Book review: The web of life

The web of life by Fritjof Capra is an important book. In a well structured and readable manner, he takes on some of the largest questions related to life, and manages to do so in a clear and understandable way, that removes none of the majesty of the topic under discussion: Life.

From systems theory, the Gaia hypothesis and complexity theory to evolution, autopoiesis and the strange phenomenon we call a mind (which in his thinking is a process, not a thing), Capra describes the main theories needed for a totally new understanding of life. This is heady reading, and it has certainly influenced my thinking in the area.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book:
The recognition of symbiosis as a major evolutionary force has profound philosophical implications. All larger organisms, including ourselves, are living testimonies to the fact that destructive practices do not work in the long run. In the end, the aggressors always destroy themselves, making way for others who know how to cooperate and get along. Life is much less a competitive struggle for survival than a triumph of cooperation and creativity.

Brilliant. Capra is talking about the creation and evolution of life, but the same theme occurs in many of the books I’ve been reading lately, namely that the world is not a struggle for survival and that the strategy that will get you the farthest is one of cooperation and co-creation. As Piet Hein put it:
Co-existence
or no existence.

I belive that totally and deeply. Another property that I’m thinking about more and more is robustness – the fact that complex systems can withstand extreme external influences and yet retain their essential structures. This stands in sharp contrast to some human-manufactured systems, which fail if just one little thing goes wrong- as when a space shuttle blows up because of a faulty O-ring.

This book has many lessons to teach us, and will stand up to many re-readings. Parts of it are complex and not easily accessible, but it is well worth the effort. I recommend it highly!

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