The work of Stuart Kauffman

Total Posts:  9031
Joined  05-04-2008
28 July 2008 18:27

Has anybody read any of the books by the Biological Complexity Theorist Kauffman? He is mentioned in books by Dawkins and Dennett, sometimes favorably, sometimes not. Sounds like interesting stuff he presents as far as self-organization principle. Here is a short bio for those unfamiliar with Dr. Kauffman.

Stuart A. Kauffman is the founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics and a professor of biological sciences, physics, and astronomy at the University of Calgary. He is Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur Fellow, and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His books include The Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. He lives in Calgary, Canada.

Total Posts:  1
Joined  20-04-2019
20 April 2019 14:48

Hello eudemonia,

Sorry to resurrect a dead post, especially so close to Easter and all LOL.... but I came across this post in searching for a link between Harris and Kauffman. I just had the pleasure of reading Kauffman’s book “Origins of Order”, where he writes at length about his ideas on so-called “Rugged Fitness Landscapes” and his “NK-Fitness Model”. I could not help but notice the similarities between these ideas (which pertain mostly to gene fitness in a landscape of gene space) and Harris’ views put forth in “The Moral Landscape”. I do not presently have a copy of that book, and it’s been nearly ten years since I read it, and I was wondering if Kauffman is cited as inspiration.

Essentially, one could swap “fitness” for “suffering” and “genes” for “actions” and then run with it. Just as Harris claims, Kauffman demonstrates that there are many peaks and valleys in a fitness landscape. There are many ways in which an organism can be ‘fit’, just as there are many ways in which a society or individual might be ‘moral’. Also in alignment between the two theories is the idea that there are often infinitely more ways in which a gene can be ‘unfit’, or an individual can be ‘immoral’, where fitness plummets or suffering is maximized, respectively. Kauffman has beautiful explanations, both figuratively and mathematically, describing ‘walks’ and ‘climbs’ up peaks in the fitness landscape. I don’t recall Sam drawing similar connections, but perhaps that is just my memory failing.

Anyway, I saw your post and thought I would respond.