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In the tradition of Schrödinger's classic What Is Life?, this book is a tour-de-force investigation of the basis of life itself, with conclusions that radically undermine the scientific approaches on which modern science rests-the approaches of Newton, Boltzman, Bohr, and Einstein.
Kauffman's At Home in the Universe, which The New York Times Book Review called "passionately written" and nature named "courageous," introduced pivotal ideas about order and evolution in complex life systems. In investigations, Kauffman builds on these theories and finds that classical science does not take into account that physical systems--such as people in a biosphere--effect their dynamic environments in addition to being affected by them. These systems act on their own behalf as autonomous agents, but what defines them as such? In other words, what is life? By defining and explaining autonomous agents and work in the contexts of thermodynamics and of information theory, Kauffman supplies a novel answer to this age-old question that goes beyond traditional scientific thinking.
Much of Investigations unpacks the progressively surprising implications of his definition. Kauffman lays out a foundation for a new concept of organization, and explores the requirements for the emergence of a general biology that will transcend terrestrial biology to seek laws governing biospheres anywhere in the cosmos. Moreover, he presents four candidate laws to explain how autonomous agents co-create their biosphere and the startling idea of a "co-creating" cosmos.
A showcase of Kauffman's most fundamental and significant ideas, Investigations presents a new way of thinking about the basics of general biology that will change the way we understand life itself--on this planet and anywhere else in the cosmos.

308 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Stuart A. Kauffman

15 books150 followers
Stuart Alan Kauffman (28 September 1939) is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for applying models of Boolean networks to simplified genetic circuits.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for Jonathan Hockey.
Author 2 books19 followers
June 17, 2020
Develops a very interesting and novel approach to defining life in a way more general than the specific life as we know it on earth. I agree with some aspects of his definition of life as agents completing a work cycle. I feel this gets to the core of something very important and common to what all life does in nature, in society, in economies and in biospheres. And it takes us beyond more earth/DNA-centric views of life solely as about replicating selfish genes or something of this kind that a Dawkins might choose to emphasise. Bringing the notion of autonomous agency to the heart of what life is, is a bold move, and may turn out to be fruitful in ultimately distinguishing living beings from machines. And I think making this latter distinction could actually be critical to the future of human civilisation, because with the path we have been going of mechanisation and technology taking over so many things, there is a big question raised about where human identity will find its place in this global network, and where and in what ways it will still be able to thrive.

A lot of what he does in this book goes more into the technical details of applying his approach to biological science. But, for me, the more interesting area would be to develop and contrast this conceptual approach to the phenomena of life with the more standard mainstream view of life portrayed in popular science and culture through figures such as Dawkins.
Profile Image for g BRETT.
80 reviews16 followers
April 11, 2017
I first read this fantastic book when it first came out back in 2000/2001. Have added it back on the to-read pile after reading Steven Johnson's latest, which calls on quite a bit from Investigations.
1 review
November 29, 2013
Extremely interesting, thought provoking and innovative scientific thinking, but very repetitive. Three stars rating is not due to the quality of the content but the repetitive nature of the book.
Profile Image for Denis Romanovsky.
197 reviews
February 1, 2023
This book was quite hard for me as I do not have background it physics. Still, very interesting how the author combined concepts of complexity science with modern physics theories.

There are many interesting and still actual topics like emergence, raise of complexity from small incremental changes, life as a self-organizing process, role of symmetry breaking, role of niches in evolution, and that economy is similar to biological systems.
Profile Image for Satai.
11 reviews41 followers
June 24, 2013
Nektere kusy, obzvlaste u konce jsou copy-paste z jinych mist. Nebo se to tomu alespon podoba.

Na druhou stranu zakladni otazka je pomerne nosna a pristup k reseni ne zcela trivialni. Kauffman asi globalne pravdu nema, ale za zamysleni stoji. Nektere kusy (autokatalyticke site) bych mel rad vykousle vedle do hutneho a kompaktniho textu, protoze jsou to dobre, testovatelne a asi i celkem pravdive hypotezy.
Profile Image for Ushan.
801 reviews68 followers
December 24, 2010
Kauffman believes that as a mixture of organic chemicals grows ever more complex, it undergoes a phase transition and produces a self-replicator, which is to say, life. Of course, no one has been able to demonstrate it before or since.
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews

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