Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Kauffman has done more than anyone else to supply the key missing piece of the propensity for self-organization that can join the random and the deterministic forces of evolution into a satisfactory theory of life's order."--Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University
"Stuart Kauffman lucidly argues that, in addition to Darwinian selection, another force, the emergence of self-organized order from apparent chaos determines the beautiful systems that make up the world and cosmos. He contends that emergent order is a feature of many complex systems and general laws that may be defined from their study. It is an exciting and well-written volume."--Barry Blumberg, Fox Chase Cancer Research Center and Nobel Laureate
"Every once in a while, you read a book so powerful and with such a radical view that you realize your world is changed forever....Kauffman is a pioneer of the new science of complexity, which sees in the world of nature an inner force of its own, not mystical but scientific. This insight touches something deep in each of us, as we yearn to understand the order we see in nature. Kauffman shares his discovery with us, with lucidity, wit, and cogent argument, and we see his vision. Many will embrace it, as I did, and will gaze on the world anew."--Roger Lewin
"Stuart Kauffman gives us a rich and compelling picture of the new principle of self-organization in understanding the emergence of order in complex systems, whether life or society or the economy. The analysis is dramatic without sacrificing scientific accuracy and a careful differentiation between what is known and what is surmised. The hints he has given on the development of the economy and especially of technology will undoubtedly be the basis of a major intellectual development."--Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
"Stu Kauffman is an immensely inventive and erudite explorer of the world of ideas and concepts. As with many explorers, not everyone will wish to accompany him but the description of the trip is fascinating."--Phil Anderson, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Princeton University
Includes bibliographical references (p. -306) and index.
About the Author
"Courageous....I guarantee that any reader whose imagination has survived an academic education--or has never been exposed to one--will learn a lot, and be changed forever."--Ian Stewart, Nature
"A new and far-reaching theory of order in the universe, introduced by a pioneer in that theory's development."--The Washington Post Book World
"Kauffman has done more than anyone else to supply the key missing piece of the propensity for self-organization that can join the random and the deterministic forces of evolution into a satisfactory theory of life's order."--Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Panda's Thumb