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A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin by [Ulanowicz, Robert W.]
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A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin Kindle Edition

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About the Author

Robert E. Ulanowicz was appointed professor emeritus after thirty-eight years with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, Maryland. He is author of Growth and Development: Ecosystems Phenomenology and Ecology, the Ascendant Perspective. Ulanowicz was awarded the 2007 Ilya Prigogine Medal from the Wessex Institute and the University of Siena for outstanding research in the field of ecological systems.


Product Details

  • File Size: 1339 KB
  • Print Length: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Templeton Press (June 1, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0058UAJRQ
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,428 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Robert E. Ulanowicz is professor in Theoretical Ecology with the University of Maryland and his A Third Window. Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin appeared in 2009. Already his choice of subject tells something about his way of thinking. For ecology does not deal with fixed objects but with relations and processes, wholes and systems. So Ulanowicz is critical against atomism and reductionism in ortodox science, and after Newton and Darwin but following Ilya Prigogine and Gregory Bateson, he wants to open a third window towards reality. Strangely enough, however, the science of life itself, biology in the form of molecular biology, remains the most ardent champion of the old approach. But the author shows that the DNA molecule does not direct evolution. Instead this is done by the enzymatic processes that read, select and edit the genome.
The difficulty with the old world view is: how can the world change? An essential explanation is chance. Chance can be handled with statistical mechanics and insurance mathematics, but that depends upon the units here being (functionally) identical. But as Walter Elsasser has shown, the universe is full of unique chance events. It is not causally closed but open and so it exhibits a flexibility that is essential, if evolution is going to continue. For the new world view the problem is the opposite: how can the world persist? The question now is what process might yield ordered form out of chaotic substrate? And Ulanowicz finds the answer by Gregory Bateson: "In principle, then, a causal circuit will generate a non-random response to a random event." Such circuits can endure, for with their feedback function they can react non-randomly upon random stimuli.
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This is an important book. It is obviously a book based on a lifetime of eminent scientific work and deep questioning. R. Ulanowicz's views are plainly and positively presented. It is an extremely well-written book, one that is exceedingly well thought out. This is saying quite a lot considering that the author persuasively presents fundamental conceptual shifts in conventional scientific thinking, clearly building his case from chapter to chapter. By the final two chapters, the "third view" is shown to be astonishingly impressive and promising. While based on fewer postulates than the Newtonian-Darwinian "metaphysics," the author submits that it can provide greater explanatory power for complex, living organisms or systems.

R. Ulanowicz is a scientist, not a philosopher, but does occasionally refer to philosophers as relevant to the discussion. It would be difficult to summarize this book, given the breadth of subject. However, perhaps a flavor can be provided by quoting one of the many interesting insights that can be found in this book:

"...In the open world of Popper and Elsasser, the aleatoric [aleatoric = not capable of being foretold = raw chance] arises in ALL dimensions, including the macrodimensions of brain circuitry and biochemistry. Furthermore, universality remains foreign to the world of process ecology, which appears granular in all directions and dimensions. The new perception of the looseness among the layers of phenomena applies as well to the human brain....The metaphor of the muscadine grapevine suggests that higher-level functions may exert suprafascience by reworking the lower-level networks. The belief that bottom-level neural firings fully determine higher-level outcomes become fatuous.

...Physicist Walter Elsasser...
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Robert Ulanowicz is a preeminent research scientist in the field of ecological systems. In addition to many decades of publishing field studies, mathematical models, theoretical hypotheses (e.g., his 1980 article on "An hypothesis on the development of natural communities"), Professor Ulanowicz has written for broader audiences, free of the difficult mathematics.

A Third Window, similar to his 1997 book, Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective, are written at a level that enables curious non-scientists to grasp deep insights into the dominant paradigms which scientists have viewed nature. These have been primarily structured around the mechanistic and materialistic Newtonian and Darwinian approaches.

Ulanowicz presents the case for a third window, or frame, to view nature: process ecology, which is far better suited to the reality of complex living systems. Based on his 30+ years of researching ecosystem dynamics, he points out that they violate "each and everyone of the Newtonian presuppositions." He puts forward three axioms for the 3rd Window viewpoint of nature:

1. The operation of any system is vulnerable to disruption by chance. [This contradicts the Newtonian assumption of determinism]

2. A process, via mediation by other processes, may be capable of influencing itself. [This dispenses with obligate reductionism, a renunciation of atomism, i.e., that all explanation is to be cast in terms of identifiable subunits and further, that feedback effects can be impressed upon lower levels, which violates the spirit, if not letter, of causal closure. That is, any mechanistic cause "is necessary amalgamated with a material one....only those causes that are directly elicited by some form of matter can be deemed legitimate."]

3.
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