News

2017

July

Can a robot have free will? is published (click the title for a copy of it that is open access from the journal Entropy - it is better to download the PDF since their online copy does not render quite right on some systems).

This work elaborates the idea of downward causation by information control. It shows several things: 1) that for free will, a thing must be autonomous (and this is formally defined by transitive closure of the causal network, which gives formal meaning to the 'Kantian whole' idea of Kauffman, behind autopoiesis). 2) That an internal model is needed to generate hypothetical actions, evaluate them and select from among them according to an internally generated goal. 3) That free will is not a binary (all or nothing) attribute, it comes in levels which reflect the computational structure available for decision making. Ultimately, as evolved organisms, even humans have a limit to their self-generation of motive, in that all of us are ultimately directed by naturally selected motives. For all organisms, the highest level of decision making is natural selection.

The paper unifying concepts of function in biology has been published by Oikos. If you cannot download it from there, here is a preprint.

Keith has made IFB a 'project' on researchgate, which you can see here.

March
Our latest paper is "Can a robot have Free Will" : a pre-print of it can be found here.
In the paper, information theory and concepts such as downward causation, function and hierarchical autopoiesis are brought together to analyse the general question of free will.



February

From Matter To Life - book cover

The book: From Matter to Life: Information and Causality is now available from book sellers. Chapter 13: Living through downward causation: from molecules to ecosystems by Keith D. Farnsworth, George F. R. Ellis and Luc Jaeger, is an extended explanation of our ideas on downward causation as they apply to living systems.

Our latest statement on Biological Function: Unifying concepts of biological function from molecules to ecosystems. by Keith Farnworth, Larissa Albantakis and Tancredi Caruso,  has been uploaded onto the bioRxiv (archive prior to publication, intended for the journal Oikos).


Technical changes on this website have meant that the .net blog site is not currently available - this will be sorted out as soon as possible.

2016

November
This month whatlifeis.net moves away from Queen's  University Belfast to a commercial server. I made some  minor changes to pages in preparation for that. More interestingly, we are planning for a new Theme on 'mind and action' to incorporate enquiry into the apparent freedom of organisms to act as they will and ultimately to investigate what information processing can tell us about consciousness and free-will.
We also congratulate Dr Larissa Albantakis on her winning a Templeton Foundation Fellowship to work on information and consciousness.

September

A major update has substantially improved the synthesis page.

We have started the development of a WordPress site at http://whatlifeis.net
There is a new page on Autopoisis which highlights work by Pier Luisi and a new page on the sequence paradox (part of the theme on the origin of life).

We welcome information and network theorist and neurologist Dr Larissa Albantakis to the network (see the Who page).


2015

December

A bit of time off for Christmas holidays has allowed for an update on several pages of this website and new material too. Notably a new page on the language of information terms, which sets out an organised structure for terms and builds a new draft for terminology in this area. Final preparations are also underway for the Cambridge University Press book (see August entry), which brings a new collaboration with the information philosopher Chris Timpson.
One important update to the site content is that the word 'epiphenomenon' has been replaced with 'transcendent complex' - this following creative discussion with the cosmologist and philosoper George Ellis (again see the August entry). I have also added to the library.

September

The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) in Leipzig, Germany (of course!) hosted a group of us as a workshop titled "Functional Information: its potential for quantifying biodiversity and its relation to ecosystem functioning".  We worked very hard all week! Here is the list of those present:
Dr Keith Farnsworth (coordinator) - UK
Prof Ivo Gross (vice-coordinator, bioinformatics expert, leader and local representative) - Germany
Dr Larissa Albantakis (network theorist and inspiring thinker) - USA / Germany
Prof Arto Annila  (provided a deep thermodynamic- based theoretical foundation)  - Finland
Dr David Ardell (introduced great new insights from molecular biology) - USA
Dr Keith Baverstock (contributed mind-expanding biological theory) -Finland / UK
Dr Christina Cobbold (mathemtician and biodiversty metric pioneer) - UK
Dr Lars Gamfeldt (crucial ecologist and biodiversity expert) - Sweden
Dr Olga Lyashevska (biodiversity metrics and big data expert -right down to the C-scripts!) - Netherlands / Ukraine
Dr Hyunju Kim (network theorist and mathematical support for all of us) - USA
Dr Thomas Schneider (pioneer of Shannon's information theory in biology) - USA
Dr Axel Rossberg (theoretical community ecologist and inspiring thinker) - UK / Germany.

A report has been posted on this webpage: http://www.whatlifeis.info/pages/Themes/Diversity/sDIV.html.


August

The book : "From Matter to Life: Information and Causality" to be published by Cambridge University Press has been compiled and edited. The book is edited by Paul Davies, Sara Walker and George Ellis. Keith Farnsworth wrote the chapter "Living through downward causation: from molecules to ecosystems" with George Ellis and Luc Jaeger, and co-wrote with the Oxford philosopher Christopher Timpson, a chapter on definitions of information. It should be out next year.



January

Biodiversity: The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) has granted us full funding for a workshop to be held in Leipzig in September this year. More details can be found on the Biodiversity Theme pages.

We have added our first 'tutorial' paper: How much Information does DNA instantiate? (it is in the 'Molecular' theme).

Following the Arizona workshop, Keith Farnsworth is working with George Ellis and others to write two chapters for a book  ( "Information and Causality: From Matter to Life") to be published by Cambridge University Press.

2014

October

Keith Farnsworth attended the Arizona State University Beyond Center workshop on
Information, Causality & the Origin of Life
This workshop was attended by leading thinkers in our subject area, including Sarah Walker (see our Origins Page). Topics discussed included: definitions of information; top-down causation, the biochemistry of proto-life and synthetic life; the thermodynamics of the origin of life; emergence and complexity. A book is planned, to be edited by Paul Davies (the organiser), Sarah Walker and George Ellis (cosmologist and leader in downward causation thinking).

September

Website: New webpage on molecular self-assembly and the role of physical forces in constructing the hierarchy of complexity leading to life. A few more library entries too.

June

Website:
Various paged get text updates and small errors corrected.

Network
Coordinator Dr Keith Farnsworth Invited to Arizona State University Beyond Centre workshop on the "Physics of Living Matter Information, Causality and the Origin of Life".

May

Website officially launched!

February:

IFB Website put online for testing.

2013

December

IFB Website created: building starts offline.

Throughout 2013, the network of scientists who will take part in the project  is gradually built up.


2012

Publication of Foundation Paper in Acta Biotheoretica