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Evolution As Entropy: Toward a Unified Theory of Biology (Science and Its Conceptual Foundation Series) Hardcover – November, 1988

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Hardcover, November, 1988
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This serious and scholarly tome unites the theory of biological evolutioni.e., that biological systems tend to become more ordered and highly structured through evolutionary timewith the seemingly contradictory second law of thermodynamicsi.e., that disorder or entropy increases over time. The authors argue that , in fact, living systems exhibit growing complexity and self-organization as a result of increasing entropy. They support their difficult yet logical arguments with a wide range of examples taken from developmental biology, embryology, morphology, population genetics, systematics, and community ecology. Not easy going for the casual reader, but well worth the effort for others. Recommended for academic collections .P. Robert Paustian, Wilkes Coll. Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Daniel R. Brooks is associate professor of zoology at the University of Toronto. E. O. Wiley is professor in the Department of Systematics and Ecology and curator at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Product Details

  • Series: Science and Its Conceptual Foundation Series
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 2 Sub edition (November 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226075737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226075730
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,217,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Craig Woods on February 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a very technical book, but it was well worth the effort for me. I first read it 8 years ago, and I still re-read it about once a year to ponder the implications. It is a refreshing, challenging, and potentially revolutionary view of evolution. While it may not prove to be the final understanding of this topic, it is a solid attempt to provide a thermodynamic underpinning for the law of Evolution.

It contains 2 profound and provocative hypotheses:
1) Information stored in living creatures' DNA can be modeled as a hierarchy of information stored at the different structural scales of the genome. This is based on the work of Prigogine to unify classic energetic entropy with informational entropy. (they call this Hierarchical Information Theory)
2) assuming that 1 is true, if you calculate the entropy stored in the hierarchy across a given population of a specie, the entropy will rise at the rate predicted by standard formulations of the 2nd law of thermodynamics rate as the population reproduces and evolves.

I found the critique in the 1-star review to be far off the mark. Apart from the ad hominem critique of the authors as non-biologists, the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not include a 'quality of energy' or 'quality of information' measure, as (apparently) asserted in the cited critique. While many people (and scientists) incorrectly view the law as implying that the quality of energy diminishes over time, a more correct view states that energy (or information) will become less _available_ over time, with fewer and fewer states accessible. This is precisely the point of the theory propounded in this book - to describe evolution without recourse to non-physical quantities such as information 'quality'.
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Format: Hardcover
The laws of thermodynamics dictate that the trend of the universe is towards an increasing state of disorder (entropy increasing). However, that only applies to the entire universe, it is not a violation of the laws to have local increases in order. Therefore, the order that defines living creatures is not a violation of the laws of physics; the increasing entropy of the sun more than balances the decrease in entropy represented by life.

The authors argue that the variety created by the process of evolution is an inevitable consequence of the increase in entropy. There is some obvious justification to their point. New species evolve via changes in genetic structure, some of which is due to recombination and other changes are caused by random alterations in the DNA, which leads to mutation. Since the genetic material that contains the blueprint for a living creature is a compact, highly ordered collection of information, random changes would be an increase in entropy. There is also a great deal of evidence indicating that aging is at least partially due to an accumulation of errors in the DNA, which can be interpreted as an increase in entropy. Since aging and death are necessary preconditions for evolution to take place, the argument that entropy is a driving force for evolution is a sound one. However, that means less than it may appear at first thought. Since an increase in entropy is such a powerful force in the universe, it is a part of every physical process.

A great deal of ink is also spent in describing the role of information in evolution. The authors are also on a sound footing in this area. When a species goes extinct, at least some of the information coded in their genetic complement is lost.
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13 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
of mathematical equations from information theory with little or no physical substance. One of the authors (Brooks) appears to be a misplaced mathematician who formally became a zoologist. It should be remembered that General Relativity was first submitted for publication by a mathematician (Hilbert) ahead of a physicist (Einstein) by a matter of weeks (but essentially by theft from Einstein, being a former mentor of Einstein)and dismissed in favour of the physicist as lacking any physical insights.
The late Volkenstein succintly criticized the book in his outstanding book "Physical Approaches to Biological Evolution"
as follows:
"As useless as the book cited above is the book 'Evolution as Entropy'by Brooks and Wiley. The basic proposition in this work is that speciation is controlled by the stochastic premises of the second law of thermodynamics. One may only regret that in the 43 years since the publication of Schrodinger's work [the book 'What is Life?'] a book has appeared whose authors do not understand the role of the second law of thermodynamics in living nature...the authors are concerned only with the amount of information and, hence, with entropy. But, by confining oneself to these concepts alone, one can hardly say anything about the world of living things the quality or value of information is often of decisive importance...No appropriate methods have yet been worked out for estimation of the quality of information...
The problem of the origin of valuable information is very important to biology. It can be expressed by the formula:
V = log(P/P0)
where P and P0 are respectively the probabilites of achieving a 'purpose' before and after the information is received.
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