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Nick Monk
KLI Colloquia
Dynamical Systems and a Process Perspective on Life
Nick MONK (University of Sheffield & KLI)
2017-04-27 16:30 - 2017-04-27 16:30
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
Living systems are fundamentally dynamic, but prevailing mechanistic approaches to understanding life typically focus on their analysis into collections of essentially “static” entities. While basic molecular entities — genes, RNAs, proteins, etc. — clearly provide a vital part of the substrate for life, we also need to understand the origin, nature and inheritance of phenotype, considered as a dynamic pattern of organisation. An individual’s genotype provides only part of the information required to understand its phenotype; environmental (including maternal) conditions also contribute, as illustrated by phenotypic plasticity and polyphenism. The formalism of dynamical systems provides organisational structures that provide a way of addressing these issues. In the context of living systems, an individual’s genotype can be thought of as specifying part of a dynamical system, with additional information coming from the context in which the genotype is expressed. In this view, the genotype “codes” explicitly only for sets of potentialities. I will explore the ways in which dynamical systems provide a perspective on living systems that is more naturally processual than mechanistic, providing the means for understanding how organisation and structure can interact.


Biographical note:
After reading Natural Sciences and Mathematics as an undergraduate, Nick Monk studied for a PhD at Birkbeck College, London with Basil Hiley. At Birkbeck, he contributed to the development of a fully algebraic formalism for quantum mechanics that provides a mathematical realisation of a process-based ontology. Since obtaining his PhD, his research has focused on mathematical modelling of biological phenomena, predominantly in the context of cell and developmental biology. A central concern in this work has been the importance of dynamics in living systems, and a current focus is on the ways in which the structures of dynamical systems can be used to provide a more process-based approach to biology. He has held positions in Oxford, Nottingham and several Departments in Sheffield, and is currently a professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and a Visiting Fellow at the KLI.