The phenomenon of self-organization means that systems not in thermodynamic equilibrium will create what Kauffman calls "order for free". The second law of thermodynamics continues, of course, to apply to systems in equilibrium, systems that are closed to inputs and outputs of matter and energy, in which entropy or disorder inevitably increases but Kauffman's systems are ones through which matter and energy flow.
Kauffman clearly finds these exciting. He keeps repeating his discovery that we are not the random products of chance, rather we are the inevitable results of the way the universe works. He is right, of course: this is a revolutionary thesis as important as the Copernican paradigm shift or Darwin's Natural Selection. But this is where I began to find the work a little muddled. His lyrical descriptions of the desert in bloom are presumably meant for the general reader but at the same time there is a lot of technical details about his theoretical models. On the other hand, when I try to understand more deeply these same models I am frustrated by gaps in the explanations. For example, he states a formula S = lnG and I think I know what he means by G but I am not certain; he is not clear. He tells us on page 163 that pleuromona has between 500 to 800 genes but on page 42 it is between "a few hundred to about a thousand". He explains that some systems can jump beyond the 'correlation length' of a fitness landscape but he never tells us how to measure this length. Perhaps this is just me not being clever enough or picking too many nits but a few minor changes could have really helped me understand this work.
This is an important and ground-breaking book. It would benefit from slightly better editing. August 2015; 304 pages.
Other works on this exciting topic:
- Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin which is an immensely readable and interesting overview of this area and similar non-equilibrium systems and 100% recommended
- Emergence: from chaos to order and Complexity: a very short introduction, both by John Holland, one of the leading experts in the field
- Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan
- How Nature Works by Per Bak, another expert who can really write
- Six degrees about small world networks by Duncan Watts who worked with Steven Strogatz
- Smart swarm by Peter Miller
- The Information by James Gleick although his Chaos (not reviewed on this blog) is perhaps better
- sync by Steven Strogatz
Other books not reviewed on this blog on this topic include:
- The Wisdom of Crowds
- Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell about fads
- Ubiquity which is brilliant about fractals and power laws
- Critical mass by Philip Ball which is a brilliant explanation about phase changes