Noyce Conference Room
Working Group

All day


Our campus is closed to the public for this event.

Were insects, mollusks, flowering plants, and a highly encephalized primate destined to become the dominant species in modern ecosystems (beyond ubiquitous single-celled forms)? Or have general trends persisted for hundreds of millions of years, despite mass extinctions and other disruptions to life on Earth. Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life used the story of the origin of animals during the Cambrian radiation to argue that contingency has had a dominant role in the history of life.  Philosophers of biology soon realized that Gould had used the term contingency to cover distinct phenomena, and have subsequently clarified and explored the nature of contingency, and what role it may have had in life’s history.

Although contingency may play a central role in many other complex adaptive systems, few have explored the importance of contingency and determinism, and this discussion has been largely lacking at SFI.  This conference will bring together a mix of philosophers and members of the broader SFI community to discuss the nature of contingency in complex adaptive systems, try and identify commonalities across systems. Ultimately our goal is to generate a more rigorous discussion of the relative importance of contingency and determinism across a wide range of complex systems.


Doug ErwinDoug ErwinExternal Professor
Anthony EaganAnthony EaganResearch Fellow at the SFI
John BeattyJohn BeattyProfessor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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