Gateways to Emergent Behavior in Science and Society

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organized by David Pines (Co-Founder, SFI; Science Board, SFI; Distinguished Research Professor of Physics, U C Davis; Research Professor of Physics, UIUC; and Chief Evangelist and Founding Director Emeritus, Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter); John Holland (University of Michigan), Simon Levin (Princeton University), and Donald Saari (University of California, Irvine)


When electrons or atoms or plants or people and their environment interact, the behavior of the whole is different from that of its parts. We call that collective behavior emergent. Emergence thus refers to collective phenomena or behaviors in complex systems that do not exist in their individual parts; gateways to emergence are the regularities that characterize emergent behavior and the organizing principles that may be able to explain it.

The search for the gateways to emergent behavior in science and society is thus equivalent to the search for the organizing principles and concepts responsible for the emergent behavior we observe or measure in the natural world or social systems, It involves a mix of phenomenology, theory, experiment, and observation, and the test of a candidate gateway is the extent to which it explains experiment or observation and, additionally, when incorporated in a model, has predictive power.

Our 2 ½ day workshop is a first step in developing a network of researchers who focus on identifying these gateways and incorporating them into candidate models of emergent behavior, an endeavor that is central to both the ICAM and SFI research programs. The workshop has a good chance of attaining its goals if the attendees can center on digesting, and questioning, what others have to say, especially those from other fields. Above all, our meeting should initiate NEW collaborations, much as the early ICAM and SFI meetings did for both institutions

We will be asking one another: to what extent are the organizing principles we develop for emergent behavior in physical systems applicable to living matter or emergent behavior in individuals and in society? For example, are organizing concepts from inanimate matter such as protected behavior and frustration of general applicability? Can we over time develop a new subfield, “The Physics of Emergence” that focuses on these issues in science and society?

In addition to the invited speakers, chairs, and other participants listed in the draft program below, we are inviting a number of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to play an active role in the extensive discussion periods that follow invited talks. All invited participants are being asked to submit a virtual poster on the gateways they study for posting on the workshop web site and elsewhere.