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Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature Paperback – November 14, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0674009875 ISBN-10: 0674009878

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674009878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674009875
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #519,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Chaisson conducts an intriguing tour over vast realms of time and space. A lucid and sprightly guide, he brings forth original and provocative observations, while gathering a host of wonders in his cosmic embrace. (Dudley Herschbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry)

Using the leitmotif of rising complexity and order, Eric Chaisson delivers the epic of creation as understood by modern science, from microsecond zero to the origin of life on Earth. His command of the subject and clarity of exposition are admirable. (E.O. Wilson)

Eric Chaisson has written a definitive synthesis of what he calls a golden age of astrophysics and biochemistry. Cosmic Evolution presents a dramatic new world view for the twenty-first century, which provides a potential guide for understanding the nature of all material things. Every scientist, indeed anyone interested in humanity's future, should read this masterly and unique book. (Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara)

Eric Chaisson has thought deeply about the growth of complexity in the universe, as life and intelligence appear to have emerged from chaos. An astronomer whose lucid lectures draw a wide audience, Chaisson here tackles the issue head on, with conclusions that are as fascinating as life itself. (George Field, Harvard University)

A superb synthesis. Chaisson convincingly shows that free energy processing rates spurred the growth of complexity in the cosmos. Highly recommended. (Hubert Reeves, Astrophysicist, C.N.R.S. France)

This century ushers in a new unified view of Nature. We can see that the mechanisms of the stars and the structure of bacteria are governed by the same fundamental processes. We can detect the link between the hottest fusion reactions in gamma bursters and the essential metabolic reactions which give rise to and sustain life. Eric Chaisson has long been one of our most passionate and articulate informants about this emerging conception of the cosmos. Cosmic Evolution tells this new story in language anyone can understand. (Gerald Soffen, Senior Astrobiologist, NASA)

A fascinatingly synthetic book that unifies evolution from the Big Bang through biology and human culture. Chaisson is at once quantitative and poetic, grounding his work in physics while celebrating intelligence as 'the animated conduit through which the Universe comes to know itself.' Cosmic Evolution shows us a universe teeming with the complex products of evolution, including ourselves. (Richard Wolfson, Professor of Physics, Middlebury College)

Chaisson is an astrophysicist at Tufts University, who has written many popular books on science. His newest offering is concerned with 'time's arrow,' a curve of rising cosmic complexity beginning with the big bang...Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained (or at least roughly described) by the laws of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism. He shows that in an expanding universe, local pockets of order will naturally arise even as the overall disorder (entropy) of the universe increases...What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure. (Chet Raymo Boston Globe 2000-12-19)

Cosmic Evolution is an illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers. Seeing how the expansion of the Universe spawned all the living complexity around and within us creates a fuller appreciation of the entwined laws and flaws of Nature...This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience. (John D. Barrow New Scientist)

Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one...[His] theory has the ring of rightness. (Daniel W. McShea American Scientist 2001-11-01)

Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world. (Lynn Marguilis Times Higher Education Supplement 2001-11-09)

Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained... by the laws of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism ... What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure? (Chet Raymo Boston Globe)

An illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers ... This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience. (John D. Barrow New Scientist)

Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one... [His] theory has the ring of rightness? (Daniel W. McShea American Scientist)

Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world? (Lynn Margulis Times Higher Education Supplement)

So Chaisson defines life as an "open, coherent, space- time structure maintained far from thermodynamic equilibrium by a flow of energy through it."…Chaisson's approach leaves one wondering, perhaps absurdly…In this creative, thought-provoking book, Chaisson shows how difficult even the most basic scientific question can turn out to be. (Charles Seife Wilson Quarterly)

Surveys the grand scenario of cosmic evolution by examining natural changes among radiation, matter, and life within the context of big-bang cosmology. Using non- equilibrium thermodynamics and a suite of interdisciplinary arguments, the author follows the changes in energy within numerous well-known structures, including galaxies, stars, planets, and life. (The Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

[Chaisson's] discourse covers a wide range, from the physics of the early Universe to the origin and nature of life, touching on issues such as the 'anthropic principle' in cosmology, the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, Darwinian views on the evolution of life seen in the context of present-day molecular biology, and issues of cultural development. Thus, he takes seriously the modern biological synthesis and also places it in its proper physical and cosmological context, emphasizing interesting causal links. (George Ellis Nature)

Review

Chaisson conducts an intriguing tour over vast realms of time and space. A lucid and sprightly guide, he brings forth original and provocative observations, while gathering a host of wonders in his cosmic embrace. (Dudley Herschbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Carey Allen on April 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an enjoyable big-picture examination of evolution in light of thermodynamics, i.e. how can order increase despite the 2nd law of thermodynamics? You will need to recall some calculus and some basic physics in order to follow the thread of the discussion. Chaisson does an excellent job of laying out the subject, looking at the evolution of complicated structures, e.g. the universe, stars, galaxies, planets, life, brains, societies. He actually works through the numbers on several examples in order to give you a better feel for the subject of evolution, and for thermodynamics. If you have an interest in things cosmological, I strongly recommend this book.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By reader220 on November 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Professor Chaisson has succeeded in providing a narrative of the Universe, one that is elegant and satisfying, and at the same time based on a rock-solid, quantitative approach.
This book has finally reconciled for me the vexing question of how complexity and disorder (entropy) can increase simultaneously. I knew that total entropy must increase, per the 2nd law of thermodynamics. What I did not realize is that the maximum POSSIBLE entropy of the Universe is increasing even faster, due to the expansion of the Universe. So now I have a way of visualizing the amount of complexity in the Universe - it is the difference between these two entropies.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the clear identification of the phases of the Universe: Radiation Era->Matter Era->Life Era. The idea that we, as intelligent life, can give birth to a thriving, universal Life Era is visionary and uplifting (and part of the basis for Reason for the Common Good).
Cosmic Evolution is extremely well-researched, quantitative, and most of all, illuminating.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ideophile on September 16, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Chaisson's book is an exploration of the consequences of an expanding universe - an exploration that leads to the conclusion that it is the very expansion of the universe that is (almost literally) the engine of creation.

First, Chaisson provides an introduction to the nature of change. He starts out simply enough looking at time and quantum probability, but then turns toward open systems and the "spontaneous order" (or "dissipative structure") consequences of gradients (both thermal and otherwise) in such systems when the second law of thermodynamics kicks in and attempts to drive the system toward equilibrium. This review of the basics sets the stage for Chaisson's ultimate contribution.

Chaisson then moves on to the history of the universe. Taking things a bit out of order, he starts with what he terms the "Matter" period. Here, he covers the cosmology of matter, discussing topics such as the material evidence for an expanding universe, what this tells us about the age of the universe, and so on.

From there, Chaisson reverses field to an earlier period that he calls the "Radiation" period. This period starts with the big bang and revolves around what happens to energy at different densities. For example, at the highest possible densities, energy is just a homogeneous blob. At lower densities, fundamental particles begin precipitating out forming a plasma. At lower densities still, the precipitation stops and these particles begin collecting together into atomic structures and such. And given that the universe is expanding, energy runs through the entire range of these densities - thus it is the very expansion of the universe that drives the evolution of energy and matter.

At this point we jump forward into the "Life" period.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By DonL2507 on February 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a non-scientist with a life-long interest in science, I was particularly interested in this book as I had earlier read his "The Life Era" which discussed similar themes and was written for a broad audience. Since "Cosmic Evolution" was published by the Harvard University Press I anticipated a bit more scientific rigor which indeed was the case which made for a more challenging "read" on occasion but one ultimately more rewarding and stimulating. Equations are used, but not particularly frequently, and most of them I could follow, and the author provides a list of "Symbols and Numerical Constants" at the back of the book which helped when I had forgotten what a symbol stood for. In keeping with the "big picture" view of the book, the graphs are schematic and not empirical but help very much in clearly depicting the mathematical relationships in the book.

The big picture in this book is that, since the Big Bang, the universe has moved from the Radiation Era to the Matter Era to the current Life Era with order and complexity building, e.g., a planet is more complex than a star, a worm is more complex than a rock, and a human is more complex than a frog. Dr. Chaisson uses (resuscitates?) 19th century energy physics with its energy flows and energy gradients as the driving force behind the complexification he describes (along with the general expansion of the universe) and suggests that at least in his mind energy physics need not give way to information theory in providing the more cogent explanation for this trend.
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