The word “dissipative” means dispersing, dispelling, breaking up, bringing to nothing, wasting or frittering away. It is synonymous with scattering, spreading, propagating, clearing away, spending and losing. The word “structure”, on the other hand means a supporting framework, or an organised whole consisting of essential parts.
It refers to the manner in which something is constructed. So, in putting these two words together, Prigogine is pointing to a form or pattern that is constructed through processes of propagation that are essentially dispersing, wasting or breaking up the very pattern they are constructing. Furthermore, he shows that such patterns emerge as a completely different patterns through a process of amplifying difference, so breaking down symmetry or order as an essential prerequisite for the emergence of the new. This is a process in which pattern emerges as continuity and transformation at the same time – the pattern is forming (transforming) and being formed (transformed) in interactive processes that are essentially ones of dispersing, breaking up and wasting.
The word “redundant” has similar connotations. It means superfluous and wasteful, that is, unnecessary duplication that is not required. However, what appears to be redundant may actually impart stability and robustness to a form. It is because the human brain duplicates many functions that it is robust in the sense that damage to one part can be compensated for by other parts. This is the same as the idea of loose coupling. Loosely coupled systems can continue to function when parts are damaged because no one part is absolutely essential, while tightly coupled systems cease to function when one part is damaged. I want to link the word “redundant” to the notion of diversity and fluctuations, which Prigogine shows to be essential to the emergence of new dissipative structures. What he is saying is that disorder, randomness and chaos, all normally thought to be wasteful or redundant are essential to the emergence of the new because new order emerges in the destruction of amplified diversity. One might say, therefore, that dissipative structures are characterised by “redundant diversity”.
This notion of redundant diversity provides an analogy for human experience. In human communicative interaction, I suggest, redundant diversity is experienced as misunderstanding. So, the analogy with human interaction could be understood as follows.
A dissipative structure in nature is really a process of construction, of continuously reproducing a particular pattern, through dissipating, that is propagating and dispersing energy or disorder (entropy). In other words, the process of construction is the dissipation of redundant diversity. By analogy, human interaction is continually reproducing patterns of understanding, that is, patterns of meaning. Patterns of meaning are being continually constructed in human interaction through a process of dissipating, that is, propagating and dispersing misunderstanding. I would define misunderstanding as the human experience of redundant diversity. In other words, human communicative interaction can be understood as a dissipative process in which what is being dissipated is redundant diversity understood as misunderstanding. At bifurcation points in human communicative interaction, redundant diversity experienced as misunderstanding arises as “fluctuations” in meanings that are amplified, as the symmetry of accepted meaning is broken up. It is in this process that the possibility for the emergence of new meaning arises. Human communicative interaction is fuelled by and serves to dissipate redundant diversity experienced as misunderstanding.