While time and age in standard dynamical systems are treated as simple clocks that run at a constant rate, the human experience of age is measured by consequences. Advanced age is commonly associated with increasing propensity for bone fracture, difficulty in remembering recent actions or events, or elevated susceptibility to infectious disease. The arrow of time that marks the road to maturity explores both sides of these tradeoffs: bones get stronger before they get weaker, learning and memory are refined before they recede, and over a lifetime the immune system develops resilience from exposure to pathogens before the ability to recover becomes challenged.
The underlying timeline for aging and adaptation is punctuated by transitions and discrete events, that reflect the evolution of tradeoffs in robustness versus fragility impacting strength, health, and cognition. In this talk, physicist Jean Carlson illustrates the interplay between biological aging, adaptation, and the arrow of time through examples taken from her research and focus areas of a five-year Santa Fe Institute research theme, sponsored by the James S. McDonnell Foundation. Ultimately, the goal is to identify pathways promoting healthy aging, adaptation, and resilience and to formulate a new concept of complex time.
Carlson is a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and External Faculty Member at the Santa Fe Institute. Her research focuses on fundamental principles underlying complexity in natural and technological systems. Carlson’s group is unique in the breadth of applications studied, which includes brains, bones, the immune system, the microbiome, communication and transportation systems, and natural disasters. What ties these projects together is development and application of a coherent underlying systems theory, emphasizing identification of mechanisms and cause and effect relationships, tradeoffs involving robustness and fragility, and constraints and limitations based on inherent uncertainties, all amidst a complex, dynamic environment.
This Community Lecture is presented at no cost to the public by the Santa Fe Institute and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, with additional support from the Lensic Performing Arts Center and the Santa Fe Reporter.