Emergence – Patterns on the Edge of Chaos

Wednesday, 23 November, 2011

21h00 (talks start)

Venue: Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Auditorium, 

Speakers: Deborah Gordon, José Leal, Manuel Marques Pita 

Hosts: Tiago Marques Gonçalo Lopes, Scott Rennie


You are not alone in the universe. While leading your busy life you are constantly interacting with other human beings and your environment in diverse ways. Every other human being is doing the same. If we could step aside and look at the tapestry of all this activity at the same time, what patterns would emerge?

We’re beginning to understand how to describe complex phenomenons from the weather to financial markets as the consequence of millions of interactions happening simultaneously. When we look at pictures of these collective events we can see they are far from random. There is structure and order in the way they come together and the result can be as beautiful as a dancing flock of birds or as brutal as a hurricane. How can order emerge from chaos? Is there anything in common between these different systems? Can an ant colony teach us how to predict stock market crashes?

During the next Ar event, on November 23rd, we’re going to discuss emergence. The event will consist of three parts. First Manuel Marques Pita will tell us how playing games with children can teach us about complex system. Then, José Leal will further expand this concept of complexity to social and molecular networks and their amazing similarities. Finally, Deborah Gordon will guide us through her recent work on how we can use regulation algorithms found in harvester ant colonies to regulate the flow of data in the internet.

Deborah M Gordon

Deborah M Gordon is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford. Her research on the collective organization of ant colonies includes studies of the long-term demography and behavior of harvester ant colonies in Arizona; the factors that determine the spread of the invasive Argentine ant in northern California; and the ecology of ant-plant mutualisms in tropical forests in Central America. She is the author of two books, Ants at Work (2000) and Ant Encounters:Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (2010). She has been awarded fellowships from Guggenheim and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. She is interested in analogies between ant colonies and other distributed networks, such as the distributed algorithms used in robotics and artificial intelligence.

In 2003, she gave a TED talk about collective behavior in ants, which can be found here.

José Leal

José Pereira Leal initially trained as a Biochemist in Lisbon. Having been admitted to the Gulbenkian PhD Program in Biology and Medicine, he moved to the Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and later to Imperial College School of Medicine where he completed a PhD under the supervision of Miguel Seabra. At this time, he was already metamorphosing into a bioinformatician. He joined the EMBL European Bioinformatics institute, and afterwards the historical Laboratory of Molecular Biology, both in Cambridge, where he conducted postdoctoral research on the origins and evolution of modularity in biomolecular networks. Since 2006 he leads the Computational Genomics Laboratory at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, where he aims to link evolution, cell biology, and the cure for all diseases.

Manuel Marques Pita

Manuel received a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2006. He then moved to the United States to do postdoctoral work with Prof. Luis Rocha (Indiana University) and Prof. Melanie Mitchell (Portland State University) on bio-inspired collective computation. More recently, he moved to Portugal to continue his research on complex systems at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, were he also has ongoing collaborations with researchers at the Champalimaud Foundation. Manuel remains affiliated to the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University. His current research focuses on the controllability of biochemical networks responsible for genetic regulation and signalling, as well as on characterising collective computation in spatiotemporal interaction networks.



Tiago Marques is a physics engineer from our lovely Lisbon. After one and a half years doing presentations and spreadsheets as a consultant for BCG, he joined the CNP to figure out what the cortex computes.

Gonçalo Lopes is a computer scientist from Lisbon. After making people interact with machines at YDreams, he joined the CNP to figure out how brains build models of the world.

Scott Rennie grew up in Northern Ireland. After a masters in Evolutionary Psychology in Liverpool he joined the Behavioral Neuroscience Lab at the CNP where he is pursuing a PhD examining the cognitive basis of social behaviour in rodents using an approach based on game theory.



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