Views of the origin of life are being changed by rapid improvements in:

  1. 1)the understanding of both present-day and early-earth ocean and atmospheric chemistry, and lithosphere / hydrosphere interactions,

  2. 2)the genomic, metabolic, and ecological characterization of increasingly many bacteria and archaea,

  3. 3)fuller integration of theories of evolution, development, and niche construction, leading to recognition of wider strategies for maintenance of information and for control,

  4. 4)new methods to handle and abstract chemical structures and reaction mechanisms, and computational methods to study the statistical mechanics of chemistry,

  5. 5)attempts to apply (traditionally physical / statistical) thinking about collective and cooperative effects with more realism and empirical grounding to living phenomena.

These advances permit conceptually more nuanced and empirically better grounded questions about the organization of the biosphere and its relation to underlying planetary chemistry than were previously possible, concerning:  the importance of rare events in relation to predictable aspects of geochemical self-organization; the forms of information and mechanisms of persistence represented in different levels of biological organization; and the nature of the transition from non-equilibrium geochemistry to the elaborate hierarchical organization and Darwinian dynamics that are distinctive of the living state.

Entropy concepts and other, more general expressions of large-deviation principles, underlie the most developed current understanding of stability and fluctuations in systems subject to perturbation.  While quite general and powerful methods have been developed, somewhat in parallel, within studies of stochastic processes, combinatorics, and field theory, these are not yet assembled into a unified and elegant framework comparable to what existing thermodynamics provides for equilibrium systems.  Concepts for analyzing -- and more importantly for thinking about -- kinetics as people have learned to think about energetics, would be useful for understanding systems ranging from chemical reaction networks to economies and populations governed by replication and selection.

The study of human language may be undergoing a shift (or at least an expansion) of its foundations, from a system of rigid but non-quantitative rules similar to those of formal logic, toward a foundation in statistical inference from which those rules and others can emerge and be assigned quantitative significance.  The study of language history and language change is particularly open to this expansion, because its data lend themselves to statistical analysis, and its conclusions share common ground with genetics, anthropology, and cognitive science.

In economics both the enabling and the limiting roles of institutions are closely related to  consequences of market incompleteness, limited reasoning ability, and impacts from unforeseen events that cannot be offset by hedging.  Both the quantitative dynamics of institutions and the socio-economic problem of selecting them can be modeled with tools ranging from dimensional analysis to queuing theory and game theory.  At the same time, the pervasive importance of random and stochastic events in real economies forces a re-thinking of the foundations of economic theory, particularly whether the strong assumptions currently made by General Equilibrium Theory could be replaced with more realistic statistically-grounded axioms.