From parts to wholes,
from China to the sun
On May 24th, the first External Faculty Meeting of the Hub started with a public conference. In short talks complexity scientists from all around globe shared their visions on the question “Complexity: Where do we go from here?” That is, what are the open, the most pressing, the most promising questions to an understanding of complexity and Big Data?
The first talk was given by Peter Sloot from the Institute for Advanced Study Amsterdam.
See the video in full lenght here.
On our Youtube Channel we will one by one publish the talks of all conference participants (in order of appearance) in the playlist “Complexity: Where do we go from here?”
Summary of Peter’s talk
Complexity science: to understand how parts connect
Peter started with a quote from ancient China: “Look at the tree, a mountain, or the foam on water when it hits the shoreline; all amazingly beautiful, in all kinds of wild and crazy patterns. All of it has an order to it that we simply cannot measure or describe.”
In the western world we tried to understand these crazy patterns by looking at bits and pieces. Complexity science, for a change, tries to understand in what ways the parts connect. What creates order, what creates the dissipative structures around us – including ourselves?
The task is fascinating: Take the brain, for instance. Neurons fire continuously and make us “think”. But where in one, two or even 10 000s of neurons exactly is the thought? Or the human body: Within a year 96 percent of all atoms that form a body are replaced. Why then do we look (almost) the same every morning, year after year, still function as a whole?
“This emergence of properties that are finally complexity are still very much an open thing”, says Peter.
Where is the memory of a complex system …
There is kind of a memory in complex systems, some kind of structure, Peter continues: a storage of information. “Maybe networks are the structure that store the information that nature needs to carry on”, Peter says.
But why are the networks there?
As Peter hypothesizes, “it might be that evolution came up with the idea of networks to store the information that it needs to keep going. If this is the case we should not talk about proteins or social … We should talk about information. That would actually be new.”
… and where does information come from?
Equally open is the question where this information comes from. “One way to look at it”, says Peter, “is, that it comes from the sun. It fills the biosphere, giving it energy.” Such a hypothesis would need to be proved, of course. But all proofs would probably not answer the question: “why is life doing that at all?”
“I have no idea”, ends Peter, “but I guess: It’s just for fun.”