Escapement mechanisms and the conversion of disequilibria; the engines of creation

E. Branscomb, T. Biancalani, N. Goldenfeld, M. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Virtually every interesting natural phenomenon, not least life itself, entails physical systems being forced to flow thermodynamically up-hill, away from equilibrium rather than towards it. This requires the action of a mechanism, acting as an “engine”, which lashes the up-hill process to a more powerful one proceeding in its spontaneous, down-hill direction; in this way converting one disequilibrium into another. All organized and dynamic elements of creation, from the galactic to the atomic, can be viewed as powered by, or being the result of, engines of disequilibria conversion; each a link in a great hierarchical cascade of conversions. There is, however, widespread misunderstanding about how disequilibria conversions happen–and indeed about what physically causes them to happen–especially regarding the role of energy and of the physical meaning of free energy. We attempt here to describe and justify what we assert is the correct alternative view of how phenomena are powered in nature, focusing especially on the molecular-level conversion processes (often called “energy conserving”) that power life and that must, then acting in an entirely abiotic context, have driven it first into being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-60
Number of pages60
JournalPhysics Reports
StatePublished - Mar 17 2017


  • Biogenesis
  • Disequilibria
  • Entropy production
  • Stochastic thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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