125 - Stuart Kauffman on Physics, Life, and The Adjacent Possible

Ep. 125

This week’s guest is living legend, transdisciplinary scientist-philosopher Stuart Kauffman, whose pioneering work on self-organization and the emergence of order helped launch the field of complex systems science and has brought us to the very edge of understanding the origins and nature of life. Over his 50+ year career and six books, including this year’s The World Beyond Physics, Stu has done more than almost anyone to restore the historic union of science and philosophy, articulating a new spirituality for our secular age of systems thinking, and filing numerous patents on technologies of chemical synthesis and quantum mechanics.

It's an epic conversation with a bold and boundary-less mind. In this episode we drive right to the heart of one of humankind’s biggest and most persistent mysteries: What is life?

Stuart Kauffman’s EXTENSIVE & ILLUMINATING Google Scholar Page:


This week’s vocabulary word: “ergodic”


Become a Patreon supporter to listen to Part 2 of this conversation, on quantum physics and consciousness:


We Discuss:

the adjacent possible

the origins of life

niche construction & niche propagation (which i initially conflate, but he re-differentiates)


the incomputability of the list of all possible uses of a thing

why are there hearts in the universe?

“the universe is non-ergodic and most complex things will never exist”

“there are no laws whatsoever for the evolution of the biosphere”

contingent, or inevitable? enabled, or caused?

the economy creates the possibilities into which it is sucked

Terence McKenna’s strange attractor at the end of time

constraint closure and the release of energy in fewer degrees of freedom

abiogenesis and the protocell as a model of its environment

are there constraints without work?

the number of cell types in an organism is roughly the square root of the number of genes

“information is precisely the release of energy into fewer degrees of freedom”

Paul Davies & Sara Imari Walker

Johnjoe McFadden

Giuseppe Longo

the system will spend more time in macrostates in which there are more microstates (Boltzmann)

Supplemental Materials:

Stuart Kauffman’s essay, “No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere”


Stu’s co-author Wim Hordijk on autocatalysis at Orbiter Mag:


Michael’s essay, “The Future is Exapted/Remixed”


Michael’s extensive notes on the ideas of this episode, “Toward A New Evolutionary Paradigm”


Original intro music by Michael Garfield, “Birds Waking Up In Trees”


Show outro music by Evan “Skytree” Snyder feat. Michael Garfield, “God Detector”


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Ep. 188
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Ep. 187
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