Scaling laws in enzymes may help predict life ‘as we don’t know it’

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identifies a new kind of biochemical universality in enzymes — the functional drivers of biochemistry — found in life on Earth. These patterns in the chemistry of life do not appear to depend on specific molecules and may help researchers develop tools to predict the features of life as we don’t know it.

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Real patterns in science & cognition

To advance research on topics from climate change to machine learning, scientific models are crucial. These models often reveal patterns, but humans also have a tendency to see patterns everywhere, even where there are none. How can researchers recognize which patterns are real and which ones are not? Which kinds of real patterns are most useful to science? These are some of the questions that philosophers and scientists from various disciplines explored in a virtual SFI workshop on “Real Patterns in Science and Cognition” held February 28 – March 4.

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Constructing — and deconstructing — collectives

From fireflies to ants to microbes to humans, we all form collectives. Figuring out how that happens can help us understand our responses to some of the world’s biggest challenges. A January workshop met to explore new directions for collective-behavior research. 

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SFI launches new research theme on emergent political economies

The Santa Fe Institute has received funding for a new five-year research theme on emergent political economies. The theme, funded by a $6.5 million grant from the Omidyar Network, will take up the ethical imperative to develop better theoretical frameworks and methods to understand the social, ecological, and material inequalities at the core of the modern economy, as well as imagine the role that innovation will play in emergent political economies of the future – both for good and ill.

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Roots as drivers of South African landscape pattern

In South Africa's western cape, the shrubby Fynbos biome and the abutting Afrotemperate Forest biome share an underlying geology and are subject to the same climatic patterns, yet exist as alternative stable states. In a new study in PNAS, SFI Omidyar Fellow Mingzhen Lu and colleagues dive deep to understand the role of root systems in maintaining these two biomes. 

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Deciphering the large-scale patterns of the written record

A recent study led by SFI External Professor Marten Scheffer identified a set of striking patterns in the written record that suggest that, in the universe of language, an era framed by sentiment and individuality has been on the rise for decades. A response from External Professor Simon DeDeo gives a replication of the findings with similar results and also offers remarks on both the methodological challenges and some of the interpretive questions the work raises.

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To combat online hate speech, organize!

Hate speech and disinformation have become intractable problems on social media and other online platforms— might counter speech be an effective strategy to curb it? It’s a difficult thing to address scientifically because so many societal factors are at play beyond the online forums. However, a study published in EPJ Data Science uses a multifaceted approach to begin exploring the question.

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Emergent engineering for an evolving world

Over the past three years, SFI’s Applied Complexity Network (ACtioN) has had a front-row seat in a series of meetings where SFI researchers have been evolving a new kind of engineering, one better suited to the complex systems that drive the contemporary world. Called emergent engineering, it generates the conceptual frameworks and design principles that practitioners need to carry out engineering projects that engage with adaptive agents.

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Research brief: Information architecture

The intensifying search for life on other worlds begs an important question: Will we recognize life when we find it? New work co-authored by SFI External Professor Sara Imari Walker offers an innovative approach.

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Research brief: Innovations at the periphery

The advancement of everything from science to education relies in large part on the ability to come up with new ideas. But under what conditions is innovation most likely? To help answer this key question in the science realm, SFI External Professor Manfred Laubichler and colleagues developed a framework to identify the origins of innovation across one field: evolutionary medicine.

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Research brief: The emergence and perils of polarization

We can’t understand polarization unless we analyze it as a complex system, argues SFI External Professor Scott Page (University of Michigan) in a commentary for a special feature on the dynamics of political polarization in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Research brief: Polarization, diversity, and democratic robustness

Polarization is dangerous for democracy. Though the U.S. Constitution was designed to harness rivalry with a diverse, redundant, and modular set of institutions, if that rivalry curdles into the belief that your competitors are your enemies, those institutions may not be strong enough to hold a nation together. In a Perspective piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, SFI External Professor Jenna Bednar (University of Michigan) argues that polarization poses three perils in particular.

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Preventing extreme polarization of political attitudes

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests extreme polarization can be avoided when two sides of a stubbornly intolerant population have low exposure to each other. This paper is part of a PNAS special issue on the dynamics of polarization.

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Santa Fe Institute receives $50 million from Bill Miller

In the largest single donation in its history, the nonprofit Santa Fe Institute will receive $50 million from legendary investor Bill Miller. The gift will advance the Institute's pioneering science of complex systems by growing its research community and expanding the facilities in which it works. 

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