Artificial Life in Tokyo

September 26 2012

You've caught me at an interesting time. I'm about to pack my bags to start a new job in Tokyo. I've never been to Japan before.

At some point in the distant past, there was no life on this planet. Now there is not just life but hugely diverse ecosystems and complex human societies. Some scientists believe that what happened in between was a series of highly unlikely coincidences, one of which resulted in the formation of the first cells. But I prefer a hypothesis that everything we see around us is just sort of what happens when the conditions are right. That when there is a source of energy and the right chemical nutrients, the progression from non-life to life, from simple to complex, is a gradual but almost inevitable one. That the deep interrelationship between life and its planetary environment (sometimes called Gaia theory) is as old if not older than life itself; that life did not cause Gaia so much as arise from it.

In Tokyo my job will be to work out some of the details of how complex, life-like phenomena can arise from non-living physical systems. The aim is not to create life but to understand something about it by studying things that are similar but simpler. For me, understanding nature on a deep and mathematical level is a way to unlock and appreciate its beauty. I am very lucky to have a job that allows me to follow this passion.

Nathaniel Virgo
[email protected]

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