At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity Info

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A major scientific revolution has begun, a new paradigm that
rivals Darwin's theory in importance. At its heart is the discovery of
the order that lies deep within the most complex of systems, from the
origin of life, to the workings of giant corporations, to the rise and
fall of great civilizations. And more than anyone else, this revolution
is the work of one man, Stuart Kauffman, a MacArthur Fellow and
visionary pioneer of the new science of complexity. Now, in At Home
in the Universe
, Kauffman brilliantly weaves together the
excitement of intellectual discovery and a fertile mix of insights to
give the general reader a fascinating look at this new science--and at
the forces for order that lie at the edge of chaos.
We all know of
instances of spontaneous order in nature--an oil droplet in water forms a
sphere, snowflakes have a six-fold symmetry. What we are only now
discovering, Kauffman says, is that the range of spontaneous order is
enormously greater than we had supposed. Indeed, self-organization is a
great undiscovered principle of nature. But how does this spontaneous
order arise? Kauffman contends that complexity itself triggers
self-organization, or what he calls "order for free," that if enough
different molecules pass a certain threshold of complexity, they begin
to self-organize into a new entity--a living cell. Kauffman uses the
analogy of a thousand buttons on a rug--join two buttons randomly with
thread, then another two, and so on. At first, you have isolated pairs;
later, small clusters; but suddenly at around the 500th repetition, a
remarkable transformation occurs--much like the phase transition when
water abruptly turns to ice--and the buttons link up in one giant
network. Likewise, life may have originated when the mix of different
molecules in the primordial soup passed a certain level of complexity
and self-organized into living entities (if so, then life is not a
highly improbable chance event, but almost inevitable). Kauffman uses
the basic insight of "order for free" to illuminate a staggering range
of phenomena. We see how a single-celled embryo can grow to a highly
complex organism with over two hundred different cell types. We learn
how the science of complexity extends Darwin's theory of evolution by
natural selection: that self-organization, selection, and chance are the
engines of the biosphere. And we gain insights into biotechnology, the
stunning magic of the new frontier of genetic engineering--generating
trillions of novel molecules to find new drugs, vaccines, enzymes,
biosensors, and more. Indeed, Kauffman shows that ecosystems, economic
systems, and even cultural systems may all evolve according to similar
general laws, that tissues and terra cotta evolve in similar ways. And
finally, there is a profoundly spiritual element to Kauffman's thought.
If, as he argues, life were bound to arise, not as an incalculably
improbable accident, but as an expected fulfillment of the natural
order, then we truly are at home in the universe.
Kauffman's earlier
volume, The Origins of Order, written for specialists,
received lavish praise. Stephen Jay Gould called it "a landmark and a
classic." And Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson wrote that "there are few
people in this world who ever ask the right questions of science, and
they are the ones who affect its future most profoundly. Stuart Kauffman
is one of these." In At Home in the Universe, this visionary
thinker takes you along as he explores new insights into the nature of
life.

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