cover image The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi. Cambridge Univ, $40 (498p) ISBN 978-1-107-01136-6

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 world needs to change from that of “a machine to understanding it as a network.” They argue that this can only be accomplished if we take a systems view of nature and the role humans play in it; they provide insightful, if abbreviated, summaries of the evolution of thought within a range of disciplines like natural philosophy, political economy, mathematics, physics, biology, information theory, and theology. Capra and Luisi rely heavily on the difficult concept of “autopoiesis theory,” and, given the breadth of their work, make some sweeping generalizations—which remain open to critique by their peers. For example, they claim that altruism is “widely displayed at the social level in the formation of groups of animals,” a statement many biologists would find problematic. Similarly, they assert that “ecological literacy has an important spiritual dimension,” and while that might be accurate for some, it is certainly not universal. Their action plan for social transformation is largely a summary of the work of Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, and Jeremy Rifkin. [em](June) [/em]