cover image The Web of Life

The Web of Life

Fritjof Capra. Doubleday Books, $23.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47675-1

In his bestsellers, The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point, physicist Capra charted a paradigm shift from a mechanistic to an ecological worldview. In his new book, a rewarding synthesis that will challenge serious readers, he claims that a comprehensive theory of living systems is now emerging. Applicable to cells, chemical structures, people, ecosystems and social systems, such a theory flows from deep ecology (which assumes humanity's embeddedness in nature's processes), systems thinking and the new mathematics of complexity. Capra identifies a pattern of organization common to all living systems, characterized by internal feedback loops and self-organizing behavior. His own theorizing builds upon the work of important scientists, including American microbiologist Lynn Margulis and British atmospheric chemist James Lovelock, the co-founders of the Gaia hypothesis, who see planet Earth as a living, self-regulating organism. Capra also draws from the work of Chilean neuroscientists Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, whose theory of autopoiesis (""self-making"") defines organisms as ""network patterns"" whose components continually transform one another. Extrapolating from ecosystems research, he sets forth guidelines for building sustainable human communities based on interdependence, cyclical flow of resources, partnership and conflict resolution. Illustrated. (Oct.)