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Beyond Chaos: The Underlying Theory Behind Life, the Universe, and Everything
     

Beyond Chaos: The Underlying Theory Behind Life, the Universe, and Everything

by Mark Daniel Ward
 

We are surrounded by order that-until now-physics has been unable to explain.

The spread of veins in the back of our hands mirrors the spread of branches on a tree; fern fronds bear a resemblance to the outline of fjords; the best-loved classical music echoes the patterns of our heartbeats.

The theory of Universality is using fractal patterns to explain much of

Overview

We are surrounded by order that-until now-physics has been unable to explain.

The spread of veins in the back of our hands mirrors the spread of branches on a tree; fern fronds bear a resemblance to the outline of fjords; the best-loved classical music echoes the patterns of our heartbeats.

The theory of Universality is using fractal patterns to explain much of the world around us. Could it be that the same laws that govern systems in their critical states also govern some of the most unpredictable events such as earthquakes, avalanches, the growth of cities and stock market crashes-even the way businesses are run and the way fashions come and go? Is there a common principle, a universal affinity that binds us to the forces of nature?

A consensus is emerging on how complex structures grow and sustain themselves; phenomena that were once thought to be unique now appear to have a great deal in common. Mark Ward examines these theories, explores how they fit into an age-long quest to discover how the universe works, delves into their possible limitations and asks what we can do with this new knowledge.

While identifying patterns does not mean that we can always predict what will happen next, some of the trends scientists are noticing prove that life is not a series of random events. Universality deepens our understanding of natural phenomena and our place in the physical world.

We are surrounded by order that-until now-physics has been unable to explain.

The spread of veins in the back of our hands mirrors the spread of branches on a tree; fern fronds bear a resemblance to the outline of fjords; the best-loved classical music echoes the patterns of our heartbeats.

The theory of Universality is using fractal patterns to explain much of the world around us. Could it be that the same laws that govern systems in their critical states also govern some of the most unpredictable events such as earthquakes, avalanches, the growth of cities and stock market crashes-even the way businesses are run and the way fashions come and go? Is there a common principle, a universal affinity that binds us to the forces of nature?

A consensus is emerging on how complex structures grow and sustain themselves; phenomena that were once thought to be unique now appear to have a great deal in common. Mark Ward examines these theories, explores how they fit into an age-long quest to discover how the universe works, delves into their possible limitations and asks what we can do with this new knowledge.

While identifying patterns does not mean that we can always predict what will happen next, some of the trends scientists are noticing prove that life is not a series of random events. Universality deepens our understanding of natural phenomena and our place in the physical world.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
If you believe that one book can reveal everything contained in Ward's wildly ambitious subtitle, then there's a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you. It's true that some intriguing even wondrous science lies behind the recently discovered tendency of order and fractal symmetry to emerge within complex systems. This subject has been presented effectively in other recent books, such as those by Steven Johnson and John Holland, both titled Emergence. The flaw, though, is that Ward, a BBC technology reporter, oversells the phenomenon as some sort of cosmic sophistry that he assures us can give meaning to life. (In the book's final three sentences, he proclaims, "We belong here. We know our place. We know our place and we are home.") When the author sticks to science, he does a credible job of explaining pattern emergence in various systems, from climates to stock markets. When he exalts, however, his points come off about as convincingly as a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi's promise that "the force is with you" and a diluted bowl of "chicken soup for the physicist's soul." Not recommended. Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ward (Virtual Organisms, 2000), a BBC technology reporter, explains the big claims that have stemmed from an obscure mathematical theory. The number of books with chaos in the title keeps mounting. Though probably not the best place to start on this tangled topic, this exegesis will work for people with some advanced knowledge of the subject. The reader must forgive Ward’s tendency to fall into the unctuous tones of a snake-oil salesman when approaching his topic. (“Finally after centuries of niggling doubts and half-right guesses we are close to understanding the forces that shape our lives and explain a huge swathe of the events we encounter every day. A common dynamic is thundering through the world.”) Thankfully, the thunder is muted when Ward gets down to brass tacks. His specific topic is the “universality” class of phase transitions. A phase transition is simply a change from one state to another: water into steam, grapes into wine. In the 1960s, the assumption that the classical laws of statistical mechanics applied to all phase transitions broke down. For those changes of state that involved critical points, or points on the edge of a change of state that weren’t proportionate to the energy driving the system, Cornell physicist Kenneth Wilson came up with a theory of scale invariant changes determined by three variables: dimension; an order parameter (order being an account of the gross physical properties of the state); and correlation length (the size of the largest orderly structure within the system). Scale invariance is a cold term; we are really talking about fractals: self-similar structures. Warden is particularly interested in self-organizing criticality, a term heborrows from physicist Per Bak, who claims some systems organize naturally around critical points. Ward tours the many regions where universality is present, from the origins of life to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. A suggestive report on an avant-garde science, though a bit too enthusiastic for specialists and a bit too specialized for general readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312274894
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/01/2002
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.82(h) x 1.15(d)

Meet the Author

Mark Ward is the technology reporter for the BBC. He was the technology correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and has also written numerous articles for New Scientist, The Financial Times, Computer Weekly, and Wired UK. He is the author of Virtual Organisms (TLD/SMP 2000) and lives in Surrey, England.

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