Featuring Dr. Eric Smith, professor at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo and the Santa Fe Institute. For most of the 20th century, complex biological views of evolution have been central to the way scientists think about the origin of life. But progress over the past 40 years in such fields as ocean exploration, microbiology, and planetary science has come together to suggest that life’s origin may have been built on a core chemical blueprint. Dr. Smith argues that we need a new understanding of the nature of life, in which the dominant, Darwinian view of a “struggle for existence” comes second, and life at its core came about as a necessary layer of our maturing planet.
Eric Smith began scientific work in high-energy physics, with Bachelor degrees in math and physics from Caltech, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1993. His work moved increasingly into topics in complex systems, during appointments in the University of Texas and the Los Alamos National Laboratories, culminating in eleven years spent at the Santa Fe Institute. At SFI he began parallel threads of work in non-equilibrium thermodynamics, economics and finance, and the history of human languages, and began studying the geochemistry, biochemistry, and evolution of the earliest life. He is currently a professor and Principle Investigator of the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo, and external professor at SFI. His goal is to understand the origin and nature of the living state through the many windows that science provides on it: the physical, geochemical, biochemical, ecological, and evolutionary.