- Hardcover: 510 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (June 9, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107011361
- ISBN-13: 978-1107011366
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 62 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision 1st Edition
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"Partly an enjoyable survey of exciting new developments in systems biology, valuable to any student of biology or science, and partly a bold blueprint for how we might preserve our future on Earth."
"A magisterial study of the scientific basis for an integrated worldview grounded in the wholeness that generations of one-eyed reductionists could not see. The authors succeed brilliantly!"
David W. Orr, Oberlin College
"... gives us a sound synthesis of the best science and theory on the connectedness of all living things, the dynamics of emergence and self-organization as conceived by Francisco Varela. This volume offers a profound framework for understanding our place on the planet, for better or worse. And if we apply the insights offered by Capra and Luisi, it will be for the better ... should be required reading for today's young, tomorrow's leaders, and anyone who cares about life on this planet."
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence
"What is life? What is a human being? How can new discoveries about nature and ourselves keep us from becoming the first self-endangered species? Capra and Luisi's dazzling synthesis explains how moving beyond mechanistic, linear, reductionist habits is revealing startling new answers to perennial questions of philosophy and practice. Sir Francis Bacon's goal of 'the enlargement of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible' has put humanity in serious trouble. But today, rebuilding our thinking, language, and actions around Darwin, not Descartes, and around modern biology, not outmoded physics, creates rich new options. Driven by the co-evolution of business with civil society, these can build a fairer, healthier, cooler, safer world. The Systems View of Life is a lucid, wide-ranging guide to living maturely, kindly, and durably with each other and with other beings on the only home we have."
Amory B. Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute
"... this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts. It starts walking us through the history of science - and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures ... This book pulls the big changes together and integrates them, across disciplines into a glorious big picture, for each field ... As I was reading the portion of the book covering the history of systems thinking ... I realized that I was suddenly feeling very excited, like I was in a movie, sitting on the edge of my seat ... This is what a great writer and a great book are supposed to do ... It has had a huge impact on my way of thinking about so many things. It doesn't matter what your area of work or interest is. This book is essential reading to face the future with eyes wide open."
Rob Kall, OpEdNews.com
"... a valuable overview of the discipline."
Stephen Lewis, The Biologist
'What a fine, erudite, synoptic, lovely book!' Stuart Kauffman, University of Pennsylvania and the Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle
Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, this volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Life's biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions are presented and its philosophical, spiritual, and political implications discussed.
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What really hasn't been written, however, is a cohesive or comprehensive review of the content (the actual empirical outcome) of this cutting-edge research - which, in almost every way imaginable, is creating an entirely new view of human life and the global ecosystem that sustains it.
Enter Capra and Luisi's new textbook "The Systems View of Life."
For those new to the complexity science literature (or professors thinking about adopting this book for class), one couldn't ask for a better writing partnership. Capra, a physicist by training, is world-renown for this twin books on systems and complexity science ("The Web of Life" and "The Hidden Connections"), as well as his provocative assessment - from a philosophy of science perspective - of the limits of conventional, mechanistic science and the need for a new, holistic, ecologically responsible systems science ("The Tao of Physics," "The Turning Point" and "The Science of Leonardo"). In turn, Luisi is an internationally recognized professor of biochemistry and complexity science, having done primary research into such core issues as cellular autopoiesis and synthetic biology. He is also well known for his in-depth academic books, as well as his two popular works, "The Emergence of Life" and "Mind and Life."
Divided into three parts, "The Systems View of Life" is a compendium of all-things systems thinking and complexity science:
Part 1 (sections 1 and 2) is devoted to the philosophy of science, focusing on the historical shift from mechanistic thinking (dominated by reductionism, Newtonian mechanics, social physics and a Cartesian view of life) to systems thinking (dominated by the holism, networks, nonlinear mechanics, global network society, and a complex systems view of life). Capra and Luisi are clear: mechanistic thinking is a victim of its own success, as it was so powerful in solving so many issues over the last hundred or so years that (now) it is simply assumed, almost by definition, that it can solve all current problems, which is wrong, as the problems of today, as Warren Weaver pointed out all the way back in 1948 (Science and Complexity), are complex systems problems.
For professors thinking about this textbook, Part1 is an important addition to the literature - here I am thinking of Hammond's "The Science of Synthesis" and Klir's "Facets of Systems Science" - as Capra and Luisi's chapters provide the historical backdrop missing from most introductions to the complexity sciences, helping students, as I already alluded to, understand why the sciences are shifting.
In Part 2 (the third section of the book), Capra and Luisi venture into entirely new territory, doing something (as I have already suggested in my opening remarks) yet to be done in the literature, let alone a textbook: they synthesize the empirical insights of the systems and complexity sciences into a new and cohesive view of life. As they state in their introduction, "We present a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life's biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions."
The accomplishment of this task cannot be underestimated, as it is significant and should have a lasting impact, demonstrating just how visionary the complexity sciences can be - but only if time is given to their study (I am also thinking of students here) and to collecting and connecting up their insights.
Such a synthesis requires, however, a bit more effort than just connecting the dots - even though Capra and Luisi humbly suggest that this is all they are doing. Instead, it requires a theoretical frame, which the individual empirical insights often lack.
For Capra and Luisi, the theoretical frame is a network-based view of life. Networks provide, literally, the links from one topic to the next in their book, in a sort of "scale-free approach to knowledge," where one moves freely from the human genome and human cognition to social organizations and cities to ecosystems and global society.
But, this is not where things end. For Capra and Luisi, these links must extend beyond theory and empirical synthesis to application and policy - to helping the world become a better place, to the moral culpability of science and to doing the right thing!
While not by any means unanimously embraced, there is a global morality associated with a significant segment of the systems and complexity science community, which goes by a variety of names, from deep ecology and ecofeminism to post-humanism and global civil society. Regardless of the term, the view is the same: we face, currently, as a global society, a significant number of complex systems problems, which can be better managed (or even solved) if the political, economic, scientific and public will to employ such a perspective exists! If not, these problems will most likely be our doom - or, less dramatically, they will result in increased global disparity and inequality and, ecologically speaking, a significantly degraded and decompensated planet.
And so, in the final section of the book - Part 3 - Capra and Luisi employ the complex systems view of life to make sense of and, in turn, address the current list of global social problems we, as a global society, face: from population growth and climate change to economic sustainability and the development of a global civil society.
Again, for a science textbook, this is new territory. Professors typically do not challenge students to think about the links between their science and the global world in which they live. But that is, nonetheless, where our immediate future resides: we need our students, as the generation that will inherit all of these problems, to have the tools necessary to address them, and in a way that leads to a sustainable level of economic, political, cultural, and spiritual/existential wellbeing for the greatest number of people possible! What more, in 500 pages or less, could a professor (or our students) want from a book devoted to making sense of the complex lives we currently live? And so, whether you are teaching introduction to sociology or macroeconomics, cognitive psychology or cultural anthropology, microbiology or philosophy, it doesn't matter; make this textbook part of your required reading list. Our future depends upon it.
Claiming to be an undergraduate textbook, Capra and Luisi’s text explores the history of scientific thinking from ancient times forward. The authors attempt to move the student through the rolling attitudes that seem to bounce between a very mechanistic approach (i.e. the entire universe is a machine) and a holistic approach (i.e. the universe is more than its whole).
Recognizing that the philosophy of science seems to be a pendulum that moves between these to extremes, the book stresses that the 21st century is in the much more holistic than we have seen in the immediate past. That being so, there is room in the current scientific landscape for a spiritual (not necessarily religious) perspective of our world. The authors point out that there are fundamentalists that are both religious (e.g. Christian or Muslim) and scientific (e.g. Richard Dawkins) who attempt to exclude each other from valid scholarship.
Though coming from Cambridge University Press, the book is not a specifically Christian (or even religious) view of science or a scientific view of religion. Rather, it is an attempt to allow members of each community to appreciate the contribution of the scientific community and the religious community toward a holistic world view. The authors, early in the book, make it clear that they are writing for an undergraduate audience. This might be true for an undergraduate class in the Philosophy of Science, but otherwise the book might not find a place in most undergraduate degree programs. On the other hand, it would find a home in the seminary training for a modern pastor (at least for some) or the graduate science student looking beyond the typical laboratory setting.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.