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December 11, 2020 61 min

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 harnessing flows of energy and information. We know that physical systems gain or lose energy as heat — what is the difference between exchanging heat and exchanging signals with information relevant to a system’s survival?

In other words, when is information meaningful? When do goals and meaning come into play, and how do a system’s constraints and embodiment figure in? Understanding how to formalize the interactions of our jostling cosmos and reveal the engine of emergent order is the quest of all quests…

Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every two weeks 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 speak with SFI Program Postdoctoral Fellow Artemy Kolchinsky, who studies how information is organized and processed in biological, neural, and physical systems. In recent publications with SFI Professor David Wolpert, Artemy explores fundamental constraints on the energy required to process information, and seeks to define “semantic information,” or information bearing meaningful content. Our conversation takes us on a winding path into a thick, dark wood in which meet trails cut by cybernetics, cognitive science, statistical physics, and astrobiology…

Tis the season, so if you value our research and communication efforts, please 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

Avid readers take note that SFI Press’ latest volume, Complexity Economics: Proceedings of the Santa Fe Institute's 2019 Fall Symposium, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook formats.

Thank you for listening!

Follow Artemy on Twitter and read the papers we discuss (and many more) on his website.

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Podcast theme music by Mitch Mignano.

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