Month: February 2023

SFI Press reissues Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information

The workshop proceedings, Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information, were originally published in 1990, but contain many ideas that are still relevant today. In early 2023, the SFI Press issued a reprint of the proceedings as part of its mission to make important works of complexity science affordable and accessible. This re-publication also includes a new foreword by Lloyd. 

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A Complexity Science Account of Humor

Wolfgang Tschacher and Hermann Haken

Entropy 2023, 25(2), 341

A common assumption of psychological theories of humor is that experienced funniness results from an incongruity between stimuli provided by a verbal joke or visual pun, followed by a sudden, surprising resolution of incongruity. In the perspective of complexity science, this characteristic incongruity-resolution sequence is modeled by a phase transition, where an initial attractor-like script, suggested by the initial joke information, is suddenly destructed, and in the course of resolution replaced by a less probable novel script. The transition from the initial to the enforced final script was modeled as a succession of two attractors with different minimum potentials, during which free energy becomes available to the joke recipient. Hypotheses derived from the model were tested in an empirical study where participants rated the funniness of visual puns. It was found, consistent with the model, that the extent of incongruity and the abruptness of resolution were associated with reported funniness, and with social factors, such as disparagement (Schadenfreude) added to humor responses. The model suggests explanations as to why bistable puns and phase transitions in conventional problem solving, albeit also based on phase transitions, are generally less funny. We proposed that findings from the model can be transferred to decision processes and mental change dynamics in psychotherapy.

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The inevitable “layering” of models to extend the reach of our understanding

Bruce Edmonds


There is a modelling norm that one should be able to completely understand one’s own model. Whilst acknowledging there is a trade-off between a model’s representational adequacy and its simplicity of formulation, this tradition assumes there will be a “sweet spot” where the model is just tractable but also good enough to be usefully informative about the target of modelling – in the words attributed to Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler1. But what do we do about all the phenomena where to get an adequate model2 one has to settle for a complex one (where by “complex” I mean a model that we do not completely understand)? Despite the tradition in Physics to the contrary, it would be an incredibly strong assumption that there are no such phenomena, i.e. that an adequate simple model is always possible (Edmonds 2013).      

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Conflicting Models for the Origin of Life

Editor(s):Stoyan K. Smoukov, Joseph Seckbach, Richard Gordon

Conflicting Models for the Origin of Life provides a forum to compare and contrast the many hypotheses that have been put forward to explain the origin of life.

There is a revolution brewing in the field of Origin of Life: in the process of trying to figure out how Life started, many researchers believe there is an impending second creation of life, not necessarily biological. Up-to-date understanding is needed to prepare us for the technological, and societal changes it would bring. Schrodinger’s 1944 “What is life?” included the insight of an information carrier, which inspired the discovery of the structure of DNA. In “Conflicting Models of the Origin of Life” a selection of the world’s experts are brought together to cover different aspects of the research: from progress towards synthetic life – artificial cells and sub-cellular components, to new definitions of life and the unexpected places life could (have) emerge(d). Chapters also cover fundamental questions of how memory could emerge from memoryless processes, and how we can tell if a molecule may have emerged from life. Similarly, cutting-edge research discusses plausible reactions for the emergence of life both on Earth and on exoplanets. Additional perspectives from geologists, philosophers and even roboticists thinking about the origin of life round out this volume. The text is a state-of-the-art snapshot of the latest developments on the emergence of life, to be used both in graduate classes and by citizen scientists.

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