The Web of Life: A New Understanding of Living Systems

Overview

The vitality and accessibility of Fritjof Capra's ideas have made him perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson of the latest findings emerging at the frontiers of scientific, social, and philosophical thought. In his international bestsellers The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, he juxtaposed physics and mysticism to define a new vision of reality. In The Web of Life, Capra takes yet another giant step, setting forth a new scientific language to describe interrelationships and interdependence of psychological,...
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Overview

The vitality and accessibility of Fritjof Capra's ideas have made him perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson of the latest findings emerging at the frontiers of scientific, social, and philosophical thought. In his international bestsellers The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, he juxtaposed physics and mysticism to define a new vision of reality. In The Web of Life, Capra takes yet another giant step, setting forth a new scientific language to describe interrelationships and interdependence of psychological, biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena--the "web of life."

During the past twenty-five years, scientists have challenged conventional views of evolution and the organization of living systems and have developed new theories with revolutionary philosophical and social implications. Fritjof Capra has been at the forefront of this revolution. In The Web of Life, Capra offers a brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other explanations of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems. Capra's surprising findings stand in stark contrast to accepted paradigms of mechanism and Darwinism and provide an extraordinary new foundation for ecological policies that will allow us to build and sustain communities without diminishing the opportunities for future generations.

Now available in paperback for the first time, The Web of Life is cutting-edge science writing in the tradition of James Gleick's Chaos, Gregory Bateson's Mind and Matter, and Ilya Prigogine's Order Out of Chaos.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385476768
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Pages: 347
  • Sales rank: 560,217
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2005

    Understanding the Network of Humanity

    The Web of Life is an interesting, scientific look into the new theories emerging about the process of life. Fritjof Capra uses his knowledge of science, specifically physics, to relate to the existence of humanity. The book begins with background and history of theories in the sciences he explores everything from Descartes¿ ideology to quantum physics to ecology. He then explains how the theories have progressed throughout history, shifting towards systems thinking. Several concepts are then presented to explain the web of life. Capra examines the emergence of cyberneticists and their study of patterns of communication and the feedback cycle. Studying patterns can help explain computers, the brain and its neural processes and even the existence of the universe. The idea of autopoiesis, or the pattern of organization of living systems, is present throughout the book to explain the cycles of living and non-living things. Finally, the Gaia concept, or The Living Earth, explains that the earth is a self-regulating unit that also has a feedback cycle, like all other living and non-living things. Capra then presents these principals in mathematical terms that are very complex for the average reader, but do help prove the legitimacy of these theories. Next Capra explains that from all of these background theories a new theory of living systems has surfaced. It is a comprehensive theory that combines the study of pattern, structure, process and networking. Capra relates the theory to the cognition of the mind, saying that the mind is not a thing but a process and the mind is ¿inseparably connected¿ to life. The idea of dissipative structures explains the importance of knowing what structure is and why it is different from process. Capra uses great images of a whirlpool and a bicycle to explain complex theories, which makes it much easier to understand. Through the first half of the book, Capra explains most of the theories using scientific images, like a cell organism. Towards the end of the book, Capra expands into the bigger picture and relates the theories to social structure and the universe. Capra also uses old evolutionary theories to explain how systems thinking and the new theory of living systems combines to give a whole new understanding of evolution that has never been discovered before. The Santiago theory expands on the cognition theory, saying that the process of knowing is different than the idea of thinking. Capra uses this modern theory to show how the mind and brain, the structure and the process, have practical applications to the medical field. Finally, the last part of the book uses all of the theories mentioned to clarify how humanity relates to the scientific explanation. Overall this book presents intriguing ideas that make you think about the processes of life. The scientific and mathematical explanations are somewhat difficult to understand, but the underlying meaning of the book still comes through clearly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2005

    Bringing it all together

    Fritjof Capra¿s ideas have made him one of the most persuasive spokespersons on the latest discoveries rising from the frontiers of scientific, social, and philosophical thought. His book ¿The Web of Life¿ is an excellent introduction to the world¿s views on the origins of life and the relations in ecology. The book offers a vast mixture of such current scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other clarifications of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems. The author¿s findings sometimes argue against established paradigms of systems and Darwinism. He also provides an amazing new basis for ecological policies that will allow us to build and sustain communities without thinning the opportunities for future generations. This book outlines the long chronology of how systems thinking developed over the span of human history. The best way to summarize Capra¿s book is by using his own words: ¿My thesis has been that a theory of a living systems consistent with the philosophical framework of deep ecology, including an appropriate mathematical language and implying a non mechanistic, post-Cartesian understanding of life, is now emerging.¿ The author teaches his audience that trying to understand the world merely in terms of its parts obscures the properties that emerge from the interaction between the parts. Capra¿s ¿The Web of Life¿ emphasizes that the universe is undeniably greater than the sum of its parts. While this book was an enjoyable read over all, there were times when the explanations of complex theories were worded for readers with a high knowledge of the scientific data being discussed. This made it difficult to understand some sections of the book that were then connected to other theories discussed later in the text. If the author knew a certain aspect of the book to be important for his readers to understand, he should have written it in more simple language so connections could be made more easily further into the reading. This book also lacks the discussion of evidence which support the several hypotheses Capra brings forth. Therefore, this work is more philosophical than scientific. There were times when I was left wondering how something came about or I didn¿t fully understand the connections Capra was attempting to make. If there had been more scientific explanations and background provided for the reader, the understanding would have been much easier to grasp and the book as a whole would have been a smoother read. The Web of Life was written as a summary instead of an in depth analysis. By and large, I feel as though this book grazed the surface of many interesting aspects and learned the important portions of each when the language permitted me to comprehend. I found this book to be quite useful as a summary of knowledge.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2003

    Very informative and easy to understand!

    I thought this book was very informative and easy to understand for people who are not experts in systems theory. It provided me with a nice holistic perspective of the systems we are involved in. Through his books, Frijof Capra is spreading a holistic way of looking at life. I believe that his books serve a very important function in this age of materialism, urban alienation, spiritual confusion and chaos. Although there are many great books that serve this purpose, this is defintiely one of them. Another book that serves this wonderful purpose is, 'The Ever-Transcending Spirit' by Toru Sato. It is an incredible book that uses the systems approach to understand how our subjective selves are also involved in these systems. If the world is to become a better place, both books should be read by many many more people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2001

    expanding web of knowledge

    This book is a refreshing, enlightening discourse on the nature of new physics, the environment, and several other eminent subjects in a brilliant manner to which few other authors even come close. Highly recommended. B. Wallace/ author/ Labyrinth of Chaos

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Caught in the 'Web' and Trying to Get Out

    I had two weeks to read this book for my 'Science Writing' class, and I certainly had no trouble sleeping those two weeks. Capra's book, especially the first three sections, are utterly boring and 'textbook.' However, the pace picks up in the fourth section, as he gives an overview of the origins of life from the simplest cell to the homo sapien. Several points are interesting, such as the Gaia theory and his deep ecology theory, but his use of terminology and definitions are confusing. Overall, unless you have a background in the sciences, I do not recommend this book to the average reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2005

    'Web of Life' is a web of confusion for the average reader

    Fritjof Capra¿s ¿The Web of Life¿ is a wealth of erudite thoughts and ideas about how we¿ve been looking at the world entirely in the wrong way. Capra seeks to deconstruct our current, discrete worldview by basically asking ¿why?¿ over and over again, trying to get more exact answers from inexact sciences this much I was able to pull from the book. He asserts that current ideas of scientific method will never be able to answer the questions they were develop to answer, because they treat everything as separate, individual, unchanging elements of life, the universe, everything, etc. The thing is, I understand that. I think I understood that before I ever opened this book, and I¿m not even a scientist (far from it, actually). The science that was used to explain that science could not answer these questions was lost on me and served only to confuse me about what the author was trying to say. Near the beginning of the book, the author presents some world-views that we¿re expected to set aside in favor of a more ¿holistic¿ and ¿environmental¿ approach to understanding the world. The concepts include heavy scientific theories like quantum physics, chaos theory, systems design and the like. However, the explanations of what these theories really mean are sparse at best. Expecting me to have a concept of quantum physics with little more than a page of explanation is a bit much to ask. Reading this book, I felt as thought I was expected to know a lot about the ideas in the book before reading it. Covering algebra, geometry, physics, thermodynamics, biology, chemistry and philosophy in 300 pages is fine if the reader understands the basis for discussion. If he or she does not, though, it makes for a very painful read. I¿m not saying this is a bad book, because I am not in a position to judge the validity of the ideas Capra presents. I¿m at fault for not being a more enlightened scholar ¿ not having a working understanding of areas of advanced physics. However, the book is marketed as being something ¿we can all understand¿ on the front cover. In truth, there was a lot of this book that I simply did not understand. The insight contained in its pages was lost on me. Things were not explained in a way ¿we can all understand.¿ That phrase must only be meant for people who know a lot about some very dense scientific principles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2005

    Scientific book puzzles the average reader

    ¿The Web of Life¿ by Fritjof Capra is not an easy read for anyone that is unfamiliar with the sciences. I found myself getting lost on every page because of my lack of interest and knowledge about different kinds of sciences. Right away Capra began confusing me in the first chapter when he talked about deep and social ecologies. I think that his attempt to tie in the different levels of life was very confusing and he didn¿t explain it good enough to gain my understanding. The levels that Capra tried to connect were social systems, systems-organisms and ecosystems. I do agree with Capra¿s main objective in the book which is to prove to the reader that the world needs to see the web of life as ¿a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.' I think that if Capra were to have focused on a lot less in his book it may have been easier for the average reader to understand or if he had given a strong background about many of the hard to understand scientific terms that were used. I think that Capra does try to explain many of the theories and terms used in the book, but he doesn¿t successfully put them in terms that a non-science person can understand. I found myself re-reading sentences and pages to grasp the information and I found myself still wondering what he meant by his words half of the time. After you get into the book a little bit, Capra starts to add some illustrations which help the reader understand a little better, but still the material is way over the head of the average reader. It is obvious that Capra has done extensive research for his book and that his educational background contains a large amount of physics and other sciences, but using words like ¿bifurcation,¿ ¿autopoiesis,¿ ¿hypercycle,¿ and ¿anthropocentric¿ are only confusing to the reader. Also, many of the philosophers that Cara uses to back his research and ideas are not introduced so unless you have a background in philosophy, the people¿s names used mean absolutely nothing. Capra¿s web of life is so huge that it covers way too many different elements that are far more complex then anyone has interest for. The only person who should ever read is this book is someone that either needs the book for scientific research or who just wants to be left totally confused after reading it. This book, although really good and I¿m sure helpful for scientific uses, is definitely not one that belongs in the library of an average reader.

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