The creation of the universe is usually envisaged as an abrupt event that took place in the remote past. It is a picture reinforced both by religion and by scientific evidence for a 'big bang'. What this simple idea conceals, however, is that the universe has never ceased to be creative.
Cosmologists now believe that immediately following the big bang the universe was in an essentially featureless state, and that all the structure and complexity of the physical world we see today somehow emerged afterwards. Evidently physical processes exist that can turn a void—or something close to it—into stars, planets, crystals, clouds and people.
What is the source of this astonishing creative power? Can known physical processes explain the continuing creativity of nature, or are there additional organizing principles at work, shaping matter and energy and directing them towards ever higher states of order and complexity?
Only very recently have scientists begun to understand how complexity and organization can emerge from featurelessness and chaos. Research in areas as diverse as fluid turbulence, crystal growth and neural networks is revealing the extraordinary propensity for physical systems to generate new states of order spontaneously. It is clear that there exist self-organizing processes in every branch of science.
A fundamental question then presents itself. Are the seemingly endless varieties of natural forms and structures, which appear as the universe unfolds, simply the accidental products of random forces? Or are they somehow the inevitable outcome of the creative activity of nature? The origin of life, for example, is regarded by some scientists as an extremely rare chance event, but by others as the natural end state of cycles of self-organizing chemical reactions. If the richness of nature is built into its laws, does this imply that the present state of the universe is in some sense predestined? Is there, to use a metaphor, a 'cosmic blueprint'?
These deep questions of existence are not, of course, new. They have been asked by philosophers and theologians for millennia. What makes them especially germane today is that important new discoveries are dramatically altering the scientists' perspective of the nature of the universe. For three centuries science has been dominated by the Newtonian and ther-modynamic paradigms, which present the universe either as a sterile machine, or in a state of degeneration and decay. Now there is the new paradigm of the creative universe, which recognizes the progressive, innovative character of physical processes. The new paradigm emphasizes the collective, cooperative and organizational aspects of nature; its perspective is synthetic and holistic rather than analytic and reductionist.
This book is an attempt to bring these significant developments to the attention of the general reader. It covers new research in many disciplines, from astronomy to biology, from physics to neurology—wherever complexity and self-organization appear. I have tried to keep the presentation as non-technical as possible, but inevitably there are some key sections that require a more careful treatment. This is especially true of Chapter 4, which contains a number of technical diagrams. The reader is urged to persevere, however, for the essence of the new paradigm cannot be properly captured without some mathematical ideas.
In compiling the material I have been greatly assisted by my colleagues at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, who do not, of course, necessarily share my conclusions. Particular thanks are due to Professor Kenneth Burton, Dr Ian Moss, Dr Richard Rohwer and Dr David Tritton. I should like to thank Dr John Barrow, Professor Roger Penrose and Professor Frank Tipler for helpful discussions.
The Cosmic Blueprint
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