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Essays on Life Itself 1500th Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231105118
ISBN-10: 0231105118
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Editorial Reviews

Review

These 22 essays are intended for serious thinkers, as they are provocative and often iconoclastic. There are many new ideas, daring perspectives, and challenging modes of interpretation of concepts that readers may have mistakenly thought they understood.... I am equally sure that readers will enjoy and benefit from these essays.

(Bruce J. West The Quarterly Review of Biology)

From the Back Cover

Compiling twenty articles on the nature of life and on the objective of the natural sciences, this remarkable book complements Robert Rosen's groundbreaking Life Itself -- a work that influenced a wide range of philosophers, biologists, linguists, and social scientists. Breaking free from the constraints of reductionist reasoning, which maintains that simple, empirical mechanisms are the basis of all life, the renowned biophysicist tackles a remarkable range of subjects that will stimulate similarly far-reaching audiences.

In Essays on Life Itself, Rosen takes to task the central objective of the natural sciences, calling into question the attempt to create objectivity in a subjective world. The book opens with an exploration of the interaction between biology and physics, unpacking Schrodinger's famous text What is Life, and revealing the shortcomings of the notion that artificial "intelligence" can truly replicate life. Rosen also challenges the paradox of the brain as organism and the receptacle of scientific reasoning. Elegantly rounding out his argument, the author reflects on the quandary of side effects, moments when science confronts unpredicted outgrowths of a process thought to be reduced to a system.

An intriguing enigma links all of the essays: How can science explain the unpredictable? As a century defined by extraordinary scientific progress draws to a close, Essays on Life Itself is a critical work that asks readers to reconsider what we have learned and where science can lead us in the years to come.

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Product Details

  • Series: Complexity in Ecological Systems
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1500 edition (November 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231105118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231105118
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,443,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Gwinn on November 14, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection of essays, along with Rosen's other book _Life Itself_, are mandatory reading for any scientist or any astute layperson interested in biology, physics or philosophy of science.
Rosen was a very insightful and technically capable theoretical biologist. His work - first as a student of physicist and theoretical biologist Nicholas Rashevsky, and later as professor emeritus at Dalhousie - is unquestionably of the level of importance of Einstein's Special/General Theory of Relativity, or Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. This is a grand claim to make, but once you read Rosen's work, you will see for yourself.
These are not the easiest books to read, despite Rosen's excellent writing skills. The difficulty is two-fold. First and foremost, the new concepts and paradigms presented are of such breadth and profundity that it can take several readings to begin to fully grasp them adequately. Secondly, Rosen is mathematically (and otherwise) quite astute. The reader will encounter to some degree: category theory, topology, catastrophe theory (Rosen dedicates a chapter on genericity in _Essays_ to Rene Thom), differential equations, dynamical systems, Godel, Church-Turing, as well as philosophical topics of epistemology, ontology, and foundations of biology, mathematics and physics.
This should not, however, deter even the non-professional. Particularly in _Life Itself_, Rosen progresses carefully and patiently, even including a short intro to Category Theory. One can gloss over some of the math and still garner most of the insights from the text alone. _Essays_ utilizes a wider range of math skills, since that book covers a broader range of topics, but it is still quite accessible to the careful and astute reader.
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Format: Hardcover
This posthumous book of essays clarifies and extends the innovative ideas Rosen presented in "Life Itself." I found it easier to follow than the original book, now one of the classics of modern biology. Rosen's thesis is that the universe is generically complex. That is to say, the complexity we see in biological systems is the normal state of the universe, while the simplicities of particle physics represent a "degenerate" state of matter. Counterintuitive, but completely plausible in Rosen's outstanding presentation. Instead of asking how the complex systems that surround us today evolved from the meager combinatorial possibilites of the early universe, Rosen directs our attention to the constraints on the natural complexity of things imposed by the high temperatures at the time of the big bang. The best argument against reductionism you'll find anywhere.
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Format: Paperback
This collection of papers and presentations, published posthumously, is a companion to Rosen's earlier books "Life Itself" and "Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations". This is probably the most accessible of his work to those without a fairly solid mathematical background. Not that this should prevent people from reading the earlier work since there are many sections that will be quite clear; I just feel that unfortuntely the crucial points of "Life Itself" might be lost due to the seeming technical nature of the explanation.
This is truly paradigm-shifting, moreso than anything else you are likely to read about in science. The Sante Fe crowd such as Stuart Kauffman obviously did not even grasp what Rosen was talking about when they met back in 1994 and that is even more tragic. So much time has been wasted with such money-wasters like the genome mapping fiasco when it could have been going into exploring new axioms for science.
For you see, this is what Rosen so eloquently points out in his work: the present axioms of science are much too limiting to explain anything we really would like to know about the universe. It is very interesting to see that Rosen grasped the implications of what also caught Einstein and Schrodinger's attention: the problem of inertial and gravitational mass. Rosen also points out the myriad of other areas where science has been busy putting band-aid after band-aid on the present set of theories to try to make them predict real phenomena.
For this is the problem with the present-day paradigms: they are only useful for predicting the N+1 state for some dead (and therefore uninteresting) mechanistic universe.
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Format: Paperback
In a series of essays, Robert Rosen, the brilliant mathematical biologist whose name was made with earlier books such as "Anticipatory Systems" and "Life Itself" expounds his ideas both on the standard accepted dogma in biology today and some snippets of his own energetic investigations into new ideas about what biology is all about.

Unlike many of his contemporaries Rosen is not afraid to let other areas influence his own ideas, e.g. he draws on philosophy especially the work covering epistemology and the Mind-Brain problem to deeply investigate the accepted state of biology today especially the, unexpectedly metaphysical, basis of the reductionistic approach to most of science as it is today. He investigates in 5 parts: Biology and Physics, Biology and the Mind, Genericity, Similarity and Dissimilarity in Biology and Biology and Technology.

His initial concern is Schroedinger's question "What is Life". Of course this can't be answered today without in effect "loosing the organism" in the process. Rather than accept Schroedinger's work as a standard exposition of the accepted view he maintains it is far more radical, this agrees well with earlier statements of Heisenberg who also supports the view that reductionistic science more and more shrinks the domain of "true" scientific investigation, or rather what may be considered scientific and what may be thought of as hocus-pocus or vitalism.

Rosen does not shirk his responsibilities in exposing the weaknesses of the reductionistic and mechanistic views including in his critique the Church-Pythagoras Thesis, modeling, mimetics, simple and complex systems, Turing machines etc. Rosen emphasises that the ordinary mechanistic physics of today is the study of "simple systems" i.e.
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