- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 21, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195111303
- ISBN-13: 978-0195111309
- Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.9 x 5.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 80 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity Reprint Edition
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The best treatment I have yet encountered about how order emerges naturally -- and possibly even necessarily -- out of chaos. Profoundly important, and considerably more informed than better-known pop-science treatments of chaos theory. Very highly recommended.
"Courageous....I guarantee that any reader whose imagination has survived an academic education--or has never been exposed to one--will learn a lot, and be changed forever."--Ian Stewart, Nature
"A new and far-reaching theory of order in the universe, introduced by a pioneer in that theory's development."--The Washington Post Book World
"Kauffman has done more than anyone else to supply the key missing piece of the propensity for self-organization that can join the random and the deterministic forces of evolution into a satisfactory theory of life's order."--Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Panda's Thumb
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The author's conviction to both his argument and the science of complex systems is evident throughout the book. If you are coming to this book without much background in complex adaptive systems, you will not be short-changed here. In fact, Kauffman provides extremely rich examples with numerous simple diagrams to educate the reader as he builds his case. Considering the book was published some 7 years ago, I was surprised to see the concept of gene networks given so much attention in the text. Seeing how the latest trend in genomics research is looking at genes and proteins as a regulatory network and attempting to identify specific disease pathways, the science in this book is extremely relevant.
There can be challenges in reading books like this and Bateson's in that significant parts have still not gained wider awareness. They can sound unfamiliar, lack substantive follow up and, I imagine, for those who have not long been on the emergence/complex/systems track, they may seem counter-intuitive. They predate catch phrases like "unknown unknowns" or "black swans" which might make their central relevance to today's challenges more obvious.
Kauffman's unifying tactic is exploring how the least accessible parts of the panarchy of natural systems improve their position on fitness landscapes, a mathematical representation reliant on ready mental movement from higher dimensional state spaces to the hills and valleys of familiar physical topography. To that end, he has applied simplified models to search for general principles. His results support a strong case that large gains and radical change come early, after which it becomes an ever more difficult struggle to gainfully inch further from an established viable position. This principle enables him to propose convincing scenarios for the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion and contemporary technological change; arguably the three most significant things we could seek to understand since the origin of the multiverse.
This book reflects the peak of Santa Fe's excitement over the edge of chaos--border of order, an idea for which I had come to feel the lone defender early this decade. It is a bemusing sidelight to finally reading this book in 2009, that my own as yet unpublished current research has finally made clear something that had been hinted at but never expressed outright since Wolfram's 1983 notion of Class 4 cellular automata: that we have set up a false dichotomy between chaos and order which we need to leave behind if we are ever to understand that essential complexity arises best in circumstances where there is creative synergy between even deterministic chaos and emergent order.
My only real quibble with Kauffman is that he came to this work with a wish to justify his feeling that we should be "at home in the universe" rather than totally defined by historical contingencies, aka accidents. At least he is up front about wanting that finding and, by extension, an endorsement of capitalist/American triumphalism. It would have been preferable if he had come with an open mind to whatever he might find. I suspect reality might prove a bit more contingent than he would be comfortable with, but that his broad principles of fitness landscape navigation might also prove ever more useful as they are better understood.