Meeting Summary: A universal feature of adaptive systems is that individual agents come into existence—are born—experience a variety of forms of aging or senescence, and then pass out of existence—die—or are outcompeted. This is true for organisms, lineages, companies, cities, and even theories and beliefs. Within this common “life-history” sequence we observe a range of differences in mechanisms and timescales, from oxidative damage and apoptosis in cells, through to the obsolescence of technologies in companies, and the replacement of ideas in science. We also observe commonalities among many of these areas at the level of population dynamics, energetic and informatic constraints, and scaling phenomena.
The universality of life-history raises a number of intriguing questions. How do we identify the individual and how do we decide when it was born and when it died? These will not always be discrete events. At what rate does the individual age, and what sets the upper bound on its longevity? Is aging and death a physical necessity or an evolved or designed complex trait? And how do changes in the selective environment modify the aging process? Perhaps birth, aging and death constitute a critical part of any comprehensive definition of complexity?