idea of "choice", even saying (more than once) that "matter begins to see" and that "the system chooses". This might ascribe to nature at its most basic structure the properties of "life" and maybe even of "consciousness", which might mean that we are at the verge of a revigorated return to the ancient ideas of hilozoism and panpsychism. Furthermore, this blurs the limits between emergence and reductionism, for it is very difficult to take a sound reductionist stand (or emergencionist stand) if we don't know what to expect of the world around us (we can't tell if something is emerging or just "arising").
Prigogine's appeal for sanity is both his virtue and his weakness, in a Universe that pays little heed to human's logic and causality. A Universe in which, regardless of being dictated by an authoritarian God or determined by blind and cold laws of nature, the only theory that may account for all that there is is the familiar and provincial B.I.S.O. theory. Namely: Because I Say So!
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial...but worth reading !,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)Much controversy from what i can see from other reviewers...
Nevertheless, whether or not you think an "arrow of time" exists or not, this book at least has the merit of making people think about the "objective existence" of an "arrow of time". The question is not about convincing you that this arrow exists, but it tries to provide evidence gathered from thermodynamics that it could be the case indeed !
You'll probably enjoy this book in any case because it presents the question of "time" in a very broad (multi-disciplinary) manner. Even if it goes into technicalities from quantum mechanics that everybody is not due to understand (i'm amongst them...), it allows to be read from the begin to the end without a stop, proving it is not that complicated...
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book for the advanced reader,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)Prigogine mixes history, philosophy, classical , quantum and statistical mechanics to review the status of philosophy of science and the lack of methods to handle non integrable systems. Then he derives several briliant solutions and (re)interpretations. Some "examples" are biased towards Prigogine theories and can confuse the layman (e.g. the thermal diffusion, the discussion of wavefunction reduction outside a microcanical ensemble). We're still waiting for the 600+ pages book on the same subject and simplified version for those without a strong background on math/phys. Good reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling case for a new worldview,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)As an earlier reviewer said this book provides a solution to three of the most important problems in science: 1. time's arrow 2. the measurement problem in QM 3. The existence of freewill (and the the death of the absolute determinism of Newton and Einstein). Although the book is short, I think he provided a compelling outline for the solution of all three problems. At times understanding his solutions requires understanding some advance concepts from math and physics. However, I believe an intelligent layman could skim these parts and still follow his presentation. (There is a glossary at the back of the book.)
I wish that Prigogine could have discussed in more detail the philosophical (and perhaps even religious) consequences of this work, which there are many, but few are explored and none are explored in depth. One consequence he does explore briefly is that it appears that "time precedes existence!" And at the end of the book, he also briefly addresses the worldview that emerges from his work. He says: "What is emerging is an 'intermediate' description that lies somewhere between the two alienating images of a deterministic world and an arbitrary world of pure chance. ... As we follow along the narrow path that avoids the dramatic alternatives of blind laws and arbitrary events, we discover that a large part of the concrete world around us has until now 'slipped through the meshes of the scientific net,'to use Alfred North Whitehead's expression."
I give the book my higest recommendation and hope in sequels Prigogone and his co-workers can explore the technical details (textbook level) and the philosophical consequences (layman level) of this very important and exciting work.
5.0 out of 5 stars I admire Prigogine's patience...,
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)Over the years (and it's been something close to 60 of them) Prigogine has almost single-handedly defined non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This book presents an overview of how he thinks quantum theory should be interpreted in order to give a direction to the "arrow of time".
This book is not for those who don't have some background in thermodynamics and quantum theory, particularly in the solving of the Schrodinger wave equation. Those expecting a Gleick-like "Chaos" will likely put this one down in frustration after about three chapters since Prigogine has put a fair amount of theory in this book.
For a slim volume there is a lot of food for thought here. I had to go look up some old textbooks a read over some of my first-year quantum theory and math. I think the views that Prigogine just starts to develop in the final chapter deserve a book of their own for discussion. I know from hints Prigogine has "dropped" in interviews that he holds some interesting views on general philosophy.
People interested in the current state of Prigogine's theories then this book does an excellent job of centralizing them. His development of critical elements is deep enough to force one to get enough of a theoretical grasp to have some sense of the philosophy that comes.
For those looking to further their knowledge of the general applications of dissipative structures, I highly reccommend Jantsch's "The Self-Organizing Universe" as a good place to start along with some of Chaitin's work in algorithmic theory and Perlovsky's work in cybernetics.
5.0 out of 5 stars Physically sound,
By A Customer
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)The writers do not challenge the validity of quantum mechanics. They point out, that microscopic reversability is compatible with the existence of an arrow of time in the observed world. This arrow of time exists, because time reversal of a macroscopic process, i.e. the same process going 'backwards' in time, is practically impossible, due e.g. to loss of information during quantum mechanical particle scattering. Bolzmann was critized in the 19th century for postulating a microscopic model which lacked time reversal symmetry; Prigogine and Sengers show, that macroscopic ensembles have an arrow of time even though the microscopic laws of quantum mechanics do not. Biology is, in the end, physics!
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - probably solves 3 fundamental problems,
By A Customer
This review is from: The End of Certainty (Hardcover)In a direct extension of his Nobel-prize-winning work on thermodynamics,Prigogine explains that almost all natural systems are non-determinsitic, even if all their components are subject to deterministic laws. This is because such systems have enormous numbers of Poincare resonances which lead to fundamentally non-deterministic solutions. This provides a solution to 3 of the most important problems in science: 1. Time's arrow 2. The Measurement Problem in QM 3. The existence of Freewill.
Everyone who is seriously interested in these questions should read this book.
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The End of Certainty by Ilya Prigogine (Hardcover - Aug 17 1997)
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