Meeting Description: In a fundamental sense biological and social systems are concerned with the purposeful manipulation of space and time. The time scales of adaptive phenomena are not trivially reduceable to the timescales of physics and chemistry. It is through the manipulation of mechanisms that influence space and time that levels of organization, individuality, and societies arise. In manipulating space and time–in constructing slow timescales (e.g. long-lived phenotypes, robust patterns of inheritance, institutions) coupled to stable spatial aggregations—adaptive systems reduce uncertainty locally (store information), creating (to varying degrees) ordered, predictable, environments conducive to adaptation and ultimately conducive to extracting energy to do work.
The importance of space is appreciated in complex phenomena, particularly in ecology and social evolution where it has been identified as a major factor supporting the evolution of cooperation (e.g. by promoting repeated interactions). Time has also been a focus of attention but in a more descriptive and disciplinary sense. It is widely recognized that in adaptive systems there are many timescales and that there are a multitude of biological clocks and rhythms structuring behavior from the molecular level on up. How timescales arise and, in particular, interact, how they are controlled and exploited, and how perception and cognition influence the capacity of adaptive systems to manipulate and exploit time, are questions that are much less well understood and are the core motivation for this meeting.
We believe to make progress on these questions we must first step back and recognize that the concept of time pervades everything that we believe about the physical & biological universe. But this concept involves a number of disparate but related aspects, from the mechanics of timekeeping to the joining of time and space in Einstein’s relativity. This workshop will focus on one crucial aspect: the arrow of time, distinguishing what we call “the past” from “the future.” We will start with a review of the latest understanding of the relationship between the arrow of time, entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. This will lay the foundations for the rest of the meeting. From fundamentals we move to move to time and information in adaptive systems. On the final meeting day, we will circle back to where we started, asking if the relationship between time and entropy in physical systems is the same as it is in adaptive systems, or if in adaptive systems, perhaps because of their unique capacity to manipulate time, time has a different relationship to entropy.
The meeting will be organized around five themes (1) fundamentals of time in physical systems, (2) origins and construction of timescales in adaptive systems, (3) exploitation of time, (4) the control of time, and (5) role of information processing and perception. This meeting aims to be synoptic and span a very significant range of adaptive phenomena related to time.