Calendar of Events
Randomness, Complexity, and the Biological Frontier
Speaker: Pankaj Mehta, Boston University
Abstract: The towering successes of twentieth century theoretical physics were marked by two guiding principles: (i) the importance of symmetry and (ii) the centrality of minimization principles and energy functionals reflecting equilibrium dynamics. Yet, how we can exploit these principles to develop a theory of living systems is unclear since the biological world is composed of heterogeneous, interacting components operating out of equilibrium. Doing theory in biology requires new ideas that move beyond these two theoretical pillars. Through examples from ecology, neural-inspired machine learning, and gene networks, I will argue that one possible strategy for taming biological complexity is to embrace ideas from random matrix theory and the physics of disordered systems. I will show how, at their core, many of these problems can be thought of as generalized constraint-satisfaction problems, hinting at a new theoretical paradigm for tackling problems not only in biology, but also in other branches of physics such as quantum control.
Host: Gyan Bhanot