This exciting exploration into the nature of life brilliantly weaves together the excitement of intellectual discovery and a fertile mix of insights to give the general reader a fascinating look at the new science of complexity--and at the forces for order that lie at the edge of chaos. "An important new argument."--Carl Sagan, The Washington Post. 59 illustrations.
|Publisher:||Oxford University Press, USA|
|Product dimensions:||8.81(w) x 5.69(h) x 0.86(d)|
About the Author
Stuart Kauffman is a member of the Santa Fe Institute. A MacArthur fellowship recipient, he is the leading thinker on self-organization and the science of complexity as applied to biology.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
A fascinating, though dated, read. Kauffman is one of a fairly small group of researchers who -- during the last quarter of the 20th Century -- focused their attention on learning what regularities might exist among complex phenomena, such as snowflakes, currents in air and water, and molecular catalysis. Kauffman asserted that catalytic closure at the molecular level, and not template replication (as with RNA), is the sign of life. Useful illustrations throughout.
Stuart Kauffman elucidates his ideas about the principle of self-organization, in which large systems can spontaneously arrange themselves into surprisingly ordered and complex states. The general principles, as Kauffman presents them, seem to involve a lot of the mathematics of networks, with a bit of chaos theory thrown in. Mostly he concentrates on the biological sciences, though he also dabbles a tiny bit in the social sciences toward the end. Major topics include the development of cells in embryos, the patterns of evolution, and a possible mechanism for the origin of life. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I really have the tools necessary to evaluate the specifics of his arguments properly. My knowledge of organic chemistry, for instance, is just not good enough for me to be able to tell whether the assumptions and simplifications he makes about autocatalytic enzymes are reasonable or ridiculous. But most of what he has to say does sound very plausible, or at least very promising. Of course, this book was first published in 1995, so for all I know it's all a bit dated by now.I do have to say, though, that something about Kauffman's writing rubs me the wrong way a little. I think it's mainly how he tends to intersperse careful scientific/mathematical analysis written in a slightly dry but serviceable style with occasional passages of poetic-bordering-on-pretentious prose in which he almost seems to be evangelizing his approach as if it were a religion. The thing is, I don't even really disagree with what he has to say in those sections. If his hypothesis on the subject is correct, then life is a very common and natural process in the universe, and that's an emotionally profound thought. But, you know, it's one thing to be pleased by the possible philosophical implications of your ideas, and another to be over-invested in them as sources of some kind of spiritual comfort. And while I doubt it's entirely true, Kauffman does give off a slight vibe of the latter, which causes skeptical alarm bells to ring faintly in my head.
This is an astonishing book which explores the nature of self organising processes and their role in the origins of life. At its heart is a profound question. `Is life and humankind the product of an incredibly luck and unlikely accident, or is humankind the natural product of order emerging from chaos. Stuart Kaufman has an engaging style and an enviable talent for illuminating and explaining ideas which might otherwise be impenetrable. He constructs a powerful case for the emergence of order from seeming chaos, and challenges some of our most basic scientific beliefs. He begins with the second law of thermodynamics which defines entropy as a measure of disorder that is claimed to always increase. Yet as he writes these words he looks from his window and all he can see is order, lovely order. From this simple starting point he begins an exploration of the limitations in adequately explaining the world we experience, of a scientific mindset framed by Newtonian thinking. Kaufman constructs a compelling case that the belief in a controllable `clockwork universe' is inadequate. He explores a wide range of examples of self-organisation and with his biological background homes in one of the most intriguing examples, `Ontology' the process by which a single cell repeatedly subdivides and creates the complex structure of a creature such as you or I. I think I wrote more notes reading this book than any other I've read. It covers some complex ground but whenever the going began to become challenging he would revert to a simple illustration to bring a new concept into focus. An absolutely stunning book.
Categorically, one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. I have read several other books on complexity theory and the like, but Kaufman's descriptions of such things as fitness landscapes are real marvels.
one of the most important subjects of our time once you get past the thick, repeating feedback loops of language. Although...this is a book on complexity.