It is not the entropy you produce, rather, how you produce it

Tyler Volk, Olivier Pauluis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The principle of maximum entropy production (MEP) seeks to better understand a large variety of the Earth's environmental and ecological systems by postulating that processes far from thermodynamic equilibrium will 'adapt to steady states at which they dissipate energy and produce entropy at the maximum possible rate'. Our aim in this 'outside view', invited by Axel Kleidon, is to focus on what we think is an outstanding challenge for MEP and for irreversible thermodynamics in general: making specific predictions about the relative contribution of individual processes to entropy production. Using studies that compared entropy production in the atmosphere of a dry versus humid Earth, we show that two systems might have the same entropy production rate but very different internal dynamics of dissipation. Using the results of several of the papers in this special issue and a thought experiment, we show that components of life-containing systems can evolve to either lower or raise the entropy production rate. Our analysis makes explicit fundamental questions for MEP that should be brought into focus: can MEP predict not just the overall state of entropy production of a system but also the details of the sub-systems of dissipaters within the system? Which fluxes of the system are those that are most likely to be maximized? How it is possible for MEP theory to be so domain-neutral that it can claim to apply equally to both purely physical-chemical systems and also systems governed by the 'laws' of biological evolution? We conclude that the principle of MEP needs to take on the issue of exactly how entropy is produced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1322
Number of pages6
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1545
StatePublished - May 12 2010


  • Biosphere
  • By-products
  • Entropy
  • Gaia
  • Maximum entropy production
  • Thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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