Talk:Stuart Kauffman

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Ideas about evolution[edit]

I ran into Stuart Kauffman at the University of Pennsylvania in the years 1988-1990. Bright guy, his ideas about evolution as a rugged landscape and how evolution can be considered an optimization process on this landscape have to be heard to be believed. Good stuff, in my opinion. Dwmyers 21:23, 18 Sep 2003 (UTC)

That's not really Kauffman's idea... Nearly everyone (especially in evolutionary computation) talks about evolution as traversing a fitness landscape... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:13, 3 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Neither this section nor the parent article reports Kauffman's most important novel idea about evolution, which is that complex tightly-interlocked systems (such as enzyme cycles) are more likely to arise from thinning out a "supra-critical" chaotic mixture than from incremental additions of components. This mechanism is complementary to natural selection, which excels at refinement (and repurposing) rather than radical coordinated invention.

While Kaufmann of course makes use of the "fitness landscape" analogy, his original contributions are applied chaos theory (e.g., showing why the number of cell types can be approximately predicted by the number of genes). Look at The Origins of Order rather than his popularizations to understand how his order-from-chaos is based on extensive, multi-faceted work. --Hunter (talk) 03:02, 11 August 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

No physicist[edit]

Stuart Kauffman has an M.D. degree and has worked in evolutionary biology, genetics, and the theory of complexity. He is not a physicist, and says as much at the start of chapter 10 of his book Investigations. Yet this article is classified as "within the scope of WikiProject Physics, which collaborates on articles related to physics". Shouldn't it be moved to a different category? --John Walker ( 12:29, 27 February 2007 (UTC) Yes you are right he acn be labelled as an biologist or evlotunioary economistReply[reply]

He may not call himself a physicist, but physicists would definitely regard "complex systems" as home territory, and Kauffman has done his share of work (and popularisation) in that territory. Jheald (talk) 19:32, 23 November 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

If you have worked with Kauffman you would know he is no Physicist. He, selfadmittedly, is unable to do the most basic mathematics, nor is he able to work with physics concepts to the satisfaction of any physicist. He is more a philosopher, and in that capacity a gifted one. Yet he does consider himself a physicist. In private he will tell you he is the most brilliant evolutionary biologist of the 20th century. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:47, 1 March 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

My cousin tell that that when he on amphetamine. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:44, 9 April 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Kauffman's mathematics, physics, and stature[edit]

Kaufmann's work shows great insight into certain kinds of complex-system patterns, and thus counts as mathematics (a sector of graph theory) to those of us who define math as the study of pattern rather than just numbers and analysis. This is the more true since the emergent-complex-order patterns Kauffman identified flow from principles of great generality, and thus have applications that extend far beyond biology (I applied them to education in my thesis).

The whole point of Kauffman's work in physics is to see if the foundations of space-time-energy might lie in non-analytic patterns similar to the chaotic graphs/simulations he used so productively in systems theory. This approach is similar to that of Wolfram, who knows plenty of math (in fact, Kauffman practices "A New Kind of Science", even though Wolfram is dismissive of him). Neither of their efforts seems to have produced much physics, but plenty of other physicists are working along the same lines.

One final comment, about the already-resolved intelligent-design reference below. While I can see why a superficial reading might lead ID proponents to think of Kauffman as an ally against Darwin, they could not be more wrong since his work resolves the main weak point that remained in Darwin's theory after genetics was integrated with it in the 1920s -- how could a tightly-coupled system such as an enzyme cycle arise naturally when the cycle would be useless until all of its stations were present. Kauffman's pride has a substantial basis.

--Hunter (talk) 03:02, 11 August 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Why a See Also?[edit]

I'm not clear why this section exists, and why it links to a list of intelligent design resources. The linked page, especially the content at the anchor, does not relate to Dr. Kauffman's work in OOL or complexity generally. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Dvunkannon (talkcontribs) 17:47, 6 February 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks for this remark. I agree that chapter didn't have much added value, so I removed it. -- Mdd (talk) 19:07, 6 February 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Updated citation for "Self-Organization in Biological Systems"[edit]

Just in case there are any questions about the change: The author's website [1] has moved, breaking the previous link [2]. The archived copy of that page [3] corresponds to this content [4] on the new site. Spazquest (talk) 07:33, 3 February 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]


We do not include lists and links to mere presentations in articles about scientists; we only include books and the 4 or 5 most important peer-reviewed journal articles. Anything more than that is just promotional. The relevant policy is NOT CV. DGG ( talk ) 19:58, 28 April 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]

You asked me about the rule: as Isaid,and as another editor just confirmed, the policy is NOT CV, and the interpretation of it is in accord with our uniform and consistent practice. Are you trying to write an article that would look like a press release? That's what such content does, and I tagged the article accordingly. He doesn't need psuch promotion, and it's being unfair to him to imply that he does. I'm going to remove some additional material that is minor or weakly supported, and check to see which of the multiple articles used to support a single point are the most important .The guideline fo that part is WP:CITEKILL.


I suggest firmly to remove the warning. Kauffman deserves lots more, he's a big scientist and that initial warning sounds weird. AK921 (talk) 14:11, 17 July 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Citation for autocatalytic sets[edit]

Hi. I found the system for adding / replacing citations extremely confusing and I don't want to break anything or overstep, so writing here instead of editing myself! My proposed change is regarding the citation currently listed immediately after mention of autocatalytic sets:

"He also proposed the self-organized emergence of collectively autocatalytic sets...[6]" Where [6] is Kauffman 1971a in the notes

[6] is actually a paper primarily about boolean genetic networks and cellular replication/metabolism. Perhaps we could also add this citation, which is also one of his most cited papers and yet doesn't appear in this page yet:

Stuart A. Kauffman, Autocatalytic sets of proteins, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 119, Issue 1, 1986, Pages 1-24, ISSN 0022-5193, (

SemiperiodicContributor (talk) 14:59, 27 October 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]


No biographical article is valid without a section that catalogs and characterizes criticism of the person of focus and their work. To wit, Kauffman's approach, if not his ideas themselves, would seem very much to fall within a category of subjective mysticism that is often labeled by scientists and those who study the philosophy of science, as "woo". If this criticism isn't itself fair, certainly it would be fair to judge many of those who are most attracted to his ideas. Minimally, one might need to carefully tease his Santa Fe hippy affect apart from the legitimate content of his ideas. The entire field labeled "Complexity Studies" seems to have sprung up from what in the 1960's was called "Cybernetics". Both Cybernetics and Complexity Studies (and its even more out-their cousin "Chaos Theory") drip so of Santa Fe and Santa Cruz and Berkeley eastern and native mysticism influenced counter-culture that it is problematic for readers of science to find a way to build a legitimate base from which to situate within the bounds of acceptable domains of science. Its hard not to read Kauffman's writing or listen to his talks without wondering how much of what he is saying and thinking is a product of 1960s and 1970s social and political youth movement upheaval and the psychedelic drugs so often associated with that era. Much of Chaos Theory has been dismissed as standard omnipotence and omnipresence obsessions only dressed up in fringed buck skin vests and tapestry bell bottom pants. Although I am far less critical of Kauffman's ideas, it is hard not to see them as sharing woo pedigree similar to the "Tao of Physics" writer, Fritjof Capra (a then young physicist who after taking LSD, decided that the universe as described by physics was fundamentally similar to eastern mysticism, and who has been as a result criticized almost universally as wrong by every physicist of merit ever since). Kauffman's new emphasis on the origins of life, on the proto-evolution that led to life, do not to my mind seem "wrong" in any material way, but they are dressed up so flamboyantly in his ineffable style that it is hard to reach beyond the affect to the content being presented. I would like to see a list of reputable criticisms presented here. Randall Lee Reetz (talk) 01:57, 28 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Looks like you have a clear agenda without any sources. This comment, without sources, is close to a WP:BLP. --I am One of Many (talk) 22:55, 28 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Randall Lee Reetz: I agree with I am One of Many that your unsourced wall of text here seems to be little more than an irrelevant ad hominem attack, tone policing, and vacuous pseudoskepticism. Some careful criticism of Kauffman is already mentioned in the first paragraph of Stuart Kauffman § Works, and you are welcome to add more such careful criticism if you can find it. Biogeographist (talk) 15:56, 30 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]