Flickr, Caucas

At the Foundational Questions Institute’s recent conference on the nature of time, three SFI scientists offered perspectives from their respective fields.

SFI Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West described his work -- with collaborators including SFI External Professors Luis Bettencourt, Jim Brown, Jose Lobo, and others -- investigating the scaling relationships among vastly different living systems, and how these scaling relationships extend to cities. 

Writes George Musser in a Scientific American article: "West said he sees a recurring historical pattern: the pace of life accelerates, reaches a breaking point, and precipitates a major transition -- a 'singularity' -- in which new technology or ways of doing things offer some respite. It doesn’t last long before things pick up again, faster than ever. Over time, the acceleration accelerates. Transitions come faster and furiouser. Sustainability is elusive."

Watch West's presentation (41 minutes)

SFI External Professor Raissa D’Souza argued in her talk that "when you have coupled complex systems, any break in growth trends tends to be accompanied by wild fluctuations. Modern society is predicated on growth; stability is tantamount to collapse," according to Musser.

Watch D'Souza's presentation (32 minutes)

SFI Science Board member Richard Lenski offered results of his work to monitor the evolution of populations of bacteria over many (now 53,000) generations since 1988. Their work finds that while most strains of e. Coli were content to consume glucose, a few discovered that citrate was present in their petri dishes and began to consume it instead. By examining earlier generations of these anomalous strains, they found that a series of mutations were required to set up the evolutionary conditions for a generation of the bacteria to finally shift to citrate.

Read the Scientific American coverage (September 23, 2011)

Read the Discover magazine coverage (November 8, 2011)

More about the conference