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.
I was listening to an interview with Michael Gazzaniga, the author of the book Human while drawing at work. The discussion first dealt with the uniqueness and similarities between other living creatures, then moved on to how that applies as a logical overlay in bioethics and observational similarities that seem hard-wired into our genome objective to culture or background. The most entertaining thing about the segment was how easily the author condensed complex ideas into simple and relevant terms. He likes to laugh alot too. Haha. Here’s a short description of the book from the publisher’s website:
One of the world’s leading neuroscientists explores how best to understand the human condition by examining the biological, psychological, and highly social nature of our species within the social context of our lives.
What happened along the evolutionary trail that made humans so unique? In his widely accessible style, Michael Gazzaniga looks to a broad range of studies to pinpoint the change that made us thinking, sentient humans, different from our predecessors.
Neuroscience has been fixated on the life of the psychological self for the past fifty years, focusing on the brain systems underlying language, memory, emotion, and perception. What it has not done is consider the stark reality that most of the time we humans are thinking about social processes, comparing ourselves to and estimating the intentions of others. In Human, Gazzaniga explores a number of related issues, including what makes human brains unique, the importance of language and art in defining the human condition, the nature of human consciousness, and even artificial intelligence.
A couple days ago I spotted this weird green creature outside the front door on my way to throw out the garbage. At first I thought it was a grasshopper, but after a quick inspection knew that it was something else entirely. One of the most interesting features was the shape of its head, which resembled a lobster. Looking even closer revealed how neat looking the eyes were. The camouflage on its irises matched the surrounding pattern outside the eye socket! I’ve never seen a visitor like it around here, so of course I took some pictures.
In pleasant surprise, we both saw the critter in the same place the very next day! Fantastic.
It seems that our living quarters has become refuge twice for our new celebrity. We quickly got pictures, knowing that it would probably be the only chance in our lifetime to hang out with such royalty. I’ll have to admit I was a bit nervous, being starstruck and all. If anyone with a biology background knows what this is, please let me know.