Ilya Nemenman

From Ilya Nemenman: Theoretical Biophysics @ Emory
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What is physics? ... -- The idea ... that the world is understandable.
John J. Hopfield, APS News 16 (8):8 (2007).
Don't model bulldozers with quarks.
Nigel Goldenfeld and Leo P. Kadanoff, Science 284, 87-89 (1999).
When I examined myself and my methods of thought, I came to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
Albert Einstein

I am a physicist working to understand how biological systems, such as cells, organisms, and populations, learn from their surrounding environment and respond to it (we call this "biological information processing"). Put differently,

What are the computational primitives employed by living organisms to compute their way through life?

I am interested in physical problems in this biological domain. That is

Are there phenomenological, coarse-grained, and yet functionally accurate representations of biological processes, or are we forever doomed to every detail mattering?

In my mind, the question is not if some details don't matter, but which ones. A lot of smart people have thought about this question before. The dream is that, by stripping unnecessary details, we will eventually understand the basics of how we can function reliably in an ever changing world. I hope to achieve some quantitative understanding of such complex phenomena as evolution, sensory processes, animal behavior, human cognition, and, who knows, maybe one day even human consiousness.

What can be a more noble science goal? As I argued a while back:

Studying string theory cannot be more exciting than studying the brain that can study string theory.


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