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The Self-organizing Universe (SSWOL) Paperback – 1 Nov 1979

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Product details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd (Nov. 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0080243118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0080243115
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,716,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The epochal book The Self-Organizing Universe (1980) by the interpreter and accomplisher of Ilya Prigogine, Erich Jantsch, is a classic. What is given here is a new science that can be said to be "humanistic" in the way that it shows us a world that exists in the same way as man (or better we as it), that Nature, just as Man (and in Christianity God), is able to create. But not in the same conscious and "rational" way (compare the following on metabolic function!). With the help of the energy that goes through the world, matter is able to organize itself into functioning systems, as the vortex and the candle flame, complicated chemical structures and phenomena of weather and climate, as well as all ecological systems up to Gaia, and life and all parts and forms of life, man included. It is a question of systems that thanks to the feed-back function also support and regulate themselves. They are called self-organizing systems or dissipative structures. (from latin "dis-sipare", what is dissipated is the energy that is required for the function). We have them all around us and are ourselves such systems, and so are all systems in our body down to the individual cell. Nature, like man (and in Christianity God), can create. But not in the same conscious and rational way (cf. below about metabolic function).

Keywords for these systems are far from static balance, open for flowing through of matter and energy in a continuous process, which through feed back organizes itself. Furthermore fluctuations (disturbances) from outside or from inside which via a thrust with high gradient can force the system over an instability-threshold to transcend and recreate itself.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x97b9463c) out of 5 stars 13 reviews
70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98155a88) out of 5 stars Monument to foresight of author and short-sight of publisher 15 Mar. 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I first encountered this book while researching my dissertation on chaos/complexity/systems theories and their implications for clinical psychology (It was only due to the marvelous holdings of the University of Pennsylvania library that I was able to find it at all...I'll get back to that). It wasn't long before I realized that I had stumbled across a staggeringly important volume. The scope of the late Professor Jantsch's vision on subjects ranging from biology and chemistry to cosmology and earth science was (IS!) breathtaking. Long before anyone outside of circumscribed and as-yet unconnected circles had ever mentioned the words "Chaos" or "Dynamical Systems" theory, Jantsch was lucidly and adroitly anticipating some of the most advanced implications of this unborn paradigm. As a friend and colleague of the great Ilya Prigogine, this is perhaps not so surprising in retrospect. However, his encapsulation of self-organization and self-similarity is still, in my opinion, one of the more mature and comprehensive treatments on the subjects to date! His incorporation of the theories of evolution (seen as both a "micro" and a "macro-" level process) brought it all together in a way which joins and integrates disciplines like neurons link brain and body. All the more reason why I am appalled that this book is so completely out of circulation that my last out-of-print search turned up one volume (after several months), at a cost of over $200US! It is unconscionable that this pivotal work is inaccessible to students, scientists, and instructors, at a time when Jantsch's ideas are so relevant to this increasingly interconnected, evolving global civilization. The closest thing we have is Teillhard de Chardin...and Jantsch does it without the teleological, eschatological baggage which Chardin could not, in the end, escape. It is true that many of the specific ideas in this book are out-of-date (hence 4 stars rather than 5). However, he hits far more often than he misses, and we are all the poorer for inaccessibility of his work. A note to any publishers out there: I personally photocopied the entire book, a move of dubious legality but lamentable necessity. I would VERY gladly replace my yellowing stack of Xeroxes with a duly purchased copy, if given the chance. If your interests lie anywhere in the realms which I have (woefully superficially) mentioned, then it is worth your while to go WAY out of your way to read this book. Pardon the hyperbole and the soap-box.
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x978a47ec) out of 5 stars Why is this out of print? 6 Oct. 2000
By Zentao - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book and Chaitin's "The Limits of Mathematics" should be printed in softcover and distributed at supermarkets. This is perhaps one of the most important books of the 20th century, simply because Jantsch has managed to finally put a very large amount of information (just the reading list is worth the price of the book) in one place. Thermodynamics, cybernetics, mathematics, computing, physics...they've all been saying the same thing for years now and for some reason we irrationally ignore the message: the TRUTH is not to be found in a formal system based on anything resembling the Aristotelian logic we of the Western world love so dearly...And the deeper we wallow in our mythical constructions the more likely we won't be around for very long.
This is not a "lite" book; perhaps that is why the copy I have (an inspection copy from a major university) has only been taken out seven times since 1980! Pathetic considering the current hand-waving taking place in AI (particularly the work of Dennett and the Churchlands) and the philosophy of mind. The only other place to find the overview is in Leduc's IEEE paper "Human Knowledge: can the planet survive human rationality?". Perlovsky's work in cybernetics is also an excellent place to see similar results.
It is unfortunate this is out of print; perhaps you can find a copy in a library. Better yet, start bugging the publisher to reprint it.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x979e1c0c) out of 5 stars One of the most important achievements of 20th century.. 21 Nov. 2001
By Sung-Hoon Kim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
For me, this book is the thing that changed my view upon the universe. Before this book, I was a critical reductionist with a mechanistic view. I am too short of English to express what this book was for me :) but the only thing I can tell you is that if there were only one book that I could have in my life, this book would be that one.. I can't estimate the value of this, surely one of the most important achievements of 20th century..
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9756b078) out of 5 stars Genuine Wonderment 4 Jun. 2005
By Payman Saghafi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is unlike any other publication I have ever looked at. Jantsch synthesizes scientific facts from numerous fields of study, and does so in a surprisingly coherent manner. While reading through the pages, I wondered, where has this book been my entire life? Why didn't somebody tell me this book existed? I stumbled into this volume accidently, and to my good fortune.

Reductionism is a useful paradigm, but certainly not a comprehensive one. Jantsch drills this point home.

The strength of this book isn't just the fact that it makes a very strong argument for a self-organizing universe. It's the fact that Jantsch does so with a unique combination of hard facts, experimental evidence, analytical arguments, coherent synthesis, profound humanity and even a bit of poetry. I'm not trying to be dramatic and sappy, it's really true. I can almost feel how much this book meant to Jantsch, and how he knew, deep down, that he was on to something very important. There was something special about Jantsch, and something special about this book. If you read this book, and are still convinced that the universe is purely a meaningless "mechanistic machine" then I feel very sorry for you.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97be4a68) out of 5 stars Darwinism (nor Creationism) will Never be the Same after this Book 15 Feb. 2008
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Following on the heels of Ilya Prigogine, and of course those of Charles Darwin, but also in the same vein as that of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Norbert Wiener, Ervin Laszlo, and my own favorite, (and thesis Chairman), Charles A. McClelland, Erich Jantsch has made the ultimate scientific "grandstand play:" He proposes a new non-reductive and expanded interpretation of Darwinian theory. One that suggests that "Darwinianism" applies not just to biological organisms but that it is also THE ultimate unifying and organizing paradigm at the base of all "ordered systems," and thus at the base of all creation (as we have come to know that concept).

This work, among other things, stands as the final refutation of all "deus ex machina" approaches that seek to explain with various forms of "magic" how we moved across the threshold from "disorder" to "order," and from "inanimate" to "living organisms." It brings together into a resoundingly unifying (and satisfying) synthesis a collection of seemingly disparate but fascinating insights from across the field of science, biology, and culture.

Among those insights are the following select few: (1) that evolution is not just about adaptation and survival in a particular environment (where the only reward is being able to stay in the game) but is a world in which the environment itself is an evolving process; (2) that the interplay of processes alone can lead to the evolution of structures; and thus; (3) that the origin of life is necessarily neither a mere accident, nor a result of "the Gods in the machine; "(4) that since evolution is itself an emergent and dynamic process it transcends human meaningfulness, and finally; (5) that the very existence of a paradigm in which dynamics organize themselves is proof of its own existence.

What Jantsch brings to the table is a new expanded and exciting paradigm that emphasizes process over structure and that is at the same time large enough to encompass the broader emergent properties of his more general vision of Darwinism. In it, the old Darwinian theory is retrofitted with the latest scientific and non-scientific discoveries so as to assume the much larger more general role of interconnecting the natural dynamics of "non-human" as well as "human" systems.

Darwinianism as "pure process" is like "a self-learning apparatus:" It is an "automatic entropy changing machine," that moves progressively from nothingness (or complete disorder), to indistinct process, to full process, to proto-order, to order, to random connections, to non-random learning, to proto-structure, to structure, to loose connections, to interconnectedness. From this stepwise process of synthesis and its interconnectedness, not only does a new paradigm emerge, but also new understandings of what it means to be (or not be) human. That is to say, a whole new "ecology" of, and lexicon of concepts, ideas, and theories emerge along the pathway to Jansch's paradigm.

As a final note, several years ago I gave a talk at Cal State Dominguez Hills, about some of the ideas in this book, but my audience thought that my invocation of Darwin was only in the conventional "Sociobiolgical" "survival of the fittest" sense. Much to my dismay (and embarrassment), they and my colleagues who had hosted the talk, got stuck on this more limited interpretation. I finally gave up on trying to convince them that there was a larger more important interpretation of Darwinism.

To say that this book is a tour de force would be a monument to understatement. One Hundred Stars!
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