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The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution [Paperback]

Stuart A. Kauffman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 10, 1993 0195079515 978-0195079517 1
Stuart Kauffman here presents a brilliant new paradigm for evolutionary biology, one that extends the basic concepts of Darwinian evolution to accommodate recent findings and perspectives from the fields of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. The book drives to the heart of the exciting debate on the origins of life and maintenance of order in complex biological systems. It focuses on the concept of self-organization: the spontaneous emergence of order that is widely observed throughout nature Kauffman argues that self-organization plays an important role in the Darwinian process of natural selection. Yet until now no systematic effort has been made to incorporate the concept of self-organization into evolutionary theory. The construction requirements which permit complex systems to adapt are poorly understood, as is the extent to which selection itself can yield systems able to adapt more successfully. This book explores these themes. It shows how complex systems, contrary to expectations, can spontaneously exhibit stunning degrees of order, and how this order, in turn, is essential for understanding the emergence and development of life on Earth. Topics include the new biotechnology of applied molecular evolution, with its important implications for developing new drugs and vaccines; the balance between order and chaos observed in many naturally occurring systems; new insights concerning the predictive power of statistical mechanics in biology; and other major issues. Indeed, the approaches investigated here may prove to be the new center around which biological science itself will evolve. The work is written for all those interested in the cutting edge of research in the life sciences.

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The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution + At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity + Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion
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Editorial Reviews


"Biology is the science of the organizational principles that make living things living. Kauffman's book is a massive attempt to provide the foundations for a theory of such organization. . .The book is as much an explication of a specific style of scientific thinking as it is a book on adaptation, the origin of life, and ontogeny. The style of thinking can be characterized by the assumption that there are deep and simple conceptual structures that will allow us to understand life and not merely describe it. . .I hope that Kauffman's book will be a strong stimulus for many scientists to search actively for the principles that govern the organization of living states of matter." --Science

"This book does a real service in building a bridge between reductionist and holistic ways of thinking about systems. . .Kauffman writes with great intelligence and clarity and is able to bring together a large range of theory and experimental information without getting bogged down in detail." --Whole Earth Review

"For all the recent advances in molecular biology, we still lack a convincing explanation of how self-organising and self-replicating entities originated. Stuart Kauffman enters this arena with a book that seeks to show that self-organising structures of great complexity can assemble themselves much more easily, and much more understandably, than previous intuition suggested. . .Building on recent work in nonlinear mathematics, the idea at the heart of the book is truly important: even in vastly complicated interactive networks, a few simple rules can easily--if amazingly--lead to order and self-organised patterns and processes. This represents a major advance in understanding how the living world works." --Robert M. May, The Observer

"Stuart Kauffman's book. . .is a global representation of a new field, that will greatly enhance our physical understanding of Nature. It treats from a physical standpoint the processes of molecular selfordering, as biologists witness them in the living world, and it does so in a most original and authoritative way. A superb reading, not limited to physicists and biologists, having most important implications in natural philosophy." --Manfred Eigen, Max-Planck Institut für Biophysikalische Chemie

"There are very few people in this world who ever ask the right questions of science, and they are the ones who affect its future most profoundly. Stuart Kauffman is one of these. Read this book." --Philip Anderson, Nobel Laureate, Dept. of Physics, Princeton University

"The conventional concept of Darwinian evolution views populations of organisms as randomly varying systems shaped to adaptation by the external force of natural selection. But Darwinian theory must be expanded to recognize other sources of order based on the internal genetic and developmental constraints of organisms and on the structural limits and possibilities of general physical laws. Stu Kauffman has been exploring these unorthodox sources of order for many years and has now produced an integrative book that will become a landmark and a classic as we grope towards a more comprehensive and satisfying theory of evolution." --Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University

"Has there been time, since the origin of life on earth, for natural selection to produce the astonishing complexity of living organisms? Kauffman offers a new and unorthodox answer to this question. Given what we know about the way genes signal to one another, he argues that complexity can arise more readily than one would expect. I am not sure he is right, but I am sure that we should take his ideas seriously. --John Maynard Smith, University of Sussex

"Professor Kauffman's book is highly imaginative and provocative." --Lewis Wolpert, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine

"The facile claim that natural selection can accomplish every adaptive change fails to grapple with the problems posed by a highly structured system with its own laws of assembly and interaction. Stuart Kauffman's book, The Origins of Order, returns the problem of evolution to the central issue that evolutionists have been avoiding for too long, the problem of the evolution of a complex, organized system that we call, appropriately, an organism. Evolutionists had better take Kauffman's arguments seriously." --Richard C. Lewontin, Harvard University

"I rarely agree with Stuart Kauffman, but I always enjoy arguing with him. If you are interested in novel theories, buy this book--you will find lots of ideas worth wrestling with." --Leslie E. Orgel, The Salk Institute

About the Author

Stuart Kauffman, M.D., is a MacArthur Fellow, and a philosopher, biologist, evolutionary theorist, and one of the founders of the discipline known as complexity.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 734 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 10, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195079515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195079517
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #657,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
98 of 100 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If you're looking for popular science, you will be happier with the author's more readable book on the same subject, At Home in the Universe. But if you're willing to do a little more work, this is the most compelling book you'll find about how life can emerge from the natural principles of self-organization.

This is a technical book. It isn't filled with equations, but it assumes at least some knowledge of basic math, chemistry, and biology. It was written by an impressive generalist whose talents seem to extend to almost everything except lucid writing, and for that reason alone, it will never receive the attention it deserves.

As with all good science, this book is equal parts experiment, observation, and intuition. Computer simulations of randomly generated boolean networks are used to explore: the dyamics of evolution on rugged fitness landscapes; the tendency to react to perturbations by returning to the stable cycle or "attractor" that was active when the perturbation occurred; and the relationship among the different attractor loops within such networks. This experimental work is tied in with knowledge of biology and chemistry to explain the emergence of life, autocatalytic systems of chemicals, cell development, and natural selection.

The experience was something like reading Godel, Escher, Bach but in many ways more satisfying. Whereas Hofstadter eloquently contrives a synthesis of three human inventions, mathematics, music and art, Kauffman scrawls out his intuitive synthesis based on the rather empirical fields of chemistry, biology and computer simulation. Hofstadter is looking for an understanding of how the mind networks symbols to create thought, and Kauffman, how the natural universe networks molecules to create life.
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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The science book to read. Six stars at least. June 15, 2002
Stuart Kauffman has an MD and is a generalist. The book deals primarily with theory and understanding of computer simulations of state driven systems of large numbers of connected nodes. It examines how such systems evolve through mutation and gives a clear understanding of the limited role of natural selection in comparison to the self-organizing forces at work within such systems. It examines the meta-interaction of sub-systems of interacting states (attractor basins) that occur within a system. In English: it gives the first theoretical framework for understanding just how it is that cells which all contain identical DNA express themselves as some number of stable cell types. Normally a cell will react to a perturbation in whatever way will return it to its base stable cycle (attractor loop). One type of cell turns into another type when just the right perturbation kicks the system from one attractor basin into a different attractor basin.
This is heavier reading than his popular science book, At Home in the Universe, but preferable for anyone with the necessary tiny amount of knowledge of genetics and logic operations. There are few equations of any kind. The results apply to more than just biological systems.
The book is long because instead of just presenting a few principles that you can try to remember abstractly, he leads you through all the important steps of his research and gives you a real feel for how complex systems actually evolve and operate. The book raises more questions than it answers, as it should be for a book of such originality and importance.
When you fully grok the contents of this book you'll be so excited you'll want to rush and explain it to someone else, which will be utterly impossible, so you'll probably have to lend them your book, buy them the popular version, or face the fact that you are now relatively alone on a higher plane.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New paradigm shift in biology April 13, 2002
The Origins of Order will be viewed in the future as a milestone in shifting the existing Darwinian paradigm in biology from a "survival of the fittest" (natural selection) to a new paradigm focused on explaining the "arrival of the fittest" through self-organisation.
Using a boolean (NK) network model and a extensive amount of biological facts, Stuart Kauffman demonstrates in a powerful
way the central role of self-organisation in the creative process of life. His vision that biology seems to operate
as self-organised non-linear dynamical systems at the edge of chaos will have as much influence in biology that a similar vision offered by Nobel prize winner Prigogyne in the field of thermodynamcis. The book connects a web of fundamental ideas from the fields of biology, physics, mathematics and computer sciences and requires a strong background in biology that I unfortunately did not possess. The laborious style, the lack of clarity in the writing and the (unnecessary) length of the book should not stop anyone from reading this amazing book.
Stuart Kauffman combines an intellect and a vision that only very few scientists possess. This book is a must.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I ever read June 17, 2000
It took me a whole summer to read this book in 1993 and it is still the most amazing book I have ever read. If you are computer/mathematically inclined, have an interest in biology, and have enough time to digest it, this book will blow you away. It contains the most amazing hypotheses to come out since 1859. Unfortunately, it takes a huge investment in time to really read this book, but an epiphany awaits those who get through it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Balboa on first viewing the Pacific
If you love ideas, and especially if you have the background (and love) of biology, chemistry and (the purity of) mathematics, you will stand as Balboa did and hold your breath on... Read more
Published on December 20, 2011 by richard friedlander
5.0 out of 5 stars Jawdropping
What an amazing book. It certainly puts you back in your place in the scheme of things and our position in the order of eveolution. Fantastic loved it.
Published on October 9, 2011 by Jo
Stuart Kauffman (born 1939) is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. Read more
Published on June 25, 2010 by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic book
The Origins Of Order is a fantastic book. Not only by it's thesis, also by it's methods.
Errors, time and competition (natural selection) is so easy in order to explain all... Read more
Published on August 26, 2008 by JAS
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopeful spontaneity
Kauffman believes that spontaneous self-ordering, which both simple and complex systems can exhibit, must be incorporated into evolutionary biology, along with traditional random... Read more
Published on November 26, 2000 by Howard Schneider
5.0 out of 5 stars Universe a point in 6n space
The deep future will see this as a very important book. The first to consider the deepest layer of reality. Anyone interested in GA's or ANN needs to start here. Read more
Published on February 20, 2000 by Chris McKinstry
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent ideas about self-organization's bias on Evolution!
This book redirected my entire senior year at college; I had to write my thesis on this material. "Stu" is a great writer whose enthusiasm is contagious, and the... Read more
Published on July 24, 1999 by
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