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The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

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Overview

Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative ...
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Overview

Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions - from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/14/2014
Capra (The Tao of Physics) and Luisi ambitiously offer an intellectual history of much of the social and natural sciences as they argue that the underlying metaphor for how we see and understand the world needs to change from that of “a machine to understanding it as a network.” They argue that this can only be accomplished if we take a systems view of nature and the role humans play in it; they provide insightful, if abbreviated, summaries of the evolution of thought within a range of disciplines like natural philosophy, political economy, mathematics, physics, biology, information theory, and theology. Capra and Luisi rely heavily on the difficult concept of “autopoiesis theory,” and, given the breadth of their work, make some sweeping generalizations—which remain open to critique by their peers. For example, they claim that altruism is “widely displayed at the social level in the formation of groups of animals,” a statement many biologists would find problematic. Similarly, they assert that “ecological literacy has an important spiritual dimension,” and while that might be accurate for some, it is certainly not universal. Their action plan for social transformation is largely a summary of the work of Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, and Jeremy Rifkin. (June)
From the Publisher
"A magisterial study of the scientific basis for an integrated worldview grounded in the wholeness that generations of one-eyed reductionists could not see. The authors succeed brilliantly!"
David W. Orr, Oberlin College

"The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision gives us a sound synthesis of the best science and theory on the connectedness of all living things, the dynamics of emergence and self-organization as conceived by Francisco Varela. This volume offers a profound framework for understanding our place on the planet, for better or worse. And if we apply the insights offered by Capra and Luisi, it will be for the better. The Systems View of Life should be required reading for today’s young, tomorrow’s leaders, and anyone who cares about life on this planet."
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence

"What is life? What is a human being? How can new discoveries about nature and ourselves keep us from becoming the first self-endangered species? Capra and Luisi’s dazzling synthesis explains how moving beyond mechanistic, linear, reductionist habits is revealing startling new answers to perennial questions of philosophy and practice. Sir Francis Bacon’s goal of "the enlargement of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible" has put humanity in serious trouble. But today, rebuilding our thinking, language, and actions around Darwin, not Descartes, and around modern biology, not outmoded physics, creates rich new options. Driven by the coevolution of business with civil society, these can build a fairer, healthier, cooler, safer world. The Systems View of Life is a lucid, wide-ranging guide to living maturely, kindly, and durably with each other and with other beings on the only home we have."
Amory B. Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781107011366
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2014
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 130,621
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Fritjof Capra is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and serves on the faculty of Schumacher College (UK). He is a physicist and systems theorist, and has been engaged in a systematic examination of the philosophical and social implications of contemporary science for the past 35 years.

Pier Luigi Luisi is Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Rome 3. He started his career at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland (ETHZ) where he became full professor in Chemistry and initiated the interdisciplinary Cortona-weeks. His main research focuses on the experimental, theoretical and philosophical aspects of the origin of life and self-organisation of synthetic and natural systems.

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Table of Contents

Preface; Acknowledgements; Introduction: paradigms in science and society; Part I. The Mechanistic World View: 1. The Newtonian world-machine; 2. The mechanistic view of life; 3. Mechanistic social thought; Part II. The Rise of Systems Thinking: 4. From the parts to the whole; 5. Classical systems theories; 6. Complexity theory; Part III. A New Conception of Life: 7. What is life?; 8. Order and complexity in the living world; 9. Darwin and biological evolution; 10. The quest for the origin of life on Earth; 11. The human adventure; 12. Mind and consciousness; 13. Science and spirituality; 14. Life, mind, and society; 15. The systems view of health; Part IV. Sustaining the Web of Life: 16. The ecological dimension of life; 17. Connecting the dots: systems thinking and the state of the world; 18. Systemic solutions; Bibliography; Index.
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  • Posted June 4, 2014

    Systems seemed to find a home whatever my career choice.  In the

    Systems seemed to find a home whatever my career choice.  In the chemistry lab, in the church, in the family, and in computer science - each required an understanding of systems theory.  Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi’s The Systems View of Life is attempt to meld the concept of systems into the far ranging fields of physical science, biological science, social science, and religion.  The success with which this is done might depend on the reader’s interest and training, but the book makes for interesting reading regardless of the reader’s background. 




    Claiming to be an undergraduate textbook, Capra and Luisi’s text explores the history of scientific thinking from ancient times forward.  The authors attempt to move the student through the rolling attitudes that seem to bounce between a very mechanistic approach (i.e. the entire universe is a machine) and a holistic approach (i.e. the universe is more than its whole).




    Recognizing that the philosophy of science seems to be a pendulum that moves between these to extremes, the book stresses that the 21st century is in the much more holistic than we have seen in the immediate past.  That being so, there is room in the current scientific landscape for a spiritual (not necessarily religious) perspective of our world.  The authors point out that there are fundamentalists that are both religious (e.g. Christian or Muslim) and scientific (e.g. Richard Dawkins) who attempt to exclude each other from valid scholarship.




    Though coming from Cambridge University Press, the book is not a specifically Christian (or even religious) view of science or a scientific view of religion.  Rather, it is an attempt to allow members of each community to appreciate the contribution of the scientific community and the religious community toward a holistic world view.  The authors, early in the book, make it clear that they are writing for an undergraduate audience.  This might be true for an undergraduate class in the Philosophy of Science, but otherwise the book might not find a place in most undergraduate degree programs.  On the other hand, it would find a home in the seminary training for a modern pastor (at least for some) or the graduate science student looking beyond the typical laboratory setting.
    ______________




    This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

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