7th ELSI Symposium

Comparative Emergence


noun (ɪˈməːdʒ(ə)ns/)

1. the process of becoming visible after being concealed. synonyms: disclosure, becoming known, coming to light, exposure, unfolding, publication, publicizing, publishing, broadcasting.

2. the process of coming into existence or prominence. synonyms: appearance, arrival, coming; turning up, springing up, surfacing, cropping up, popping up; advent, inception, dawn, birth, origination, start; development, rise, blossoming, blooming; materializing, materialization, arising, issue, emanation.

Online Resources and Social Media

  • Twitter: #ELSI2019
  • To submit questions: sli.do login #ELSI2019
  • Read the Symposium Day 1 Blog Report by Marc Kaufman



Dates: Tuesday-Friday, 8-11 January, 2019 (See below for detailed schedule)

Location: Earth-Life Science Institute and Digital Hall, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Ookayama Campus, Meguro, Tokyo, Japan (See below for detailed map)

Scientific Organizing Committee: Jim Cleaves, John Hernlund (Chair), Christine Houser, Yuko Ishihara, Shawn McGlynn, Elizabeth Tasker, Mary Voytek, Olaf Witkowski

Abstract of the Symposium: A hallmark of many natural systems, from galaxies, to solar systems, planets, chemical systems, and biology (both at the organismal and ecosystem/societal level) is the fact that due to their having many interacting and interdependent components, coupled with large degrees of freedom, they may access a multitude of dynamical states as they evolve. Collaborations between these processes may give rise to the emergence of new dynamical states with novel traits. In the unfolding history of the universe we see multiple transitions from abundant free energy towards sparsity across vast spatio-temporal scales, with a variety of emergent processes competing for sustenance. The 7th ELSI Symposium will explore the parallels and differences of emergent system dynamics across many fields of study, ranging from astrophysics to sociology, before turning to the question of emergence itself, what it is, how to measure it, and how to use these concepts as a tool for trans-disciplinary cross-fertilization in the natural sciences. (See below for more information about the theme.)


Monday 7 January (Pre-Symposium Activities)

  • 10:00-17:00 Pre-registration, informal visits to ELSI etc. (Location: ELSI-1 and ELSI-2)
  • 10:00-14:00 SOC Final Coordination Meeting (Location: Mishima Hall, ELSI-1)
  • 15:00 ELSI Coffee in the Agora (Location: ELSI-1)
  • 15:30-17:00 ELSI Buildings and Labs Tour (Departs from ELSI-1 Agora at 15:30)

Tuesday 8 January (Symposium Day 1)

  • 9:30- Check-in/Registration Open (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 10:00-11:30 Session 0: Introduction to the Symposium (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 10:00-10:05 Welcome, Opening of the Symposium (ELSI Director)
  • 10:05-10:30 Logistics, Plan, and Purpose of the Symposium (Click here for PDF)
  • 10:30-11:15 Opening Lecture: Takashi Ikegami (University of Tokyo)
  • 11:15-11:30 Q&A
  • 11:30-13:30 Lunch
  • 13:30-15:00 Session 1: Emergence of the Universe, Galaxies, Stars (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 13:30-13:40 Session 1: Introduction by Session Chair Elizabeth Tasker (ISAS/JAXA)
  • 13:40-14:10 Session 1: Presentation by Katie Mack (North Carolina State University)
  • 14:10-14:20 Session 1: Dialogue
  • 14:20-14:50 Session 1: Presentation by Takayuki Saitoh (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 14:50-15:00 Session 1: Dialogue
  • 15:00-17:30 Poster and Breakout Sessions (Location: ELSI-1 and ELSI-2)
  • 15:00-15:15 Relocate to ELSI-1
  • 15:15-16:30 Poster session with coffee at ELSI-1
  • 16:30-17:30 First breakout session at ELSI-1 and ELSI-2
  • 19:00-20:30 Public Lecture: Yasuhito Sekine and Lindy Elkins-Tanton (registration website)

Wednesday 9 January (Symposium Day 2)

  • 09:30-09:40 Warm-up
  • 09:40-10:00 Reports from breakout discussion groups
  • 10:00-11:30 Session 2: Emergence of Planetary Complexity (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 10:00-10:10 Session 2: Introduction by Session Chair John Hernlund (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 10:10-10:40 Session 2: Presentation by Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Arizona State University)
  • 10:40-10:50 Session 2: Dialogue
  • 10:50-11:20 Session 2: Presentation by Yasuhito Sekine (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 11:20-11:30 Session 2: Dialogue
  • 11:30-13:30 Lunch
  • 13:30-15:00 Session 3: Emergence of Organic Chemical Complexity (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 13:30-13:40 Session 3: Introduction by Session Chair Henderson James Cleaves (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 13:40-14:10 Session 3: Presentation by Kenso Soai (Tokyo University of Science)
  • 14:10-14:20 Session 3: Dialogue
  • 14:20-14:50 Session 3: Presentation by Mark A. Smith (University of Houston)
  • 14:50-15:00 Session 3: Dialogue
  • 15:00-17:30 Poster and Breakout Sessions (Location: ELSI-1 and ELSI-2)
  • 15:00-15:15 Relocate to ELSI-1
  • 15:15-16:30 Poster session with coffee at ELSI-1
  • 16:30-17:30 Second breakout session at ELSI-1 and ELSI-2

Thursday 10 January (Symposium Day 3)

  • 09:30-09:40 Warm-Up
  • 09:40-10:00 Reports from breakout discussion groups
  • 10:00-11:30 Session 4: Emergence of Life (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 10:00-10:10 Session 4: Introduction by Session Chair Shawn McGlynn (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 10:10-10:40 Session 4: Presentation by Simonetta Gribaldo (Institut Pasteur)
  • 10:40-10:50 Session 4: Dialogue
  • 10:50-11:20 Session 4: Presentation by Nathaniel Virgo (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 11:20-11:30 Session 4: Dialogue
  • 11:30-13:30 Lunch
  • 13:30-15:00 Session 5: Emergence of Communication (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 13:30-13:40 Session 5: Introduction by Session Chair Olaf Witkowski (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 13:40-14:10 Session 5: Presentation by Joseph Lizier (University of Sydney)
  • 14:10-14:20 Session 5: Dialogue
  • 14:20-14:50 Session 5: Presentation by Sara Walker (Arizona State University)
  • 14:50-15:00 Session 5: Dialogue
  • 15:00-15:05 Group Photo (Location: Outside Digital Hall)
  • 15:05-17:30 Poster and Breakout Sessions (Location: ELSI-1 and ELSI-2)
  • 15:05-15:15 Relocate to ELSI-1
  • 15:15-16:30 Poster session with coffee at ELSI-1
  • 16:30-17:15 Third breakout discussion groups at ELSI-2
  • 17:30-18:00 Dedication Ceremony for Mishima Hall (Location: Foyer of ELSI-1)
  • 18:00-21:00 Symposium Banquet (Location: ELSI-1 Agora)

Friday 11 January (Symposium Day 4)

  • 09:50-10:00 Warm-Up
  • 10:00-11:30 Session 6: Characterizing Emergence (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 10:00-10:10 Session 6: Introduction by Session Chair Christine Houser (Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 10:10-10:40 Session 6: Presentation by Alex Penn (University of Surrey)
  • 10:40-10:50 Session 6: Dialogue
  • 10:50-11:20 Session 6: Presentation by Arsev Aydinoglu (Middle East Technical University)
  • 11:20-11:30 Session 6: Dialogue
  • 11:30-13:30 Lunch
  • 13:30-14:00 Reports from breakout discussion groups
  • 14:00-15:30 Session 7: Emergence of Emergence (Location: Digital Hall)
  • 14:00-14:10 Session 7: Introduction by Session Chair Yuko Ishihara (Institute for Advanced Study)
  • 14:10-14:40 Session 7: Presentation by Paul Humphreys (University of Virginia)
  • 14:40-14:50 Session 7: Dialogue
  • 14:50-15:20 Session 7: Presentation by Francis Heylighen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • 15:20-15:30 Session 7: Dialogue
  • 15:30-16:00 Coffee break (Location: ELSI-1 Agora)
  • 16:00-17:00 Session 8: Panel Discussion (Location: ELSI-1 Agora)
  • 16:00-16:05 Session 8: Introduction by Session Chair Mary Voytek (NASA, Earth-Life Science Institute)
  • 16:05-16:15 Session 8: Remarks by Panelist Luis Campos (University of New Mexico)
  • 16:15-16:25 Session 8: Remarks by Panelist Karyn Rogers (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
  • 16:25-16:35 Session 8: Remarks by Panelist Sara Walker (Arizona State University)
  • 16:35-17:00 Session 8: Panel Dialogue
  • 17:00-17:05 Closing of the Symposium
  • 17:05-19:30 Izakaya ELSI (Location: ELSI-1 Agora)


The 7th ELSI Symposium will be held in multiple locations on the Ookayama Campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in Meguro, Tokyo, Japan. Please refer to the Google Map below for detailed locations.

  • Joint events, lectures, and sessions involving all participants will be held at Digital Hall, near the entrance of the campus close to Ookayama Station.
  • Poster Sessions will be held at the ELSI Gallery and ELSI Agora in the ELSI-1 building.
  • Breakout Sessions will be held at Mishima Hall and the ELSI Agora in ELSI-1 in addition to the ELSI Lounge and Studio 407 at the ELSI-2 building. Detailed assignments will be given to participants at registration.
  • Pre-Registration and the ELSI Tour (Monday 7 January) as well as the Symposium Banquet (Thursday 10 January) will launch from the ELSI Agora in ELSI-1.


All attendees are requested to fill the following registration form, this will (1) tell us how to list your name and affiliation for your badge, (2) inform us whether you will attend the banquet so that we know how much food and drink to order, (3) allow you to submit a poster abstract if you wish to do so, and (4) give you an opportunity to inform us about any special needs or assistance you may require. There is no registration fee for this event (although there will be a separate charge to attend the optional banquet).

Note: if your browser is having difficulty rendering this embedded registration form, please click here to go directly to the registration form.

Poster Information

Our poster sessions will be lively and active events, and an integral part of the symposium. The deadline to submit abstracts has passed. Poster display boards and necessary attachment hardware will be provided. Our poster boards are optimized for A0 size in portrait orientation (841mm wide × 1189mm tall).

About the Theme of the Symposium

The theme of the symposium is Comparative Emergence. The oral sessions of the symposium are designed to be a kind of journey, to take participants through the unfolding evolution of multiple processes and levels of complexity throughout the history of the universe, planets, life, and society. Our destination is a more refined understanding of how concepts of emergence might play a useful role across myriad domains of science, and how these concepts can be productively applied within and across a vast range of research fields.

Please plan to attend the entire Symposium. None of the sessions are designed to stand alone by themselves. If you do not attend all of the sessions then you will miss out on the intended purpose of comparative emergence (see below for further explanation).

What do we mean by emergence? At its most basic level, the term “emergence” has been used to describe the appearance of novel characteristics in a system that are not manifested by its constituents. It is also an expression of phenomenological non-linearity or synergy. The emergent combination has traits that the parts do not possess. There have been diverse thoughts expressed on this subject in past literature. There are ideas about strong emergence and weak emergence, and even “emergentism” associated with philosophy of mind. However, we do not wish to trod one anyone’s particular ideas regarding emergence. In fact, the greater the diversity of thought that we can bring to this subject in the symposium, the better will be our chances of achieving our goals. Keeping an open mind will allow us to bring new ideas to the table, and to advance the utility of emergence for the broadest possible applications.

Examples of emergence are numerous, depending on the flexibility of the definition. Consider thermal convection in a fluid, a complex phenomena with rich behavior that emerges from the combination of simpler processes like thermal expansion, conduction, and viscosity in the presence of a gravitational field. Or life, emerging in an unknown context from a mixture of C-H-N-O-P-S. Or the emergence of structure in the universe from quantum fluctuations, of consciousness from a central nervous system, or collaboration between seemingly unrelated disciplines. Our aim is to explore all of these, and more.

In seeking more precise philosophical definitions of emergence, a range of criteria have been proposed. For example, in "strong emergence" the emergent properties of a system cannot be reducible to, nor deducible from, the properties of the components of that system. In such a case, witnessing emergent behavior for the first time would have to come as a complete surprise to an observer, since it could not have been predicted from more basic principles (there is much debate regarding the existence of strong emergence). Less strict ideas of emergence permit the possibility that emergent phenomena could (at least in principle) be predicted from more basic descriptions or theories of the constituents. For the purposes of this symposium, we wish to be as open-minded as possible regarding emergence, in order to permit the broadest range of thinking.

What do we mean by comparative emergence? In each of our scientific fields, differing conceptions of emergence might arise in particular cases, and these might be tailored to each particular subject area. But we suspect that the degree of dissimilarity in these conceptions may be a matter of the level of detail. If we zoom in to a very limited scope of phenomena in a particular domain, then we are likely to see many differences between one subject and another. However, if we step back and look at the broader characteristics of all systems, then we may see more in common for emergent phenomena across our scientific domains. At the level of generality for which commonality of emergence across different domains becomes apparent, the comparison of emergent phenomena between fields becomes possible. Establishing such commonality then opens an intellectual conduit between these fields to facilitate cross-fertilization of approaches, tools, and strategies. Emergence then becomes a glue that binds our intellectual pursuits together, and lifts all of the sciences in unison.

In our own work, we may have spent a great deal of time zoomed in to the finer levels of detail, and perhaps we have not made enough opportunities to step back and see the bigger picture. This symposium is intended to be an opportunity for all of us to broaden our scope and experience the symphony of our sciences. This is also an essential goal to achieve at the Earth-Life Science Institute, whose existence is predicated on the idea that scientists are more capable of tackling the big questions (such as the origin of the universe, planets, life, and consciousness) when they work together to seek intellectual synergy, rather than working separately as specialists in each of our finely dissected disciplinary domains.

We sincerely hope that this theme is inspiring and exciting for all of us to undertake together. It represents a culmination of some of the things we have learned about inter-disciplinary exchange between widely varying fields over the past 6 years, and we hope that it helps to re-kindle our sense of identity and purpose going forward.

Symposium Survey

  • Emergence Survey: Click here for the link to the emergence survey form. Please complete this brief survey by Thursday 10 January at 18:00 so that the results may be collated and presented on Friday.
  • Exit Survey: Click here for the link to the post-symposium survey. We appreciate your effort to tell us what you liked about your experience at the symposium, this will be used to help us better plan future events.

Breakout Discussion Session resources

  • Breakout Session 1 (Tuesday) Recorder: Finished.
  • Breakout Session 2 (Wednesday) Recorder: Finished.
  • Breakout Session 3 (Thursday) Recorder: Click here for the link to the record form.

Code of Conduct

Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. All event attendees and staff have the right to a space that is free of all forms of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and/or retaliation. Participants who are requested to stop any harassing behaviour are expected to comply immediately. If you wish to report harassment, suspect that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of the organizing committee as soon as possible.