Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies

Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies

by Geoffrey West

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"This is science writing as wonder and as inspiration." —The Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

From one of the most influential scientists of our time, a dazzling exploration of the hidden laws that govern the life cycle of everything from plants and animals to the cities we live in.

Visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term “complexity” can be misleading, however, because what makes West’s discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses.

Fascinated by aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science: West found that despite the riotous diversity in mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal’s circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient—and lives 25% longer. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism’s body.

West’s work has been game-changing for biologists, but then he made the even bolder move of exploring his work’s applicability. Cities, too, are constellations of networks and laws of scalability relate with eerie precision to them. Recently, West has applied his revolutionary work to the business world. This investigation has led to powerful insights into why some companies thrive while others fail. The implications of these discoveries are far-reaching, and are just beginning to be explored. Scale is a thrilling scientific adventure story about the elemental natural laws that bind us together in simple but profound ways. Through the brilliant mind of Geoffrey West, we can envision how cities, companies and biological life alike are dancing to the same simple, powerful tune.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101621509
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 60,111
File size: 24 MB
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About the Author

Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist whose primary interests have been in fundamental questions in physics and biology. West is a Senior Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a distinguished professor at the Sante Fe Institute, where he served as the president from 2005-2009. In 2006 he was named to Time’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Table of Contents

1 The big picture 1

Introduction, Overview, and Summary

We Live in an Exponentially Expanding Socioeconomic Urbanized World

A Matter of Life and Death

Energy, Metabolism, and Entropy

Size Really Matters: Scaling and Nonlinear Behavior

Scaling and Complexity: Emergence, Self Organization, and Resilience

You Are Your Networks: Growth from Cells to Whales

Cities and Global Sustainability: Innovation and Cycles of Singularities

Companies and Businesses

2 The Measure of all things: An Introduction to Scaling 35

From Godzilla to Galileo

Misleading Conclusions and Misconceptions of Scale: Superman

Orders of Magnitude, Logarithms, Earthquakes, and the Richter Scale

Pumping Iron and Testing Galileo

Individual Performance and Deviations from Scaling: The Strongest Man in the World

More Misleading Conclusions and Misconceptions of Scale: Drug Dosages from LSD and Elephants to Tylenol and Babies

BMI, Quetelet, the Average Man, and Social Physics

Innovation and Limits to Growth

The Great Eastern, Wide-Gauge Railways, and the Remarkable Isambard Kingdom Brunei

William Froude and the Origins of Modeling Theory

Similarity and Similitude: Dimensionless and Scale-Invariant Numbers

3 The Simplicity, Unity, and Complexity of Life 79

From Quarks and Strings to Cells and Whales

Metabolic Rate and Natural Selection

Simplicity Underlying Complexity, Kleiber's Law, Self-Similarity, and Economies of Scale

Universality and the Magic Number Four That Controls Life

Energy, Emergent Laws, and the Hierarchy of Life

Networks and the Origins of Quarter-Power Allometric Scaling

Physics Meets Biology on the Nature of Theories, Models, and Explanations

Network Principles and the Origins of Allometric Scaling

Metabolic Rate and Circulatory Systems in Mammals, Plants, and Trees

Digression on Nikola Tesla, Impedance Matching, andAC/DC

Back to Metabolic Rate, Beating Hearts, and Circulatory Systems

Self-Similarity and the Origin of the Magic Number Four

Fractals: The Mysterious Case of the Lengthening Borders

4 The Fourth Dimension of Life: Growth, Aging, and Death 147

The Fourth Dimension of Life

Why Aren't There Mammals the Size of Tiny Ants?

And Why Aren't There Enormous Mammals the Size of Godzilla?


Global Warming, the Exponential Scaling of Temperature, and the Metabolic Theory of Ecology

Aging and Mortality

5 From the Anthropocene to the Urbanocene: A Planet Dominated by Cities 209

Living in Exponentially Expanding Universes

Cities, Urbanization, and Global Sustainability

Digression: What Exactly Is an Exponential Anyway? Some Cautionary Fables

The Rise of the Industrial City and Its Discontents

Malthas, Neo-Malthusians, and the Great Innovation Optimists

It's All Energy, Stupid

6 Prelude to a Science of Cities 247

Are Cities and Companies Just Very Large Organisms?

St. Jane and the Dragons

An Aside: A Personal Experience of Garden Cities and New Town

Intermediate Summary and Conclusion

7 Toward a Science of Cities 269

The Scaling of Cities

Cities and Social Networks

What Are These Networks?

Cities: Christalls or Fractals?

Cities as the Great Social Incubator

How Many Close Friends Do You Really Have? Dunbar and His Numbers

Words and Cities

The Fractal City: Integrating the Social with the Physical

8 Consequences and Predictions: From Mobility and the Pace of Life to Social Connectivity, Diversity, Metabolism, and Growth 325

The Increasing Pace of Life

Life on an Accelerating Treadmill: The City as the Incredible Shrinking Time Machine

Commuting Time and the Size of Cities

The Increasing Pace of Walking

You Are Not Alone: Mobile Telephones as Detectors of Human Behavior

Testing and Verifying the Theory:

Social Connectivity in Cities

The Remarkably Regular Structure of Movement in Cities

Overperformers and Underperformers

The Structure of Wealth, Innovation, Crime, and Resilience: The Individuality and Ranking of Cities

Prelude to Sustainability: A Short Digression on Water

The Socioeconomic Diversity of Business Activity in Cities

Growth and the Metabolism of Cities

9 Toward a Science of Companies 379

Is Walmart a Scaled-Up Big Joe's Lumber and Google a Great Big Bear?

The Myth of Open-Ended Growth

The Surprising Simplicity of Company Mortality

Requiescant in Pace

Why Companies Die, but Cities Don't

10 The vision of a grand unified Theory of Sustainability 411

Accelerating treadmills, Cycles of Innovation, and Finite Time Singularities

Afterword 427

Science for the Twenty-first Century

Transdisciplinarity, Complex System and the Santa Fe Institute

Big Data: Paradigm 4.0 or Just 3.1?

Postscript and Acknowledgments 449

Notes 457

Index 465

List of Illustrations 481

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