Eric Smith

The current frontier of complex-systems research could be seen as extending the depth, intuition, and imagination of expert understanding, to problem domains whose scope exceeds what individuals can master.  Its counterpart is taking full account of data and well-validated paradigms in all domains that bear on a scientific problem, as the foundation for innovative thinking about that problem. My scientific interests are in a variety of multifaceted problems that require such an approach, and in the construction of long-term collaboration and scientific community that develop this capacity for thought.

Specific research topics include: The origin of life as a bridge from geochemistry to the biosphere; Statistical mechanics and non-equilibrium thermodynamics in highly structured configuration spaces (particularly chemistry and evolutionary/developmental population processes); Inference about the history, structure, and dynamics of human language, crossing over into semantics and linguistic typology; and Problems of economic organization including the role of institutions, statistically-defined equilibrium concepts and dynamical rules, and questions of how scale and structure interact.

My background in statistical physics has made me sensitive to the need to explain universality or robustness in each of these domains, and to the dynamical roles of cooperative effects, collective fluctuations, and entropies.  However, in each domain, the work originates in faithfulness to data and scientific common sense about what regularities must not be ignored.  Thus, for origin of life, we emphasize the relevant geochemical context and the need to account for extant biochemistry as the result.  For human language, we begin with the constraints on linguistic forms that come from their integration into language systems, and which structure their history and their influence on other domains of cognition.