Geoffrey B. West

Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, USA

Size matters! Growth, Innovation and the Pace of Life: is it Sustainable?


A general framework that has been successfully developed for understanding "universal" scaling laws across an extraordinarily wide spectrum of biological phenomena from cells to ecosystems will be extended to social organisations in an attempt to reveal general principles of organization, structure and dynamics. Almost all physiological traits, including fundamental quantities such as metabolic rates, lifespans, growth and evolutionary rates, scale as simple power laws whose exponents are typically simple multiples of 1/4. These have their origin in generic physical and geometric properties of the networks that sustain life, leading to a general quantitative, predictive theory that captures the essential features of many diverse biological systems.
We shall show that analogous scaling laws are manifested in social organisations, suggesting that there are general principles of organization, structure and dynamics common, for example, to all cities reflecting a "universal" underlying social network structure.
We shall address questions such as: are social organisations "just" an extension of biology, and to what extent is a city, for example, a very large organism?
These scaling laws have dramatic implications for growth, the pace of life, development and sustainability: innovation and wealth creation that fuel social systems, if left unchecked, potentially sow the seeds for their inevitable collapse.

  • Date/Time: Tuesday, 6 May 2008, 13:00 – 13:45 h
  • Place: ETH Zürich, RZ F 21, Clausiusstrasse 59