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Dahlem Workshop Reports

Agents of Change on a Dynamic Earth

Tectonic faults are sites of localized motion, both at the Earth's surface and within its dynamic interior. Faulting is directly linked to a wide range of global phenomena, including long-term climate change and the evolution of hominids, the opening and closure of oceans, and the rise and fall of mountain ranges. In Tectonic Faults, scientists from a variety of disciplines explore the connections between faulting and the processes of the Earth's atmosphere, surface, and interior.

An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth

Human history, as written traditionally, leaves out the important ecological and climate context of historical events. But the capability to integrate the history of human beings with the natural history of the Earth now exists, and we are finding that human-environmental systems are intimately linked in ways we are only beginning to appreciate. In Sustainability or Collapse?, researchers from a range of scholarly disciplines develop an integrated human and environmental history over millennial, centennial, and decadal time scales and make projections for the future.

The Interface between Neurons and Global Brain Function

Microcircuits, functional modules that act as elementary processing units bridging single cells to systems and behavior, could provide the link between neurons and global brain function. Microcircuits are designed to serve particular functions; examples of these functional modules include the cortical columns in sensory cortici, glomeruli in the olfactory systems of insects and vertebrates, and networks generating different aspects of motor behavior.

In recent decades, the economists' concept of rational choice has dominated legal reasoning. And yet, in practical terms, neither the lawbreakers the law addresses nor officers of the law behave as the hyperrational beings postulated by rational choice.

A New Synthesis

Attachment and bonding are evolved processes; the mechanisms that permit the development of selective social bonds are assumed to be very ancient, based on neural circuitry rooted deep in mammalian evolution, but the nature and timing of these processes and their ultimate and proximate causes are only beginning to be understood. In this Dahlem Workshop Report, scientists from different disciplines—including anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, and behavioral biology—come together to explore the concepts of attachment and bonding from diverse perspectives.

Earth System Analysis for Sustainability uses an integrated systems approach to provide a panoramic view of planetary dynamics since the inception of life some four billion years ago and to identify principles for responsible management of the global environment in the future. Perceiving our planet as a single entity with hypercomplex, often unpredictable behavior, the authors use Earth system analysis to study global changes past and future.

Current thinking in evolutionary biology holds that competition among individuals is the key to understanding natural selection. When competition exists, it is obvious that conflict arises; the emergence of cooperation, however, is less straightforward and calls for in-depth analysis. Much research is now focused on defining and expanding the evolutionary models of cooperation. Understanding the mechanisms of cooperation has relevance for fields other than biology.

The Adaptive Toolbox

In a complex and uncertain world, humans and animals make decisions under the constraints of limited knowledge, resources, and time. Yet models of rational decision making in economics, cognitive science, biology, and other fields largely ignore these real constraints and instead assume agents with perfect information and unlimited time. About forty years ago, Herbert Simon challenged this view with his notion of "bounded rationality." Today, bounded rationality has become a fashionable term used for disparate views of reasoning.