Searching for Life, Mindful of Lyfe’s Possibilities
by Michael L. Wong, Stuart Bartlett, Sihe Chen, and Louisa Tierney
We are embarking on a new age of astrobiology, one in which numerous interplanetary missions and telescopes will be designed, built, and launched with the explicit goal of finding evidence for life beyond Earth. Such a profound aim warrants caution and responsibility when interpreting and disseminating results. Scientists must take care not to overstate (or over-imply) confidence in life detection when evidence is lacking, or only incremental advances have been made. Recently, there has been a call for the community to create standards of evidence for the detection and reporting of biosignatures. In this perspective, we wish to highlight a critical but often understated element to the discussion of biosignatures: Life detection studies are deeply entwined with and rely upon our (often preconceived) notions of what life is, the origins of life, and habitability. Where biosignatures are concerned, these three highly related questions are frequently relegated to a low priority, assumed to be already solved or irrelevant to the question of life detection. Therefore, our aim is to bring to the fore how these other major astrobiological frontiers are central to searching for life elsewhere and encourage astrobiologists to embrace the reality that all of these science questions are interrelated and must be furthered together rather than separately. Finally, in an effort to be more inclusive of life as we do not know it, we propose tentative criteria for a more general and expansive characterization of habitability that we call genesity.
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John E. Stewart
Biosystems, Volume 217, July 2022, 104687
A strategy for investigating consciousness that has proven very productive has focused on comparing brain processes that are accompanied by consciousness with processes that are not. But comparatively little attention has been given to a related strategy that promises to be even more fertile. This strategy exploits the fact that as individuals develop, new classes of brain processes can transition from operating ‘in the dark’ to becoming conscious. It has been suggested that these transitions occur when a new class of brain processes becomes object to a new, emergent, higher-level subject. Similar transitions are likely to have occurred during evolution. An evolutionary/developmental research strategy sets out to identify the nature of the transitions in brain processes that shift them from operating in the dark to ‘lighting up’. The paper begins the application of this strategy by extrapolating the sequence of transitions back towards its origin. The goal is to reconstruct a minimally-complex, subject-object subsystem that would be capable of giving rise to consciousness and providing adaptive benefits. By focusing on reconstructing a subsystem that is simple and understandable, this approach avoids the homunculus fallacy. The reconstruction suggests that the emergence of such a minimally-complex subsystem was driven by its capacity to coordinate body-environment interactions in real time e.g. hand-eye coordination. Conscious processing emerged initially because of its central role in organising real-time sensorimotor coordination. The paper goes on to identify and examine a number of subsequent major transitions in consciousness, including the emergence of capacities for conscious mental modelling. Each transition is driven by its potential to solve adaptive challenges that cannot be overcome at lower levels. The paper argues that mental modelling arose out of a pre-existing capacity to use simulations of motor actions to anticipate the consequences of the actions. As the capacity developed, elements of the simulations could be changed, and the consequences of these changes could be ‘thought through’ consciously. This enabled alternative motor responses to be evaluated. The paper goes on to predict significant new major transitions in consciousness.
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Oriol Artime and Manlio De Domenico
Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A, Volume 380 Issue 2227
Theme issue ‘Emergent phenomena in complex physical and socio-technical systems: from cells to societies’
When a large number of similar entities interact among each other and with their environment at a low scale, unexpected outcomes at higher spatio-temporal scales might spontaneously arise. This non-trivial phenomenon, known as emergence, characterizes a broad range of distinct complex systems—from physical to biological and social—and is often related to collective behaviour. It is ubiquitous, from non-living entities such as oscillators that under specific conditions synchronize, to living ones, such as birds flocking or fish schooling. Despite the ample phenomenological evidence of the existence of systems’ emergent properties, central theoretical questions to the study of emergence remain unanswered, such as the lack of a widely accepted, rigorous definition of the phenomenon or the identification of the essential physical conditions that favour emergence. We offer here a general overview of the phenomenon of emergence and sketch current and future challenges on the topic. Our short review also serves as an introduction to the theme issue Emergent phenomena in complex physical and socio-technical systems: from cells to societies, where we provide a synthesis of the contents tackled in the issue and outline how they relate to these challenges, spanning from current advances in our understanding on the origin of life to the large-scale propagation of infectious diseases.
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The second law of thermodynamics is among the most sacred in all of science, but it has always rested on 19th century arguments about probability. New arguments trace its true source to the flows of quantum information.
Read the full article at: www.quantamagazine.org
Leaders need to recognize herd mentality when it happens–and explore the contrarian view to help break the spell.
Read the full article at: www.mckinsey.com