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At Home In The Universe: The Search for Laws…
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At Home In The Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and… (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Stuart A. Kauffman (Author)

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712813,240 (3.88)6
Member:rsubber
Title:At Home In The Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity
Authors:Stuart A. Kauffman (Author)
Info:New York : Oxford University Press, c1995.
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:non-fiction, science, complexity, self-organization

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At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman (1995)

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I think I should have picked up Reinventing the Sacred instead, as a recent interview shows Kauffman's thinking has gotten deeper and more critical about the problem of scientific reductionism and the problem of mechanistic models in the life sciences. But there are useful ideas here, laying the foundations of the work he's known for now. For example, "order for free," the tendency of systems at a certain level of complexity to become self-organizing, or auto-catalytic, as he calls it. His understanding that living systems are open-ended, non-linear and non-equilibrium means they cannot be fully explained by the reduction of biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics, as in the old school model. (As a consequence, this also means that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics has little application to them - overall they tend to build order up rather than diminish it.) And the idea that evolution thrives on the "edge of chaos" is another interesting one - certainly western artists have borne this one out...

When he went into Game Theory and liberal economic paradigms as an extension of his ideas about biology and evolution, he lost me. In the last 20 years it's become painfully clear that they are the constructs of an expansionist Western mindset that is too rapidly piling up corpses, extinctions, and exhausted ecosystems to be taken seriously as a model for the future. So I'm hoping he's a little clearer on that now too.

( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
This is an incredibly beautiful and fascinating book.

Similarities between biological and technological processes, auto-catalytic sets as a means for explaining complexity - founding a new subset of the theory of evolution - incredibly interesting ideas. I'm swimming in these beautiful thoughts. I'll have to write a better review later.

It's very complex (har har har) but revolutionary. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote bragan | Nov 9, 2011 |
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. ( )
  Steve55 | Sep 4, 2011 |
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. ( )
  evolvemind | Aug 31, 2008 |
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Out my window, just west of Santa Fe, lies the near spiritual landscape of northern New Mexico - barrancas, mesas, holy lands, the Rio Grande - home to the oldest civilization in North America.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0195111303, Paperback)

The best treatment I have yet encountered about how order emerges naturally -- and possibly even necessarily -- out of chaos. Profoundly important, and considerably more informed than better-known pop-science treatments of chaos theory. Very highly recommended.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:53 -0400)

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