JMW Turner - Burning Ship, c. 1830, watercolor on paper. Tate Britain (wikimedia commons)

This August 13-25, the Santa Fe Institute and six partner organizations will offer Ph.D. students an advanced training on intelligence and representation. The Complexity–GAINs international summer school will invite students to Cambridge, UK, to consider how individuals and collectives — both organic and constructed — create, access, and apply representations of the world to guide intelligent actions. Applications close on March 15, 2023.

Since Aristotle, scholars have considered the role of mental representations in cognition: how are objects, beliefs, thoughts, and desires encoded in the mind? To be effective, mental representations must carry the information necessary to make intelligent decisions — decisions that are accurate, consistent, and adaptive. There is a trade-off between not enough and too much information in a representation, with the latter taking up valuable storage space and energy and the former leading to faulty inference. While neuroscientists focus increasing effort on understanding how representations are encoded in the activities of neurons, the recognition of intelligence in artificial neural networks and animal and human collectives raises key questions about the nature of representation beyond neuronal substrates. 

“The ability to encode or represent key aspects of reality lies at the heart of intelligent activity. This is as true for mathematics and music as it is for poetry and natural science,” says SFI President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems David Krakauer, the program’s director. “In this school we are investigating both evolved and learned representations within genomes and brains, as well as new theories for representations and their transformation through cultural evolution. The integration of inference and strategy with representation provides a basis for both individual and collective decision making.”

Ph.D. students from the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy are welcome to apply. Students need not be conducting research in intelligence to benefit; those wishing to explore new research directions or applications of quantitative skills from other disciplines will find the curriculum valuable. Through support from the National Science Foundation and SFI, there is no tuition. The program aims to be no- or low-cost to all students who are accepted. 

The Complexity–GAINs curriculum emphasizes transdisciplinary, international collaboration and offers students a series of foundational talks, frontiers seminars and discussions, and technical workshops by which to gain a more pluralistic understanding of intelligence. Krakauer is joined by an expert faculty assembled from across SFI, Cambridge University, and beyond. The instructors bring diverse approaches to defining representation, drawing from a variety of academic disciplines. 

The first Complexity-GAINs summer school was held last summer in Vienna, Austria, and focused on the disintegration of societies. This year, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences will host the school in Cambridge, UK, becoming the seventh member of this international partnership. 

Read more and apply by March 15, 2023.