The Systems View of Life

The Systems View of Life

Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad s...

DownloadRead Online
Title:The Systems View of Life
Author:Fritjof Capra
Rating:

The Systems View of Life Reviews

  • Bruno Lavos

    Fundamental! Really! I'm serious!

  • Rob Kall

    it's been a long time since I've been so excited about reading a non-fiction book, let alone a text book. But this one has captivated my interest by pulling together so many ideas and threads of scientific knowledge and wisdom.

    In a sense, this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts.

    It starts walking us through the history of science—and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures. This is a wonderful sec

    it's been a long time since I've been so excited about reading a non-fiction book, let alone a text book. But this one has captivated my interest by pulling together so many ideas and threads of scientific knowledge and wisdom.

    In a sense, this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts.

    It starts walking us through the history of science—and how scientific models influenced most aspect of cultures. This is a wonderful section that lays out the people who came up with the ideas.

    I was reading about the history of systems thinking. At one point, as the authors were about to begin giving a history and explanation of a concept I’d had a loose handle on, I realized that I was suddenly feeling very excited, like I was in a movie, sitting on the edge of my seat, or becoming aroused and excited. But it was a non-fiction book, on scientific theory. Frankly, at 70 pages into this book, at that point, I was highly aroused, with excitement and curiosity and anticipation. I can’t wait to get to the next parts of the book, to put the whole picture together.

    This is what a great writer and a great book are supposed to do.

    Now I'm 270 pages into it, reading about consciousness, having just finished reading about evolution of humans. Great, great book that's changing my thinking on the book I'm working on-- Bottom-up.

    Update: I finished the book. It's one of the best books I've read in the past few years. I can't recommend it highly enough. I did the

    -- it exceeded my expectations.

  • Mani

    Best place to dive into the shallow end of autopoesis and Varela's work on biosemiotics.

  • Silash Ruparell

    This also appears on my blog

    www.silashruparell.com

    This also appears on my blog

    The Systems View of Life - A Unifying Vision (Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi) is the kind of book I wish I could write. As the industrial age, which began in the period of the European Enlightenment, draws to maturity through the end of the 20th century and beyond, its very fruits have given humanity the tools to move beyond the industrial and mechanical, and into a higher conception of the nature of existence.

    Thus we have the insights of quantum physics and fractal mathematics which were only made possible by going through the Newtonian / Cartesian phase. Or the interconnected, networked world that is forming today, that came about through incremental phases of industrial, machine-based progress. The recent giant leaps in computing power that today enable us to study and model complexity and chaos, leave us perhaps with more questions than answers, but evolved through essentially linear statistical methods over the preceding 200-years.

    Where Capra and Luisi take us therefore, is into a place that we I think, already know to be instinctively know we need to be. Namely that as a society we are perhaps grown up enough to be able to once again emphasise the qualitative over the quantitative, the observation over the explanation, the process rather than the outcome. The prize, they argue, is a great one:

    Personally I would add a caveat to this: the developed or industrialised world in primed for this transition; the developing world is still undergoing its industrialisation phase through which many hundreds of millions of people are being lifted out of food poverty. Capra and Luisi hint that this can be short-circuited (“The root causes of hunger around the world are unrelated to food production. They are poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land”) – my view is that they need to take their time to evolve societally, having now moved away from a land / organic-based existence – they will not need 500 years like we did, but they will need decades. This is important, because the transitions implied in the book will likely remain imperceptible at the level of all humanity for rest of the century.

    Moving back to the book itself, the authors do well to delve into science well enough to give the reader a sense of rigour, without crossing the line into incomprehensibility for the layman. A consistent theme is the rationalist, and currently prevailing tendency to break down our existence into building blocks and compartments, whether that be measurements of economic growth, medical diagnosis, legal systems, industrial production. But modern physicists have taught us that at that quantum level “matter” (in the non-technical sense) is fundamentally interconnected and cannot be reduced to infinitesimally small building blocks:

    And the recently evolving discipline of fractal geometry provides us with the basis to extend this principle of interconnectedness and probability both upwards and downwards:

    More obviously upwards - the functioning of the human body; the development of societies and economies; ecological phenomena; the space-time of the universe. Less obviously downwards, but reaching into the spiritual and philosophical (think of the buddhist and other eastern philosophies which emphasise the oneness of zero and infinity).

    We arrive here through the property of fractal geometry known as self-similarity. The authors tell us how the inventor of fractal geometry Benoit Mandelbrot demonstrates this by breaking a piece of a cauliflower and showing that it looks just like a small cauliflower. Every part looks like the whole vegetable at every level of scale.

    So if such interconnectedness and self-similarity exists at the quantum level, why have we organised our societies in such a compartmentalised, non-holistic way ? The answer set out in the book can be summarised by two phenomena.

    First, the focus on responding to, and treating, observed outcomes rather than rather than understanding the underlying processes that lead to those outcomes. An obvious example would be politicians who create new government policies based on “events” rather than a qualitative appraisal of the world around them. Or alternatively the diagnostic approach of modern medicine:

    The second is the sense of connection that humans once had with the physical world, the land, nature and eco-systems, and which has been lost through in the industrial society that we inhabit. This connection is, the authors tell us, real and rooted in science. Indeed that very epitome and oft-cited champion of the rationalist scientific school, Charles Darwin gives us our route back to nature. For at the end of day all living organisms share a common ancestor. Organic and inorganic matter evolved to produce living cells which then evolved to produce water, air and land-borne species, of which we are but one.

    Studies of the number of proteins that form all of life suggest that there around 1014 different types (or 100,000 billion). A lot, you might think. However, the mathematically possible number of proteins that could exist based on chains of so-called “residues”, or amino acids, is 10130. Some of those would be energetically impossible, but even if 1 in a billion of those are “permitted” the resulting number of all possible proteins would be 10120. By way of comparison if the actual number of proteins in existence were a single grain of sand, then all the other possible combination representing those that don’t exist, would be the equivalent of the Sahara Desert. And we still do not understand very much the process by which that “one grain of sand”, representing all of life, was selected, over and above all of the other mathematically possible combinations.

    And delving into space-time, planets such as our own, have also been part of a cosmic evolution of the universe, the concept of a universe

    . The authors quote the physicist Freeman Dyson (1985):

    So where does that leave us and where do we go from here ? Rationalist science cannot yet (and may not ever) give us the answers to the true origins of life ? Does it matter ? Yes, it does matter, One the one hand it matters to adherents of organised religion, searching for a way to become closer to a god as creator.

    And it also matters to the finest scientific minds seeking out the origins of life and the universe, whether to through Big Bang or more recent theories. Take Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, and his binary test for whether or not there is a creator:

    Capra and Luisi push us to gaining an understanding of the nature of consciousness, and the signposts point to philosophies of the east:

    As physicists delve deeper into the material world they come to realise that their own consciousness is part of the unity of all natural phenomena. Mystics arrive there from the opposite direction, with an understanding that outer world is essentially one and the same as the inner world which is their starting point. Thus there is an increasing recognition, observable as we move into a new century that we are

    . Every molecule in our body was once part of a previous body, non-living or living, and the same will apply to all life forms that come after us.

    Indeed, the authors point out the origin of spirituality. The word “spirit” is derived from the Latin for “breath”, see also the related Latin “anima”, Greek “psyche”, and Sanskrit “atman”. Allowing us to posit that this notion of the spirit, being breath as the source of life, is common across the ancient schools of thought in both east and west:

    This, say Capra and Luisi, is the true sense of “ecology” (derived from the Greek “oikos” meaning “Earth Household”) – a oneness with the natural world around us, being a member of a “global community of living beings”, and not interfering with ability of the earth to sustain life. The reader is not surprised at this point that authors take on a quick detour into Gaia theory as well.

    Practically, achieving this oneness means that current and future generations of politicians, scientists, business leaders, teachers and professionals will need an understanding of the nature of sustainability. An education programme, in other words.

    Modern social networks have the ability to achieve this. Social networks can be (and have typically in the past) used as instruments of control and authority, through bringing together and influencing people of similar mindsets. But in the future they can also be a means of empowerment, dissipating common views about the importance of sustainability, and a systemic or holistic way of thinking.

    Examples include: holistic therapies that connect physical well-being to mental well-being; a recognition that an individual’s well-being is determined by diet, and environment and social interaction; an understanding of the self-healing properties of many systems, including the human body and its surrounding ecology; the importance of human and ecological well-being for any corporate entity, arguably over and above its financial and profitability measure.

    So, the network, technological and philosophical ingredients are in place in the 21st century. What are the policy implications ? Is there some new world order that needs to be created ? The book takes the obligatory diversion through the well-trodden path of the economic and environmental unsustainability of our current existence, culminating in a now-familiar walk-through of the global financial crisis, its causes and effects. We also hear about various bodies, movements and NGOs that have sprung up before and since to address and promote sustainability.

    The book then concludes with a number of possible visions for a more sustainable future, and presents a number of overlapping strategies. The authors note in particular that economic globalisation, which has accelerated in the last 100 years or so, is now essentially characterised by a global network of machines (computers, factories, communication lines, financial systems) that are pre-programmed to maximise profit.

    The financial motive is the current “human value” which dominates. It would not, they argue, be too much of a leap of imagination to re-programme the machines to have other values built into them. This would also involve moving from quantitative measures of economic growth, such as GDP, to what may be termed “qualitative growth”. Whilst growth is a characteristic of all life, it is not linear and not unlimited – at the same time as some organisms and ecosystems grow others will shrink and release their components which can become resources for new growth. Qualitative growth is “growth which enhances life”. Quantities can be measured, but qualities need to be mapped, and new mathematical and computing disciplines are allowing us now to do this.

    Linked to this, the authors contend, should be a programme for corporate reform. The obligation to maximise shareholder return is etched into the contractual structure of a company, its board and the underpinning legal system. The fiduciary duty owed by a company and its managers to its shareholders overrides all other duties. This profit maximising duty makes the same assumption that economists currently do, namely that social costs, resource ownership, ecological sustainability should not be the goal of a corporation. The authors recommend extending or even replacing this fiduciary duty to include the well-being of the corporation’s employees, of local communities and of future generations, and creating new forms of ownership. And arguably this need not be in conflict with a market-based economy.

    The next area for change is where I am most sceptical – namely a number of suggestions around poverty eradication, stabilising population growth, and empowering of women. The last, in particular is seen to be important as a way of tempering the male, power-based, private ownership-based, accumulative cultures that predominate today, with a more feminine approach: conservation, co-operation, and community. More yin, less yang. I am sceptical not because these aims are not highly laudable (though limiting population growth sounds a tad Malthusian), but because it seems apparent to me, having witnessed the rise of China, the tiger economies and some Latin American countries, that the quickest way to eliminate poverty is rapid industrialisation. As I mentioned, their time for an ecological approach will come, and it will come within decades rather than centuries, but they will have to learn the hard way !

    Finally, energy transformation. In particular the systemic view advocates a shift away from coal, oil and other fossil fuels. We are at a moment of perfect technological alignment for an energy revolution, because of advances in both energy and communications technology, enabling the a “Third Industrial Revolution” with five pillars:

    •shifting to renewables (solar, wind, hydro)

    •transforming building stock into power plants, collecting energy on-site

    •deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies

    •using the internet to transform electricity grids into “inter-grids”

    •transforming automobiles to electric plug in and fuel cell vehicles

    The argument is that this can be achieved in the context of a market economy generating viable returns for investors. Couple this with reductions in industrial waste and inefficiency (estimates are that we can save up to 90% of energy and materials currently used in industrial design), and we can become truly sustainable:

    .

    This is a great book and will get a 5* rating from me on the various book blog sites. I like it because it provides a coherent scientific, philosophical and technological underpinning for the ideas presented. I do agree that we are seeing signs of systemic rather than linear phenomena, and I do think that current conditions can provide the impetus for this transition. What I don’t understand, and I don’t think the authors do yet either, is whether this transition will be itself a systemic process, or whether some top-down “policies” or “new forms of government” will be required to push the process.

  • Santiago Ortiz

    suffice to say that this book is a total outlier in terms of number of tags I used; most of my books have 2-5 tags, this one has got 14!: anthropology, biology, business, cooperation, design, education, innovation, networks, philosophy, read, science, spiritual, technology, work

  • Chelsea Lawson

    This book was informative and beautiful. The basic gist, using a quote from the book is that "there is a fundamental unity to life... Different living systems exhibit similar patterns of organization." The authors explore these patterns of organizations using biology, mathematics, sociology, and more. Towards the end of the book, the authors demonstrate how our economic and social systems are based on ideas of infinite growth and individualism that simply do not fit with the world that we live i

    This book was informative and beautiful. The basic gist, using a quote from the book is that "there is a fundamental unity to life... Different living systems exhibit similar patterns of organization." The authors explore these patterns of organizations using biology, mathematics, sociology, and more. Towards the end of the book, the authors demonstrate how our economic and social systems are based on ideas of infinite growth and individualism that simply do not fit with the world that we live in. They argue for a greater focus on "ecological literacy" - principles of ecology and sustainability - in our education system among many proposed solutions.

    Some things I especially liked:

    - In exploring the "similar patterns of organization" that all life exhibits, one starts to conclude that things are somewhat pre-determined. The authors give a good analogy here: "Evolutionary theorists use the image of water flowing down the irregular surface of a hill to illustrate the interplay between determinism and contingency. The water's downward movement is determined by the law of gravity, but the irregular terrain with its rocks and crevices determine the actual pathway." The term that the authors use for this interplay is that we live in a "structurally coupled system."

    - Speaking of terms, the authors did a great job of explaining terms I had heard of but didn't really understand like chaos theory, epigenetics, or cybernetics, as well as introducing new terms that help to frame my thoughts, such as emergent properties, autopoiesis, strange attractors, proto-self, generative economy, embodied mind, etc etc.

    - The book features essays by guest contributors throughout, which I thought was a nice touch

  • Jan Höglund

    The

    by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi is an interdisciplinary book which presents ”a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life’s” different dimensions (p.xii). All living systems are ”highly nonlinear” networks where there are ”countless interconnections” (p.xii). Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusions.

    (pp.1--16)

    The systems view of life is ”a change from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it/>

    The

    by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi is an interdisciplinary book which presents ”a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life’s” different dimensions (p.xii). All living systems are ”highly nonlinear” networks where there are ”countless interconnections” (p.xii). Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusions.

    (pp.1--16)

    The systems view of life is ”a change from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network” (p.4). Greek philosophy, in the sixth century BC, ”understood the order of the cosmos to be that of a living organism” (p.5). The shift from an organic to a mechanistic worldview ”was initiated by … René Descartes (1596-1650)” who is ”regarded as the founder of modern philosophy” (p.8).

    A living system is "an integrated whole whose … properties cannot be reduced to its parts" (p.10). These properties "arise from the interactions and relationships between the parts" (p.10). Outlines of a "coherent theory of living systems … are now emerging" (p.12). This is the subject of the book.

    We need to "question … the old paradigm" (p.12). The "paradigm shift also involves … changes of values" (p.13). There is a "striking connection between changes of thinking and of values" (p.13). The "connection between an ecological perception of the world and corresponding behavior is not a logical but a psychological connection" (p.14). "Logic does not lead us from the fact that we are an integral part of the web of life to certain norms of how we should live (p.14). However, if we have a "deep ecological experience of being part of the web of life, then we will … be inclined to care for all living nature" (p.15). "The paradigm shift … at its deepest level, involves a perceptual shift" (p.15).

    (pp.17--60)

    As the organic view of nature was replaced by the metaphor of the world as a machine, "the goal of science became … to dominate and control nature" (p.21). All "scientific theories are reductionist in the sense that they need to reduce the phenomena described to a … number of characteristics" (p.24). Scientists "in treating living organisms as machines, tended to believe that they are nothing but machines" (p.26). The adverse consequences of this "have become especially apparent in medicine" (p.26). "Economists [also] generally fail to recognize that the economy is merely one aspect of the whole ecological and social fabric" (p.56). Unlimited growth "on a finite planet can only lead to disaster" (p.56).

    As the "metaphor of organizations as machines" has taking hold, it has generated "mechanistic theories of management" with "clearly defined lines of command and communication" (p.58). During the Industrial Revolution "efficient operation of the new machines required major changes in the organization of the workforce" (p.58). The workforce was disciplined "to accept the rigorous routines [required] by factory production" (p.58).

    Interestingly, Max Weber (1864-1920) "was very critical of the development of mechanistic forms of organization" (p.58). Weber observed "the parallels between the machination of industry and bureaucratic forms of organization" (p.58). He was concerned about "the mechanization of human life, the erosion of human spirit, and the undermining of democracy" (p.58). Weber's contemporary, Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), "perfected the engineering approach to management" (p.58). The organization's "structure and goals are designed by management … and are imposed on the organization" with "top-down control" (p.59). The "design of formal structures, linked by clear lines of communication, coordination, and control, has become almost second nature" (p.59).

    Transcending "the mechanistic conceptions of health, the economy, or biotechnology" and "the mechanistic view of organizations" is "critical for the survival of or human civilization (p.59).

    (pp.61--126)

    "Throughout the living world, we find living systems nesting within other living systems" (p.65). Living systems act both as "parts and wholes" (p.65). There is both "an integrative" and "a self-assertive" tendency (p.65). The "essential properties" of living systems are "properties of the whole" (p.65). "The great chock of twentieth-century science has been that living systems cannot be understood by analysis" (p.66).

    There are "three kinds of living systems - organisms, parts of organisms, and communities of organisms" (p.67). Living systems "at all levels are networks" and consists of "networks within networks" (p.68). "Whenever we look at life, we look at networks" (p.95). Nature shows us "a complex web of relationships between … parts of a unified whole" (p.68). "There is stability, but this stability is one of dynamic balance" (p.75). All living systems are "open systems" which need "a continual flux of matter and energy" (p.86).

    Norbert Wiener (1894--1964) introduced the term "cybernetics," from the Greek

    ("steersman"), in the 1940s. Wiener defined cybernetics as the science of "control and communication in the animal and the machine" (p.87). "All major achievements of cybernetics originated … in mechanistic models of living systems" (p.89). Interestingly, Norbert Wiener made "a clear distinction between a mechanistic model and the non-mechanistic living system it represents" (p.93). Ross Ashby (1903--1972), who was "the leading theorist of the cybernetics movement" in the 1950s and 1960s, had, on the other hand, a "strictly mechanistic outlook" (p.93). For Ashby, there was "no creativity, no development, no evolution" (p.97).

    Even "the simplest living system … is a highly complex network" (p.98). "Nonlinear dynamics … represents a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to complexity and … systems thinking" (p.99). The systems view is a shift of perspective "from objects to relationships, from measuring to mapping, from quantity to quality" (p.99). Nonlinear phenomena are "an essential aspect of the network patterns of living systems" (p.105). Nonlinearity has brought about a "shift of emphasis from quantitative to qualitative analysis" (p.105).

    The "spontaneous emergence of order at critical points of instability" is "one of the hallmarks of life" (p.116). The "understanding of pattern[s] is crucial to understand the living world" (p.126).

    (pp. 127--339)

    Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela coined the term "autopoiesis", which means "self-making", in the 1970s (p.129). The main characteristic of life is "self-maintenance" (p.129). A living organism "does not need any information from the outside to be what it is, but it is … dependent on outside materials in order to survive" (p.134). Life can be seen as "a system of interlocked autopoietic systems" (p.135). "Autopoiesis is the particular self-organization of life" (p.135).

    There is "a clear difference between the ways living and nonliving systems interact with their environments" (p.136). If you "kick a stone, it will react" (p.136). If you "kick a dog, it will respond" (p.136). "The interaction with the environment … is determined by the internal organization of the living organism" (p.141). A living organism is "capable of cognition (the process of knowing)" (p.142). The "living organism and the environment become one through cognitive interactions" (p.143). "A particular combination of self-organization and emergence gives rise to self-reproduction" (p.145).

    Dynamic systems "generally operate far from equilibrium, and yet are … stable, self-organizing structures" (p.158). In static systems, "self-organization and the resulting emergent properties are relatively simple concepts" (p.180). In dynamic systems, however, "self-organization and emergence are subtle and complex" (p.180). "New structures … and forms of organization may arise … in situations of instability, chaos, or crisis" (p.180).

    The "appropriate way of approaching nature … is not through domination and control but through respect, cooperation, and dialogue" (p.180). In the living world, "history plays an important role" and "the future is uncertain" (p.180). "Life … cannot be explained in reductionistic terms" (p.181). All living forms "are linked together to each other by a network of parenthood" (p.182). "Cooperation is clearly visible … at many levels of living organisms" (p.202). "The planetary network of bacteria," for example, "has been the main source of evolutionary creativity" (p.192). Another example is "symbiosis, the tendency of different organisms to live in close association with one another" (p.202).

    In living organisms, "there is no easy way to separate instructions from the way they are carried out, to distinguish plan from execution" (p.206). The "principle of structural determinism, … implies that only those changes can be accepted that are consistent with the existing inner structure and organization of the living organism" (p.214). The change must also be consistent with the organism's "self-maintenance" (p.214). Evolution is "complex, highly ordered, and ultimately cognitive" (p.215). It is "an integral part of life's self-organization" (p.215).

    One important implication of "the new systemic understanding of life" is a new understanding of "the nature of mind and consciousness" (p.252). The "phenomenon of mind" is connected with the "phenomenon of life" (p.253). In other words, "cognition is the very process of life" (p.254). "The organizing activity of living systems, at all levels of life, is mental activity" (p.254). "Mind - or, more accurately, mental activity - is immanent in matter at all levels of life" (p.254).

    "Every living organism continually renews itself" while maintaining "its overall identity or pattern of organization" (p.255). Living organisms create "new structures - new connections in the network" (p.255). "Living systems are autonomous" (p.255). Living organisms respond "to environmental changes," and "these changes" alter future responses. This "modification of behavior on the basis of previous experience" is learning (p.255). Continuing "adaptation, learning, and development" are key characteristics of all living beings (p.255). "We can never direct a living system; we can only disturb it" (p.256). A living system has the "autonomy to decide what to notice and what will disturb it" (p.256).

    "Describing cognition as the breath of life seems to be a perfect metaphor" (p.256). Mind is "the process of cognition, which is identified with the process of life" (p.257). At all levels of life, "mind and matter, process and structure, are inseparably connected" (p.257). Consciousness "emerges when cognition reaches a certain level of complexity" (p.257). Consciousness is "a cognitive process" (p.260) which "involves self-awareness" (p.258). Conscious experience is "an expression of life, emerging from complex neural activity" (p.265). Mind and body "are two complementary aspects of life" (p.273). Primary, or core, consciousness "provides the organism with a transient sense of self (the core self) in the act of perception" (p.274), while "reflective consciousness" is "the process of cognition … we experience as thought" (p.274).

    The "pattern of organization of any system … is the configuration of relationships among the system's components" (p.301). This "configuration of relationships" gives the system "its essential characteristics" (p.301). The "structure of a system" is its "physical embodiment of its pattern of organization" (p.302). The "process of life" is the "continual embodiment of the system's pattern of organization" (p.302). These are three perspectives on life: "organization, structure, and process" (p.302). This is the "trilogy of life" (p.303).

    The trilogy of life can, in more general terms, be expressed as "form (or pattern of organization), … matter (or material structure), and … process" (p.304). Meaning is added to "the other three perspectives" in order to "extend the systemic understanding of life to the social domain" (p.304). Meaning is "a shorthand notation for the inner world of reflective consciousness, which contains a multitude of interrelated characteristics" (p.304). Human action "flows from the meaning that we attribute to our surroundings" (p.304). Human language "involves the communication of meaning" (p.304).

    Living systems "exhibit similar patterns of organization" (p.305). "The network pattern, in particular, is … very basic" (p.305). "All living systems are … networks within networks" (p.306). "A social network, too, is a nonlinear pattern of organization" (p.306). However, "organisms and human societies are very different types of living systems" (p.307). "Human beings can choose whether and how to obey a social rule; molecules cannot choose" (p.307). "Meaning is essential to human beings" (p.309). In "acting with intention and purpose … we experience human freedom" (p.309). The "behavior is constrained but not determined by outside forces" (p.309). As human beings, "we experience this … as the freedom to act according to our own choices and decisions" (p.309).

    "Bringing life into human organizations … increases their flexibility, creativity, and learning potential" (p.320). People need to "feel that they are supported … and do not have to sacrifice their integrity to meet the goals of the organization" (p.320). However, the economic environment today "is not life-enhancing but increasingly life-destroying" (p.320). We need to "change our economic system so that it becomes life-enhancing rather than life-destroying (p.321). This change will "be imperative not only for the well-being of human organizations but also for the survival … of humanity as a whole" (p.321). The "new unifying vision of life … has important implication for almost every field of study and every human endeavor" (p.322).

    "From a systems point of view, … illness results from patterns of disorder" (p.327). Health is "a multidimensional and multileveled phenomenon" (p.327). "Lack of flexibility manifests itself as stress" (p.356). "Loss of flexibility means loss of health" (p.328). From a systems view of life "the current health revolution can be seen as part of a global movement dedicated to creating a sustainable world" (p.338).

    (pp. 339--452)

    There are different meanings of "self-organization" (p.346). "To cyberneticists … self-organization meant the … emergence of order in machines featuring feedback loops" (p.346). In complexity theory self-organization is the "emergence of new order … governed by nonlinear dynamics" (p.346). And, in ecosystems self-organization is understood as "dissipative structures operating far from equilibrium" (p.346). There is, however, "almost total silence on the question of autopoiesis in ecosystems" (p.347). We need to "understand the principles of [self-]organization that ecosystems have evolved" (p.353). Ecology is of "paramount practical importance" (p.361).

    The "major problems of our time … cannot be understood in isolation" (p.362). The fundamental dilemma is "the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet" (p.363). "Social and environmental costs" are not included in economic activities (p.363). There is "a widening gap between the rich and the poor" (p.363). All "ethical dimensions are excluded" (p.378). "Global capitalism … exacerbates" poverty and social exclusion (pp. 384--385). There are also "actively misleading" campaigns that "systematically create doubt and confusion … concerning the threat of global warming" (p.388). "This is why the systems view of life" is very important and "has tremendous practical relevance" (p.392). There are "hundreds of systemic solutions being developed all over the world" (p.393).

    It seems as a "more fluid system of global governance would be more appropriate for today's world," where power is increasingly shifted "to regional and local levels" (p.398). This includes the "shift from governments serving corporations to governments serving people and communities," as well as respect for "core labor, social and other human rights" (p.397).

    The most important reformation of "the corporation will be to expose the core myth that shareholder returns must be maximized at the expense of human and ecological communities" (p.400). This means "reviving the traditional purpose of the corporation to serve the public good" (p.400). A "fundamental issue … is ownership" (p.401). "Conventional corporate ownership" is an example of "extractive ownership" (p.401). A new "generative ownership" is needed, which "generates well-being and real, living wealth" (p.401).

    "Unfortunately, … systemic thinking is still very rare among … corporate and political leaders" (p.407). The "world has to act now or face devastating … consequences," but there is "lack of political will" (p.411). There is an "erroneous belief that nature can be subjected to human control" (p.437). We "need to honor, respect, and cooperate with nature" (p.442). And "we can learn valuable lessons from nature's ecosystems" (p.442). "We have the knowledge and the technologies to build a sustainable world" (p.452). What is needed is "political will and leadership" (p.452). "Major breakthroughs" are needed "to turn the tide" (p.452).

    Fritjof Capra och Pier Luigi Luisi's book is truly impressive! The amount of materials covered is broad indeed.

    is an attempt to integrate life's biological, cognitive, and social dimensions in a unified systems view of life. In a way, I think Capra and Luisi are brave in taking such a broad sweep across so many different areas. Even if you take a broad sweep, it will still be too narrow. And what you gain in breadth, you risk losing in depth. Overall, I think Capra and Luisi have succeeded in integrating many different perspectives. The book certainly broadened my own perspectives. The main value of the book is the integration of the different ideas, models, and theories into a single framework.

  • Charlene

    Very ambitious. I didn't know what to make of it when I first heard about Fritjof Capra's work. He and his co author are attempting to not only understand the systematic nature of everything, and I mean everything, they are also trying to find a way to harvest what they learn from how systems work so they can make suggestions about how to make life on Earth more sustainable.

    While I enjoyed their explanation of systems in the emergence of organisms, I didn't really enjoy the sections on consciou

    Very ambitious. I didn't know what to make of it when I first heard about Fritjof Capra's work. He and his co author are attempting to not only understand the systematic nature of everything, and I mean everything, they are also trying to find a way to harvest what they learn from how systems work so they can make suggestions about how to make life on Earth more sustainable.

    While I enjoyed their explanation of systems in the emergence of organisms, I didn't really enjoy the sections on consciousness, I really appreciate what they are trying to do. However, I think they muddy the waters in trying to have a philosophy of mind debate. They would stand firmly with the Churchland's, who believe that all consciousness is material. And maybe I would be interested in reading about that. But IMO, that is for another book. I would be happy to hear opposing views. Cognitive neuroscience is one of my favorite subjects, and I would love it if someone who understood systems thinking more than I do could shed light on where Fritjof Capra and co-author are going with this.

    Their discussion of the systems approach to evolution was fantastic! That alone makes this book worth reading. So much research coming from systems folks, thermodynamics folks (i.e.., Jeremy England), and others are demonstrating that gene centered evolutionary theory is outdated. A new paradigm is afoot that adds 3 very important aspects to the theory; 1) emergence, 2) horizontal gene transfer as a greater focus, 3) endosymbiosis.

    Once we view evotdluion from this perspective, we see that the inclusion of the aforementioned additions to evolutionary process means that the behaviors that arise are less random than once thought. At the end of the day, genes are less the driver of evolution and physical forces, which result in the emergence of complexity are the main driver. He is firmly in the camp that under the right conditions, life will self-organize.

    The authors then go on to show that social networks emerge and operate on the same principles. They are self generating. From this, they look at the systemic nature of social issues and try to understand what steps can be taken, once you have taken the steps to understand the systems nature of the problem, to live in a more sustainable manner.

  • Marc

    A book that pretends to offer a global, “unifying” view on life and reality cannot be but very comprehensive. And in this respect Fritjof Capra lives up to all expectations: not only does he offer a thorough critique on classical sciences (its determinism and reductionism), but he also offers an alternative: a contextual, integrative and holistic approach. For Capra that alternative paradigm can be found through Systems Approach, a philosophical-scientific and technical current of thinking, that

    A book that pretends to offer a global, “unifying” view on life and reality cannot be but very comprehensive. And in this respect Fritjof Capra lives up to all expectations: not only does he offer a thorough critique on classical sciences (its determinism and reductionism), but he also offers an alternative: a contextual, integrative and holistic approach. For Capra that alternative paradigm can be found through Systems Approach, a philosophical-scientific and technical current of thinking, that came to the foreground after the Second World War.

    Capra summarizes the specific perspective of Systems View as follows: “

    In this book Capra shows us the usefulness of this approach on all scientific domains that are relevant to life, and he does so in great detail, but without becoming too technical (although of course sometimes it’s a tough read). And I must say: it’s fascinating and intriguing, and it’s quite convincing that this more integrative and contextual approach has much to offer. Capra illustrates that a lot of the tools that in the past decades have been created by the Systems Views give a better understanding of the ultracomplexity of life: nonlinearity, feedback-loops, self-organization, emergent properties, autopoiesis, the focus on relations, patterns and processes instead of components, etc. In this sense this book is really worth reading.

    But (yes, of course there’s a but!), Capra does make a very extreme black-and-white drawing of it. Throughout the entire book, in all domains that Capra raises, he underlines how classical science and the paradigm behind it fail. According to him they even are responsible for the major world problems we are facing. And quite frankly, that is a fairly gross and largely unjust accusation. I have the impression that in his enthousiasm Capra sometimes twists and turns things to fit his view. For example, in his overview of the history of science he pretends that there has always been a pendulum movement between a reductionist-deterministic approach and a holistic one, and that is manifestly incorrect. On top of that he is – and after having read a number of books on Systems Thinking I think I can make that estimation – he is very selective in what he puts under the banner of the Systems View; by now I know Systems Thinking is quite a heterogenous current, and Capra manifestly left out the bits that didn’t fit in his story.

    Of course, Capra is not just an amateur: he has written dozens of popular scientific works and I have the impression that he really knows the latest state of affairs in various scientific domains. But his rather self-assured, demonstrative and sometimes even indoctrinating tone makes me very suspicious. By his critics Capra is regularly labeled as a New Age author, especially referring to one of his first and most famous works,

    ; in that book he moved in a fairly straight line from the failure of the classic reductionist sciences to the holistic wisdoms of Eastern religions. 40 years later, Capra takes up that line again (the Dalai Lama even gets a guest article in this new book!), but now he uses the Systems View as an interface. And there’s another shift: instead of Buddhism and Taoism, Capra now sees a new doctrine of salvation in Ecology; the last 100 pages of this book are entirely dedicated to that approach; it gets so much emphasis that I think the title of this book should have been an "ecological view of life", instead of a “systems view”.

    Now, obviously there is a lot of wisdom in the ecological view and we have to shift our current way of thinking much more in that direction; that’s without question, and when you look around this is a process that is in full swing. But, once again, my impression is that Capra is exaggerating in the other direction and is falling into the trap of eco-fundamentalism, depicting a too black-and-white state of affairs and being almost dogmatic in his line of thought (I’m strongly in favor of ecologism too, but not when it turns into a anti-humanism). At the end this book breaths more the air of a manifesto than of a reasoned analysis. It is also clear that it was written in the period 2011-2012, just after the severe economic crisis, and Capra repeatedly gives the impression that the whole world finally is convinced of the paradigm shift proclaimed by him with a loud drum. More than 5 years later, that eschatological-looking expectation certainly still has not been fulfilled, perhaps even on the contrary.

    Capra is an enticing writer, that is the least you can say. And his presentation of the Systems View as a better way of looking at reality is inspiring. But his deviation to Eastern mysticism and radical ecology reveals that he still clings to a rather dogmatic kind of holism. Now, our world needs dreamers and visionists like Capra, so let them do it, but as a reader, it does no harm to link back to reality!

  • John Doyle

    The Systems View of Life argues that Cartesian reductionism, which refers to attempts to describe reality by examining its constituent parts, distracts us from a true account of our world and the universe. Instead, Capra argues that focusing on patterns, processes, and underlying relationships offers more fertile ground for useful inferences about reality. I enjoyed the book until its head-snapping turn to superficial polemics on healthcare, business, and energy policy. These revealed the author

    The Systems View of Life argues that Cartesian reductionism, which refers to attempts to describe reality by examining its constituent parts, distracts us from a true account of our world and the universe. Instead, Capra argues that focusing on patterns, processes, and underlying relationships offers more fertile ground for useful inferences about reality. I enjoyed the book until its head-snapping turn to superficial polemics on healthcare, business, and energy policy. These revealed the author's tendency to draw sweeping inferences from scant data in fields he clearly does not understand well. By the end, The Systems View of Life felt like a vacation that started well and then became a series of loud, high-pressure sales pitches for expensive time-shares in another part of the world.

Best Books Online is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2019 Best Books Online - All rights reserved.