The Generation of Novelty in Complex Adaptive Systems

March 19-21, 2019

Begins: 9:00 AM, Tuesday, March 19th
Ends: Dinner on Thursday, March 21st

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Hardin Hall

3310 Holdredge St.
Lincoln, NE 68503



Periodically the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF) organizes small workshops on important problems where existing and new information could benefit from a multi-perspective discussion. The organizing topic for the March 2019 JSMF workshop is the generation of novelty in complex adaptive systems such as human, social, and ecological systems. JSMF is convening a small group of experts in neuroscience, cancer, and ecological resilience to stimulate cross-disciplinary insight into the generation of novelty and the consequences of said novelty on system resilience and function.

Background: Novelty is understood to be both a source of critical innovation and adaptive capacity contributing to system renewal and resilience, as well as a source of system decline and collapse. Without innovation and novelty, systems become increasingly stagnant and unable to adjust to a changing environment. A continual source of innovation at multiple scales within a system is important for system function, resilience, and persistence, yet the ability of novelty to transform systems by altering basic processes and structure can also be destructive. For example, mutations at the cellular level can be both a source of increased fitness to particular stresses, or result in the onset of diseases such as cancer. In ecological systems, invasive species can provide recovery functions and services after disturbance events, but can also drive other species to extinction and reduce system resilience to future disturbances.

Novelty generation is considered an important component of complex system dynamics because without novelty, systems lack the capacity to dynamically and adaptively respond to disturbance over short or long time-scales. Yet little is actually understood about the breadth of mechanisms that generate novelty, the scales at which they operate, and the feedbacks between processes of novelty generation and system-level resilience. The ability to learn from novelty research in diverse fields such as neuroscience and ecology is constrained by a lack of shared language and concepts, and the increasing narrow focus of modern science. Furthermore, although the importance of novelty is widely recognized in the management and business world, it has not received the same degree of qualitative or quantitative rigor in the scientific world.

This workshop is focused on creating a shared understanding of novelty across the respective fields of the participants. It seeks to bridge the disciplinary gap in order to promote learning and create a future research agenda that builds off of the rich multidisciplinary expertise of the participants. In particular, the workshop will focus on the mechanisms and attributes which generate novelty in different complex systems, the positive and negative consequences of novelty generation, and the multiple spatial and temporal scales at which novelty is both generated and expressed.

By bringing in experts who work with various aspects of novelty within their fields of neuroscience and ecology, JSMF believes the workshop discussions will advance the understanding of the role of novelty in the dynamics of complex adaptive systems.

Optional Background Reading:

Bednar, Wilson - "Cortical maps"
Bonavia - "Heterogeneity maintenance in glioblastoma, a social network"
Krubitzer - "The combinatorial creature, cortical phenotypes within and across lifetimes"


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Contact Information
The James S. McDonnell Foundation
1034 S. Brentwood Blvd., Ste 1850
Saint Louis, MO 63117
Phone: 314-721-1532