"Chaos begets complexity, and complexity begets life"—the most complex thing there is, writes Cambridge University astrophysicist Gribbin in opening this examination of how chaos theory has shifted scientific thinking. Gribbin, a veteran popular science writer (The Scientists, etc.), points out that chaos theory is based on two simple principles: small changes in the starting conditions of a process can cause big changes in the outcome, and the behavior of the system feeds back into itself to change the development of the system. The way our genes produce proteins and in turn the cells in our bodies may appear so complex as to be "on the edge of chaos," but in fact, as Gribbin points out, a "deep simplicity" underlies all of nature. He details how the second law of thermodynamics, about the concept of entropy, and systems in equilibrium play vital roles in determining the order underlying apparent chaos. Gribbin argues for complexity as the agglomeration of a (relative) handful of natural processes. Yet despite his insistence that chaos and complexity are actually quite simple, Gribbin's sophisticated presentation may prove daunting to casual science buffs. But advanced science readers will find it worthwhile to understand how "we are the natural expression of a deeper order." B&w illus.
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"The surprise that we un-fold in this book is that chaos begets complexity, and complexity begets life," Gribbin writes. "The great insight is that chaos and complexity obey simple laws." Chaos in everyday life is random and unpredictable. "But the kind of chaos we are discussing here is completely orderly and deterministic, with one step following from another in an unbroken chain of cause and effect which is completely predictable at every stage--in principle."
Yet sometimes, in chaos theory, the complex outcome is not predictable. Gribbin, a science writer trained in astrophysics and currently a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex in England, smoothly traces the steps from chaos to complexity in such things as weather, earthquakes, the properties of the solar system, and the rise of the most complex system now known--life on Earth. And then he explores "the biggest question," which is whether there is "life beyond Earth."
Editors of Scientific AmericanSee all Editorial Reviews
Falls into a class of scientific books I don't typically read. But here I am, reading it at an analytical level and even starting to cross-reference material and create new... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Scott Marsh
Gribbin claims that the main theme of this book is “the emergence of life and its place in the Universe”. So, I had rather high hopes for it, but they were only partly fulfilled. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Howard A. Landman
Well written. Was enjoyable to read. It also fills a void since very few general audience books exist on this topic. You don't need to be a scientist to understand the book.Published 11 months ago by yg1968
The only reason I did not give this book a 5-star rating was because Gribbin covers so much territory..... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Stephen Knudsen
As usual in Gribbin, he writes for the "person next door", instead of the academicians, and without downgrading any part of its scientific content. Read morePublished on February 17, 2013 by Ernesto Martínez
This book provides another overview of the development of Chaos Theory and the background to fractals. Read morePublished on September 3, 2011 by Steven Unwin
Having only just read the book 6 years after publication, I don't typically write a review for a book that so many others have already provided excellent reviews. Read morePublished on February 23, 2011 by robert johnston
I came to this book via a recommendation by Charlie Munger, and while I can appreciate why he would like it (as the book is very multi-discipline), I found the central thesis to be... Read morePublished on October 29, 2010 by Devon Reed
The book was a fascinating (and deep) introduction into Chaos Theory's history, science, and flowering applications. Read morePublished on July 19, 2010 by Cinema Air