LAWS OF THE GAME: How the Principles of Nature Govern Chance by Manfred & Ruthild Winkler Eigen

LAWS OF THE GAME: How the Principles of Nature Govern Chance

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

When physics was scientific top dog, celebrated innovators like Erwin SchrÖdinger contemplated biology in books like What Is Life? Now that molecular biology is enthroned, its masters in turn have penned volumes like Monod's Chance and Necessity. Now chemists Eigen and Winkler (Max Planck Institute, Berlin) continue the tradition, drawing upon mathematical, physical, and molecular biological ideas to weave a synthesis that seeks to establish a rational or lawful basis for evolution and selection. Their ideas draw heavily upon game and set theory, essentially as developed by yon Neumann and Morgenstern. The first part of this scholarly (and smoothly translated) volume reviews probabilities and rules in board games with various levels of information, payoffs, and strategies. From there the authors develop notions of chance--the mutant molecule--acting within a system in which there are extraordinarily large numbers of alternatives: possible protein molecules, for example. Their thesis is that there is a lawful process by which certain macromolecules will be favored (selected) by the rules of the game. Early in the history of the planet, combinations of certain molecules led to an autocatalytic process--self-replicating macromolecules. Life. ""Natural law"" can be interpreted, therefore, in terms of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. These are the forces that channel or tame chance so that certain directions are chosen. The many short chapters, diagrams, games, aphorisms, and literary references that the authors use to amplify the theme lend a certain charm and sophistication to the book. But the essential game theoretic basis will be challenged by those scholars who have lately taken to question the bases for ""rational"" or ""optimal"" strategies. No doubt others will find the attempt to fit all of nature from inert pebble to works of art or music into one grand scheme of game-play either hubris or the ultimate reductionism. From the point of view of philosophy or history of science, the thesis is at once provocative and also characteristic of that German philosophical Weltanschauung--a romantic idealism with ""emergent"" entities--that follows in the tradition of Leibniz and Goethe.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0691025665
Publisher: Knopf