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Episode 19
Featuring Geoffrey West
Demetri Kofinas speaks with Geoffrey West about some of the most remarkable insights coming out of the fields of complexity science and computational biology. Are there limits to growth? What are the costs associated with our cities and our lifestyles? What can interest rates and time preferences tell us about our relationship to nature?

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, host Demetri Kofinas speaks with theoretical physicist Geoffrey West about his work studying biological systems, infrastructure, and the socioeconomics of cities. Dr. West's primary interests have been in fundamental questions in physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles, their interactions, and cosmological implications. Geoffrey West currently serves as distinguished professor at the Santa Fe Institute, where he served as President from July 2005 through July 2009. Prior to joining SFI Dr. West was the leader, and founder, of the high energy physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also the author of SCALE, a remarkable, and timely book, whose substance and theory we explore today.

 

In today’s conversation, we explore some of the most remarkable insights coming out of the field of computational biology. This is an interdisciplinary cohort consisting of theoretical physicists, biologists, and mathematicians who are all working together to create models that explain the origins, requirements, and limits of life. What do our models tell us about nature’s design for humanity? Are there limits to growth? What accounts for the decrease in metabolic rate as size/mass increases? How do physical systems and networks scale in size within the confines of the Earth’s physical space? What are the universal costs associated with our cities and our lifestyles? What accounts for their resilience? What is the significance of our thirst for more power as defined by the amount of work we do over time? What can interest rates and human time preferences tell us about our relationship to nature? What role do we play in the universe’s inexorable procession towards entropy? How much time do we have left?

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation at @hiddenforcespod

 

 

Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist whose primary interests have been in fundamental questions in physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles, their interactions and cosmological implications. West served as SFI President from July 2005 through July 2009. Prior to joining the Santa Fe Institute as a Distinguished Professor in 2003, he was the leader, and founder, of the high energy physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he is one of only approximately ten Senior Fellows.

 

His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena evolved into a highly productive collaboration on the origin of universal scaling laws that pervade biology from the molecular genomic scale up through mitochondria and cells to whole organisms and ecosystems. This led to the development of realistic quantitative models for the structural and functional design of organisms based on underlying universal principles. This work, begun at the Institute, has received much attention in both the scientific and popular press, and provides a framework for quantitative understanding of problems ranging from fundamental issues in biology (such as cell size, growth, metabolic rate, DNA nucleotide substitution rates, and the structure and dynamics of ecosystems) to questions at the forefront of medical research (such as aging, sleep, and cancer). Among his current interests is the extension of these ideas to understand quantitatively the structure and dynamics of social organizations, such as cities and corporations, including the relationships between economies of scale, growth, innovation and wealth creation and their implications for long-term survivability and sustainability.

 

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and was one of their Centenary Speakers in 2003. He has been a lecturer in many popular and distinguished scientist series worldwide, as well as at the World Economic Forum. Among recent honors he was a co-receiver of the Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America, the Weldon Memorial Prize (2005), Oxford University and the Glenn Award for research on Aging and the APS Szilard Award (2013).  In 2006 he was named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" and his work selected as one of the breakthrough ideas of 2007 by the Harvard Business Review. He is the author of several books, a visiting Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London, and an associate fellow of the Said Business School at Oxford University.

 

West received his BA from Cambridge University in 1961 and his doctorate from Stanford University in 1966, where he returned in 1970 to become a member of the faculty. West is married to Jacqueline West, a psychologist in private practice; they have two children: Joshua, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California and an Olympic silver-medalist. Devorah, is studying International Studies at Stanford.

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