Sistemas Auto-organizantes

I recently did a short article on self-organizing systems (in Spanish) for a general audience, which was recently published by La Jornada (Mexican newspaper)...

Parvadas, cardúmenes, manadas y colonias de insectos funcionan por medio de mecanismos similares. No hay un animal líder dictando ordenes a otros. Sin embargo, tomas de decisiones muy complejas pueden realizarse por el grupo. Esto se debe a que los animales, aunque sigan reglas simples en su comportamiento, interactúan localmente de forma tal que en su conjunto pueden lograr tareas que los individuos por sí mismos no podrían realizar. Este fenómeno, donde los elementos de un sistema interactúan para producir un comportamiento, patrón o función globales, se conoce como auto-organización.



Carbon Taxing?

In this TED Talk, Al Gore argues for global action to face global crisis. The proposed solution: tax carbon. In theory, it sounds like a good option. However, how to bring it to reality? How many changes in economies would this produce? Certainly, companies would be tempted to use renewable energy sources, and these would become a great market. However, oil companies hold much of the power behind curtains. Could a social movement achieve this change? Could this be effectively implemented in most countries? What to do with countries who would not tax their carbon emissions? This huge change wouldn't be the end of the world, certainly, but such a drastic transformation seems almost impossible. Well, let's fight for this almost impossibility, otherwise we'll be sitting on our fat behinds waiting for catastrophes to force the transformation.

Brain doping? Is it ethical?

Nature published the results of a poll where they asked researchers about drug use to boost their brains. It turns out that from their respondents, "one in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory", even when half of drug users reported unpleasant side-effects.

Now, here I have only questions: Should drug use in science be restricted, just like in sports? If so, the main reason for doing it would be the health of users, "fairness" in "competition", or simply ethics? A problem here is to draw a boundary line, just like with sports. Many people have coffee, tea, or chocolate, and it boosts their performance. The thing is that it is legal and socially acceptable, plus the side effects are minor... Would there be any sense in anti-doping tests for scientists? If so, and a test comes positive, how could this affect their research?

OK, I don't have answers, but I do have opinions... I think people should do whatever they decide with their bodies. If somebody is insecure enough to think that drugs will make her/him smarter, it's her/his problem. As for me, good humor is the best brain stimulation... followed closely by tasty chocolate... or it substitute, i.e. sex.


Oil Privatization Attempts in Mexico

Yesterday, an energetic reform was presented by Felipe Calderón (aka FeCal) to the Mexican senate. It attempts to modify several laws, although these changes violate the constitution. Using fallacies of prosperity for Mexico, the right wing government is attempting to privatize the extraction, transport, and refining of oil and gas.
Many arguments and passions and interests can be put forward, but let us simply note the following fact: Oil is the first source of income for Mexico (followed by money sent by more than ten million immigrants in the U.S. to their families, and tourism in third place). The cost of a Mexican oil barrel is around $85 these days, but its production is less than ten. The difference is used to pay for public education, health services, social security, etc. (as deficient as they may be). I fail to see how transmitting this profit to private foreign companies (such as Repsol, Exxon, Texaco, who have already shown obscure and questionable ties to FeCal's team) will benefit Mexicans. Where will we get that money from? Will we keep on sending migrants to the other side of the border to harvest food we will later import?
The proposal says that the oil will still be property of the state, in the attempt of disguising the ripoff of the national patrimony. Still, how good is oil for me, when its profits are filling the pockets of foreign companies and corrupt politicians? Some Mexican politicians seem to confuse the difference between getting luxury condos in Acapulco and reducing the poverty that affects almost half of the population.
A social movement is growing to prevent this shameless ripoff. Let us hope that they manage (once again) to stop the privatization attempts. Unfortunately, most of the media are on the side of FeCal... Why would you question a president? Well, if he reached his post with a blatant fraud one should at least be concerned of the motives behind his agenda.
My little grain of sand consists on publishing this information that fails to reach the international media. Because of this, I would request readers to please forward this post to anyone who might be interested in these issues.


Vida Artificial

I recently did a short article on Artificial Life (in Spanish) for a general audience, which was recently published by La Jornada (Mexican newspaper)...

La Vida Artificial es el estudio científico de las propiedades de sistemas vivos por medio de simulación y/o síntesis. Dado que la vida es un fenómeno muy complejo, observarla no es suficiente para comprenderla. Hay que simularla y construirla. En otras palabras, hay que desarrollar sistemas que modelen las propiedades biológicas, para así analizar y estudiar la vida por medio de nuestros sistemas artificiales.



Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation

Call for papers

III Edition of
Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation - A Cross-Disciplinary Workshop

October 2-3, 2008
Lisbon University Institute - ISCTE, Portugal


The methodological role and epistemological status of simulation merits more attention from researchers across the social, natural, and computational sciences, as well as from philosophers of science. While the epistemological status of simulation has received considerable interest from the natural sciences since the 1990s, it seems to have emerged in the social sciences only in the last five years due to the increasing use of simulation in concrete problems and public policy, across a variety of fields, and its crucial role for theorizing, modelling, and understanding social complexity. The interest in the methodological role of simulation, from the social to the natural sciences, shows that simulation is becoming a discipline spanning a number of fields, with its own dilemmas, methods and techniques, its own influence on society, and its own contribution to knowledge and critical thinking. We are convinced that discussing the epistemological status of simulation in a cross-disciplinary setting contributes to a deeper understanding of issues relevant to the practical use of simulation, as well as to the development of mature theories of simulation in the philosophy of science.

Important dates

May 1 – Submission of papers or extended abstracts
June 15 – Notification of acceptance
August 31 – Receipt of full papers
October 2-3 – Workshop, Lisbon, Portugal


Topics to be addressed in the workshop include, but are not restricted to, questions or issues such as:

The epistemology of simulation:
- How do simulations relate to the actual world?
- How does simulation produce knowledge? What kinds of knowledge are involved in simulation?
- What is the relation between theory and simulation?
- Are there methodological and epistemological features in common with experimentation?
- Similarities and differences between modelling natural and social complexity.
- Theories of explanation in simulation.
- Theories of emergence in simulation.

Established credentials for model building:
- Lessons learned from deploying simulations.
- What kind of research questions can be addressed by simulation?
- How can simulations and other research methods be integrated?
- Validation and verification strategies (e.g. stylized facts, statistical signatures, validation with stakeholders, etc.)
- Methodological and epistemological roles of “empirical validation” in simulation
- The role of interpretation and consensus, e.g in participative-based simulations
- How do simulation models become sanctioned: how is the credibility of a model assessed? Is there a role for “common protocols” in peer-reviewing simulation models?

Other topics:
- New theories of computation and its relation to simulation
- Is the classical Church-Turing computation theory an adequate model to explain the kind of reasoning underlying social simulation?
- What is the role of sophisticated visualisation techniques? (e.g. “mimetic” expressions of reality with graphical user interfaces?)
- The role of output graphing and images in simulation. Is there a role for aesthetics in simulating social complexity?
- Terminological issues
- Historical perspectives of simulation
- Pedagogy and Epistemology: What opportunities and challenges?
- Professional ethics and simulation.


Prospective authors are requested to send either extended abstracts (about 1,000 words) or papers (about 5,000-8,000 words), to Nuno.David@iscte.pt by 1st of May 2008. Authors should include all the details about surname, first name, affiliation, mailing address, country, and e-mail inside the e-mail text (but not inside the abstract or paper). Each contribution will be reviewed by the program committee, according to a blind reviewing process.


Following the tradition of the previous EPOS workshops, we intend to publish revised and extended versions of the accepted papers in a post-proceedings volume. The revised versions will take into account the discussion held during the workshop, hence, only those papers that are presented during the workshop will be considered for inclusion in a post-proceedings volume. In 2004 the results of the meeting were collected by Troitzsch and Frank, and published, after a further reviewing process, in a special issue of the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (volume 8(4), 2005). In 2006 the articles were collected by Squazzoni, Troitzsch, and Frank after a further reviewing process, and are expected to be published in a post-proceedings volume in 2008.

Program Committee

Alex Smajgl, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems - Australia
Alexis Drogoul, Pôle Intelligence Artificielle, Paris VI - France
Camile Roth, Department of Sociology of the University of Surrey - France/UK
Carlos Gershenson, Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies - Belgium
Edmund Chattoe, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford - UK
Flaminio Squazzoni, Department of Social Sciences, University of Brescia - Italy
Frédéric Amblard, Université Toulouse 1 Sciences Sociales - France
Helder Coelho, Department of Informatics, University of Lisbon - Portugal
Jaime Simão Sichman, University of São Paulo - Brazil
Johannes Lenhard, Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Universität Bielefeld - Germany
José Castro Caldas, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra - Portugal
Keith Sawyer, Deparment of Education, Washington University in St. Louis - USA
Klaus G. Troitzsch, Universität Koblenz-Landau - Germany
László Gulyás, Hungarian Academy of Science - Hungary
Matteo Richiardi, LABORatorio Riccardo Revelli, Centre for Employment Studies - Italy
Nick Gotts, The Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland - UK
Nicole Saam, Universität Erfurt, Faculty of Economics, Law, and Social Sciences - Germany
Nigel Gilbert, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey - UK
Nuno David, Lisbon University Institute, ISCTE - Portugal
Olga Pombo, Center for the Philosophy of Sciences, University of Lisbon - Portugal
Petra Ahrweiler, National Institute of Technology Management, University College Dublin, Ireland
Pierre Livet, Département de Philosophie, Université de Provence - France
Pietro Terna, Facoltà di Economia - Università di Torino - Italy
Riccardo Boero, University of Torino - Italy
Rosaria Conte, Istituto di Psicologia del CNR - Italy
Scott Moss, Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School - UK
Ulrich Frank, Duisburg-Essen University - Germany
Wander Jager, University of Groningeng - Netherlands