Weidenfeld & Nicolson
September 28, 2000
Its footprints are virtually everywhere – in the microscopic behavior of magnets, the spread of forest fires, the extinction of species, the pattern of earthquakes, the rise and fall of financial markets, the flow of traffic, the growth of cities, the outbreak of wars and even trends in fashion, music and art. Wherever we look, the world appears to be modelled on a simple template: like a steep pile of sand, it is poised on the brink of upheaval, with avalanches – in events, ideas or whatever – following a single universal pattern of change.
This remarkable finding heralds the advent of ‘ubiquity’, a science whose secret lies in the stuff of the everyday world. Combining literary flair with scientific rigour, Mark Buchanan tells the story of the maverick researchers who are exploring the law, their ingenious work and unexpected insights. He shows how this new universal principle will transform our understanding of the science of prediction and make it easier for us to manage and control the future.
What’s more, in revealing how ubiquity is unifying science, Buchanan proposes that it may contain the beginnings of a ‘science of science’, and perhaps a dynamics of human culture and history. Indeed, without the core ideas behind ubiquity, says the US physicist James Crutchfield, ‘the very enterprise of science would be doomed from the start’.
At the dawn of a new century we are witnessing the emergence of the biggest new idea in scientific research since chaos and complexity – an idea of tremendous power, beauty and scope, the implications of which go way beyond science. This book, the first to document the discovery and its impact in full detail, will unify the way we think about the world and our place in it.
Mark Buchanan is a science writer. In 1993 he earned a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Virginia, USA. Following several years of research into nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory, he moved to London, UK, to join the editorial staff of the international science journal Nature. He later spent two years as a features editor on New Scientist, before moving to a small village in Normandy, France, where he now lives with his wife, Kate, and two dogs.