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Searching for Life, Mindful of Lyfe’s Possibilities

Tue, 05/31/2022 - 16:32

Searching for Life, Mindful of Lyfe’s Possibilities

by Michael L. Wong, Stuart Bartlett, Sihe Chen, and Louisa Tierney

We are embarking on a new age of astrobiology, one in which numerous interplanetary missions and telescopes will be designed, built, and launched with the explicit goal of finding evidence for life beyond Earth. Such a profound aim warrants caution and responsibility when interpreting and disseminating results. Scientists must take care not to overstate (or over-imply) confidence in life detection when evidence is lacking, or only incremental advances have been made. Recently, there has been a call for the community to create standards of evidence for the detection and reporting of biosignatures. In this perspective, we wish to highlight a critical but often understated element to the discussion of biosignatures: Life detection studies are deeply entwined with and rely upon our (often preconceived) notions of what life is, the origins of life, and habitability. Where biosignatures are concerned, these three highly related questions are frequently relegated to a low priority, assumed to be already solved or irrelevant to the question of life detection. Therefore, our aim is to bring to the fore how these other major astrobiological frontiers are central to searching for life elsewhere and encourage astrobiologists to embrace the reality that all of these science questions are interrelated and must be furthered together rather than separately. Finally, in an effort to be more inclusive of life as we do not know it, we propose tentative criteria for a more general and expansive characterization of habitability that we call genesity.

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The evolution and development of consciousness: the subject-object emergence hypothesis

Tue, 05/31/2022 - 11:20

John E. Stewart

Biosystems, Volume 217, July 2022, 104687

A strategy for investigating consciousness that has proven very productive has focused on comparing brain processes that are accompanied by consciousness with processes that are not. But comparatively little attention has been given to a related strategy that promises to be even more fertile. This strategy exploits the fact that as individuals develop, new classes of brain processes can transition from operating ‘in the dark’ to becoming conscious. It has been suggested that these transitions occur when a new class of brain processes becomes object to a new, emergent, higher-level subject. Similar transitions are likely to have occurred during evolution. An evolutionary/developmental research strategy sets out to identify the nature of the transitions in brain processes that shift them from operating in the dark to ‘lighting up’. The paper begins the application of this strategy by extrapolating the sequence of transitions back towards its origin. The goal is to reconstruct a minimally-complex, subject-object subsystem that would be capable of giving rise to consciousness and providing adaptive benefits. By focusing on reconstructing a subsystem that is simple and understandable, this approach avoids the homunculus fallacy. The reconstruction suggests that the emergence of such a minimally-complex subsystem was driven by its capacity to coordinate body-environment interactions in real time e.g. hand-eye coordination. Conscious processing emerged initially because of its central role in organising real-time sensorimotor coordination. The paper goes on to identify and examine a number of subsequent major transitions in consciousness, including the emergence of capacities for conscious mental modelling. Each transition is driven by its potential to solve adaptive challenges that cannot be overcome at lower levels. The paper argues that mental modelling arose out of a pre-existing capacity to use simulations of motor actions to anticipate the consequences of the actions. As the capacity developed, elements of the simulations could be changed, and the consequences of these changes could be ‘thought through’ consciously. This enabled alternative motor responses to be evaluated. The paper goes on to predict significant new major transitions in consciousness.

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From the origin of life to pandemics: emergent phenomena in complex systems

Sun, 05/29/2022 - 08:21

Oriol Artime and Manlio De Domenico

Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A, Volume 380 Issue 2227

Theme issue ‘Emergent phenomena in complex physical and socio-technical systems: from cells to societies’

When a large number of similar entities interact among each other and with their environment at a low scale, unexpected outcomes at higher spatio-temporal scales might spontaneously arise. This non-trivial phenomenon, known as emergence, characterizes a broad range of distinct complex systems—from physical to biological and social—and is often related to collective behaviour. It is ubiquitous, from non-living entities such as oscillators that under specific conditions synchronize, to living ones, such as birds flocking or fish schooling. Despite the ample phenomenological evidence of the existence of systems’ emergent properties, central theoretical questions to the study of emergence remain unanswered, such as the lack of a widely accepted, rigorous definition of the phenomenon or the identification of the essential physical conditions that favour emergence. We offer here a general overview of the phenomenon of emergence and sketch current and future challenges on the topic. Our short review also serves as an introduction to the theme issue Emergent phenomena in complex physical and socio-technical systems: from cells to societies, where we provide a synthesis of the contents tackled in the issue and outline how they relate to these challenges, spanning from current advances in our understanding on the origin of life to the large-scale propagation of infectious diseases.

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Physicists Trace the Rise in Entropy to Quantum Information

Fri, 05/27/2022 - 10:57

The second law of thermodynamics is among the most sacred in all of science, but it has always rested on 19th century arguments about probability. New arguments trace its true source to the flows of quantum information.

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Companies need a business leader to be the contrarian that combats herd mentality 

Wed, 05/25/2022 - 08:44

Leaders need to recognize herd mentality when it happens–and explore the contrarian view to help break the spell.

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IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (IEEE SSCI 2022)

Wed, 05/25/2022 - 08:40

IEEE SSCI is an established flagship annual international series of symposia on computational intelligence sponsored by the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. The 2022 IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (IEEE SSCI) will be held in Singapore, from December 4th to December 7th, 2022. IEEE SSCI 2022 promotes and stimulates discussion on the latest theory, algorithms, applications and emerging topics on computational intelligence. The IEEE SSCI co-locates multiple symposia under one roof, each dedicated to a specific topic in the CI domain, thereby encouraging cross-fertilization of ideas and providing a unique platform for top researchers, professionals, and students from all around the world to discuss and present their findings. IEEE SSCI 2022 will feature keynote addresses, tutorials, panel discussions and special sessions, all of which are open to all participants

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The penumbra of open source: projects outside of centralized platforms are longer maintained, more academic and more collaborative

Wed, 05/25/2022 - 08:24

Milo Z. Trujillo, Laurent Hébert-Dufresne & James Bagrow 

EPJ Data Science volume 11, Article number: 31 (2022)

GitHub has become the central online platform for much of open source, hosting most open source code repositories. With this popularity, the public digital traces of GitHub are now a valuable means to study teamwork and collaboration. In many ways, however, GitHub is a convenience sample, and may not be representative of open source development off the platform. Here we develop a novel, extensive sample of public open source project repositories outside of centralized platforms. We characterized these projects along a number of dimensions, and compare to a time-matched sample of corresponding GitHub projects. Our sample projects tend to have more collaborators, are maintained for longer periods, and tend to be more focused on academic and scientific problems.

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The games we play: critical complexity improves machine learning

Tue, 05/24/2022 - 16:34

Abeba Birhane, David J. T. Sumpter
When mathematical modelling is applied to capture a complex system, multiple models are often created that characterize different aspects of that system. Often, a model at one level will produce a prediction which is contradictory at another level but both models are accepted because they are both useful. Rather than aiming to build a single unified model of a complex system, the modeller acknowledges the infinity of ways of capturing the system of interest, while offering their own specific insight. We refer to this pragmatic applied approach to complex systems — one which acknowledges that they are incompressible, dynamic, nonlinear, historical, contextual, and value-laden — as Open Machine Learning (Open ML). In this paper we define Open ML and contrast it with some of the grand narratives of ML of two forms: 1) Closed ML, ML which emphasizes learning with minimal human input (e.g. Google’s AlphaZero) and 2) Partially Open ML, ML which is used to parameterize existing models. To achieve this, we use theories of critical complexity to both evaluate these grand narratives and contrast them with the Open ML approach. Specifically, we deconstruct grand ML `theories’ by identifying thirteen ‘games’ played in the ML community. These games lend false legitimacy to models, contribute to over-promise and hype about the capabilities of artificial intelligence, reduce wider participation in the subject, lead to models that exacerbate inequality and cause discrimination and ultimately stifle creativity in research. We argue that best practice in ML should be more consistent with critical complexity perspectives than with rationalist, grand narratives.

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Guided self-organization through an entropy-based self-advising approach

Fri, 05/20/2022 - 12:29

Somayeh Kalantari, Eslam Nazemi & Behrooz Masoumi
Computing (2022)

Nowadays, the study of self-organizing systems has attracted much attention. However, since these systems are run in dynamic, changing, and evolving environments, it is possible that undesirable behaviors that are contrary to the system goals occur. Therefore, it is necessary to provide mechanisms to guide the self-organizing system. However, several approaches were proposed to guide self-organizing systems, more effective approaches are required due to the variation of the contexts in which they are deployed and their complexity. This paper aims to use the self-advising property to provide guidelines about the context of self-organizing systems. The agents of these systems are guided implicitly by using the guidelines provided. In the proposed approach, contextual data is made by an advisor agent that produces them based on the agents’ behavioral entropy. The proposed approach is evaluated using a case study based on the NASA ANTS mission. According to experiments, the proposed approach causes adaptation activities’ costs to decrease at all radio ranges. Besides, in some radio ranges, i.e., 110 and 120 GHz, the guiding state’s adaptive time is less than the no-guiding state’s adaptive time. The evaluations also show that the ruler agents’ mean entropy in the guiding state is less than the no-guiding state in 75 % of radio ranges. This approach’s success in reducing the agents’ entropy indicates its ability to guide self-organizing systems.

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Postdoc Position in Large-Scale Traffic Simulation and Swarm Intelligence for Smart Cities

Thu, 05/19/2022 - 12:56

Research at the Professorship of Computational Social Science (COSS) is focused on:
* bringing modelling and computer simulation of social processes and transportation phenomena together with technology, experimental, and data-driven work,
* combining the perspectives of different scientific disciplines (e.g., social science, computer science, complexity science and sociophysics),
* bridging fundamental and applied for work,
* developing digital tools to support people and studying the resulting behaviour.

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[Classics] Principles of the self-organizing system

Tue, 05/17/2022 - 14:39

W. Ross Ashby

The brilliant British psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and mathematician Ross Ashby was one of the pioneers in early and mid-phase cybernetics and thereby one of the leading progenitors of modern complexity theory. Not one to take either commonly used terms or popular notions for granted, Ashby probed deeply into the meaning of supposedly self-organizing systems. At the time of the following article, he had been working on a mathematical formalism of his homeostat, a hypothetical machine established on an axiomatic, set theoretical foundation that was supposed to offer a sufficient description of a living organism’s learning and adaptive intelligence. Ashby’s homeostat had a small number of essential variables serving to maintain its operation over a wide range of environmental conditions so that if the latter changed and thereby shifted the variables beyond the range where the homeostat could safely function, a new ‘higher’ level of the machine was activated in order to randomly reset the lower level’s internal connections or organization (see Dupuy, 2000). Like the role of random mutations during evolution, if the new range set at random proved functional, the homeostat survived, otherwise it expired.

One of Ashby’s goals was to repudiate that interpretation of the notion of self-organization, one commonly held to this day, which would have it that either a machine or a living organism could by itself change its own organization (or, in his phraseology, the functional mappings). For Ashby, self-organization in this sense was a bit of superfluous metaphysics since he believed not only could his formalism by itself completely delineate the homeostat’s lower level organization, the adaptive novelty of his homeostat was purely the result of its upper level randomization that could reorganize the lower level and not some innate propensity for autonomous change. We offer Ashby’s careful reasoning here as an enlightening guide for coming to terms with key ideas in complexity theory whose genuine significance lies less with facile bandying about and more with an intensive and extensive examination of the underlying assumptions.

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‘Machine Scientists’ Distill the Laws of Physics From Raw Data

Mon, 05/16/2022 - 16:54

Researchers say we’re on the cusp of “GoPro physics,” where a camera can point at an event and an algorithm can identify the underlying physics equation.

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Conference on Complex Systems 2022: Call for Abstracts

Mon, 05/16/2022 - 15:44
17-21/10/2022, Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Deadline for submission: May 31st, 2022 (strict deadline).  Author notification: end of June. Author registration: end of July. The call for contributions to the Conference on Complex Systems 2022 (CCS 2022) is officially open. Share the news! Accepted abstracts will be presented following one of the three possible formats:
  • oral presentation (12-min talk + 3-min questions) during a parallel session
  • lightening presentation (5-min talk) during a plenary session
  • poster presentation during poster sessions
Abstracts must be prepared using CCS2022 official template (Latex or Word) and submitted through Easychair as a PDF file. More info on abstract submission can be found at:

The TAP equation: evaluating combinatorial innovation

Wed, 05/11/2022 - 15:27

Marina Cortês, Stuart A. Kauffman, Andrew R. Liddle, Lee Smolin
We investigate solutions to the TAP equation, a phenomenological implementation of the Theory of the Adjacent Possible. Several implementations of TAP are studied, with potential applications in a range of topics including economics, social sciences, environmental change, evolutionary biological systems, and the nature of physical laws. The generic behaviour is an extended plateau followed by a sharp explosive divergence. We find accurate analytic approximations for the blow-up time that we validate against numerical simulations, and explore the properties of the equation in the vicinity of equilibrium between innovation and extinction. A particular variant, the two-scale TAP model, replaces the initial plateau with a phase of exponential growth, a widening of the TAP equation phenomenology that may enable it to be applied in a wider range of contexts.

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[Classics] The Architecture of Complexity (1962)

Tue, 05/10/2022 - 11:09

Herbert A. Simon
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
Vol. 106, No. 6 (Dec. 12, 1962), pp. 467-482

A number of proposals have been advanced in recent years for the development of “general systems theory” which, abstracting from properties peculiar to physical, biological, or social systems, would be applicable to all of them. We might well feel that, while the goal is laudable, systems of such diverse kinds could hardly be expected to have any nontrivial properties in common. Metaphor and analogy can be helpful, or they can be misleading. All depends on whether the similarities the metaphor captures are significant or superficial.

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CCS 2022 Warm-up – yrCSS

Tue, 05/10/2022 - 11:00

Coinciding with the Conference on Complex Systems, and profiting from the opportunity offered by the presence of a wide variety of experts in different topics, we are organising three-day school for PhD students and early-stage researchers. The school is an informal two-day event that offers early-stage scientists the opportunity to hear talks from prominent young researchers, learn about the scientific and life experience of young and senior researchers, socialise and have fun playing the specifically tailored trivia.

The school is going to be to be held in Palma de Mallorca, Spain on October 14-16, 2022, before the main CCS conference. The preliminary school schedule consists of four lectures from young scientists, scientific writing workshop session, project-making event, pub quiz and social event on-site. The sessions will be divided by informal coffee breaks, where participants may chatter with their peers.

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Complexity and change: thinking, practices and processes for addressing global challenges 

Mon, 05/09/2022 - 13:58

Conference | 5 – 9 September 2022, Online

This conference builds upon the experience of the CES Winter School 2020 named “Sustainable development, complexity and change: thinking and practices for the SDG and other objectives”. It is based on a logic of deep interdisciplinarity, oriented towards promoting productive, collaborative, critical and creative dialogues between different disciplines and modes of thinking, between theory and research and the practices that “in the real world” enact and realise, critique or present alternative or complementary proposals to addressing critical global challenges. 

This conference is organised around key challenges, targeting the following themes: 
(1) Being and Thinking Together (in) Complexity
(2) Knowing Together: Grasping the Complexity of the World 
(3) Living Together: Peace and Communities of Well-Being 
(4) Learning and Teaching Together
(5) Changing and Acting Together

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How an information perspective helps overcome the challenge of biology to physics

Fri, 05/06/2022 - 13:05

Keith D.Farnsworth

Volume 217, July 2022, 104683

Living systems have long been a puzzle to physics, leading some to claim that new laws of physics are needed to explain them. Separating physical reality into the general (laws) and the particular (location of particles in space and time), it is possible to see that the combination of these amounts to efficient causation, whereby forces are constrained by patterns that constitute embodied information which acts as formal cause. Embodied information can only be produced by correlation with existing patterns, but sets of patterns can be arranged to form reflexive relations in which constraints on force are themselves formed by the pattern that results from action of those same constrained forces. This inevitably produces a higher level of pattern which reflexively reinforces itself. From this, multi-level hierarchies and downward causation by information are seen to be patterns of patterns that constrain forces. Such patterns, when causally cyclical, are closed to efficient causation. But to be autonomous, a system must also have its formative information accumulated by repeated cycles of selection until sufficient is obtained to represent the information content of the whole (which is the essential purpose of information oligomers such as DNA). Living systems are the result of that process and therefore cannot exist unless they are both closed to efficient causation and capable of embodying an independent supply of information sufficient to constitute their causal structure. Understanding this is not beyond the scope of standard physics, but it does recognise the far greater importance of information accumulation in living than in non-living systems and, as a corollary, emphasises the dependence of biological systems on the whole history of life, leading up to the present state of any and all organisms.

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Where Do Space, Time and Gravity Come From?

Fri, 05/06/2022 - 10:16

General relativity and quantum mechanics are the two most successful conceptual breakthroughs of modern physics, but Einstein’s description of gravity as a curvature in space-time doesn’t easily mesh with a universe made up of quantum wavefunctions. Recent work that tries to bring those theories together is revealing some mind-bending truths. In this episode, the physicist and author Sean Carroll talks with host Steven Strogatz about how space and time might be emergent properties of quantum reality, not fundamental parts of it.

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Disentangling material, social, and cognitive determinants of human behavior and beliefs

Fri, 05/06/2022 - 08:07

Denis TverskoiAndrea GuidoGiulia AndrighettoAngel SánchezSergey Gavrilets

In social interactions, human decision-making, attitudes, and beliefs about others coevolve. Their dynamics are affected by cost-benefit considerations, cognitive processes (such as cognitive dissonance, social projecting, and logic constraints), and social influences by peers (via descriptive and injunctive social norms) and by authorities (e.g., educational, cultural, religious, political, administrative, individual or group, real or fictitious). Here we attempt to disentangle some of this complexity by using an integrative mathematical modeling and a 35-day online behavioral experiment. We utilize data from a Common Pool Resources experiment with or without messaging promoting a group-beneficial level of resource extraction. We first show that our model provides a better fit than a wide variety of alternative models. Then we directly estimate the weights of different factors in decision-making and beliefs dynamics. We show that material payoffs accounted only for about 20\% of decision-making. The remaining 80\% was due to different cognitive and social forces which we evaluated quantitatively. Without messaging, personal norms (and cognitive dissonance) have the largest weight in decision-making. Messaging greatly influences personal norms and normative expectations. Between-individual variation is present in all measured characteristics and notably impacts observed group behavior. At the same time, gender differences are not significant. We argue that one can hardly understand social behavior without understanding the dynamics of personal beliefs and beliefs about others and that cognitive, social, and material factors all play important roles in these processes. Our results have implications for understanding and predicting social processes triggered by certain shocks (e.g., social unrest, a pandemic, or a natural disaster) and for designing policy interventions aiming to change behavior (e.g. actions aimed at environment protection or climate change mitigation).

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