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Brian Castellani, Complexity Scientist and Professor, Kent State University
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As of 2014, there has been much written in the complexity sciences on the all-purpose topics of complex systems and networks and their related scientific methods - I am thinking here, for example, of Byrne and Callaghan's excellent "Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences" or Mitchell's "Complexity: A Guided Tour."
What really hasn't been written, however, is a cohesive or comprehensive review of the content (the actual empirical outcome) of this cutting-edge research - which, in almost every way imaginable, is creating an entirely new view of human life and the global ecosystem that sustains it.
Enter Capra and Luisi's new textbook "The Systems View of Life."
For those new to the complexity science literature (or professors thinking about adopting this book for class), one couldn't ask for a better writing partnership. Capra, a physicist by training, is world-renown for this twin books on systems and complexity science ("The Web of Life" and "The Hidden Connections"), as well as his provocative assessment - from a philosophy of science perspective - of the limits of conventional, mechanistic science and the need for a new, holistic, ecologically responsible systems science ("The Tao of Physics," "The Turning Point" and "The Science of Leonardo"). In turn, Luisi is an internationally recognized professor of biochemistry and complexity science, having done primary research into such core issues as cellular autopoiesis and synthetic biology. He is also well known for his in-depth academic books, as well as his two popular works, "The Emergence of Life" and "Mind and Life."
Divided into three parts, "The Systems View of Life" is a compendium of all-things systems thinking and complexity science:
Part 1 (sections 1 and 2) is devoted to the philosophy of science, focusing on the historical shift from mechanistic thinking (dominated by reductionism, Newtonian mechanics, social physics and a Cartesian view of life) to systems thinking (dominated by the holism, networks, nonlinear mechanics, global network society, and a complex systems view of life). Capra and Luisi are clear: mechanistic thinking is a victim of its own success, as it was so powerful in solving so many issues over the last hundred or so years that (now) it is simply assumed, almost by definition, that it can solve all current problems, which is wrong, as the problems of today, as Warren Weaver pointed out all the way back in 1948 (Science and Complexity), are complex systems problems.
For professors thinking about this textbook, Part1 is an important addition to the literature - here I am thinking of Hammond's "The Science of Synthesis" and Klir's "Facets of Systems Science" - as Capra and Luisi's chapters provide the historical backdrop missing from most introductions to the complexity sciences, helping students, as I already alluded to, understand why the sciences are shifting.
In Part 2 (the third section of the book), Capra and Luisi venture into entirely new territory, doing something (as I have already suggested in my opening remarks) yet to be done in the literature, let alone a textbook: they synthesize the empirical insights of the systems and complexity sciences into a new and cohesive view of life. As they state in their introduction, "We present a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life's biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions."
The accomplishment of this task cannot be underestimated, as it is significant and should have a lasting impact, demonstrating just how visionary the complexity sciences can be - but only if time is given to their study (I am also thinking of students here) and to collecting and connecting up their insights.
Such a synthesis requires, however, a bit more effort than just connecting the dots - even though Capra and Luisi humbly suggest that this is all they are doing. Instead, it requires a theoretical frame, which the individual empirical insights often lack.
For Capra and Luisi, the theoretical frame is a network-based view of life. Networks provide, literally, the links from one topic to the next in their book, in a sort of "scale-free approach to knowledge," where one moves freely from the human genome and human cognition to social organizations and cities to ecosystems and global society.
But, this is not where things end. For Capra and Luisi, these links must extend beyond theory and empirical synthesis to application and policy - to helping the world become a better place, to the moral culpability of science and to doing the right thing!
While not by any means unanimously embraced, there is a global morality associated with a significant segment of the systems and complexity science community, which goes by a variety of names, from deep ecology and ecofeminism to post-humanism and global civil society. Regardless of the term, the view is the same: we face, currently, as a global society, a significant number of complex systems problems, which can be better managed (or even solved) if the political, economic, scientific and public will to employ such a perspective exists! If not, these problems will most likely be our doom - or, less dramatically, they will result in increased global disparity and inequality and, ecologically speaking, a significantly degraded and decompensated planet.
And so, in the final section of the book - Part 3 - Capra and Luisi employ the complex systems view of life to make sense of and, in turn, address the current list of global social problems we, as a global society, face: from population growth and climate change to economic sustainability and the development of a global civil society.
Again, for a science textbook, this is new territory. Professors typically do not challenge students to think about the links between their science and the global world in which they live. But that is, nonetheless, where our immediate future resides: we need our students, as the generation that will inherit all of these problems, to have the tools necessary to address them, and in a way that leads to a sustainable level of economic, political, cultural, and spiritual/existential wellbeing for the greatest number of people possible! What more, in 500 pages or less, could a professor (or our students) want from a book devoted to making sense of the complex lives we currently live? And so, whether you are teaching introduction to sociology or macroeconomics, cognitive psychology or cultural anthropology, microbiology or philosophy, it doesn't matter; make this textbook part of your required reading list. Our future depends upon it.
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Prof Warwick Fox
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Fritjof Capra has been a consistently interesting and deservedly popular thinker for many years now. I have always been impressed by the clarity and economy with which he has been able to communicate complex ideas, often in considerable depth, to a general audience. Equally, I have always been impressed by the breadth of his intellectual interests and his rare ability to combine these wide-ranging interests into coherent and far-reaching syntheses.
Now, together with his co-author Pier Luigi Luisi, who has himself made significant contributions to the discussion of the emergence of life (see, e.g., Luisi's The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology), Capra and Luisi have outdone themselves. Their 500 page book The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (with many words per page, given its large-page format) is, purely and simply, a magnum opus, it really is. It surely represents the culminating statement of Capra and his co-author's work over several decades now on the development of a scientifically-informed unified vision of the world that incorporates and integrates the biological, ecological, cognitive, philosophical, social, political, and even the spiritual dimensions of life. The last time I read such an all-embracing, well-informed, and richly rewarding synthesis as this was when I read Charles Birch and John Cobb's The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community (also from Cambridge University Press) - and that was published back in 1981!
If you want to understand the major cultural shift that we have been undergoing over the last several hundred years (right across the physical, life, and social sciences) from a mechanistic worldview to the emergence of what the authors term a 'systems' worldview - a worldview that sees the world around us in terms of networks, patterns, and complex, mutually interacting, living or life-like systems rather than in terms of discrete building blocks that interact in linear, sequential ways that are open to precise forms of prediction and control - then this is now THE book to read.
As the authors show, this shift in worldview has major implications for almost everything that ought to matter to us - from the very practical ways in which we need to attend to the manifold problems that are pressing in upon us in the ecological and socio-political realms to the ways in which we can find an approach to our inner, spiritual lives that is consistent with our best scientific understandings.
You get the idea. I cannot praise this book enough. Capra and Luisi have done us all a great service. I cannot see how anyone could spend even just a few hours with this book and not come away considerably the richer for it. Spend considerably longer with it and you will undoubtedly come away knowing a lot more about various areas of interest to you than you do now - not to mention more inspired to work for changes in directions that will enable us to sustain the web of life on this planet. Every critically-minded reader will find their own quibbles here and there of course, but c'mon ... the comprehensive breadth and depth of scholarship displayed in this book, all communicated clearly and economically (often with aid of pictures, inset boxes, and diagrams), is simply outstanding.
Warwick Fox - author of Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment, and On Beautiful Days Such as This: A philosopher sings the blues and restores his soul in Greece.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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It's been a long time since I've been so excited about reading a non-fiction book, let alone a text book. But this one has captivated my interest by pulling together so many ideas and threads of scientific knowledge and wisdom.
The core message of this book is that it is time to replace the mechanistic, atomistic model of science, based on Cartesian and Newtonian thinking, which has been dominant for several centuries, not only in science, as a paradigm, but in culture, as a metaphor used as a lens through which the world is viewed. This top-down mechanistic model does not work to explain ecology, ecosystems, and life, nor does it adequately explain sub-atomic particle physics. Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the mechanistic model, applied as a metaphor by people in all walks of life, has created a mindset in society that has led to non-sustainable ways of thinking about how we live, do business, even relate to each other and spiritually, one that embraces the pathological economic model of unlimited consumption.
The answer is to replace both the scientific model and the metaphor with a bottom-up, systems view based on the core idea that properties are based on relationships and manifest in interconnected networks where small actions or changes can produce big effects (another systems characteristic that is not explained in the mechanistic model.) The bottom-up system view metaphor is a much healthier, profoundly more sustainable one that it our culture must embrace if we are to transition to a future that includes bio-diversity and the continued existence of the human race. It shouldn't be that hard. That's the way humans evolved and existed for 99.99 percent of their five million years of existence. It's only a few hundred year old habit we have to let go of.
In a sense, this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts.
It starts walking us through the history of science--and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures. This is a wonderful section that lays out the people who came up with the ideas. I've been telling the many people I've already recommended the book too that we've lived through the most fertile time in the history of science, with an immense amount of new findings, more, in the past 60 or even 30 years than the rest of history combined. Over the decades I've been subscribing to numerous science magazines which have given me the pieces. This book pulls the big changes together and integrates them, across disciplines into a glorious big picture, for each field and for all of them tied together.
As I was reading the portion of the book covering the history of systems thinking, at one point, as the authors were about to begin giving a history and explanation of a concept I'd had a loose handle on, I realized that I was suddenly feeling very excited, like I was in a movie, sitting on the edge of my seat, or becoming aroused and excited. But it was a non-fiction book, on scientific theory.
This is what great writers and a great book are supposed to do.
I particularly found the section on non-linear, dynamic, complexity and chaos theories helpful. It shows how the butterfly effect-- how small initial actions or changes-- can produce massive changes. I find that very hopeful, even more because the research earned Ilya Prigogine a Nobel prize for showing how, out of chaos, higher levels of order can emerge.
I've read the whole book-- close to 500 pages. It has had a huge impact on my way of thinking about so many things. The last book that had this strong an influence on was Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and before that, Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces.
The book makes it clear that the dominant economic models, based on continual, unending growth are not only unsustainable, they are, as Capra told me in my interview with him, "grotesque," because, for example, GDP goes up when money is spent to clean up oil spills or to pay for wars.
The last third of the book explores solutions that emerge by thinking in systems terms. The solutions apply to economics, ecology, sustainable energy, architecture, farming, urban planning, healthcare and more.
While The Systems View of Life is written as a textbook, that doesn't mean it is just for classes on systems theory. Capra told me that he sees it as useful in classes on history of science, biology, physics, philosophy, agriculture, urban planning, energy and more. I hope that happens.
It doesn't matter what your area of work or interest is. This book is essential reading to face the future with eyes wide open.