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The Principles of Life (Oxford Biology) [Hardcover]

Tibor Ganti , Eors Szathmary , James Griesemer

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Book Description

18 Sep 2003 0198507267 978-0198507260
The exact scientific answer to these ancient questions are indispensable preconditions for the understanding of the origins of life, for the artificial synthesis of living systems, but also for some important social problems, such as the beginning and the end of the human life etc.

Professor Gánti offers a radically novel approach to the problem: based on his theory of fluid (chemical) automata he proves that all living systems are basically program controlled self-reproducing fluid automata and that such automata behave as living systems. The simplest such construction-the chemoton-behaves as living, and all living systems have chemoton type organisation. This means that the chemoton model is the minimum model of life. The technical details have been published elsewhere: in this volume the logical train of though is presented in a clear and easily understandable manner. The first part gives a general view of the idea; the second shows its application to the biogenesis, the third gives the background of the theory in the natural philosophy of sciences.

Gánti's chemical perspective captures the fundamentally cyclic organization of the living state, offers a fresh approach to the ancient problem of life criteria", and articulates a philosophy of the units of life applicable to genetics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, and exact theoretical biology"

New essays by Eörs Szathmáry and James Griesemer on the biological and philosophical significance of Gánti's work indicate its enduring theoretical significance, continuing relevance and heuristic power. New notes throughout the text bring this legacy into dialogue with current thought in biology and philosophy.

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clear and impressive analysis of the origin of life 2 Jan 2004
By G. Korthof - Published on Amazon.com
I am enthusiastic about this book. For the first time I have the feeling that I understand the origin of life problem. I wished I had had Gánti as a teacher. He is a genius and a gifted populariser of science. This book is a translation of the 1971 Hungarian edition and makes Gánti's insights for the first time available to the rest of the world. The footnotes of the editors significantly enhance the value of the book. I hope that a publisher soon will produce a paperback edition of this important work, especially because the book has been written for the specialist and the non-specialist. For a full review see the web site Was Darwin Wrong? including a comparison with other books on the origin of life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars important contribution 13 Dec 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
"what ist life?" Schrödinger asked over 50 years ago. This book brings new light to this neglected topic now. Ganti lists five real (absolute) life criteria: - inherent unity, - metabolism, - inherent stability, - informatiion-carrying subsystem, - program control. In addition he lists three potential life criteria: - growth and reproduction, - capability of heredity change and evolution, - mortality. His criterias are interesting, but I miss a presentation of finding of other researchers.
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant diamond 14 Aug 2008
By Lar Nachtwey - Published on Amazon.com
The Principles of Life, by Tibor Ganti is a brilliant diamond sparkling in a river bed of dark gravel. Published in 1971 in Hungarian. It remained unknown to all, but his Hungarian students. Thirty-seven years of astounding advances in molecular biology have passed since publication, yet Ganti's book remains as relevant and profoundly insightful today, as the day it was published. Written in a style that flows effortlessly through the mind. It provides deep insights into questions about the organization of living systems. Paragraph by paragraph, he develops his Chemoton theory. Then, with his theory in hand, he walks though the forest of ideas surrounding the origin of life. Slicing through the seemingly unknowable. Laying it bare, for anyone to see. I feel like Ganti grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, and shook me awake. He made me see a new, chemical way, of looking at the problems of the origin of life. Each paragraph raised thought provoking ideas, that had me pondering for hours. The excellent margin notes by Szathmary and Griesemer added depth, clarity, and historical context to Ganti's thoughts. Reining him in when he stepped too far, and bringing up relevant issues from the latest research, that either supported, or challenged his ideas.
After I finished the book. And having gotten a good grasp of his Chemoton theory. I immediately began reading it again, to re-experience the secret delight I felt, the first time I read it. How often has that happen to you?
I consider Ganti's book to be essential reading for anyone interested in the origin of life story. And mandatory reading for those who will go on to read Ganti's magnum opus, Chemoton Theory, the next book on my reading list.
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book about the nature of life 12 Dec 2007
By John Duncan - Published on Amazon.com
Tibor Gánti is the least known of the scientists who have tried to develop a theory of life in the past half-century (since the time of Erwin Schrödinger), but undeservedly so. As he wrote mainly in Hungarian his original writings are closed to nearly all of us, and we have had to find out what he thought at second-hand. Fortunately Oxford University Press have done a superb job of making his most important ideas available in English, accompanied by masterly commentaries from James Griesemer and Eörs Szathmáry, a philosopher and a biologist (and former student of Gánti) respectively.

One of the things that is most immediately striking about Gánti's book is how well and clearly written it is -- vastly easier to read than the work of Robert Rosen ("Life Itself"), for example, less work than reading Stuart Kauffman ("The Origins of Order"), more down to earth than Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela ("Autopoiesis and Cognition"). Moreover, Gánti recognizes from the outset that a theory of life must be firmly rooted in a knowledge of chemistry, and that it has to take account of thermodynamics, but that chemistry and thermodynamics by themselves are not enough. There needs to be an explanation of how an organized system can arise from these components, and for Gánti this explanation lies in what he calls a chemoton, a system of (at least) three interacting cycles that take care of energy management, metabolic activity and storage of information.

The notes by Griesemer and Szathmáry constitute one of the most valuable features of the book, and the publisher has used a typographically intelligent design to make these as useful as possible. Not end-notes, requiring endless flipping backwards and forwards, and not footnotes either, breaking the thread of reading (albeit less), but side-notes, printed in most cases alongside the relevant text. In these notes they bring Gánti's ideas up-to-date when necessary (though this is necessary surprisingly little) and commenting on recent additions to knowledge that amplify them. In most cases they add real insights, with only rare exceptions, for example where Griesemer's discussion of Gánti's description of the chemical effect of removing an atom from an acetic acid molecule obscures more than it clarifies.

In summary, this is a book that anyone seriously interested in the nature of life needs to read.

Although the various threads of ideas about the nature of life overlap to a considerable extent, they all seem to have been developed in isolation from one another, and the different authors refer hardly at all to one another. This is very unfortunate, and there is a real need for a book that brings all the threads together.
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