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FQXi grant funded

My FQXi bio grant was funded for 87.1k over two years starting from this Sep. Thanks to fellow Azimuth members Ville Bergholm, Mauro Faccin, Tomi Johnson and Piotr Migdal for helpful comments.

  • Scientific Abstract

All life is built around the sending, modulation and copying of information, in the form of matter and energy. In terms of the foundations of information physics, we address the information processing abilities of living systems and its broader implications for distinguishing between systems that are living and those that are not. In a first track we use current experimental work towards artificial cellular mimics, which when realized could successfully communicate with real cells and thus pass the ``cellular Turing test'', to guide an analysis of the complexity of the cellular language and therefore, by implication, provide a holographic principle lower bounding the complexity of cells themselves.
Then, in a framework based on angular momentum recoupling theory, we explore the plausibility of natural building blocks communicating through more subtle means, by using the formal language represented in the structure of all matter. We decide whether or not this platform is sufficiently robust for this purpose. Finally, we study reproduction, perhaps the most well used condition of life, through the lens of automata and constructors. The project combines theories of quantum information, complex systems and the mathematics of large datasets to asses how information flows inside living objects, how living objects themselves can be described in terms of information, and whether information provides a new perspective from which to define `life'.

  • Popular Summary

If you were to send information to me, you might do so in English, with the message broken down into zeros and ones and sent through a wire. As has recently been discovered in biological experiments, cells --- the building blocks that make up all life --- communicate via a different language, via signals generated by small molecules. In the first track of this project we analyze the complexity of this language as it tells us how complex these life building blocks must be and what it takes to be living. In a second related track we ask how else might information be exchanged between parts of a living system. Our answer builds on the fact that the arrangement of matter and the relationship between its fundamental constituents itself represents a kind of language, which offers a medium for information exchange. In a third track, we explore how language may not only describe the communication between the building blocks of matter but also how they replicate and develop, a fundamental part of life. By studying this language of life one analyzes, from the perspective of information, what it means to be alive.

Comments

  • 1.
    Wow! Congrats!
    Z
    Comment Source:Wow! Congrats! Z
  • 2.

    Hey Zoltan, we need to find out as much information as possible about the next funding calls, both ERC and Horizon 2020 to send back the quantum network theory grant. For those of you that don't know, Zoltan and I wrote a large (1.9 M) STREP which ranked 5th in that call, but they only funded the top 3! It was the end of the FP7 program (in any other call that was not the end, they would have funded way more than 3 of them).

    We have to find out if partners are allowed in ERC grants. We also need to know more information about the so called, Xtrack in 2020. The whole system is totally different now and the proposal format and length changed. It's way shorter now, meaning most of our old grant has to be changed a lot.

    Finally, the FQXi thing should help us get more funding since now a team member has at least gotten some international level grant. I think the quantum networks grant is nearly a sure bet, we just have to send it back and it's unlucky we will need to rewrite it a lot due to the new format.

    Comment Source:Hey Zoltan, we need to find out as much information as possible about the next funding calls, both ERC and Horizon 2020 to send back the quantum network theory grant. For those of you that don't know, Zoltan and I wrote a large (1.9 M) STREP which ranked 5th in that call, but they only funded the top 3! It was the end of the FP7 program (in any other call that was not the end, they would have funded way more than 3 of them). We have to find out if partners are allowed in ERC grants. We also need to know more information about the so called, Xtrack in 2020. The whole system is totally different now and the proposal format and length changed. It's way shorter now, meaning most of our old grant has to be changed a lot. Finally, the FQXi thing should help us get more funding since now a team member has at least gotten some international level grant. I think the quantum networks grant is nearly a sure bet, we just have to send it back and it's unlucky we will need to rewrite it a lot due to the new format.
  • 3.

    By the way, I totally agree with these findings, showing that small projects are better

    I think big projects transform scientists into managers, and I can tell the difference between an experienced SR scientist doing the work as part of a team effort, or a student/postdoc lead project with the boss forcing his name on every paper out of the group he funds.

    John I think sets a good example for all. Work so hard, and so consistently for so many years as to truly master a discipline. The question I have, is how to have this sort of freedom to actually learn a subject this well in the modern day? Survival somehow seems to depend on getting a few giant grants and other BS like that.

    I'm somehow trying to strike a balance between doing nothing but research all day and managing some sort of future direction that leads to actually having a job in a few years. If I tune out and do nothing but learn stuff, which I think would be really good for me, I suspect that would be the end of the show.

    Comment Source:By the way, I totally agree with these findings, showing that small projects are better * [Big Science vs. Little Science: How Scientific Impact Scales with Funding](http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0065263) I think big projects transform scientists into managers, and I can tell the difference between an experienced SR scientist doing the work as part of a team effort, or a student/postdoc lead project with the boss forcing his name on every paper out of the group he funds. John I think sets a good example for all. Work so hard, and so consistently for so many years as to truly master a discipline. The question I have, is how to have this sort of freedom to actually learn a subject this well in the modern day? Survival somehow seems to depend on getting a few giant grants and other BS like that. I'm somehow trying to strike a balance between doing nothing but research all day and managing some sort of future direction that leads to actually having a job in a few years. If I tune out and do nothing but learn stuff, which I think would be really good for me, I suspect that would be the end of the show.
  • 4.
    edited August 2013

    It seems that the next FET Open calls will be announced at the end of this year, and the deadline will be 2014 March. For details, see this hompage.

    -"Publication of the new FET calls (Work Programme 2014-2015) late in 2013"

    -"FET-Open projects: 2 cut-off dates in 2014, tentatively planned for March and September"

    Comment Source:It seems that the next FET Open calls will be announced at the end of this year, and the deadline will be 2014 March. For details, see this [hompage](http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/dae/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=11584). -"Publication of the new FET calls (Work Programme 2014-2015) late in 2013" -"FET-Open projects: 2 cut-off dates in 2014, tentatively planned for March and September"
  • 5.

    There will also be an EU ICT Conference in Vilnius this November, see this.

    Comment Source:There will also be an EU ICT Conference in Vilnius this November, see [this](http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/dae/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=11583).
  • 6.
    edited August 2013

    Congratulations on the grant! That's great!

    The question I have, is how to have this sort of freedom to actually learn a subject this well in the modern day? Survival somehow seems to depend on getting a few giant grants and other BS like that.

    That's not true for people like me who mainly teach for a living. It takes a lot of the grant pressure off if you just buckle down and expect to spend plenty of time teaching courses. The key is to think of teaching as fun - and to use teaching as a way to understand things more deeply and practice explaining them clearly.

    Richard Feynman wrote:

    I don’t believe I can really do without teaching. The reason is, I have to have something so that when I don’t have any ideas and I’m not getting anywhere I can say to myself, “At least I’m living; at least I’m doing something; I’m making some contribution”—it’s just psychological.

    When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don’t get an idea for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they’re not getting any ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come.

    Nothing happens because there’s not enough real activity and challenge: You’re not in contact with the experimental guys. You don’t have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing!

    In any thinking process there are moments when everything is going good and you’ve got wonderful ideas. Teaching is an interruption, and so it’s the greatest pain in the neck in the world. And then there are the longer periods of time when not much is coming to you. You’re not getting any ideas, and if you’re doing nothing at all, it drives you nuts! You can’t even say “I’m teaching my class.”

    If you’re teaching a class, you can think about the elementary things that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn’t do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? Are there any new problems associated with them? Are there any new thoughts you can make about them? The elementary things are easy to think about; if you can’t think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you’re rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it.

    The questions of the students are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on, so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a problem by asking questions in the neighborhood of that problem. It’s not so easy to remind yourself of these things.

    So I find that teaching and the students keep life going, and I would never accept any position in which somebody has invented a happy solution for me where I don’t have to teach. Never.

    But once he was offered such a position. Read the whole story here.

    Comment Source:Congratulations on the grant! That's *great!* > The question I have, is how to have this sort of freedom to actually learn a subject this well in the modern day? Survival somehow seems to depend on getting a few giant grants and other BS like that. That's not true for people like me who mainly teach for a living. It takes a lot of the grant pressure off if you just buckle down and expect to spend plenty of time teaching courses. The key is to think of teaching as fun - and to use teaching as a way to understand things more deeply and practice explaining them clearly. Richard Feynman wrote: > I don’t believe I can really do without teaching. The reason is, I have to have something so that when I don’t have any ideas and I’m not getting anywhere I can say to myself, “At least I’m living; at least I’m doing something; I’m making some contribution”—it’s just psychological. > When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don’t get an idea for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they’re not getting any ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come. > Nothing happens because there’s not enough real activity and challenge: You’re not in contact with the experimental guys. You don’t have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing! > In any thinking process there are moments when everything is going good and you’ve got wonderful ideas. Teaching is an interruption, and so it’s the greatest pain in the neck in the world. And then there are the longer periods of time when not much is coming to you. You’re not getting any ideas, and if you’re doing nothing at all, it drives you nuts! You can’t even say “I’m teaching my class.” > If you’re teaching a class, you can think about the elementary things that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn’t do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? Are there any new problems associated with them? Are there any new thoughts you can make about them? The elementary things are easy to think about; if you can’t think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you’re rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it. > The questions of the students are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on, so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a problem by asking questions in the neighborhood of that problem. It’s not so easy to remind _yourself_ of these things. > So I find that teaching and the students keep life going, and I would never accept any position in which somebody has invented a happy solution for me where I don’t have to teach. Never. But once he was offered such a position. Read the whole story [here](http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/52/2/dignified.htm).
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