“Water Dreaming,” by Tim Tjapaltjarri. 1972. Courtesy: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Photo: © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the estate of the artist, licensed by Aboriginal Artists/Bridgeman Images

Since 1987, the Santa Fe Institute’s Community Lecture Series has shared complexity science with an enthusiastic local audience. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the series to go dark in March of 2020. Two years later, the series returned to its local home at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on March 22, 2022, with a talk by SFI External Professor Sara Walker, an astrobiologist at Arizona State University. In her talk “Recognizing the Alien in Us,” Walker expands on themes that were introduced in SFI’s first Community Lectures more than three decades ago.

“We’ve recorded and streamed our lectures for years now, and we committed to producing rich virtual complexity content throughout the pandemic, but the reprisal of this lecture series, in person, in Santa Fe, is more than a symbolic return to our roots,” says SFI Miller Omega Programs Manager Caitlin McShea, who facilitates the event. “When the series ‘went dark,’ the science revved up, and it’s exciting to share this research with the people in our community who weathered the storm alongside us. The brilliant thing about the lecture series is that it is utterly accessible.”

The inaugural lectures in 1987 — “Order from Chaos: Different Ways of Thinking about the Origin of Life,” presented by Stuart Kauffman, one of SFI’s first resident researchers, and “The Zen of Biology: Life Sciences in the Computer Age,” presented by the late George Mason University biophysicist and SFI Science Board Chair Emeritus Harold Morowitz — set the pace for the lectures that would follow.  A new electronic archive documents the series from its inception. The range of topics — from quarks to food webs, cultural evolution to urban scaling laws, and emergent economics to Gaia — covers many of the most profound ideas of the 21st century. 

The topic of Walker’s talk is “a nice bit of serendipity,” says McShea. “We began the series with two lectures that explore biophysics and the origin of life, and we re-emerge, after two years, with a lecture that shows how this fascinating subfield of complexity science has evolved.” 

The lecture series is free and open to the public, thanks to generous support from longtime SFI supporters and local philanthropists Ian and Sonnet McKinnon, but reservations are required and the event is often filled to capacity. To reserve a ticket, visit www.lensic.org. The lectures are also live-streamed, and made available after the event, on SFI’s YouTube channel.