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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 The Systems View of Life A Unifying Vision 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 pxii All living systems are highly nonlinear networks where there are countless interconnections pxii Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusionsIntroduction pp1 16The systems view of life is a change from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network p4 Greek philosophy in the sixth century BC understood the order of the cosmos to be that of a living organism p5 The shift from an organic to a mechanistic worldview was initiated by Ren Descartes 1596 1650 who is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy p8A living system is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to its parts p10 These properties arise from the interactions and relationships between the parts p10 Outlines of a coherent theory of living systems are now emerging p12 This is the subject of the bookWe need to uestion the old paradigm p12 The paradigm shift also involves changes of values p13 There is a striking connection between changes of thinking and of values p13 The connection between an ecological perception of the world and corresponding behavior is not a logical but a psychological connection p14 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 p14 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 p15 The paradigm shift at its deepest level involves a perceptual shift p15The mechanistic worldview pp17 60As 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 p21 All scientific theories are reductionist in the sense that they need to reduce the phenomena described to a number of characteristics p24 Scientists in treating living organisms as machines tended to believe that they are nothing but machines p26 The adverse conseuences of this have become especially apparent in medicine p26 Economists also generally fail to recognize that the economy is merely one aspect of the whole ecological and social fabric p56 Unlimited growth on a finite planet can only lead to disaster p56As the metaphor of organizations as machines has taking hold it has generated mechanistic theories of management with clearly defined lines of command and communication p58 During the Industrial Revolution efficient operation of the new machines reuired major changes in the organization of the workforce p58 The workforce was disciplined to accept the rigorous routines reuired by factory production p58Interestingly Max Weber 1864 1920 was very critical of the development of mechanistic forms of organization p58 Weber observed the parallels between the machination of industry and bureaucratic forms of organization p58 He was concerned about the mechanization of human life the erosion of human spirit and the undermining of democracy p58 Weber s contemporary Frederick Taylor 1856 1915 perfected the engineering approach to management p58 The organization s structure and goals are designed by management and are imposed on the organization with top down control p59 The design of formal structures linked by clear lines of communication coordination and control has become almost second nature p59Transcending the mechanistic conceptions of health the economy or biotechnology and the mechanistic view of organizations is critical for the survival of or human civilization p59The rise of systems thinking pp61 126Throughout the living world we find living systems nesting within other living systems p65 Living systems act both as parts and wholes p65 There is both an integrative and a self assertive tendency p65 The essential properties of living systems are properties of the whole p65 The great chock of twentieth century science has been that living systems cannot be understood by analysis p66There are three kinds of living systems organisms parts of organisms and communities of organisms p67 Living systems at all levels are networks and consists of networks within networks p68 Whenever we look at life we look at networks p95 Nature shows us a complex web of relationships between parts of a unified whole p68 There is stability but this stability is one of dynamic balance p75 All living systems are open systems which need a continual flux of matter and energy p86Norbert Wiener 1894 1964 introduced the term cybernetics from the Greek kybernetes steersman in the 1940s Wiener defined cybernetics as the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine p87 All major achievements of cybernetics originated in mechanistic models of living systems p89 Interestingly Norbert Wiener made a clear distinction between a mechanistic model and the non mechanistic living system it represents p93 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 p93 For Ashby there was no creativity no development no evolution p97Even the simplest living system is a highly complex network p98 Nonlinear dynamics represents a ualitative rather than a uantitative approach to complexity and systems thinking p99 The systems view is a shift of perspective from objects to relationships from measuring to mapping from uantity to uality p99 Nonlinear phenomena are an essential aspect of the network patterns of living systems p105 Nonlinearity has brought about a shift of emphasis from uantitative to ualitative analysis p105The spontaneous emergence of order at critical points of instability is one of the hallmarks of life p116 The understanding of patterns is crucial to understand the living world p126A new conception of life pp 127 339Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela coined the term autopoiesis which means self making in the 1970s p129 The main characteristic of life is self maintenance p129 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 p134 Life can be seen as a system of interlocked autopoietic systems p135 Autopoiesis is the particular self organization of life p135There is a clear difference between the ways living and nonliving systems interact with their environments p136 If you kick a stone it will react p136 If you kick a dog it will respond p136 The interaction with the environment is determined by the internal organization of the living organism p141 A living organism is capable of cognition the process of knowing p142 The living organism and the environment become one through cognitive interactions p143 A particular combination of self organization and emergence gives rise to self reproduction p145Dynamic systems generally operate far from euilibrium and yet are stable self organizing structures p158 In static systems self organization and the resulting emergent properties are relatively simple concepts p180 In dynamic systems however self organization and emergence are subtle and complex p180 New structures and forms of organization may arise in situations of instability chaos or crisis p180The appropriate way of approaching nature is not through domination and control but through respect cooperation and dialogue p180 In the living world history plays an important role and the future is uncertain p180 Life cannot be explained in reductionistic terms p181 All living forms are linked together to each other by a network of parenthood p182 Cooperation is clearly visible at many levels of living organisms p202 The planetary network of bacteria for example has been the main source of evolutionary creativity p192 Another example is symbiosis the tendency of different organisms to live in close association with one another p202In living organisms there is no easy way to separate instructions from the way they are carried out to distinguish plan from execution p206 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 p214 The change must also be consistent with the organism s self maintenance p214 Evolution is complex highly ordered and ultimately cognitive p215 It is an integral part of life s self organization p215One important implication of the new systemic understanding of life is a new understanding of the nature of mind and consciousness p252 The phenomenon of mind is connected with the phenomenon of life p253 In other words cognition is the very process of life p254 The organizing activity of living systems at all levels of life is mental activity p254 Mind or accurately mental activity is immanent in matter at all levels of life p254Every living organism continually renews itself while maintaining its overall identity or pattern of organization p255 Living organisms create new structures new connections in the network p255 Living systems are autonomous p255 Living organisms respond to environmental changes and these changes alter future responses This modification of behavior on the basis of previous experience is learning p255 Continuing adaptation learning and development are key characteristics of all living beings p255 We can never direct a living system we can only disturb it p256 A living system has the autonomy to decide what to notice and what will disturb it p256Describing cognition as the breath of life seems to be a perfect metaphor p256 Mind is the process of cognition which is identified with the process of life p257 At all levels of life mind and matter process and structure are inseparably connected p257 Consciousness emerges when cognition reaches a certain level of complexity p257 Consciousness is a cognitive process p260 which involves self awareness p258 Conscious experience is an expression of life emerging from complex neural activity p265 Mind and body are two complementary aspects of life p273 Primary or core consciousness provides the organism with a transient sense of self the core self in the act of perception p274 while reflective consciousness is the process of cognition we experience as thought p274The pattern of organization of any system is the configuration of relationships among the system s components p301 This configuration of relationships gives the system its essential characteristics p301 The structure of a system is its physical embodiment of its pattern of organization p302 The process of life is the continual embodiment of the system s pattern of organization p302 These are three perspectives on life organization structure and process p302 This is the trilogy of life p303The trilogy of life can in general terms be expressed as form or pattern of organization matter or material structure and process p304 Meaning is added to the other three perspectives in order to extend the systemic understanding of life to the social domain p304 Meaning is a shorthand notation for the inner world of reflective consciousness which contains a multitude of interrelated characteristics p304 Human action flows from the meaning that we attribute to our surroundings p304 Human language involves the communication of meaning p304Living systems exhibit similar patterns of organization p305 The network pattern in particular is very basic p305 All living systems are networks within networks p306 A social network too is a nonlinear pattern of organization p306 However organisms and human societies are very different types of living systems p307 Human beings can choose whether and how to obey a social rule molecules cannot choose p307 Meaning is essential to human beings p309 In acting with intention and purpose we experience human freedom p309 The behavior is constrained but not determined by outside forces p309 As human beings we experience this as the freedom to act according to our own choices and decisions p309Bringing life into human organizations increases their flexibility creativity and learning potential p320 People need to feel that they are supported and do not have to sacrifice their integrity to meet the goals of the organization p320 However the economic environment today is not life enhancing but increasingly life destroying p320 We need to change our economic system so that it becomes life enhancing rather than life destroying p321 This change will be imperative not only for the well being of human organizations but also for the survival of humanity as a whole p321 The new unifying vision of life has important implication for almost every field of study and every human endeavor p322From a systems point of view illness results from patterns of disorder p327 Health is a multidimensional and multileveled phenomenon p327 Lack of flexibility manifests itself as stress p356 Loss of flexibility means loss of health p328 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 p338Sustaining the web of life pp 339 452There are different meanings of self organization p346 To cyberneticists self organization meant the emergence of order in machines featuring feedback loops p346 In complexity theory self organization is the emergence of new order governed by nonlinear dynamics p346 And in ecosystems self organization is understood as dissipative structures operating far from euilibrium p346 There is however almost total silence on the uestion of autopoiesis in ecosystems p347 We need to understand the principles of self organization that ecosystems have evolved p353 Ecology is of paramount practical importance p361The major problems of our time cannot be understood in isolation p362 The fundamental dilemma is the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet p363 Social and environmental costs are not included in economic activities p363 There is a widening gap between the rich and the poor p363 All ethical dimensions are excluded p378 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 p388 This is why the systems view of life is very important and has tremendous practical relevance p392 There are hundreds of systemic solutions being developed all over the world p393It seems as a fluid system of global governance would be appropriate for today s world where power is increasingly shifted to regional and local levels p398 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 p397The 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 p400 This means reviving the traditional purpose of the corporation to serve the public good p400 A fundamental issue is ownership p401 Conventional corporate ownership is an example of extractive ownership p401 A new generative ownership is needed which generates well being and real living wealth p401Unfortunately systemic thinking is still very rare among corporate and political leaders p407 The world has to act now or face devastating conseuences but there is lack of political will p411 There is an erroneous belief that nature can be subjected to human control p437 We need to honor respect and cooperate with nature p442 And we can learn valuable lessons from nature s ecosystems p442 We have the knowledge and the technologies to build a sustainable world p452 What is needed is political will and leadership p452 Major breakthroughs are needed to turn the tide p452ConclusionsFritjof Capra och Pier Luigi Luisi s book is truly impressive The amount of materials covered is broad indeed The Systems View of Life A Unified Vision 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

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The Systems View of Life

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 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 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 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 ie 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 sustainable manner

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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 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


10 thoughts on “The Systems View of Life

  1. says:

    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 critiue on classical sciences its determinism and reductionism but he also offers an alternative a conte

  2. says:

    This book was informative and beautiful The basic gist using a uote from the book is that there is a fundamenta

  3. says:

    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

  4. says:

    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 fertile ground for useful inferences about reality I enjoyed the book until its head snapping turn to superficial p

  5. says:

    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 o

  6. says:

    The Systems View of Life A Unifying Vision 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 pxii All living systems are ”highly nonlinear” networks where there are ”countless interconnections” pxii Here is a summary of the book together with some conclusionsIntroduction pp1 16The systems view of li

  7. says:

    Very ambitious I didn't know what to make of it when I first heard about Fritjof Capra's work He and his co auth

  8. says:

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

  9. says:

    Deeply disappointing After a promising start in its diagnosis of the problems this book totally fails to deliver on its solutions By the end it declines into highly naive hippy nonsense eg Medicine doesn't consider holistic care so let's use reiki and homeopathy What No look into wellness centres and holistic care programs Solve multiple food crises at once with locally grown produce What an original thought seems so obv

  10. says:

    Fundamental Really I'm serious

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