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Zenith Grant Awardee

Jacob Biamonte

ISI Foundation


Mario Rasetti, ISI Foundation

Project Title

inert vs. living matter: facing the ultimate challenge of aggregate matter physics

Project Summary

If you were to send information to me, you might do so in English, with the message broken down into zeros and ones and sent through a wire. As has recently been discovered in biological experiments, cells — the building blocks that make up all life — communicate via a different language, via signals generated by small molecules. In the first track of this project we analyze the complexity of this language as it tells us how complex these life building blocks must be and what it takes to be living. In a second related track we ask how else might information be exchanged between parts of a living system. Our answer builds on the fact that the arrangement of matter and the relationship between its fundamental constituents itself represents a kind of language, which offers a medium for information exchange. In a third track, we explore how language may not only describe the communication between the building blocks of matter but also how they replicate and develop, a fundamental part of life. By studying this language of life one analyzes, from the perspective of information, what it means to be alive.

Technical Abstract

All life is built around the sending, modulation and copying of information, in the form of matter and energy. In terms of the foundations of information physics, we address the information processing abilities of living systems and its broader implications for distinguishing between systems that are living and those that are not. In a first track we use current experimental work towards artificial cellular mimics, which when realized could successfully communicate with real cells and thus pass the \'cellular Turing test\', to guide an analysis of the complexity of the cellular language and therefore, by implication, provide a holographic principle lower bounding the complexity of cells themselves. Then, in a framework based on angular momentum recoupling theory, we explore the plausibility of natural building blocks communicating through more subtle means, by using the formal language represented in the structure of all matter. We decide whether or not this platform is sufficiently robust for this purpose. Finally, we study reproduction, perhaps the most well used condition of life, through the lens of automata and constructors. The project combines theories of quantum information, complex systems and the mathematics of large datasets to asses how information flows inside living objects, how living objects themselves can be described in terms of information, and whether information provides a new perspective from which to define \'life\'.

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