All day

This event is by invitation only.

Held at Bishop's Lodge, Santa Fe, NM

Organized by Doug Erwin and Chris Wood, Santa Fe Institute


Individuals play a critical role in many fields of science, yet there is great disagreement over whether individuals, rather than collectives, actually matter for the progress of science (and there is, of course, considerable difference in how individuals are defined). Physics, to take an extreme case, generally ignores individual constituents of a system and progresses by analyzing aggregate properties and the behavior of large collectives of individuals. Many social sciences have taken the opposite view, with detailed investigations of the behavior of individuals – much of history is perhaps the paradigmatic example. Progress in economics was long based on assuming the existence of a fictional rational individual, Homo economicus, but most recent progress (including many efforts by members of the SFI community) has challenged this assumption and emphasized the importance of individual decision-making and behavior. Both strategies are evident in biology: Ecology emphasizes the role of aggregates whereas in evolutionary biology the role of individual variability has been important in views on selection and major evolutionary transitions. The Symposium will explore the role of individuals in different scientific contexts, from atoms and molecules through economies, societies, and cultures. The goal is to highlight differences in the importance of individuals within and between scientific domains, as well as differences in how individuals are defined within and between domains.

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