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Stefan Keppeler: on 3/18/17 at 22:17pm UTC, wrote Dear Sara, this is a nice contribution. I particularly like how you...

Joe Fisher: on 3/18/17 at 15:37pm UTC, wrote Dear Professor Sara Imari Walker [, Please excuse me for I have no...

Lawrence Crowell: on 3/18/17 at 13:19pm UTC, wrote Dear Sara Walker. I found your essay to be quite superb, and I boosted...

Jesse Liu: on 3/18/17 at 9:28am UTC, wrote Dear Sara, Thank you for such a finely crafted and interesting essay, with...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 3/17/17 at 23:14pm UTC, wrote Nice essay Sara Walker, Wonderful opening sentences!….. “the extreme...

Alfredo Oliveira: on 3/16/17 at 12:49pm UTC, wrote Dear Sara Walker I read your essay with great interest. One of the two...

Jack James: on 3/16/17 at 1:56am UTC, wrote Dear Sara What an excellent essay. One of the few to approach it from...

William Stubbs: on 3/15/17 at 18:13pm UTC, wrote Professor Walker, Congratulations on a very interesting and well-written...


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March 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Bio from Bit by Sara Imari Walker [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 5.0; Public = 5.5

Author Sara Imari Walker wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 16:10 GMT
Essay Abstract

Understanding the origin(s) and nature of life poses a perplexing problem for physics. On the one hand our approaches to physics are incredibly adept at describing the material world. On the other hand abstractions such as what we commonly describe as information are important in biology, but their role in the physical world is not yet fully understood. In this essay I discuss how information (as we understand it in biology) is a window into causal structures that bridge counterfactual histories (and futures) and allow the possible for transitions between histories. It is this multiple realizability that is one of the most distinctive properties of living systems. It also leads to some of their most interesting – and difficult to explain – features, such as their apparent goal directedness.

Author Bio

Sara Walker is an Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the origins and nature of life.

Download Essay PDF File

Donald Palmer wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 20:45 GMT
Hello Sara,

A very well written and supported essay!

You pull from a number of different (several non-physics) areas and tie them together in a powerful way. I think you have done a great job in defining how goal-directedness (including aims and intentions) can occur without identifying specific particles or low-level entities that cause them. This is up there with the best essays I...

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James Arnold wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 11:48 GMT

A masterful essay!

From my anti-deterministic bias, it seems to me that a biological attractor can best be understood as the goal that organizes the micro-dynamics, not as the product of "mindless mathematical laws." Can deterministic physical systems be plausibly expected to produce anything but "strange" attractors?

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 13:00 GMT
Hi Sara –

I was hoping to find an essay from you here, and at the last minute one appears. I like very much the point you make at the beginning, that knowledge has power because it lets us do things… and that this applies not only to us human theorizers, but also to biological systems. What I take from this is that gaining information about the world is not only a matter of modeling,...

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Simon DeDeo wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 13:24 GMT
Dear Sara,

Reading this was an excellent way to wake up this morning.

We often use the non-determinism that arises from coarse-graining to argue for the *destruction* of patterns—e.g., the second law of thermodynamics. In those cases, we think of coarse-graining in a state-space like position/momentum (using a grid as in your Figure One). In those cases, when we lose the...

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Erik P Hoel wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 15:48 GMT
Sara - great essay! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it's an excellent overview of the latest in the field. Of course, I may be a little biased in that I'm always happy to see causal emergence make an appearance!

You can check out my own essay on causal emergence and how it relates to agents:

I did have a question though. At the end of your...

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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 16:58 GMT
Dear, Сара Имари Уокер.

I inform all the participants that use the electronic translator, therefore, my essay is written badly. I participate in the contest to familiarize English-speaking scientists with New Cartesian Physic, the basis of which the principle of identity of space and matter. Combining space and matter into a single essence, the New Cartesian Physic is able to integrate modern physics into a single theory. Let FQXi will be the starting point of this Association.

Don't let the New Cartesian Physic disappear! Do not ask for himself, but for Descartes.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential in understanding the world. To show potential in this essay I risked give "The way of The materialist explanation of the paranormal and the supernatural" - Is the name of my essay.

Visit my essay and you will find something in it about New Cartesian Physic. After you give a post in my topic, I shall do the same.


Dizhechko Boris

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William L Stubbs wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 18:13 GMT
Professor Walker,

Congratulations on a very interesting and well-written essay that discusses aspects of the theme of the contest.

It seems you believe only living systems exhibit goal-directed behavior and I share that belief with you. From that, I had hoped you would develop an argument for how the capacity for living systems to exhibit the behavior is born out of the...

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 01:56 GMT
Dear Sara

What an excellent essay. One of the few to approach it from biology, or highlight the importance of what can be learnt from it to answer the question. I think Ellis and mine and a couple more the only others, though mine is epistemologically focused. Will happily rate this essay in top percentage, perhaps u can read and rate mine but understand your busy. I wonder this simultaneous electric in and through neurons, how is it consciousness? Still the illusive internal external hard problem remains - but your solving the wiring issue!


Jack Hamiltion James

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Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 12:49 GMT
Dear Sara Walker

I read your essay with great interest. One of the two essays that so far have interested me more. I think that there is a great similarity between your line of reasoning in the biological side and mine in the physical side. I would say that you wonder on bit-to-bio while I wonder on abio-to-bit.

In my essay I dare to enter also in the biological field, introducing something that may help to understand why life evolved as it did. Life seems to be prone to evolve in all possible directions; yet, it evolved towards human society as if this was a goal. You show that life has the power to evolve – you present the basic process of intelligence of life, and we can say that life has “intelligence” (according to my non-anthropomorphic definition of intelligence)- but “intelligence” either needs a goal or an external pressure to determine the way to follow. Intelligence is always the result of two processes, to which I call Hypothesis generation and Selection. And this happens at all levels within life, as you show, which is very important. I present a new Selection factor at the upper level that may have conditioned Selection processes all the way down to the bit, therefore may be important for your analysis. Once we understand the “generation of hypotheses”, it is in the understanding of the Selection processes that we may find whether there is a goal or not. I think that our essays gave complementary contributions to this issue, are tow pieces of this magnum puzzle.

All the best,

Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 23:14 GMT
Nice essay Sara Walker,

Wonderful opening sentences!….. “the extreme such as what happens under gravitational collapse or how the nucleus is bound together. However, so far our best theories of physics have not yet been able to explain why physical systems exist that can and do create theories to describe the world (Krakauer, 2014). Arguably this is the most interesting feature of...

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Jesse Liu wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 09:28 GMT
Dear Sara,

Thank you for such a finely crafted and interesting essay, with thought-provoking ideas exploring the role of information in scientific theories. As a particle physicist, one thing I definitely agree with you is the underappreciation that emergence and reductionism are not at odds with each other.

While researching for our essay, my coauthor and I were influenced by your earlier work from the wider literature, in particular 'The algorithmic origins of life' regarding the transitional roles of information giving rise to biology and other goal-directed structures. I'd just like to personally extend our compliments to you here as it is always a pleasure reading your insightful arguments.



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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 13:19 GMT
Dear Sara Walker.

I found your essay to be quite superb, and I boosted your rating here. It is one of the dozen or so that I have downloaded as a keeper. The branching pattern for emergence is an aspect of something called MERA. This in the biological setting is seen with the branching pattern, such as with figure 2. These set up competing "tracks" of causal development, and a large domain of complexity as seen with the Bell number.

If you look at my essay I discuss causal domains and the open world. I have a review of the MERA tensor network quantum field method in anti de Sitter spacetime. This leads to causal domains as a fundamental aspect of the universe. I think there is a sort of duality between bottom up and top down perspective on the emergence of complexity in the universe.

Cheers LC

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 15:37 GMT
Dear Professor Sara Imari Walker [,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 22:17 GMT
Dear Sara,

this is a nice contribution. I particularly like how you describe goal-directedness in terms of a primary attractor. I strongly support that "there is no a priori reason to assume that we should not treat all levels equally" and that "emergence and reductionism are not at odds" -- points I also make in my essay. Reductionism and emergence are two sides of the same coin.

Cheers, Stefan

PS (one minor remark): The formula you give for the Bell numbers,
yields just
The Bell numbers satisfy the recursion relation
Of course, this doesn't affect any of your arguments.

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