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Overview

Investigating the nature and varieties of long-term directional trends and agential, goal-seeking processes in the natural world.

Update (Sept. 1, 2020): While the Science of Purpose priority is temporarily closed to open funding inquiries at this time, we are continuing to develop targeted initiatives on this priority. Our first initiative was the Ideas Challenge, which will award 50 prizes of $1000 each to U.S. residents with novel ideas for advancing the science of goal directedness. Thank you to all the applicants of this challenge. Stay tuned for news of the awardees and their ideas in early October!

In our second phase, the Foundation is now soliciting preliminary applications for projects for our first Science of Purpose Funding Initiative, which runs from September 1 through October 31. This initiative is open to global scholars who hold a doctorate or equivalent at the time of submission. Successful applicants will be invited to submit full proposals for funding consideration starting in 2021.


This priority supports research that seeks to clarify and test notions of apparent agential, goal-directed, and even purposive processes in the sciences, as well as empirical and theoretical projects that explore two broad streams of inquiry across a range of disciplines (e.g. physics of life, chemistry, and biology):

  • Target-oriented behaviors. Many biotic and even some abiotic systems might be said to display “agentic behaviors” that appear to be self-correcting and target-oriented. How do such processes emerge, and how are they maintained? Are these behaviors best understood in terms of non-reductive explanations? Can purposive behaviors be conceptualized in rigorous ways that help to advance empirical investigations?
  • Long-term directional trends. The emergence of life is one of the biggest mysteries in science. Somehow, increases in molecular complexity lead to gains in information, self-regulation, autocatalytic efficiency, and robustness. How might the physical laws that govern the evolution of the cosmos support the emergence of life? Are there principles or constraints in nature that operate at the abiotic-biotic interface or give rise to directional trends in evolutionary transitions?

Featured Grants

Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Christopher Southgate, Niles Lehman
Grantee(s): University of Exeter
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Sara Walker, Paul Davies
Grantee(s): Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Betul Kacar
Grantee(s): Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Jeff Hardin,
Grantee(s): University of Wisconsin-Madison
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Robert Hazen, Robert Downs
Grantee(s): Carnegie Institution for Science
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Adi Livnat, Karl Skorecki
Grantee(s): University of Haifa