- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Anchor (Sept. 15 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385476760
- ISBN-13: 978-0385476768
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.1 x 20.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 272 g
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #24,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems Paperback – Sep 15 1997
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From the Publisher
The vitality and accessibility of Fritjof Capra's ideas have made him perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson of the latest findings emerging at the frontiers of scientific, social, and philosophical thought. In his international bestsellers The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, he juxtaposed physics and mysticism to define a new vision of reality. In The Web of Life, Capra takes yet another giant step, setting forth a new scientific language to describe interrelationships and interdependence of psychological, biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena--the "web of life."
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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and accessibility of Fritjof Capra's ideas have made him perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson of the latest findings emerging at the frontiers of scientific, social, and philosophical thought. In his international bestsellers The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, he juxtaposed physics and mysticism to define a new vision of reality. In The Web of Life, Capra takes yet another giant step, setting forth a new scientific language to describe interrelationships and interdependence of psychological, biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena--the "web of life."
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
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Unfortunately, the author, and many of the thinkers he seems to be drawing from, insist on deriving unwarranted conclusions from their work, particularly in the areas of social theory and political philosophy. We are told, for example, that humans have built societies based on hierarchies of domination and submission, but that nature espouses the creation of "networks". which, it is alleged, are egalitarian. This is simply untrue. Anything involving two or more elements that are related to each other may be called a "network", including the most brutal master/slave relations ever seen on Earth. There is nothing inherently egalitarian in the notion that everything living is connected and related to everything else. The notions being preached here do not follow from the premises, however true they may be.
A deeper problem with such conclusions is that they are not borne out by natural systems themselves. Most, if not all, higher mammals are highly hierarchical species; especially the higher primates, to whom we are most closely related. Clearly, this is a fact of nature that is at odds with the author's desire to promote a vision of an egalitarian world informed by ecological and biological thinking. This is the great weakness of the book. While it clearly and neatly explains the history of systems thinking, it insists on deriving from it's premises politically correct values that have absolutely no foundation in nature itself, as anyone familiar with the controversy over socio-biology and evolutionary psychology could tell you. Those movements, by the way, are utterly absent from the bibliography and are unmentioned in the subject index. I can only think that this is by deisgn. The author is so well informed on other matters that I cannot believe that he is unaware of the work of these movements.
Thus, I would warn everyone who considers reading this book to take the results it derives from it's first principles with more than a few grains of salt, even if those principles are themselves convincing. It presents a picture of nature that has more to do with the sentimental fables of Rousseau and his generations of Leftist admirers than with the real knowledge gleaned from the study of nature. And anyone who would embrace ecological thinking as the model for a new era should remember this: Nietzsche, certainly no humanitarian or egalitarian, was the modern philosopher most heavily influenced by biology and vitalism.
This book is the first of many more I hope to read on this deeper aspect of biology and ecology. Capra looks at the life sciences through the lens of systems theory, and thus provides a very good introduction to systems theory for those (like me) who are novices. He also gives an account of life, from its earliest origins on up to the beginnings of human consciousness, working with the ideas of the main developers of systems theory over the past several decades.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this theory (or perhaps I should say set of theories) for me is how it describes and works out in more detail a basic intuition that many of us have even as children (and that many spiritual traditions have always recognized): that all things are connected in a giant web-work (wheels within wheels within wheels....). Anyone responding to this intuition knows that no being can be understood without looking at both the patterns it comprises, as well as the greater patterns it is a part of.
Another provocative aspect of these theories is how they push the definition of life out farther and farther, for in many ways all dissapative systems (economies, cultures, hurricanes) can be seen as having living qualities.
I disagree with the criticisms of the reviewers who complain that this book is derivative and contains too few original ideas. The author's intent here was to present a synthesis of teachings on a subject which is still new to many people, whilst arguing for a more appreciative and reverent attitude towards the world we live in. The result is a book which is not only fascinating but inspiring as well.
Capra's book will also irritate anyone who has ever read Ken Wilber since Capra seems to be loudly proclaiming a view very similar to Wilber's "holons" without the depth of Wilber's insight. That is, Capra seems to be stuck on the ideas of the Gaia theory without really getting into the social aspects of the theory at all.
Jantsch and Wilber are very cognizant of Maturana and Varela's work (see "The Tree of Knowledge") while Capra seems ignorant. This might explain why he doesn't do a very solid job of tying the social side to the material side of life.
This is the same treatment all other points in the book receive including his linking of Prigogine's work on dissipative structures and evolution. Although Behe and Hoyle may seem fairly "far out" in their theories, Capra does not offer any ideas or arguments about exactly how evolution and dissipative structures combine to produce such interesting things as cells that at some point "decide" to specialize and form a human body let alone how the information contained in DNA gets translated into the structure.
I'm really saddened by this effort since there is a lot of relevant information lying around right now for a good attempt at a very strong "theory of everything". When one looks at Prigogine, Chaitin, Jantsch, Wilber, Wilson's "Spikes, Decisions and Actions", Perlovsky, Maturana and Varela, or Austin's "Zen and the Brain" then one begins to glimpse that there are some very salient common points finally beginning to emerge from Western Civilization's foray into science.
In the end, I'd recommend a book by one of the above authors if you really want to learn something.
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