In paper after paper over 25 years, Geoffrey West and his SFI colleagues methodically built a case for universal, mathematical scaling laws common to biological and human social systems.
West’s assertion that despite their striking differences, all the world’s cities are simply scaled versions of one another—and possibly an extension of the biological systems of which they’re made—has made his name synonymous with the notion of a “science of cities.”
In 2006 he was among Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
He’s been called the dean of complexity science.
The only thing missing: a readable volume pulling it all together…the stuff of legacy.
This week, Penguin Press released West’s long-anticipated book Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies: “a dazzling exploration of the hidden laws that govern the life cycle of everything from plants and animals to the cities we live in,” writes the publisher.
In the book, West chronicles the journey he and his collaborators embarked on in the early 90’s when they began to extend—to dozens of other biological quantities—Max Kleiber’s observations from the 1930s that for the majority of animals, metabolic rates scale to the ¾ power of the animals’ masses.
Their findings suggested underlying constraints on living systems having to do with the distribution networks that supply nutrients to cells, leaves, and limbs.
Soon, West and colleagues observed similarly predictable scaling regularities in nearly every quantity arising from urban living, eventually leading West to compelling implications for the lifecycles of companies, social connectivity, aging and death, tumor growth, urbanization and slums, innovation, the possibility of a grand unified theory of sustainability, and more—all covered in West’s book.
“I have approached all the problems addressed in the book primarily from the viewpoint of a theoretical physicist whose language is mathematics,” West writes in the book’s postscript. “Nevertheless, there isn’t a single equation.”
But there is plenty of the signature Geoffrey West thunder his fans and friends have come to expect: “I took very seriously the admonition of Lord Ernest Rutherford…that a theory that you can’t explain to a bartender is probably no damn good,” he writes.
The almost 500-page hardcover is available from Amazon.
Read a review of Scale in Physics World (May 18, 2017)
Read a review of Scale in The Economist (May 11, 2017)
Read a review of Scale in Nature (May 10, 2017)
Read a review of Scale in The Times (May 7, 2017)
Read a review of Scale in New Scientist (April 19, 2017)