The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies

Book - 2017
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"From one of the most influential scientists of our time, a dazzling exploration of the hidden laws that govern the life cycle of everything from plants and animals to the cities we live in. The former head of the Sante Fe Institute, visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term "complexity" can be misleading, however, because what makes West's discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses. Fascinated by issues of aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science, creating a new understanding of energy use and metabolism: West found that despite the riotous diversity in the sizes of mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal's circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient--and lives 25% longer. This speaks to everything from how long we can expect to live to how many hours of sleep we need. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism's body"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781594205583
Branch Call Number: 303.44 West 2017
Characteristics: 479 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Jul 19, 2018

JLMason has it right; the author repeats himself many times. On the other hand, his discussion of the combined length of blood vessels in mammalian bodies is fascinating, and his continual reference to it when discussing other organisms, companies, or non-biological “organisms” is very useful. The discussions about Tusko and Quetelet are almost word-for-word from Martin Gardner’s Scientific American essays, but there are not too many ways to tell simple histories. He points ahead too many times, promising more detail in later sections of the book. While I would have preferred more math and less verbosity, West’s aim was to “mathematize” economic and social theories for a broad audience. He has succeeded in presenting two decades of truly interdisciplinary studies in a highly readable way. The point of much of this book is to find predictive models for the various systems studied. The author limns the distinction between correlation and causation. Because the book is heavy on data, he is careful to buttress any argument for causality with facts separate from the raw data presented. Although the theory claims to be predictive, the reader should understand that it is predictive only as to objects in the aggregate, and not to each and every individual object in the group under study.

Sep 20, 2017

Both life forms and similarly structured human-made systems (cities, companies, economies) are governed by the same scaling laws and the same limitations that the lead to maximum size restrictions and ultimately “death” or decline. Sometimes it takes someone with an outside perspective, here a polymath physicist with intellectual curiosity, to put together pieces from multiple disciplines to discover patterns and connections between disparate systems. He also explores the causes of the scaling laws such as self-similarity, network configuration, and termination bottlenecks. There are future implications to society and sustainability. Although it could have been more tightly edited (there is much repetition), this book is fascinating and well worth the time.


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