Niels Gregersen:
FROM COMPLEXITY TO LIFE (Oxford Univ Press, 2003)

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

This book collects articles by a number of distinguished scholars in the fields of self-organizing systems, biology, physics, information science and religion. The articles are surprisingly easy to read, despite the "complexity" of the topics that they deal with: randomness, entropy, emergence, evolution, time and god itself. In many ways this is an ideal introduction to the themes that have been "emerging" as the core themes of research beyond Physics as we know it.

Stuart Kauffman discusses the birth of "autonomous agents". As a strong believer that life was not only possible and probable, but almost inevitable, Kauffman looks for a universal law that would explain "life as an emergent collective behavior of complex chemical networks". Nothing but a consequence of the fact that autocatalytic reactions do happen in our universe, and such reactions can feed themselves recursively forever, thus generating higher and higher complexity.

Paul Davies discusses the "arrow of time" and the various interpretations.

Ian Stewart analyzes the relationship between Thermodynamics and Gravitation. The universe, after all, is both thermodynamic and gravitational. This is an apparent contradiction because thermodynamics mandates that a system gets more and more disordered, while gravitation tends to create order. Stewart shows that both descriptions of the universe are approximations, based on coarse-graining, and the different coarse-graining accounts for the different conclusions about the creation of order.

Morowitz thinks that the neuron changed dramatically the way things work in this universe. Neurons (which convert chemical signals and convert it into an electrical signal) allowed cells to exchange signals very quickly (the speed of electricity is much higher than the speed of chemical reactions). This created new opportunities for life, as it made larger organisms possible.

A discussion on the anthropic principle leads Gregersen to conclude that life in this universe must necessarily arise given the way it is construed, i.e. this universe has been designed for life to arise.

So the breadth of the book is impressive. There is hardly a popular topic of our days that is not examined from a scientific point of view.