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Essays on Life Itself Paperback – November 15, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0231105118 ISBN-10: 0231105118 Edition: 1500th

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Essays on Life Itself + Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life (Complexity in Ecological Systems)
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Product Details

  • Series: Complexity in Ecological Systems
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1500 edition (November 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231105118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231105118
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,572,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


These 22 essays are intended for serious thinkers, as they are provocative and often iconoclastic. There are many new ideas, daring perspectives, and challenging modes of interpretation of concepts that readers may have mistakenly thought they understood.... I am equally sure that readers will enjoy and benefit from these essays.

(Bruce J. West The Quarterly Review of Biology)

About the Author

Robert Rosen was professor emeritus of biophysics at Dalhousie University and the author of books including Life Itself (Columbia 1991), Principles of Mathematical Biology, and Principles of Measurement.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
These are not the easiest books to read, despite Rosen's excellent writing skills.
T. Gwinn
Some essays require a good understanding of the maths used e.g. category theory, linear algebra, calculus.
Frank Bierbrauer
Whether you agree or disagree, an honest reading will require you to re-examine your beliefs.
Donald C. Mikulecky

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By T. Gwinn on November 14, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection of essays, along with Rosen's other book _Life Itself_, are mandatory reading for any scientist or any astute layperson interested in biology, physics or philosophy of science.
Rosen was a very insightful and technically capable theoretical biologist. His work - first as a student of physicist and theoretical biologist Nicholas Rashevsky, and later as professor emeritus at Dalhousie - is unquestionably of the level of importance of Einstein's Special/General Theory of Relativity, or Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. This is a grand claim to make, but once you read Rosen's work, you will see for yourself.
These are not the easiest books to read, despite Rosen's excellent writing skills. The difficulty is two-fold. First and foremost, the new concepts and paradigms presented are of such breadth and profundity that it can take several readings to begin to fully grasp them adequately. Secondly, Rosen is mathematically (and otherwise) quite astute. The reader will encounter to some degree: category theory, topology, catastrophe theory (Rosen dedicates a chapter on genericity in _Essays_ to Rene Thom), differential equations, dynamical systems, Godel, Church-Turing, as well as philosophical topics of epistemology, ontology, and foundations of biology, mathematics and physics.
This should not, however, deter even the non-professional. Particularly in _Life Itself_, Rosen progresses carefully and patiently, even including a short intro to Category Theory. One can gloss over some of the math and still garner most of the insights from the text alone. _Essays_ utilizes a wider range of math skills, since that book covers a broader range of topics, but it is still quite accessible to the careful and astute reader.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stanley R. Palombo on August 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This posthumous book of essays clarifies and extends the innovative ideas Rosen presented in "Life Itself." I found it easier to follow than the original book, now one of the classics of modern biology. Rosen's thesis is that the universe is generically complex. That is to say, the complexity we see in biological systems is the normal state of the universe, while the simplicities of particle physics represent a "degenerate" state of matter. Counterintuitive, but completely plausible in Rosen's outstanding presentation. Instead of asking how the complex systems that surround us today evolved from the meager combinatorial possibilites of the early universe, Rosen directs our attention to the constraints on the natural complexity of things imposed by the high temperatures at the time of the big bang. The best argument against reductionism you'll find anywhere.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Zentao on May 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
This collection of papers and presentations, published posthumously, is a companion to Rosen's earlier books "Life Itself" and "Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations". This is probably the most accessible of his work to those without a fairly solid mathematical background. Not that this should prevent people from reading the earlier work since there are many sections that will be quite clear; I just feel that unfortuntely the crucial points of "Life Itself" might be lost due to the seeming technical nature of the explanation.
This is truly paradigm-shifting, moreso than anything else you are likely to read about in science. The Sante Fe crowd such as Stuart Kauffman obviously did not even grasp what Rosen was talking about when they met back in 1994 and that is even more tragic. So much time has been wasted with such money-wasters like the genome mapping fiasco when it could have been going into exploring new axioms for science.
For you see, this is what Rosen so eloquently points out in his work: the present axioms of science are much too limiting to explain anything we really would like to know about the universe. It is very interesting to see that Rosen grasped the implications of what also caught Einstein and Schrodinger's attention: the problem of inertial and gravitational mass. Rosen also points out the myriad of other areas where science has been busy putting band-aid after band-aid on the present set of theories to try to make them predict real phenomena.
For this is the problem with the present-day paradigms: they are only useful for predicting the N+1 state for some dead (and therefore uninteresting) mechanistic universe.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Frank Bierbrauer on February 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
In a series of essays, Robert Rosen, the brilliant mathematical biologist whose name was made with earlier books such as "Anticipatory Systems" and "Life Itself" expounds his ideas both on the standard accepted dogma in biology today and some snippets of his own energetic investigations into new ideas about what biology is all about.

Unlike many of his contemporaries Rosen is not afraid to let other areas influence his own ideas, e.g. he draws on philosophy especially the work covering epistemology and the Mind-Brain problem to deeply investigate the accepted state of biology today especially the, unexpectedly metaphysical, basis of the reductionistic approach to most of science as it is today. He investigates in 5 parts: Biology and Physics, Biology and the Mind, Genericity, Similarity and Dissimilarity in Biology and Biology and Technology.

His initial concern is Schroedinger's question "What is Life". Of course this can't be answered today without in effect "loosing the organism" in the process. Rather than accept Schroedinger's work as a standard exposition of the accepted view he maintains it is far more radical, this agrees well with earlier statements of Heisenberg who also supports the view that reductionistic science more and more shrinks the domain of "true" scientific investigation, or rather what may be considered scientific and what may be thought of as hocus-pocus or vitalism.

Rosen does not shirk his responsibilities in exposing the weaknesses of the reductionistic and mechanistic views including in his critique the Church-Pythagoras Thesis, modeling, mimetics, simple and complex systems, Turing machines etc. Rosen emphasises that the ordinary mechanistic physics of today is the study of "simple systems" i.e.
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