Monthly Archives: July 2023

EP 193 Aydan Connor on Rethinking Food Systems

Jim talks with Aydan Connor about improving American food systems and reducing waste. They discuss Aydan’s experience in the craft brewing industry, extremification of beer styles, wastefulness in beer production, how Aydan became interested in food systems, the obsession with consumer choice, how the current system prices in waste, food waste ratios in different countries, where in the chain food waste occurs, the requirement of processed food, unintentional communities, maximizing communal freedom of choice, CSAs as a non-solution, creating tighter networks, decentralized processing systems, America’s low food expenditure, needed infrastructure & coordination, a network of networks, the scale advantage, the squeeze on wages, diversifying work tasks, tips for reducing domestic food waste, making a plan before you buy food, on-site food safety testing, bulk freezers with nitrogen flushing, and much more.
Aydan Connor has worked as a professional craft beer brewer in the Midwest for eight years, and has participated in the buildout of multiple brewery startups. At the beginning of his career, he was brewing batches as small as 10 gallons. Over the years, he worked directly with packaging equipment of various types, even leading as an operator of a mobile canning line to package onsite for other breweries. Currently, he works as a beer brewer at a regional craft brewery, brewing batches as large as 8,000 gallons. Employing direct knowledge of food processing, he has a vision for intelligent food systems which synthesize basic equipment and facilities technologies in combination with block chain inventory management towards decreasing food waste and increasing quality on any parameter. He believes these systems could act as a generative ground for building communities more awake and aware of the environments in which we can thrive.

EP 192 David Krakauer on Science, Complexity and AI

Jim has a wide-ranging talk with David Krakauer about the ideas in his forthcoming paper “The Structure of Complexity in Machine Learning Science” and how AI may alter the course of science. They discuss data-driven science vs theory-driven science, a bifurcation in science, the protein folding problem, brute force methods, the origin of induction in David Hume, the origin of neural networks in deductive thinking of the ’40s, super-Humean models, crossing the statistical uncanny valley, ultra-high-dimensionality, adaptive computation, why genetic algorithms might come back, Chomsky’s poverty of the stimulus, the lottery ticket hypothesis, neural nets as pre-processors for parsimonious science, how human expertise constrains model-building, GPT-4’s arithmetic problem, cognitive synergy, why LLMs aren’t AGIs, incompressible representations, gravitational lensing, the new sciences LLMs will lead to, encoding adaptive history, Jim’s ScriptWriter software, discovery engines vs libraries vs synthesizers, the history of science as a history of constraint, Occam’s razor & meta-Occam, assembly theory, whether existential risk is a marketing ploy, the Idiocracy risk, using empirical precedent in tech regulation, networks of info agents, the outsourcing of human judgment, and much more.

David Krakauer’s research explores the evolution of intelligence and stupidity on Earth. This includes studying the evolution of genetic, neural, linguistic, social, and cultural mechanisms supporting memory and information processing, and exploring their shared properties. President of the Santa Fe Institute since 2015, he served previously as the founding director of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the co-director of the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation, and professor of mathematical genetics, all at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

EP 191 Alicia Juarrero on Context, Constraints, and Coherence

Jim talks with Alicia Juarrero about her new book Context Changes Everything: How Constraints Create Coherence. They discuss Aristotle’s four causes, applying them to complex dynamical systems, the overfocus on efficient cause, naive Newtonianism, nothing-but-ism, reconceptualizing causality in terms of constraints, mereology, constraint regimes, ascribing causal powers to emergent properties, the roots of panpsychism, Searle’s comparison of consciousness with digestion, kinds of constraints, the Dysons’ notion of analog control, why analog is more efficient, identity as a set of interdependent constraints, surface vs deep dyslexia & early neural nets, the work of Geoffrey Hinton, the species competitive exclusion principle, cardinality vs ordinality, the social evolution of cassava, Rayleigh-Benard convection, dissipative systems, Alicia’s disagreement with Michael Polanyi, the architecture of the circulatory system, scaffolding, top-down causality, many-to-one transitions, degeneracy, pluripotentiality, the ship of Theseus, 4E cognitive science, and much more.

Alicia Juarrero, Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Prince George’s Community College (MD), is the author of Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System (MIT 1999) and co-editor of Reframing Complexity: Perspectives from North and South (ISCE Publishing, 2007), and Emergence, Self-Organization and Complexity: Precursors and Prototypes (ISCE Publishing, 2008).

EP 190 Peter Turchin on Cliodynamics and End Times

Jim talks with Peter Turchin about the field he founded, cliodynamics, which applies the scientific method to history. They discuss the meaning & origins of cliodynamics, distinguishing cliodynamics from previous approaches, regularizing historical data, the interface between models & data, average height as a proxy for biological well-being, the Seshat data collection project, observed patterns in collapsing societies, the overproduction of elites, relative vs absolute wage, the wealth pump, relative well-being, a top-heavy social pyramid, defining elites, failed aspirant elites as the raw material for radical movements, why lawyers are the most dangerous profession, the Musk-Zuckerman duel as a sign of increased intra-elite competition, the issue of prediction, the intensification of secessionist sentiment in the U.S., how the British Empire avoided the revolutions of 1848, shutting down the wealth pump, increasing minimum wage, the odds that a revolution would be good for society, and much more.

Peter Turchin is a complexity scientist who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution,  historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently his main research effort is directing the Seshat Databank project (and its offshoot, CrisisDB) which builds and analyzes a massive historical database that enables us to empirically test predictions from theories attempting to explain why and how complex human societies evolved, and why they periodically experience political breakdown.

Currents 100: Sara Walker and Lee Cronin on Time as an Object

Jim talks with Sara Walker and Lee Cronin about the ideas in their Aeon essay “Time Is an Object.” They discuss the history of the idea of time, Newton’s clockwork universe, the capacity for things to happen, the impossibility of time travel, Einstein’s block universe theory, making time testable, conceptions of the arrow of time, irreversibility as an emergent property, the core of assembly theory, measures of complexity, recursive deconstruction, distinguishing random & complex, Kolmogorov complexity, the absence of a useful theory of complexity, counting steps in the assembly pathway, developing theories from measurement, the size of chemical possibility space, the role of memory in the creation of large organic chemicals, memory depth, the assembly index, the origins of life, a sharp phase transition between biotic & non-biotic molecules, life as a stack of objects, a phase transition between life & technology, techno-signatures, error correction in DNA, whether assembly theory is a theory of time, the temporal dimension as a physical feature of objects, implications for SETI & the Fermi paradox, spotting the difference between noise & assembly, the Great Perceptual Filter, looking for complexity in the universe, the probability of life originating, and much more.

Professor Sara Walker is an astrobiologist and theoretical physicist. Her work focuses on the origins and nature of life, and in particular whether or not there are universal ‘laws of life’ that would allow predicting when life emerges and can guide our search for other examples on other worlds.  Her research integrates diverse perspectives ranging from chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy and the foundations of physics, to computer science, cheminformatics, artificial life, artificial intelligence and consciousness. At Arizona State University she is Deputy Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Associate Director of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems and Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She is also a member of the External Faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. She is active in public engagement in science, with appearances on “Through the Wormhole”, NPR’s Science Friday, and on a number of international science festivals and podcasts. She has published in leading research journals and is an internationally recognized thought leader in the study of the origins of life, alien life and the search for a deeper understanding of ourselves in our universe.

Leroy (Lee) Cronin is the Regius Professor of Chemistry in Glasgow. Since the age of 9 Lee has wanted to explore chemistry using electronics to control matter. His research spans many disciplines and has four main aims: the construction of an artificial life form; the digitization of chemistry; the use of artificial intelligence in chemistry including the construction of ‘wet’ chemical computers; the exploration of complexity and information in chemistry. His recent work on the digitization of chemistry has resulted in a new programming paradigm for matter and organic synthesis and discovery – chemputation – which uses the worlds first domain specific and universal programming language for chemistry – XDL, see His team designs and builds all their own robots from the ground up and the team currently has 25 different robotic systems operating across four domains: Organic synthesis; Energy materials discovery; Nanomaterials discovery; Formulation discovery. All the systems use XDL and are easily programmable for both manufacture and discovery. His group is organised and assembled transparently around ideas, avoids hierarchy, and aims to mentor researchers using a problem-based approach. Nothing is impossible until it is tried.