Cover image for Beyond chaos : the underlying theory behind life, the universe, and everything
Title:
Beyond chaos : the underlying theory behind life, the universe, and everything
Author:
Ward, Mark, 1967-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2002.

©2001
Physical Description:
xi, 324 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published as Universality: the underlying theory behind life, the universe, and everything. London : Macmillan, 2001.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312274894
Format :
Book

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Q325 .W34 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

We are surrounded by order that-until now-physics has been unable to explain.
The spread of veins in the back of our hands mirrors the spread of branches on a tree; fern fronds bear a resemblance to the outline of fjords; the best-loved classical music echoes the patterns of our heartbeats.
The theory of Universality is using fractal patterns to explain much of the world around us. Could it be that the same laws that govern systems in their critical states also govern some of the most unpredictable events such as earthquakes, avalanches, the growth of cities and stock market crashes-even the way businesses are run and the way fashions come and go? Is there a common principle, a universal affinity that binds us to the forces of nature?
A consensus is emerging on how complex structures grow and sustain themselves; phenomena that were once thought to be unique now appear to have a great deal in common. Mark Ward examines these theories, explores how they fit into an age-long quest to discover how the universe works, delves into their possible limitations and asks what we can do with this new knowledge.
While identifying patterns does not mean that we can always predict what will happen next, some of the trends scientists are noticing prove that life is not a series of random events. Universality deepens our understanding of natural phenomena and our place in the physical world.
We are surrounded by order that-until now-physics has been unable to explain.
The spread of veins in the back of our hands mirrors the spread of branches on a tree; fern fronds bear a resemblance to the outline of fjords; the best-loved classical music echoes the patterns of our heartbeats.
The theory of Universality is using fractal patterns to explain much of the world around us. Could it be that the same laws that govern systems in their critical states also govern some of the most unpredictable events such as earthquakes, avalanches, the growth of cities and stock market crashes-even the way businesses are run and the way fashions come and go? Is there a common principle, a universal affinity that binds us to the forces of nature?
A consensus is emerging on how complex structures grow and sustain themselves; phenomena that were once thought to be unique now appear to have a great deal in common. Mark Ward examines these theories, explores how they fit into an age-long quest to discover how the universe works, delves into their possible limitations and asks what we can do with this new knowledge.
While identifying patterns does not mean that we can always predict what will happen next, some of the trends scientists are noticing prove that life is not a series of random events. Universality deepens our understanding of natural phenomena and our place in the physical world.


Author Notes

Mark Ward is the technology reporter for the BBC. He was the technology correspondent for the Daily Telegraph , and has also written numerous articles for New Scientist, The Financial Times, Computer Weekly, and Wired UK . He is the author of Virtual Organisms (TLD/SMP 2000) and lives in Surrey, England.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Self-organizing criticality (SOC) is the physics discipline that studies how a system "flips" from one state to another. Scientist Mark Buchanan speculated in Ubiquity (2001) how SOC might explain social dynamics such as bear markets; journalist Ward dwells more on those who made SOC a science. He relates its birth from research into magnets. When heated, magnets lose their magnetism, and, according to Ward, this behavior bothered physicists, one of whom, Leo Kadanoff, advanced ideas about systems poised between order and chaos. Another brain, Kenneth Wilson, received the Nobel Prize in 1982 for devising the mathematics of SOC, which Ward blessedly reduces to plain English for the rest of us. Once past the explanations, Ward hits his stride with anecdotal glimpses into the variety of phenomena--from DNA to heartbeats to fractals--that SOC rules are said to rule. Challenging but accessible reportage. --Gilbert Taylor


Library Journal Review

If you believe that one book can reveal everything contained in Ward's wildly ambitious subtitle, then there's a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you. It's true that some intriguing even wondrous science lies behind the recently discovered tendency of order and fractal symmetry to emerge within complex systems. This subject has been presented effectively in other recent books, such as those by Steven Johnson and John Holland, both titled Emergence. The flaw, though, is that Ward, a BBC technology reporter, oversells the phenomenon as some sort of cosmic sophistry that he assures us can give meaning to life. (In the book's final three sentences, he proclaims, "We belong here. We know our place. We know our place and we are home.") When the author sticks to science, he does a credible job of explaining pattern emergence in various systems, from climates to stock markets. When he exalts, however, his points come off about as convincingly as a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi's promise that "the force is with you" and a diluted bowl of "chicken soup for the physicist's soul." Not recommended. Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Ward (BBC, UK) offers an engrossing, but ultimately disappointing, mixture of facts and speculation. He aims to demonstrate that "we are surrounded by order that--until now--physics has been unable to explain." He has done his homework and studied a wide range of sources comprehensively and with understanding. The wealth of information is captivating throughout but also frustrating because many technical terms are too arcane for the average reader. The author analyzes history, astronomy, music, physiology, molecular biology, physics, and many other disciplines and finds "universality" in each. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for his undoubtedly fascinating subject is not matched by rigor. The concept of "universality" around which the whole book revolves is never succinctly defined; neither are many other crucial terms. Frequently hypotheses are mentioned and later referred to as if they were proven facts. Too late and almost parenthetically the author notes that it is not "obvious where legitimate claims are being made." Nevertheless, he succeeds in expanding the reach of chaos theory to areas of research that were not previously explained in the popular literature. His sources are carefully documented in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. J. Mayer emeritus, Lebanon Valley College