Quantifying Biological Complexity

Next week I’m going to this workshop:

Biological Complexity: Can It Be Quantified?, 1-3 February 2017, Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University, Tempe Arizona. Organized by Paul Davies.

I haven’t heard that any of it will be made publicly available, but I’ll see if there’s something I can show you. Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday February 1st

9:00 – 9:30 am Paul Davies

Brief welcome address, outline of the subject and aims of the meeting

Session 1. Life: do we know it when we see it?

9:30 – 10:15 am: Chris McKay, “Mission to Enceladus”

10:15 – 10:45 am: Discussion

10:45– 11:15 am: Tea/coffee break

11:15 – 12:00 pm: Kate Adamala, “Alive but not life”

12:00 – 12:30 pm: Discussion

12:30 – 2:00 pm: Lunch

Session 2. Quantifying life

2:00 – 2:45 pm: Lee Cronin, “The living and the dead: molecular signatures of life”

2:45 – 3:30 pm: Sara Walker, “Can we build a life meter?”

3:30 – 4:00 pm: Discussion

4:00 – 4:30 pm: Tea/coffee break

4:30 – 5:15 pm: Manfred Laubichler, “Complexity is smaller than you think”

5:15 – 5:30 pm: Discussion

The Beyond Annual Lecture

7:00 – 8:30 pm: Sean Carroll, “Our place in the universe”

Thursday February 2nd

Session 3: Life, information and the second law of thermodynamics

9:00 – 9:45 am: James Crutchfield, “Vital bits: the fuel of life”

9:45 – 10:00 am: Discussion

10:00 – 10:45 pm: John Baez, “Information and entropy in biology”

10:45 – 11:00 am: Discussion

11:00 – 11:30 pm: Tea/coffee break

11:30 – 12:15 pm: Chris Adami, “What is biological information?”

12:15 – 12:30 pm: Discussion

12:30 – 2:00 pm: Lunch

Session 4: The emergence of agency

2:00 – 2:45 pm: Olaf Khang Witkowski, “When do autonomous agents act collectively?”

2:45 – 3:00 pm: Discussion

3:00 – 3:45 pm: William Marshall, “When macro beats micro”

3:45 – 4:00 pm: Discussion

4:00 – 4:30 am: Tea/coffee break

4:30 – 5:15pm: Alexander Boyd, “Biology’s demons”

5:15 – 5:30 pm: Discussion

Friday February 3rd

Session 5: New physics?

9:00 – 9:45 am: Sean Carroll, “Laws of complexity, laws of life?”

9:45 – 10:00 am: Discussion

10:00 – 10:45 am: Andreas Wagner, “The arrival of the fittest”

10:45 – 11:00 am: Discussion

11:00 – 11:30 am: Tea/coffee break

11:30 – 12:30 pm: George Ellis, “Top-down causation demands new laws”

12:30 – 2:00 pm: Lunch

8 Responses to Quantifying Biological Complexity

  1. arch1 says:

    John, I thought you knew better than to be colocated for extended periods with others of my favorite authors. Well, what’s done is done. But don’t take any elevators, OK?

    • John Baez says:

      Elevators? I’m supposed to be careful about elevators?

      I recently spent a few days at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico. My wife was investigating Navajo jewelry, which is a big thing in this town. I was just chillin’, enjoying the atmosphere.

      Big movie stars used to stay at this hotel when they were making westerns nearby. If you read carefully, you’ll see they claim to have the ‘Charm of Yesterday, Convenience of Tomorrow’. It’s one of the few places I’ve been that still requires a human expert to run the elevator: an elevator operator.

      It made me a bit nostalgic—and made me think yet again about all the many jobs that have been eliminated by automation.

      Being an elevator operator is not a job I’d enjoy. Neither is being a clerk at a grocery store. I guess such jobs are tolerable only if there’s enough pleasant social interaction with customers and coworkers. But we don’t really know what the world will be like when all such jobs are eliminated.

  2. Marco Rossi says:

    I’m really really interested in your lecture “Information and entropy in biology”. Will there be a video of the lecture or a paper about it?

    • John Baez says:

      As mentioned, I haven’t heard any hints that any of this workshop will be made publicly available. (Too bad—it’s not so hard to make videos these days!) But I’ll make the slides of my talk available on this blog. There’s just one little problem: I have to make them first.

      And before that, I have to figure out what I’m going to say.

  3. This is my talk for the workshop Biological Complexity: Can It Be Quantified?

    Biology as information dynamics.

    Abstract. If biology is the study of self-replicating entities, and we want to understand the role of information, it makes sense to see how information theory is connected to the ‘replicator equation’—a simple model of population dynamics for self-replicating entities. The relevant concept of information turns out to be the information of one probability distribution relative to another, also known as the Kullback–Liebler divergence. Using this we can see evolution as a learning process, and give a clean general formulation of Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection.

  4. amarashiki says:

    I loved this post! Great job!

  5. Glenn Hammonds says:

    I do wish anyone mentioning the Red Queen Hypothesis would at least mention Leigh Van Valen. Thanks!


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