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
ISBN: 9781594205583
Characteristics: 479 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Call Number: 303.44 WES


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Apr 02, 2018

This is a very thoughful and thought provoking book begining with scaling "laws" for organisms, cities, and companies but then brings these forward to considerations of sustainability. The author (a physist) begins with a discourse on the scaling of organisms focusing largely on mammals and then draws conclusions for the limits of size and the longevity of life largely due to the limitations of physical energy transport networks versus the energy consumed by the organism as it progressively matures. From this understanding of scaling of networks in organisms, he then explores scaling of cities and the interaction between physical networks and social networks. Along the way, he explains that the "black swan" effect is merely the result of linear expectations compared with power law probability distributions of many economic phenomena. He also explains why the pace of modern life not only seems to but actually is accelerating. Then the author applies the scaling approach to companies and compares the results to the previous results on cities and organisms. Cities generally keep growing, organisms die off, and companies will also die off but at rates not similar to that or organisms. Given the ever increasing sizes of cities and the challenge of supplying cities with enough resources to sustain growth, the author explores some of the implications and potential affect that new computer based social networks might have.

Mar 16, 2018

An interesting quantitative look at the growth of cities and economies compared to biological organisms and what the limits of growth may be. From the Santa Fe Institute a multidisciplinary team has compiled statistics that indicate both a super- linear and sub-linear scale for growth. The book is a fairly easy read and covers a number of concepts. The conclusions don't offer a specific remedy but provide a caution to the concept of unlimited growth. Though there are some problems and questions to the hypothesis it is thought provoking and worth reading.

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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