The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

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Cambridge University Press, Apr 10, 2014 - Business & Economics - 498 pages
2 Reviews
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 sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions - from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.

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The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

User Review  - Pier Luigi Luisi - Publishers Weekly

Capra (The Tao of Physics) and Luisi ambitiously offer an intellectual history of much of the social and natural sciences as they argue that the underlying metaphor for how we see and understand the ... Read full review

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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.


The Newtonian worldmachine
The mechanistic view of life
Mechanistic social thought
From the parts to the whole
Classical systems theories
Complexity theory
What is life?
The human adventure
Mind and consciousness
Science and spirituality
Life mind and society
The systems view of health
The ecological dimension of life
systems thinking and the state of the world
Systemic solutions

Order and complexity in the living world
Darwin and biological evolution
The quest for the origin of life on Earth

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About the author (2014)

Fritjof Capra is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and serves on the faculty of Schumacher College, Devon. He is a physicist and systems theorist, and has been engaged in a systematic examination of the philosophical and social implications of contemporary science for the past 35 years.

Pier Luigi Luisi is Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Rome 3. He started his career at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) where he became full professor in Chemistry and initiated the interdisciplinary Cortona Weeks. His main research focuses on the experimental, theoretical and philosophical aspects of the origin of life and self-organisation of synthetic and natural systems.