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The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature Paperback – October 18, 2001
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Seashells are often spirals, just like water going down the drain. There must be a connection, right? Our intuition scoffs at such a notion, but maybe they are related, writes Nature editor Philip Ball in The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature. This deep, beautiful exploration of the recurring patterns that we find both in the living and inanimate worlds will change how you think about everything from evolution to earthquakes. Not by any means a simple book, it is still completely engaging; even the occasional forays into mathematics and the abstractions of hydrodynamics are endurable, tucked as they are between Ball's bright prose and his hundreds of carefully selected illustrations.
When speaking of the living world, Ball seeks to go beyond the theory of natural selection, which explains why we see certain characteristics (height, shape, camouflage), to find mechanisms that can explain how such characteristics come to be. Again, this is no easy task, but for those willing to follow his discussion, the elegance of nature is laid out in zebras' stripes, ivy leaves, and butterfly wings. Moving on to find the same patterns at work in the clouds of Jupiter and the cracks in the San Andreas fault give strength to the feeling that there are self-composing structures that guide everything in the universe toward a kind of order. The Self-Made Tapestry is a challenging look at the biggest issues in science, and well worth a thorough read. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Most people?including most scientists?take it as a given that the appearance of complex patterns implies conscious planning on the part of an intelligent agent or, in the case of such patterns in the biological world, the stringent application of the forces of natural selection. Ball (Designing the Molecular World) challenges these assumptions directly, documenting the counterintuitive idea that the operation of simple physical laws often yields complex and beautiful, but wholly natural, patterns. Ball's range is quite impressive. He discusses pattern formation on the hides of zebras, giraffes and leopards; the creation of honeycombs by bees; the uncanny similarities between branching patterns in plants and mineral dendrites of magnesium oxide. Ball also demonstrates how the same physical laws can operate on dramatically different scales: the same pattern of wave propagation has been found both in newly fertilized frog eggs and in nascent spiral galaxies. Despite fascinating material such as that, Ball's text is highly technical and often abstruse?so much so that it may prove inaccessible to most nonscientists?other than the comprehensible captions on the more than 400 photographs and line drawings (24 in color), that is, which make this a book that's at least worthy browsing for general readers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I've been curious about this question since my early grad school days, but for a long time the topic was thought at a minimum to be a rather eccentric one; many thought it simply unproductive, or even unscientific.
But the last twenty years has seen an explosion in the areas of complexity, chaos and other studies that go to the heart of asking why the world is structured (on a macroscopic scale) the way it is, and why there are so many parallels of structure between seemingly unrelated entities.
While there have been a great many books in recent years looking at that very question, "The Self-Made Tapestry" is this first really complete overview of the field and its history, and it's quite an accomplishment. Profusely illustrated, engagingly written, and marvelously clear, it's not only a wonderful reference book, it's marvelously entertaining to read as well.
If you've found yourself in recent times pouring over Glieck's "Chaos", or perhaps Stuart Kauffman's books on self-organization, or Waldrop's "Complexity", you'll delight in this book. It's a good reference for the academic, a fine introduction for the interested layman, and a treat for every interested reader.
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FOR THE LAYMAN.
APPENDICES ARE NICE. PERHAPS MORE COULD HAVE BEEN SAID ABOUT SYMMETRY BREAKING.Read more