Out-of-Equilibrium Systems, Emergence, and Life


14 February 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

If you are invited or already registered for this workshop, you have received login details by email.

The striking fact about many, and likely all, living systems is that they display robust, ordered and anticipatory (‘smart’) behaviour in spite of inherent stochasticity. When transitioning to the living state, material systems do not leave randomness behind, which makes their behaviour all the more difficult to understand, and difficult to emulate in artificial systems and models. It is currently unknown how to characterize, and to create or model, the energy-driven pathways out of the random and into the ordered state, or how to access such non-equilibrium states through energy-driven disorder-order transitions. This means that our understanding of out-of-equilibrium systems, emergence, and life, is still highly incomplete.

Increasing the understanding would be a scientific accomplishment in itself, with relevance across a huge domain of research. Deepened understanding may also indicate new ways to implement desirable life-like properties in artificial systems. One of the challenges is the sheer variety of known out-of-equilibrium and emergent systems, which range from molecular to planetary length scales. Yet, even across these disparate scales, similar questions can be identified. For example, how does a modification in the degrees of freedom in the external environment, such as energy inputs, or within the system, such as the composition of building blocks, provides the freedom needed for new properties to emerge, or, how do the degrees of freedom affect the overall properties, and can the emergence of such properties be controlled?

A staged Lorentz Workshop has been set up, with three two-parts online meetings on the 28th of June, the 14th of September and the 9th of November 2021 and a half-day meeting @snellius, Lorentz Center, on the 14th of February 2022, and with several preparatory activities between the meetings. The workshop will be successful if:

  • a collaborative community of researchers will have been established that, over five to ten years, jointly find, or design, a unifying framework for pathways into states of material systems that show the defining characteristics of life, across all scales on which such systems can be identified
  • an agreed-upon research agenda for the next five to ten years has been defined that will guide this joint effect, and which identifies requirements (funding, facilities) and a strategy to meet these requirements.


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