A different universe: reinventing physics from the bottom down by R B Laughlin; Basic Books,
New York, 254 page s, $ 16.00 pap er (»9.99) ISBN 978 0465 038299
In this book, Professor Robert Laughlin makes a strong case that all physical laws are emergent
by drawing on numerous experimental facts in physics at the level of subatomic scale. He also
coins the term ``the emergent age'' to indicate the crossroad at which the current scientific
paradigm shift stands. The main hypothesis of A Different Universe is the idea of the end of
reductionism that gives rise to positivism and replaces it with emergentism that characterizes the
coming age of scientific revolution. If Professor Laughlin's prophecy is correct, then the physical
laws, including relativity theories, that physicists deem true are subject to severe intellectual
challenges and are potentially refutable.
In contrast to reductionism methodology, which breaks systems into smaller parts and
attempts to construct a theory of everything by understanding how these parts work, emergentism
theory argues that nature can only be understood through principles of organization. That is,
more is different. This connotes the meaning of complexity, but whereas complexity theory tries
to emulate how natural phenomena work, emergentism looks for the underlying mechanisms
under which these phenomena come about. The difference is subtle, but important.
The study of planning is mainly concerned with phenomena at the level of human scale,
but A Different Universe may provide a fresh insight into how we can build on current plan-
ning and urban theories. On the face of it, we may need to reevaluate and rethink how cities work
and how we should make plans accordingly. Cities are no doubt emergent phenomena, and scales
matter. Spatial events come and go, and living in a megacity is different in quality than living
in a small village. Under the emergentist paradigm, one of the greatest challenges in science,
thus planning, is to discover laws of emergence across all levels, not just how things work at
a certain level. Both cities and planning may be emergent phenomena, and discovering the
laws governing these two sets of phenomena might prompt a paradigm shift in planning theory
itself, perhaps by replacing urban modeling and planning techniques based on the positivist
point of view to those based on the coherentist point of view (Donaghy and Hopkins, 2006).
Shih-Kung Lai, Department of Real Estate and Built Environment, National Taipei University,
67, Section 3, Min Sheng East Road, Taipei, Taiwan
Donaghy K P, Hopkins L D, 2006, ``Coherentist theories of planing are possible and useful''
Planning Theory 517 3 ^ 2 0 2
All books received by the journal for possible review are now listed on the Environment and
All books for review should be sent to the publishers marked for the attention of the reviews
editor. Inclusion in the list of books received does not imply or preclude a full review. The
opinions given in these reviews are those of the reviewer alone and do not necessarily represent
the views of the editors or publishers.
Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 2007, volume 34, page 570