Symposium Week 9

No questions from classes this week. All classes have had a go, so for this week we are trying something different: each staff member is nominating a passage or idea from each of the readings to share and we’ll talk about them. Here they are.

From the Duncan Watts:

Fortunately, as capricious, confusing, and unpredictable as individual humans typically are, when many of them get together, it is sometimes the case that we can understand the basic organizing principles while ignoring many of the complicated details. This is the flip side of complex systems. While knowing the rules that govern the behavior of individuals does not necessarily help us to predict the behavior of the mob, we may be able to predict the very same mob behavior without knowing very much at all about the unique personalities and characteristics of the individuals that make it up. (p. 26.)

In oscillator terms, the pack represents a synchronised state, and whether or not the system synchronizes depends both on the distribution of intrinsic frequencies(their individual lap times) and on the coupling strength (how much attention they pay to one another ). If they all have the same ability and they start together, they will remain synchronized regardless of their coupling. If their distribution of abilities is great, such as in the final sprint of a ten-thousand-meter race, then no matter how much they want to stay together, the pack will disintegrate and synchrony will be lost. As simple a model as this is, it turns out to be a nice representation of many interesting systems in biology, ranging from pacemaker cells to fireflies flashing to crickets chirping. Strogatz also studied the mathematics of physical systems, like arrays of super-conducting Josephson junctions extremely fast switches that might one day form the basis of a new generation of computers. (pp. 32-33.)

How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior? (p. 24.)

How is it that assembling a large collection of components into a system results in something altogether different from just a disassociated collection of components? (p. 24.)

And from the Albert-László Barabási:

These hubs are the strongest argument against the utopian vision of an egalitarian cyberspace. Yes, we all have the right to put anything we wish on the Web. But will anybody notice? If the Web were a random network, we would all have the same chance to be seen and heard. In a collective manner, we somehow create hubs, Websites to which everyone links. They are very easy to find, no matter where you are the Web. Compared to these hubs, the rest of the Web is invisible. (p.58.)

Why do we play the Kevin Bacon game then? Bacon’s prominence is a historical fluke, rooted in the publicity offered by the Stewart show, Every actor is three links from most actors. Bacon is by no means special. Not only is he far from the center of the universe, he’s far indeed from the center of Hollywood. (p. 62.)

Prior to digital networks, society was ‘structured into highly connected clusters, or close-knit circles of friends, in which everybody knows everybody else. A few external links connecting these clusters keep them from being isolated from the rest of the world. If Granovetter’s description is correct, then the network describing our society has a rather peculiar structure. It is a collection of complete graphs, tiny clusters in which each node is connected to all other nodes within the cluster. These complete graphs are linked to each other by a few weak ties between acquaintances belonging to different circles of friends. (p. 42.)

Connectors — node with an anomalously large number of links — are present in very diverse complex systems, ranging from the economy to the cell. They are a fundamental property of most networks…(p. 56.)