Quantifying hidden order out of equilibrium

  Paul Chaikin  
New York University

While the equilibrium properties, states, and phase transitions of interacting systems are well described by statistical mechanics, the lack of suitable state parameters has hindered the understanding of non-equilibrium phenomena in divers settings, from glasses to driven systems to biology. Here we introduce a simple idea enabling the quantification of organization in non-equilibrium and equilibrium systems, even when the form of order is unknown. The length of a losslessly compressed data file is a direct measure of its information content. Here we use data compression to study several out-of-equilibrium systems, and show that it both identifies ordering and reveals critical behavior in dynamical phase transitions. Our technique should provide a quantitative measure of organization in systems ranging from condensed matter systems in and out of equilibrium, to cosmology, biology and possibly economic and social systems.