- Hardcover: 274 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (February 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067400342X
- ISBN-13: 978-0674003422
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cosmic Evolution : The Rise of Complexity in Nature 1st Edition
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Chaisson is an astrophysicist at Tufts University, who has written many popular books on science. His newest offering is concerned with 'time's arrow,' a curve of rising cosmic complexity beginning with the big bang...Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained (or at least roughly described) by the laws of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism. He shows that in an expanding universe, local pockets of order will naturally arise even as the overall disorder (entropy) of the universe increases...What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure. (Chet Raymo Boston Globe 2000-12-19)
Cosmic Evolution is an illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers. Seeing how the expansion of the Universe spawned all the living complexity around and within us creates a fuller appreciation of the entwined laws and flaws of Nature...This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience. (John D. Barrow New Scientist)
Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one...[His] theory has the ring of rightness. (Daniel W. McShea American Scientist 2001-11-01)
Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world. (Lynn Marguilis Times Higher Education Supplement 2001-11-09)
Chaisson argues that rising complexity can be explained... by the laws of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, without any need to postulate new kinds of science or mysticism ... What is most original about Chaisson's argument is his proposal of a quantitative way to measure complexity, and to plot the course of cosmic evolution using this measure? (Chet Raymo Boston Globe)
An illuminating book, and one that should appeal to both scientists and general readers ... This is a book that will encourage a greater energy flow between astrophysics and bioscience. (John D. Barrow New Scientist)
Chaisson's project--the search for unifying patterns of change across the largest temporal and spatial scales--is a worthy one... [His] theory has the ring of rightness? (Daniel W. McShea American Scientist)
Chaisson's book provides exciting new testimony to the increasing power of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to change how we see ourselves and the world? (Lynn Margulis Times Higher Education Supplement)
So Chaisson defines life as an "open, coherent, space- time structure maintained far from thermodynamic equilibrium by a flow of energy through it." Chaisson's approach leaves one wondering, perhaps absurdly In this creative, thought-provoking book, Chaisson shows how difficult even the most basic scientific question can turn out to be. (Charles Seife Wilson Quarterly)
Surveys the grand scenario of cosmic evolution by examining natural changes among radiation, matter, and life within the context of big-bang cosmology. Using non- equilibrium thermodynamics and a suite of interdisciplinary arguments, the author follows the changes in energy within numerous well-known structures, including galaxies, stars, planets, and life. (The Astronomical Society of the Pacific)
Chaisson conducts an intriguing tour over vast realms of time and space. A lucid and sprightly guide, he brings forth original and provocative observations, while gathering a host of wonders in his cosmic embrace. (Dudley Herschbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry)
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First, Chaisson provides an introduction to the nature of change. He starts out simply enough looking at time and quantum probability, but then turns toward open systems and the "spontaneous order" (or "dissipative structure") consequences of gradients (both thermal and otherwise) in such systems when the second law of thermodynamics kicks in and attempts to drive the system toward equilibrium. This review of the basics sets the stage for Chaisson's ultimate contribution.
Chaisson then moves on to the history of the universe. Taking things a bit out of order, he starts with what he terms the "Matter" period. Here, he covers the cosmology of matter, discussing topics such as the material evidence for an expanding universe, what this tells us about the age of the universe, and so on.
From there, Chaisson reverses field to an earlier period that he calls the "Radiation" period. This period starts with the big bang and revolves around what happens to energy at different densities. For example, at the highest possible densities, energy is just a homogeneous blob. At lower densities, fundamental particles begin precipitating out forming a plasma. At lower densities still, the precipitation stops and these particles begin collecting together into atomic structures and such. And given that the universe is expanding, energy runs through the entire range of these densities - thus it is the very expansion of the universe that drives the evolution of energy and matter.
At this point we jump forward into the "Life" period. This is where Chaisson makes the best use of that introduction on dissipative systems. At this point in its history, the universe is filled with two fundamental components: radiative energy and matter. As the universe expands, the thermal density of these components decreases; however, these densities decrease at different rates. Using equations that could fit on the back of a napkin, Chaisson shows that the expansion of the universe is happening quickly enough that thermal gradients build up between the radiative energy of the universe and the matter of the universe. These gradients cause dissipative structures to form as the second law of thermodynamics kicks in to try to drive the universe toward equilibrium. And, as discussed in the intro, such dissipative structures are the sediment from which more complex dissipative structures can form as these gradients vary and persist. Spontaneous order occurs and becomes more complex without violating any of the laws of thermodynamics. Given enough time, there can arise metabolic dissipative structures - that is, life itself. And all due to the simple fact that the universe expands.
If Chaisson is right, he has unveiled a mind-blowingly simple reason regarding why the total complexity and total entropy of the universe should be able to increase at the same time even if the universe turns out to be a closed system. Why no-one ever discovered this simple reason before could be that no-one ever thought there was a need to look for one. That is, in our own little corner of the universe it is often thought that if you consider the Earth as an open system that all you need to explain the increasing complexity of the biosphere is the massive energy influx from the Sun. That may be true, but Chaisson may have just shown that ever-increasing complexity is not simply a local phenomenon of relatively small open systems at the expense of the rest of the universe but rather is a general principle of the universe as a whole.
The big picture in this book is that, since the Big Bang, the universe has moved from the Radiation Era to the Matter Era to the current Life Era with order and complexity building, e.g., a planet is more complex than a star, a worm is more complex than a rock, and a human is more complex than a frog. Dr. Chaisson uses (resuscitates?) 19th century energy physics with its energy flows and energy gradients as the driving force behind the complexification he describes (along with the general expansion of the universe) and suggests that at least in his mind energy physics need not give way to information theory in providing the more cogent explanation for this trend. I recall the English astronomer Arthur Eddington as a zealous expounder of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics who took it to its ruthless conclusion in the "heat death of the universe"; Chaisson makes the 2nd law the focal point of his analysis and shows how the trend he analyzes toward complexity and order, and away from disorder and entropy, comes at the expense of more entropy outside these "islands" of complexity and order. As a physicist, and an apparent admirer of E. Wilson's "Consilience", the author clearly suggests that basic physics lies at the heart of his exposition and asks the question at the end of his book: "Is Biology Part of Physics?" which is sure to irritate some life scientists. Personally, I would include a 4th era, the era of intellect and consciousness, which I believe is as profound an emergence from life as life was an emergence from matter. Since Dr. Chaisson is a physicist and not a neuroscientist he may have felt unsure in applying his energy gradients to the human brain although he does note that it absorbs 20% of the body's energy while comprising only 3% of the body's weight.
Almost 5 stars, but a strong 4 stars for the all-encompassing nature of the argument.
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Chaisson makes a clear presentation respecting his readers in not dumbing down his material...Read more