It has taken me a while to get round to reading Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion. Although I was looking forward to reading one of the gurus of complexity expound on the meaning of life, culture and technology, the mention of religion in the title must have rung some kind of subconscious warning bell. For I found the book an infuriating mix of interesting reflections on complexity – particularly why it should warn us against being too reductive, or locked into interdisciplinary silos – and woolly philosophy. Actually, it’s a book about why science is not only compatible with spirituality but should drive us to spirituality and belief in God. While perfectly happy for anybody else to worry about reconciling science and the sacred, I’m just not that interested in it.
There is a chapter on the economy that skates over the application of evolutionary theory and complexity to economics. This is brief and may be a handy introduction for anyone who knows nothing about this subject. If you do, it will be very familiar. Inevitably for a book with extremely broad scope, it lacks depth.
In terms of the underlying hypothesis about the dangers of being reductive, this book suffers by comparison with another one I’m currently reading, The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. By contrast to Reinventing the Sacred, it’s a real doorstop of a book, and goes in depth into the human brain as well as many aspects of human culture. It’s a shame – I enjoyed Kauffman’s other book At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, and he has obviously been a massively influential thinker in introducing these ideas to the way we analyse social as well as biological phenomena.