The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems unknown Edition
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From the Inside Flap
During the past twenty-five years, scientists have challenged conventional views of evolution and the organization of living systems and have developed new theories with revolutionary philosophical and social implications. Fritjof Capra has been at the forefront of this revolution. In The Web of Life, Capra offers a brilliant synthesis of such r
From the Back Cover
During the past twenty-five years, scientists have challenged conventional views of evolution and the organization of living systems and have developed new theories with revolutionary philosophical and social implications. Fritjof Capra has been at the forefront of this revolution. In "The Web of Life, Capra offers a brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other explanations of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems. Capra's surprising findings stand in stark contrast to accepted paradigms of mechanism and Darwinism and provide an extraordinary new foundation for ecological policies that will allow us to build and sustain communities without diminishing the opportunities for future generations.
Now available in paperback for the first time, "The Web of Life is cutting-edge science writing in the tradition of James Gleick's "Chaos, Gregory Bateson's "Mind and Matter, and Ilya Prigogine's "Order Out of Chaos.
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I basically agree with some of the criticisms in the spotlight reviews about the flatland or a web of life vs. a heirarchy (or even better holarchy) both in nature and in other spheres of life. For example, in a holarchy is a heirachy of wholes that are part of larger wholes in the way that atoms make up molecules, molecules make up cells, collections of cells make up a tissue, etc. This is concept is underplayed in this book, but it seems to be true inside and outside of nature. Ken Wilber offers a more complete explanation of this concept in A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING and many other writings.
I also think it's important to keep in mind that a systems view is an outside look of a collective. Empiricism represents an outside look of some single topic. I think it is also necessary to look at the interiority of both individuals and collectives to get a complete understanding of something as complicated as life, politics, religion, etc. I don't think system theory alone is the magic bullet.
This book is relatively short, easy to follow and provides a nice introduction to systems theories and some other important topics. It has some shortcomings, but it is basically solid although there is a bias toward a "flatland" view of nature and reality. If you supplement reading it with some other material such as the book I mentioned above, it may open up some new horizons for you.
Happy reading... I hope you found my interview helpful. Feel free to leave comments if you wish.
This book’s quest is enormous in that it requires modern science to fundamentally shift its regard upon nature, and upon living! Our regard upon nature has been conditioned by patriarchy since about five thousand years, and it’s a rather defensive, distorted, schizophrenic, and reductionist regard. Capra looked back in history and found amazing early intuitions and truths propagated by our great thinkers, poets and philosophers, such as for example Immanuel Kant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or William Blake.
Capra wondered why our science and technologies are so deeply hostile toward our globe, which we call Mother Earth after all, and so little caring for its preservation? He found conclusive answers in ancient traditions that fostered what we call today a Gaia worldview, a respectful attitude toward the earth, the mother, the yin energy and generally, female values.
This is how Capra, always grounded in common sense and meaningful retrospection, smoothly introduces the novice reader to the concept of systems research or the systems view of life.
Post-matriarchal thought, which was naturally systemic, can be traced from the Atomistic Worldview (Democritus), over the Cartesian Worldview (Newton, La Mettrie, René Descartes) and Relativistic Worldview (Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg), to the Systemic Worldview (Bohm, Bateson, Grof, Capra, Laszlo, etc.) and the Holistic Worldview (Talbot, Goswami, McTaggart, etc.).
In all systems, we have to deal with different levels of complexity that are woven in each other, thus rendering it almost impossible to dissect parts of the system for closer research without disturbing the system. This means that, contrary to earlier vivisectionist science, we need to leave the system intact and focus our research onto the whole of it—which makes it all so complex, but this very complexity renders justice to nature!
As a result, we had to develop a new mathematics, which today is called the mathematics of complexity, in order to deal with the high complexity levels in living systems. This also means that our chief scientific method—deductive analysis—is inadequate for any inquiry in the functionality of living systems, because they are networks within networks and can only be grasped scientifically through understanding their properties.
This means that living systems are not, as most of our governmental and societal organization, hierarchical, but network-based, and thus structured not vertically but horizontally by ‘neuronally’ linking segments to larger molecular structures that distribute information instantly over the whole of the network. You can also say that a living network is a system of ‘total information sharing’ where there is not one single molecule that is uninformed at any point in time and space.
The fact that horizontal networks are nested within other horizontal networks, while the different networks all possess a different level of complexity, makes research so intricate. This is inter alia why high-performance computers have greatly aided in developing systems theory. But the most revolutionary insight here is that our usual habit of dissecting parts from a whole for further scrutiny and scientific investigation does not work with living systems.
Hence, the whole of our approach to scientific investigation has to shift from an object-based to a relationship-based research approach when we deal with living systems. This requires researchers to change their inner setup which is exactly what quantum physics revealed to us, that is, the observer’s belief system will be reflected in the outcome of the research.
And there is one more crucial element in systems research that Capra explains and elucidates. It is what we already learnt within the revolutionary reframing of science by quantum physics, the fact namely that in approaching quantum reality, and organic behavior, we have to learn the mathematics of probability. What is probability? It is the approximation of behavior. Dealing with approximations means that we leave the certainty principle and venture into what Heisenberg called the uncertainty principle. Giving up certainty triggers fear. This fear was very vividly described by Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg when the paradigm began to shift and quantum physics slowly but definitely began to undermine traditional physics. When we abandon certainty, we begin to grasp the notion of approximation, and of probability, and accordingly, we will shift our mathematical constructs when we deal with open systems.
Living systems are open systems, which means that their main characteristic is change and flow, and not continuity and static behavior. And they are far from equilibrium, which is the single most revolutionary discovery of systems research. It means living systems are constantly struggling against decay, and decay means equilibrium. When we extrapolate this insight from organic systems into our metaphysical reality, we see that it applies also to human beings, and even to religions. When we are settled and satiated, we are not alive. This is what it all boils down to. So this profound insight from systems research may help us to survive in a state far from equilibrium, putting our assuredness or false assuredness away, to stay with a beginner’s mind, as it’s so wistfully expressed in Zen. Our universe is a basically patterned universe, so is human intelligence.
But what are patterns? Capra explains the importance of pattern when he explores the meaning of self-organization, which is one major characteristic of living systems. In order to scientifically explain pattern we need to change or for the least upgrade our basic toolset of scientific investigation.
The systems view of life really involves a radical change in our scientific thinking because traditional science was quantity-based and measure-oriented, while systemic science is quality-based and relationship-oriented.
Capra exemplifies this truth by looking at the properties involved in the scientific focus of both static and systemic science theory. In this context, we should look at feedback loops as an important self-regulatory function in living systems. This is important because without feedback loops, living systems could not be self-organizing.
Another central point in this book is Capra’s focus upon the intrinsic quality of living systems as nonlinear systems that require, to be understood, an equally nonlinear mathematical approach. One early realization of mathematical nonlinearity was the introduction of the fractal in mathematics. In fact, in my exchanges with the Swiss mathematician Peter Meyer who was the collaborator of Terence McKenna for the realization of the Timewave Zero calculus as a part of Novelty Theory, I learnt that time is a fractal.
After having elucidated that systems research involves a process-based scientific approach rather than an object-based one, Capra presents the perhaps most important research topic in this book: the reinvestigation of cognition based on the insights from systems research.
In fact, the whole debate about information processing, vividly criticized in the early writings of think tank Edward de Bono, and the even larger debate about cybernetics make it all clear that cognition is currently in a process of reevaluation.
In my scientific exploration of emotions, I have revisited our scientific grasp of emotions, as it was coined within a fragmented and reductionist science paradigm. Fritjof Capra comprehensively explains that emotions are not singular elements but coherently organized within a patterned system in which cognition and response are intertwined in a self-regulatory and organic whole.
The most important fact that systems theory teaches us about cognition is that it does not work like a computer processes information. Information processing, already declared years ago ‘an obsession of modern science’ by Edward de Bono, is quite a misnomer because our brain does not ‘process’ information as a computer does.
Capra then answers to the debate about artificial intelligence and the myths it creates in the minds of masses of people. Real intelligence is human, and original, not mechanical and artificial!
True intelligence is contextual, as language is. No computer can understand meaning. A rat’s intelligence is a million times closer to that of man than that of the most powerful and sophisticated computer.
Now, let us look at what sustainability means in systems research. A system is sustainable when it’s not only functional but also well integrated in a greater continuum so that it has a good prognosis for survival, for continuity.
Top international reviews
It gives an impression of the importance of the conception of live in nature.
It should lead to the understanding of the even more important conception of inorganic life in cosmos. [...].
The universe as a whole is an inorganic living body, with a total livetime of about 28 billion years.
In an era obsessed with Cartesian reductionism (and which treats the European Enlightenment as the beginning of history), Capra provides a timely antidote and recalls various points in world history when knowledge was treated as an unfragmented whole. He reminds us that all phenomena are inherently interconnected and proposes a 'Systems Thinking' approach to various aspects of life and learning.
This is highly recommended, particularly to hyper-specialised scientists who would benefit from contextualising their specialism and understanding how it fits into the interconnected global system or the 'Web of Life'.
Un des rares qui réussit avec succès et clarté, à lier science et vision unifiée du monde.