EP18 Stuart Kauffman on Complexity, Biology & T.A.P.



Professor, MacArthur Fellow and author Stuart Kauffman talks with Jim about the major themes of his career: complexity, auto-catalytic chemical sets, protocells and the origins of life, the problem of the error catastrophe, human evolution, social and technical evolution, the Fermi Paradox and much more. Stuart also introduces his new T.A.P. equation and his view that it drives creativity and complexity across many scales.

Episode Transcript

Mentions & Recommendations

Stuart Kauffman is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences and physics and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology. Dr. Kauffman is also an emeritus professor of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur Fellow and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

Originally a medical doctor, Dr. Kauffman’s primary work has been as a theoretical biologist studying the origin of life and molecular organization. Thirty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models, which are random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms “order for free.” Dr. Kauffman was the founding general partner and chief scientific officer of The Bios Group, a company (acquired in 2003 by NuTech Solutions) that applies the science of complexity to business management problems. He is the author of The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization, Investigations, and Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.


2 thoughts on “EP18 Stuart Kauffman on Complexity, Biology & T.A.P.

  1. Couple things about TAP. it seems you are coming up with a basic quantitative framework for exaptive processes whic as you point out very likely go all the way down. Jim’s proving rule is a needed refinement but may prove much more difficult or impossible to quantify in that the proving rule is a function of future context which as Stuart makes very clear in Reinventing the Sacred is unprestateable. Still what you may have here is at least one important aspect of the “arrival of the fittest” in any evolutionary environment. Tangentially, the selection criteria for viable molecules in a prebiotic context is far less stringent than for the arival of new functional components in a context that includes organisms as functional components.

    Note also, that once we have complex wholes and organisms in the mix, the part/whole picture becomes very fuzzy because of constraint at a scale, and constraint between scales. So if we think about ontology of parts in terms of causal efficacy what defines part in one context is not the same as what defines part in a different context…this is where the kind of process relational ontology discussed by Bonita, and developed by Whitehead and in effect by Robert Rosen in his category theory modeling constructions becomes much more relavant.

  2. Fascinating discussion. On the question of exponential (or beyond exponential) growth in resources usage, your timing couldn’t be better. Andrew McAfee has just come out with “More from Less: the surprising story of how we learned to prosper using fewer resources”. He documents that the U.S., and other rich countries are starting to “dematerialize”–actually use fewer resources while producing more. You mention plastics; use has leveled off and may soon start declining, as has happened with many other resources. IN other words, the Jevons paradox is no longer a paradox. The author was a guest on Econtalk just this week: https://www.econtalk.org/.

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