Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective By Robert Ulanowicz (1997) – Book Review

This is a review of the book Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective, by Robert E. Ulanowicz.

Brief overview:

Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective, first published in 1997, is in many ways a more accessible and more philosophical follow-up to Ulanowicz’s groundbreaking but highly technical Growth and Development (1986), and can also be viewed as an intermediate book between this earlier technical text and his later book A Third Window: Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin (2009), which is primarily philosophical. It is intended for a scientific audience, and is not a pop-science book, but it is quite accessible, and will be an easy read for career scientists in any field, as well as motivated, science-minded undergraduate students.

The book outlines the core aspects of Ulanowicz’s network-based theory of how ecological systems grow and develop, but without going into as much depth about the mathematics. It is primarily a book of ideas. The book also explores the philosophical and historical underpinnings of the ideas, which I personally find are much more important than the specific theories themselves. Ulanowicz seems to know full well that his theories are a bit raw and unrefined, but I think that the philosophical points he makes are rock-solid and show deep insights that go far beyond what most scientists have to offer. While there are many grounds on which Ulanowicz’s theories can be criticized, it is hard to argue with the big-picture themes he presents, which show a deep awareness of cultural and societal influences on scientific research, and the innate limitations on what types of questions can be fruitfully asked and answered in a scientific context.

A Personal Story:

My story of reading this book is quite personal and bizarre.

In the fall of 2001, I was enrolled in Oberlin college, where I was in my senior year, majoring in mathematics. This semester, I was taking a private reading in the Biology department, on the topic of systems theory as it applies to biology and ecology. On September 11th, 2001, early in the morning, I secluded myself in one of the higher floors of Oberlin, and set out to read this book. I read a large chunk of this book in one sitting, and I can say, it produced a revolution in my world-view, an unfolding of new ideas which has continued to this day. When I left the building to take a lunch break, I was shocked to hear about the terrorist attacks that had recently taken place. This day was truly a worldview-changing day for me, in more ways than one.

My recommendations:

I recommend this book as a must-read for anyone studying any of the following subjects: ecology, networks, philosophy of science, and systems theory. The book will be of particular interest to anyone who is interested in questioning the dominant paradigms of science, and anyone who wishes to become more of a systems thinker or who wants to think more in terms of networks. The book may even be useful to economists or people interested in adopting a more systems-based approach in business, public policy, or other fields involving systems of people. The style is lively and the book is thought-provoking. And it’s a surprisingly easy read, given how deep the repercussions are of the ideas contained within.

As the Future Abstract Science of Nanotech – The Best Book You’ll Ever Read on the Topic

As mankind unlocks all the secrets of our DNA, and learns how to use nanotechnology to genetically engineer humans the potential is unlimited. We will be able to enhance our muscles, brains, and participate in life extension technologies. Some of this may sound like science fiction, but that’s exactly where nanotechnology in biotech is headed. Many futurists and scientists in these fields portray an interesting, exciting, and even scary future.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject, and one which ranks up there with the top science fiction writers of past periods has allowed my mind to go beyond today, and into the future. The future of Nanotech and all the emerging sciences, which are now inter-related will fascinate you. If this topic interests you, I’d like to recommend a very good book, which you will enjoy and love. It’s definitely a classic, although it is in a very esoteric niche. The name of the book is;

“Engines of Creation – What We Might Become,” by Eric Drexler; Bantam books division Doubleday Dell, New York, NY, 1986, (298 pp.), ISBN: 0385199724.

This book is in my personal library, and it will stay there. Recently, I’ve been weeding out some of the old books that I no longer want, and I came across this book once again. As I was paging through it, I realized it was written in 1986, it occurred to me that many of the things that Drexler had predicted, have now come to be. Many of the Nanotech initiatives which are being funded and the research which is being done is making breakthroughs strides in neurology, biotech, pharmaceutical, medicine, material sciences, and so much more.

Sometimes, it pays to look back at the visionaries who helped put us on the path to our modern technology of today. I’m going to recommend that you buy this book, read it, and then go explore where this technology is going in the future, and how far it has already come. Please consider all this.