COMPLEXITY

COMPLEXITY

Far-reaching conversations with a worldwide network of scientists and mathematicians, philosophers and artists developing new frameworks to explain our universe's deepest mysteries. Join host Michael Garfield at the Santa Fe Institute each week to learn about your world and the people who have dedicated their lives to exploring its emergent order: their stories, research, and insights…

Episodes

May 7, 2021 57 min

Complexity is all around us: in the paths we walk through pathless woods, the strategies we use to park our cars, the dynamics of an elevator as it cycles up and down a building. Zoom out far enough and the phenomena of everyday existence start revealing hidden links, suggesting underlying universal patterns. At great theoretic heights, it all yields to statistical analysis: winning streaks and traffic jams, card games and elevator...

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“More than the sum of its parts” is practically the slogan of systems thinking. One canonical example is a beehive: individually, a honeybee is not that clever, but together they can function like shapeshifting metamaterials or mesh networks — some of humankind’s most sophisticated innovations. Emergent collective behavior is common in the insect world — and not just among superstar collaborators like bees, ants, and termites. One ...

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Human relationships are often described in the language of “chemistry” — does that make the beliefs and attitudes of individuals a kind of “physics”? It is, at least, a fascinating avenue of inquiry. In particular, the field of statistical mechanics offers potent tools for understanding how exactly people form their views and change their minds. From this perspective, everyone is a dynamic network of opinions and values, in a tense...

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Once upon a time at UC Santa Cruz, a group of renegade grad students started mixing physics with math and computers, determined to discover underlying patterns in the seeming-randomness of systems like the weather and roulette. Their research led to major insights in the emerging field of chaos theory, and eventually to the new discipline of complexity economics — which brings models from ecology and physics, cognitive science and ...

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In the 21st Century, science is a team sport played by humans and computers, both. Social science in particular is in the midst of a transition from the qualitative study of small groups of people to the quantitative and computer-aided study of enormous data sets created by the interactions of machines and people. In this new ecology, wanting AI to act human makes no sense, but growing “alien” intelligences offers useful difference...

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February 26, 2021 60 min

Art history is a lot like archaeology — we here in the present day get artifacts and records, but the gaps between them are enormous, and the questions that they beg loom large. Historians need to be able to investigate and interpret, to unpack the meanings and the methods of a given work of art — but even for the best, the act of reconstruction is a trying test. Can we program computers to decipher the backstory of a painting — an...

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The consequence of living in a complex world: one tiny tweak can lead to massive transformation. Set the stage a slightly different way, and the entire play might unfold differently. This path-dependency shows up in both the science fiction premise and the hypothesis of scientific research: What can we learn about the hidden order of our cosmos by adjusting just a single variable?

Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the S...

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Most maps of the world render landscapes in 2D — yet wherever we observe ecosystems, they stratify into a third dimension. The same geometries that describe the dizzying diversity of species in the canopies of forests also govern life in other  living systems, from the oceans to the linings of our mouths. Behind the many forms, a hidden order shapes how organisms live in and on each other — and this emerging discipline of “canopy b...

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It’s tempting to believe that people can outsource decisions to machines — that algorithms are objective, and it’s easier and fairer to dump the burden on them. But convenience conceals the complicated truth: when lives are made or broken by AI, we need transparency about the way we ask computers questions, and we need to understand what kinds of problems they’re not suited for. Sometimes we may be using the wrong models, and somet...

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COVID-19 hasn’t just disrupted the “normal” of everyone’s social practices in what we take for granted as “daily life.” The pandemic has also, more granularly, changed the way scientists research and publish; it has changed the way science interfaces with institutions as varied as local governments and cell phone companies; it has changed the way we host and produce this podcast. This episode, for instance, with SFI External Profes...

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Matter, energy, and information: the holy trinity of physics. Understanding the relations between these measures of our world are one of the big questions of complex systems science.

The laws of thermodynamics tell us that entropy (loosely but somewhat inaccurately speaking, “disorder”) increases in any closed material system. But at the same time living systems constantly pump out entropy, thereby keeping themselves alive by harnes...

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"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
– Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

When human beings saw the first pictures of the Earth from space, the impact was transformative. New instruments for taking in new vistas, for understanding our relationships and contexts at a different scale, have in some ways defined the history of not just science but the evolution of intelligence. And now, thanks to th...

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The modern world has a way of distancing itself from everything that came before it…and yet the evidence from archaeology supports a different story. While industrial societies tend to praise markets and advanced technologies as the main drivers of the last few centuries of change, a careful study of civilizations as distinct as Ancient Rome, Peru, and Central Mexico reveals an underlying uniformity. Consistent patterns have played...

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Organisms aren’t the only products of the evolutionary process. Cultural products such as writing, art, and music also undergo change over time, subject to both the constraints of the physical environment and the psychologies of those who make them. In recent years, the study of cultural evolution has exploded with new insights — revelations into the dynamics of how culture is transmitted, how it mutates under different pressures, ...

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On the one hand, we have math: a world of forms and patterns, a priori logic, timeless and consistent. On the other, we have physics: messy and embodied interactions, context-dependent and contingent on a changing world. And yet, many people get the two confused, including physicists and mathematicians. Where the two meet, and the nature of the boundary between them, is a matter of debate — one of the greatest puzzles known to scie...

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Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.

This week we present something different: SFI’s InterPlanetary Project is excited to announce a new podcast, Alien Crash Site, in ...

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Whether you live in the USA or have just been watching the circus from afar, chances are that you agree: “polarization” dominates descriptions of the social landscape. Judging from the news alone, one might think the States have never been so painfully divided…yet nuanced public polls, and new behavioral models, suggest another narrative: the United States is largely moderate, and people have much more in common with each other tha...

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Now, maybe more than ever before, it is time to learn the art of skepticism.  Amidst compounded complex crises, humankind must also navigate a swelling tidal wave of outright lies, clever misdirections, and well-meant but dangerous mistaken claims….in other words, bullshit. Why is the 21st Century such a hotbed of fake news? How can we structure our networks and their incentives to mitigate disinformation and encourage speaking tru...

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Is there life on Mars? Or Titan? What are we even looking for? Without a formal definition, inquiries into the stars just echo noise. But then, perhaps, the noise contains a signal… To find life elsewhere in the universe requires us to wager a defined biology, to come to terms with what it means to be alive. Looking out is looking in, to ask the hardest question ever: How do we find something we might not recognize as what we’re se...

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One of the defining characteristics of complex systems science is the shift in emphasis from objects to relationships and processes. How is information related to matter and energy, and how do the distinct formulations of different scientific lineages braid together in a unifying pattern? This search for a more fundamental understanding drives directly into some of the biggest questions science has to ask about the living world — n...

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