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…... Show More

Episodes

October 14, 2020 52 min

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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Since the 1940s, scientists have puzzled over a curious finding: armed conflict data reveals that human battles obey a power-law distribution, like avalanches and epidemics.  Just like the fractal surfaces of mountains and cauliflowers, the shape of violence looks the same at any level of magnification. Beyond the particulars of why we fight, this pattern suggests a deep hidden order in the physical laws governing society.  And, di...

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The magnitude of interlocking “wicked problems” we humans face today is daunting…and made all the worse by the widening schisms in our public discourse, the growing prominence of hate speech and prejudicial violence. How can we collaborate at scale if it’s not even safe to act as citizens, to participate in a sufficiently diverse society, without becoming targets? The World Wide Web has made it easier than ever for hate groups to o...

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Each of us at some point in our lives will face traumatizing hardship — abuse or injury, lack or loss. And all of us must weather the planetwide effects of this pandemic, economic instability, systemic inequality, and social unrest…and find a way to live on with their consequences. Trauma isn’t evenly distributed. But it IS ubiquitous, and learning how to get on with our lives is one of our main tasks as human beings. 

From this har...

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Cities define the modern world. They characterize the human era and its impacts on our planet. By bringing us together, these "social reactors" amplify the best in us: our creativity, efficiency, wealth, and communal ethos. But they also amplify our worst: the incidence of social crimes, the span of inequality, our vulnerability to epidemics. And built into the physics of the city is an accelerating cycle of crisis and inno...

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We’re living through a unique moment in history. The interlocking crises of a global pandemic, widespread unemployment, social unrest, and climate change, show us just how far human civilization has traveled along a path that leads to collapse. It is more crucial than ever to seek a deeper understanding of the systems that sustain us, and the thin layer of life on the surface of our planet. What are the underlying laws that govern ...

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Mathematical models of the world — be they in physics, economics, epidemiology — capture only details that researchers notice and deem salient. Rather than objective claims about reality, they encode (and thus enact) our blind spots. And the externalities created by those models — microscopic pathogens invisible to the naked eye, or differences in the social network structures of two neighborhoods, or food webs disrupted by urban d...

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Humans, like any other organism, occupy a niche — a “Goldilocks Zone” for which our biology is suited, relatively to the extreme diversity of habitats on Earth. But to understand the natural habitat of human beings we would first have to perform a comprehensive survey of human settlements throughout history and prehistory, looking for patterns in the climate data. No one did this research until very recently, and what they found su...

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If COVID-19 has made anything obvious to everyone, it might be how the very small can force the transformation of the very large. Disrupt the right place in a network and exponential changes ripple outward: a virus causes a disease that leads to economic shocks and other social impacts that, in turn, re-open urban spaces to nonhuman animals and change the course of evolution.

Adapting to these changes will require a different kind o...

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It takes effort to embrace complexity. Simple models, simple narratives seem easier up front, their consequences only obvious in retrospect. When we talk about COVID-19 transmission rates, we’re using averages that do not offer crucial insights into how those rates may vary. When we target complex ailments with silver-bullet pharmaceuticals, we don’t address the underlying systems-level problems. Radical uncertainty resists attempt...

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COVID-19 has delivered an extraordinary shock to our assumptions, be they in how we practice education, business, research, or governance. When we base forecasts on bad data, even solid logic gives us unreliable results. Centralized authority is good for organized coherent action but isn’t agile or fine-grained enough to deal with local variance and rapidly evolving novel challenges. Surveillance can save lives but also threatens p...

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Our histories constrain what opportunities we notice and can take in life. The genes you have define the shape your body can grow into, in concert with environmental influences. But the cards you’re dealt don’t tell you how to play your hand; for that, you have to know which game you’re playing.  Natural selection acts through the relationships between an organism and ecology, a business and economy.  What works in one environment ...

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For this special mini-series covering the COVID19 pandemic, we will bring you into conversation with the scientists studying the bigger picture of this crisis, so you can learn their cutting-edge approaches and what sense they make of our evolving global situation.

This week’s guest is Caroline Buckee, formerly an SFI Omidyar Fellow, one of MIT Tech Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35, and a CNN Top 10: Thinker — now Associate Director ...

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In several key respects, COVID-19 reveals how crucial timing is for human life. The lens of complex systems science helps us understand the central role of time in coordinating across scales, and how synchrony or misalignment leads to major consequences—whether it’s in how the metabolic differences between bats and humans can create an opportunity for interspecies epidemics, or in how the timing of society’s return to work could ei...

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The coronavirus pandemic is in one sense a kind of prism: it reveals the many interlocking systems that, until disrupted, formed the mostly invisible backdrop of modern life, challenging the economy and our models of the world at the same time that it threatens individual and social health. The virus acts on, and invites new understanding through, the complexity we only take for granted at our peril. 

In SFI’s new essay series on th...

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