Emergence of Universality


12 - 1 PM

Data Science Forum

Prof. Dr. Hans-Günther Döbereiner
Professor of Biological Physics
FB 01 – Physics and Electrical Engineering
Spokesperson NFDI4Phys



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In his classical paper More is different P.W. Anderson (1972) discusses the hierarchical levels of nature. Each level is made of and obeys the laws of its constituents from one level below. All levels are connected by quantitative relations to their lower and higher hierarchical neighbor which links the physical entities of all hierarchies. In simple cases, when the constitutive relations are linear or conceptually readily apparent, we may deduce exact ab initio equations providing material properties as a function of its constituents. In most cases, however, we encounter the formation of complex systems with emergent properties. Typically, there is a branch of science for each level of complexity, since, for each complexity level, there seem to be objects for which it is appropriate and fitting to build up vocabulary for the respective levels of description leading to formation of disciplinary language. It is the central idea of causal emergence (Hoel 2017) that on each level there is an optimal degree of coarse graining to define those objects in such a way that causality becomes maximal between them. This idea has been extended (Ellis and Koppel 2019) describing a delicate balance of upward and downward causation from the micro to the macro level and back in a feedback loop resulting in causal closure. In this context, mental powers result from downward causation.

It has been argued that nature exists at a self-organized critical point to harness fluctuations in evolution (Gleiser et al. 2000). Intra and inter level coarse graining is thus reminiscent of renormalization group flow in interaction parameter space leading to universality classes characterized by the same fixpoint. Thus, we may perceive the world around us in progressively more structured entities. These entities do not interact via fundamental forces. However, causal emergence suggests instead effective interactions commensurate with the respective hierarchy level and universality class. Two entities may interact semantically in an abstract way. Semantic interactions are caused by information flow with a semantic content. It is not only perceptive information. It is augmented by connotations created by context and individual memory. Semantic forces result from differences in highly structured information. They are generalizations of classical entropic forces to sematic space.

For research data management, there are two major conclusions. First, since experimental data are created by dynamic processes classified by the symmetry of their respective universality class, one expects to find a finite set of spatio-temporal network structures considering all possible data. This is the theoretical foundation to strive for a minimally heterogeneous research data management by considering universality classes of data structures derived from system universality. Second, the discussion of structured information with appropriate measures of complexity opens up new avenues in semantic analysis, In fact, we will eliminate the qualitative by quantifying it with semantic metrics and package it as semantic entities into FAIR Digital Objects interacting semantically.

About the Speaker

Hans-Günther Döbereiner graduated from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in the field of Theoretical Nuclear Physics in 1989. In 1995 he finished his Ph.D. in Biological Physics at Simon-Fraser University in Canada. After his habilitation in Physics at University of Potsdam in 1999 with his work at MPI of Colloids and Interfaces, he visited as a Heisenberg fellow the Curie Institute, Paris and the University of Copenhagen. Further, in 2003 he continued his work as Heisenberg fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University in New York, where he lectured Biological Physics as Adjunct Assistant Professor between 2005 and 2006 in the Physics department. In 2006 he became professor at the Faculty for Physics and Electrical Engineering at the University of Bremen.

His research group at the Institute of Biophysics is dedicated to basic principles of cellular motion and biological physics of Physarum polycephalum. In recent years this slime mold has become a model system for (basal) cognition. Since 2016 Hans-Günther Döbereiner has been organizing the ring lecture series Universal Properties of Decision-Making, which builds a bridge between the humanities and natural sciences. In 2020, he became spokesperson of the consortium National Research Data Infrastructure for Disciplinary and Transdisciplinary Physics (NFDI4Phys).

Prof. Dr. Hans-Günther Döbereiner