Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature / Edition 1

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Overview

We are connected to distant space and time not only by our imaginations but also through a common cosmic heritage. Emerging now from modern science is a unified scenario of the cosmos, including ourselves as sentient beings, based on the time-honored concept of change. From galaxies to snowflakes, from stars and planets to life itself, we are beginning to identify an underlying ubiquitous pattern penetrating the fabric of all the natural sciences--a sweepingly encompassing view of the order and structure of every known class of object in our richly endowed universe.

This is the subject of Eric Chaisson's new book. In Cosmic Evolution Chaisson addresses some of the most basic issues we can contemplate: the origin of matter and the origin of life, and the ways matter, life, and radiation interact and change with time. Guided by notions of beauty and symmetry, by the search for simplicity and elegance, by the ambition to explain the widest range of phenomena with the fewest possible principles, Chaisson designs for us an expansive yet intricate model depicting the origin and evolution of all material structures. He shows us that neither new science nor appeals to nonscience are needed to understand the impressive hierarchy of the cosmic evolutionary story, from quark to quasar, from microbe to mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe

Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained... by the laws of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism ... What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure?
— Chet Raymo

New Scientist

An illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers ... This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience.
— John D. Barrow

American Scientist

Chaisson's project—the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales—is a worthy one... [His] theory has the ring of rightness?
— Daniel W. McShea

Times Higher Education Supplement

Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world?
— Lynn Margulis

Wilson Quarterly

So Chaisson defines life as an "open, coherent, space- time structure maintained far from thermodynamic equilibrium by a flow of energy through it."…Chaisson's approach leaves one wondering, perhaps absurdly…In this creative, thought-provoking book, Chaisson shows how difficult even the most basic scientific question can turn out to be.
— Charles Seife

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Surveys the grand scenario of cosmic evolution by examining natural changes among radiation, matter, and life within the context of big-bang cosmology. Using non- equilibrium thermodynamics and a suite of interdisciplinary arguments, the author follows the changes in energy within numerous well-known structures, including galaxies, stars, planets, and life.
Nature

[Chaisson's] discourse covers a wide range, from the physics of the early Universe to the origin and nature of life, touching on issues such as the 'anthropic principle' in cosmology, the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, Darwinian views on the evolution of life seen in the context of present-day molecular biology, and issues of cultural development. Thus, he takes seriously the modern biological synthesis and also places it in its proper physical and cosmological context, emphasizing interesting causal links.
— George Ellis

Dudley Herschbach
Chaisson conducts an intriguing tour over vast realms of time and space. A lucid and sprightly guide, he brings forth original and provocative observations, while gathering a host of wonders in his cosmic embrace.
E.O. Wilson
Using the leitmotif of rising complexity and order, Eric Chaisson delivers the epic of creation as understood by modern science, from microsecond zero to the origin of life on Earth. His command of the subject and clarity of exposition are admirable.
Brian Fagan
Eric Chaisson has written a definitive synthesis of what he calls a golden age of astrophysics and biochemistry. Cosmic Evolution presents a dramatic new world view for the twenty-first century, which provides a potential guide for understanding the nature of all material things. Every scientist, indeed anyone interested in humanity's future, should read this masterly and unique book.
George Field
Eric Chaisson has thought deeply about the growth of complexity in the universe, as life and intelligence appear to have emerged from chaos. An astronomer whose lucid lectures draw a wide audience, Chaisson here tackles the issue head on, with conclusions that are as fascinating as life itself.
Hubert Reeves
A superb synthesis. Chaisson convincingly shows that free energy processing rates spurred the growth of complexity in the cosmos. Highly recommended.
Gerald Soffen
This century ushers in a new unified view of Nature. We can see that the mechanisms of the stars and the structure of bacteria are governed by the same fundamental processes. We can detect the link between the hottest fusion reactions in gamma bursters and the essential metabolic reactions which give rise to and sustain life. Eric Chaisson has long been one of our most passionate and articulate informants about this emerging conception of the cosmos. Cosmic Evolution tells this new story in language anyone can understand.
Richard Wolfson
A fascinatingly synthetic book that unifies evolution from the Big Bang through biology and human culture. Chaisson is at once quantitative and poetic, grounding his work in physics while celebrating intelligence as 'the animated conduit through which the Universe comes to know itself.' Cosmic Evolution shows us a universe teeming with the complex products of evolution, including ourselves.
Boston Globe - Chet Raymo
Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained... by the laws of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism ... What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure?
New Scientist - John D. Barrow
An illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers ... This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience.
American Scientist - Daniel W. McShea
Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one... [His] theory has the ring of rightness?
Times Higher Education Supplement - Lynn Marguilis
Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Lynn Margulis
Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world?
Wilson Quarterly - Charles Seife
So Chaisson defines life as an "open, coherent, space- time structure maintained far from thermodynamic equilibrium by a flow of energy through it."…Chaisson's approach leaves one wondering, perhaps absurdly…In this creative, thought-provoking book, Chaisson shows how difficult even the most basic scientific question can turn out to be.
Nature - George Ellis
[Chaisson's] discourse covers a wide range, from the physics of the early Universe to the origin and nature of life, touching on issues such as the 'anthropic principle' in cosmology, the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, Darwinian views on the evolution of life seen in the context of present-day molecular biology, and issues of cultural development. Thus, he takes seriously the modern biological synthesis and also places it in its proper physical and cosmological context, emphasizing interesting causal links.
Nature
[Chaisson's] discourse covers a wide range, from the physics of the early Universe to the origin and nature of life, touching on issues such as the 'anthropic principle' in cosmology, the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, Darwinian views on the evolution of life seen in the context of present-day molecular biology, and issues of cultural development. Thus, he takes seriously the modern biological synthesis and also places it in its proper physical and cosmological context, emphasizing interesting causal links.
— George Ellis
Boston Globe
Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained... by the laws of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism ... What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure?
— Chet Raymo
New Scientist
An illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers ... This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience.
— John D. Barrow
American Scientist
Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one... [His] theory has the ring of rightness?
— Daniel W. McShea
Wilson Quarterly
So Chaisson defines life as an "open, coherent, space- time structure maintained far from thermodynamic equilibrium by a flow of energy through it."…Chaisson's approach leaves one wondering, perhaps absurdly…In this creative, thought-provoking book, Chaisson shows how difficult even the most basic scientific question can turn out to be.
— Charles Seife
Times Higher Education Supplement
Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world?
— Lynn Margulis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674009875
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 0.60 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric J. Chaisson is Research Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Director of the H. Dudley Center for Innovative Science Education at Tufts University. He is the author of Cosmic Dawn, nominated for the National Book Award for distinguished science writing.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Prologue: Overview of Cosmic Evolution

Introduction: The Nature of Change

Chapter One: Matter

Chapter Two: Radiation

Chapter Three: Life

Discussion: Evolution Broadly Considered

Epilogue: A Grand Synthesis

Symbols and Numerical Constants

Glossary

Notes

Works Cited

Further Reading

Index

About the Author

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