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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ultimately only shows our ignorance..., February 8, 2001
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This review is from: Investigations (Hardcover)
Ah...complexity. Once the golden-haired child of science it has, these days, sort of wandered down a path similar to AI. That is, although the field has produced a number of interesting developments it has ultimately failed to deliver anything really deep.
Investigations starts with a lot of promise, similar to Capra's "Web of Life" with Kauffman demonstrating both his knowledge of the complexity of genetics and some good writing skills. In fact, I learned quite a bit reading the first 4 chapters although I suspect that readers expecting something similar to Gleick's "Chaos" will have their eyes glaze over when they hit the more detailed sections of genetic complexity.
However, as Kauffman continues I found the same old story as Capra fell victim to: no meat to the math. What do I mean? Well, if one looks at the equations for something like quantum theory there is much information they impart to give hints about "why". Complexity has produced equations but they don't seem to have any depth - they may describe some phenomenom but don't give any deeper knowledge about it.
In other words, I don't really get excited about another thermodynamic "law" since that is simply sweeping our ignorance under the proverbial carpet by taking an observation as an axiom. In fact the final chapters, in which Kaufmann tries to tie quantum theory (and string theory) to his thesis, really made me wonder if he just wanted to get this book out before Wolfram's opus.
I suspect Kauffman should have spent some time talking to Ilya Prigogine since any theory trying to explain why things go in one direction (entropy) yet also seem to get more complicated obviously needs to incorporate time. Given that time is an "illusion" (in the grand words of Hawking) if one looks at current physics theories then we still have some distance to go. Prigogine's work in attempting to incorporate time into quantum theory gives a first step forward and Kauffman's theory could build on that.
Not only is the subject matter towards the end of the book very sketchy but so is the language used. On one page alone there are 4 paragraphs in sequence with the same words! I understand repetetive structure can emphasize a point but come on, this is a bit too much to satisfy my grade 8 English teacher! Add in the very short "reference" section - Kauffman mentions names but no works appear in the section - and a rather thin index and I suspect he just wanted to get this book out quickly.
Borrow it from the library (I doubt there will be a softcover) if you must but I wouldn't bother spending the cash.
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