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At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Stuart A. Kauffman
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21. November 1996
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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  • Taschenbuch: 336 Seiten
  • Verlag: Oxford Univ Pr; Auflage: Revised. (21. November 1996)
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ISBN-10: 0195111303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195111309
  • Größe und/oder Gewicht: 23,5 x 17 x 2,2 cm
  • Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 4.3 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (37 Kundenrezensionen)
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 18.393 in Englische Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Englische Bücher)
  • Komplettes Inhaltsverzeichnis ansehen

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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.


"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

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen a mathematical explanation of life 24. März 2000
The basic idea of Kauffman's book is that the complexity we see in nature (including life or technology) is contingent to math, i.e. can be explained and predicted by mathematical reasoning. The same is true of statistical thermodynamics and evolution. He states that Darwin's evolutionary theory explains only how complex life emerged from simple life, but it does not explain how simple life emerged from matter. There is probably a larger jump in complexity from matter to the first simple cell, than from that simple cell to a modern human being. Darwin does not explain that first jump. Kauffman doesn't either even though he is convincing in showing that life must have started through autocatalytic sets of molecules. He points out that these sets are self-organizing, stable and can vary as a reflex to external stimuli. What he mentions, but does not explain, is that autocatalytic sets can (or must) self-reproduce, a necessary step before evolution sets in. On page 66 of the paperback edition he states that "such breaking in two happens spontaneously as such [auto-catalytic] sets increase in volume", but, maddeningly, he does not explain how or why. One has to wonder: if life is such a necessary result of matter (therefore the title "at home in the universe") why then has it proven so difficult to synthesize anything approaching life in the laboratory? He doesn't say.
The book is full of incredibly interesting ideas. He explains ontogeny (the transformation of a fertilized egg to a highly complex and differentiated organism) using a simple model of on/off enzymes which allows him to build a Boolean network in which different cell types correspond to different "attractors", which are intrinsic in such a network.
Lesen Sie weiter... ›
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3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen There is a superb book hiding inside it! 5. Juli 2000
Other reviewers already sang praises to the concepts and the ideas contained ni this book, and I have nothing to add other than my agreement. BUT! The book would have been improved no end by some ruthless editing. The opening chapters in particular are immensely repetitive. The style is very uneven, sometimes apparently aiming at readers with no technical knowledge (and a miniscule attention span), while in other places packing ideas to such density that even a fairly informed reader can start gasping for breath.
I made the mistake of reading it on holidays, with no access to a computer. Big mistake! I kept wanting to program, to check out what the author was saying, to try variants and elaborations. I.e. to have lots of hands-on fun -- it's that sort of a book and I can thing of no higher recommendation. But please, oh please, somebody introduce Kaufman to a good editor!
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3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Let's not get carried away... 20. Januar 2000
Von Slacker79
Format:Taschenbuch either direction, for or against this book. Extremely high variance reviews are a good sign that reviewers are posting their own preconceptions, rather than reactions to this book.
There is a lot of good stuff in here. The descriptions of the patch procedure and simulated annealing, for instance, are very nice. This book can be useful to the motivated general reader, and to a scientist who wants to see the very basics of some novel ideas. It can also be useful for those familiar with complexity as an account of how different pieces fit together.
It's important to remember that the book is not a text in, say, biochemistry. Rather, it's about a way to see the world. At this stage of the idea development life cycle and in a basic treatment like this, it would be counterproductive to insist that these modeling tools reproduce everything we know or start at the level of complication of a mature science. If the book deals in toy examples that relate to a different view for pieces of the world and how they relate, it has done most of its job.
On the other hand, the book definitely has the mildly unpleasant tenor of a popularization. So, for example, any new idea is dressed up as revolutionary. Kauffman is actually better about this than many authors, especially in this field, but it's still palpable.
It is also written with all the mid-'90s euphoria over complexity. It is not clear that it will take as far as the gurus envision, but it is fun to think about -- and this book is a good way to start.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Extraordinary 22. Januar 1998
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
What a brain! We often look (up) to physicists to explain those aspects of our world which were once the proper purview of religion. Here is a biologist whose ideas must be taken in that same breath. This is a book whose ideas are truly profound. Mr. Kauffman reframed the way I conceptualized everything from myself, to society, the business cycle and biological evolution. In another era, this would be a spiritual text, a moving book which would alter the way we look at the world and ourselves. A reader with a background in literary theory or economics will find intriguing connections between classical theories of market economics and also the work of Derrida. To be honest, the prose can be trying at moments, but I imagine the text reads like Kauffman thinks...swiftly. In a way, this is a good thing, because the book forces you to slow down and think. You will scribble in the margins for hours, doting on and questioning his ideas about self-reproducting and organzing phenomenon and the notion that all complex systems evolve on the edge between stasis and chaos. Put simply: Read this book.
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Die neuesten Kundenrezensionen
5.0 von 5 Sternen Self-organization of theories
This seminal work leads the exodus from one-dimensional Darwinian selectionism in a fashion that does not succumb to transcendental explanation or abdication from naturalism,... Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 25. Juli 2000 von John C. Landon
5.0 von 5 Sternen open mind needed
You need an open mind to appreciate this book. If you are too tangled up in a scientific education, if you cannot distance yourself for a few hours from the concepts that you have... Lesen Sie weiter...
Am 9. Juni 2000 veröffentlicht
5.0 von 5 Sternen Very much at home
An excellent and original treatment of self-organisation. If ever there was a case for tearing down the functional divides that exist in academia today, then this is it. Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 4. April 2000 von Cathal J. Mahon
4.0 von 5 Sternen Fascinating ideas
This book has some really fascinating ideas - new ways to look at evolution and complex systems (or at least, new to me). Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 13. März 2000 von Wayne
5.0 von 5 Sternen Life as an auto-catalytic network
A completely different approch on evolution and what life is. Life is seen as an auto-catalytic network of reactions spontaneously emerging when a sufficiently diverse mix of... Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 6. März 2000 von Bertrand Ducharme
4.0 von 5 Sternen Hmmmm...
Not exactly what I was expecting, but a worthwhile read. Did it live up the hype generated by the shouts below? Yup - in a way. Lesen Sie weiter...
Am 29. Februar 2000 veröffentlicht
4.0 von 5 Sternen Compelling science
It seems to me that people are getting too caught up in the argument as to whether God exists or not, but this has nothing to do with Kauffman's work here. Lesen Sie weiter...
Am 18. Januar 2000 veröffentlicht
1.0 von 5 Sternen Heap of rubbish
This book is based on ridiculous assumptions and simply ignoring complete branches of science. Few examples:
1) It assumes that the probability of a molecule to catalyze a... Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 15. Januar 2000 von Yehouda Harpaz
5.0 von 5 Sternen Deeply insightful
What an incredible book. This is certainly the most insightful, lucid and significant book on the mechanisms and processes of biological and cosmic evolution that I have ever read. Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 31. Dezember 1999 von "the_bunnyman"
1.0 von 5 Sternen Pure Guesswork
In spite of overwhelning evidence that seems to point in the other direction, Kauffman tries to paint a picture of man's belonging to the universe. Lesen Sie weiter...
Veröffentlicht am 20. Dezember 1999 von Gunnar Odhner
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