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February 12, 2021 50 min

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 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, Complexity Podcast becomes its own experiment after an invasion by our sister podcast, InterPlanetary Festival’s Alien Crash Site. SFI Miller Omega Program Manager Caitlin McShea joins as guest co-host for a conversation with SFI Program Postdoctoral Fellow Tamara van der Does (who models belief change using techniques inspired by statistical physics) for a three-headed conversation totally befitting the subject matter: a work of speculative “sci-fi science” produced by SFI’s postdoctoral researchers during a 72-hour lock-in complex systems charette. Their question: how might an extraterrestrial civilization much like our own work if their biology required three-parent families? We discuss the interplay between individual and society, the role of counterfactuals and speculation in both scientific research and sci-fi, and what technology she’d hope to find left in the wake of an alien visitation.

Tune in two weeks from now for a return to our regularly scheduled programming...

If you value our research and communication efforts, please consider making a donation at — and/or rating and reviewing us at Apple Podcasts. You can find numerous other ways to engage with us at Thank you for listening!

Join our Facebook discussion group to meet like minds and talk about each episode.

Podcast theme music by Mitch Mignano.

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Go deeper with these additional resources:

• Tamara’s Website, Google Scholar Page & Twitter
• InterPlanetary Festival Website
• Alien Crash Site Podcast

In 72 hours of sci-fi, postdocs transmit parental model of alien civilization [video]
• Greetings from a Triparental Planet 72 Hours of Science Pre-Printby Gizem Bacaksizlar, Stefani Crabtree, Joshua Garland, Natalie Grefenstette, Albert Kao, David Kinney, Artemy Kolchinsky, Tyler Marghetis, Michael Price, Maria Riolo, Hajime Shimao, Ashley Teufel, Tamara van der Does, and Vicky Chuqiao Yang
• Scale and information-processing thresholds in Holocene social evolution by Jaeweon Shin, Michael Holton Price, David H. Wolpert, Hajime Shimao, Brendan Tracey, and Timothy A. Kohler
• SFI’s VP for Science Jennifer Dunne Remembers Ecologist Bob May

• Complexity 43: Vicky Yang & Henrik Olsson on social science
• Complexity 24: Laurent Hébert Dufresne on network epidemiology
• Complexity 19: David Kinney on the philosophy of science

• IPFest 2019 Worldbuilding Panel with Rebecca Roanhorse, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham, Michael Drout, and Cris Moore
• David Stout on Alien Crash Site Podcast
• Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers
• Stalker (film adaptation of Roadside Picnic) by Andrei Tarkovsky
• Anathem by former SFI Miller Scholar Neal Stephenson
• Dark Integers by Greg Egan
Aliens comic series by Dark Horse
• UFO sculpture in cover image by R.T. Davis

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