Traffic on the highway. Ants in the backyard. Masses of prey fleeing from a predator’s onslaught. We’ve all had the experience of being in crowds, or observed how a group can function as a coherent structure.
Mathematician Steven Strogatz posits these questions in more detail pertaining to the natural synchronization that exists all around us. He makes several statements at the beginning of the lecture that can either occupy the mode of discomfort or consolation, depending on your prevailing viewpoint of reality:
Does one need to be intelligent, or even in more extreme cases, alive to synchronize in nature?
Steven Strogatz studies some of the most interesting problems in applied mathematics — such as the intersection of math and biology, looking for patterns in the human sleep-wake cycle or in swarms of blinking fireflies.
More recently, he’s been looking at nonlinear dynamics and chaos applied to physics, engineering and biology, and branching out into new areas, such as explorating of the small-world phenomenon in social networks (popularly known as “six degrees of separation”), and its generalization to other complex networks in nature and technology.
Recently, Strogatz’ work has been in the news as British engineers released the definitive paper on the Millenium Bridge wobble, and its roots in how people walk on an unpredictable surface.