People have wanted to understand our motivations, thoughts and behaviors since the ancient Greeks inscribed “know thyself” on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. And understanding the brain’s place in health and disease is one of this century’s greatest challenges – take Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression for example.
There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. Three neuroscientists have just been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for their discoveries of cells that act as a positioning system in the brain – in other words, the mechanism that allows us to navigate spaces using spatial information and memory at a cellular level.
There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. For example, the neural basis of how we make fast and slow decisions and decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. There is also an understanding how the brain is affected by stress and how these stresses might switch our brains into habit mode, for example operating on “automatic pilot” and forgetting to carry out planned tasks, or the opposite goal-directed system, which would see you going out of your usual routine, for example, popping into a different supermarket to get special ingredients for a recipe.
Disruption in the balance between the two is evident in neuro-psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and recent evidence suggests that lower grey matter volumes in the brain can bias towards habit formation. Neuroscience is also demonstrating commonalities in disorders of compulsivity, methamphetamine abuse and obese subjects with eating disorders.
Neuroscience can challenge previously accepted views. For example, major abnormalities in dopamine function were thought the main cause of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, recent work suggests that the main cause of the disorder may instead be associated with structural differences in grey matter in the brain.
What neuroscience has made evidently clear is that changes in the brain cause changes in your thinking and actions, but the relationship is two-way. Environmental stressors, including psychological and substance abuse, can also change the brain. We also now know our brains continue developing into late adolescence or early young adulthood, it is not surprising that these environmental influences are particularly potent in a number of disorders during childhood and adolescence including autism.
Many studies show us that our brains prefer storytelling to facts.When we read facts, only the language parts of our brains work to understand the meaning. When we read a story, the language parts of our brains and any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading, light up.This means that it’s easier for us to remember stories than facts. Our brains can't make major distinctions between a story we’re reading about and something we are actually doing....
How Much Data is Created Every Minute an infographic Every minute massive amounts of it are being generated phone, website application across the Internet.
...I don’t anticipate the growth of data slowing down in my lifetime. There’s too much goodness to be mined from it all.
Recently, we decided to revisit the topic and found, not surprisingly, that the pace of data creation continued to accelerate. Our first infographic, for example, showed that Facebook users shared 684,478 pieces of content. Fast forward a couple of years and that number has exploded to 2,460,000 pieces. Insane....
Over the course of human history, thousands of languages have developed from what was once a much smaller number. How did we end up with so many? And how do we keep track of them all? Alex Gendler explains how linguists group languages into language families, demonstrating how these linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past.
Power grids, road maps, and river streams are examples of infrastructural networks which are highly vulnerable to external perturbations. An abrupt local change of load (voltage, traffic density, or water level) might propagate in a cascading way and affect a significant fraction of the network. Almost discontinuous perturbations can be modeled by shock waves which can eventually interfere constructively and endanger the normal functionality of the infrastructure. We study their dynamics by solving the Burgers equation under random perturbations on several real and artificial directed graphs. Even for graphs with a narrow distribution of node properties (e.g., degree or betweenness), a steady state is reached exhibiting a heterogeneous load distribution, having a difference of one order of magnitude between the highest and average loads. Unexpectedly we find for the European power grid and for finite Watts-Strogatz networks a broad pronounced bimodal distribution for the loads. To identify the most vulnerable nodes, we introduce the concept of node-basin size, a purely topological property which we show to be strongly correlated to the average load of a node.
(...) The worrisome misconception is that only shifts in relative power can destabilize a “balance of threat”. This falsely assumes that balanced situations, called equilibria, are inherently stable, which is actually often not the case. For illustration, consider the simple experiment of a circular vehicle flow (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Suugn-p5C1M ): although it is apparently not difficult to drive a car at constant speed together with other cars, the equilibrium traffic flow will break down sooner or later. If only the density on the traffic circle is higher than a certain value, a so-called "phantom traffic jam" will form without any particular reason – no accident, no obstacles, nothing. The lesson here is that dynamical systems can easily get out of control even if everyone has good information, the latest technology and best intentions.
What if this is similarly true for the balance of threat? What if this equilibrium is unstable? Then, it could suddenly and unexpectedly break down. (...)
RISK OF WAR: WHAT, IF THE "BALANCE OF THREAT" IS UNSTABLE?
This article is based on the keynote address presented to the European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR) in 2012, on the occasion of Edgar Morin receiving the Bertalanffy Prize in Complexity Thinking, awarded by the Bertalanffy Centre for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS). The following theses will be elaborated on: (a) The whole is at the same time more and less than its parts; (b) We must abandon the term "object" for systems because all the objects are systems and parts of systems; (c) System and organization are the two faces of the same reality; (d) Eco-systems illustrate self-organization.
Complex Thinking for a Complex World – About Reductionism, Disjunction and Systemism Edgar Morin
Systema: connecting matter, life, culture and technology Vol 2, No 1 (2014)
This article is an attempt to capture, in a reasonable space, some of the major developments and currents of thought in information theory and the relations between them. I have particularly tried to include changes in the views of key authors in the field. The domains addressed range from mathematical-categorial, philosophical and computational approaches to systems, causal-compositional, biological and religious approaches and messaging theory. I have related key concepts in each domain to my non-standard extension of logic to real processes that I call Logic in Reality (LIR). The result is not another attempt at a General Theory of Information such as that of Burgin, or a Unified Theory of Information like that of Hofkirchner. It is not a compendium of papers presented at a conference, more or less unified around a particular theme. It is rather a highly personal, limited synthesis which nonetheless may facilitate comparison of insights, including contradictory ones, from different lines of inquiry. As such, it may be an example of the concept proposed by Marijuan, still little developed, of the recombination of knowledge. Like the best of the work to which it refers, the finality of this synthesis is the possible contribution that an improved understanding of the nature and dynamics of information may make to the ethical development of the information society.
The Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) – a Brazilian think-tank linked to the government – is making a request for proposals for eight IDB consultants to contribute with chapters to a seminal book on Complex Systems applied to Public Policies. On one hand, the project aims at pushing forward the modeling frontier, its methodologies and applications for the case of Brazil. On the other hand, the project pursues actual improvement on the understanding of public policies’ mechanisms and effects, through complex systems’ tools and concepts. The book encompasses five broad themes: (1) concepts and methods; (2) computational tools; (3) public policy phenomena as complex systems (specifically: society, economics, ecology and the cities); (4) applied examples in the world and its emergence in Brazil; and (5) possibilities of prognosis, scenarios and policy-effect analysis using complex systems tools. The consultant is expected to deliver a proposed extended summary, a preliminary version to be discussed in a seminar in Brazil (July-September 2014) and the final version of the chapter.
Using algorithms based on the swarming behavior of ants and bees, the U.S. Navy is turning to driverless boats to protect its ships.
This August, on the James River in Virginia, the U.S. Navy staged the kind of scene you’d expect to see at the beginning of a James Bond movie. As a large ship moved through the water, a helicopter overhead spotted an unidentified boat approaching and sent a warning to a small fleet of escort boats. Some were armed with loudspeakers, others with flashing lights, another with a .50 caliber machine gun.
Once the fleet zeroed in on the threatening vessel with radar and infrared sensors, some of the escort boats broke away and quickly encircled it. They flashed lights and blasted warnings through loudspeakers. Threat resolved.
All of the escort boats were unmanned—and yet they moved together as a group, thanks to what’s known as “swarm intelligence.”
Himalayas and tropical regions likely next hotspots for language extinction. The world's roughly 7000 known languages are disappearing faster than species, with a different tongue dying approximately every 2 weeks. Now, by borrowing methods used in ecology to track endangered species, researchers have identified the primary threat to linguistic diversity: economic development. Though such growth has been shown to wipe out language in the past on a case-by-case basis, this is the first study to demonstrate that it is a global phenomenon, researchers say.
Many people know about the threatened polar bear and extinct passenger pigeon, but few have heard of endangered and extinct languages such as Eyak in Alaska, whose last speaker died in 2008, or Ubykh in Turkey, whose last fluent speaker died in 1992, says Tatsuya Amano, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new study. It’s well known that economic growth or the desire to achieve it can drive language loss, he notes—dominant languages such as Mandarin Chinese and English are often required for upward mobility in education and business, and economic assistance often encourages recipients to speak dominant languages. Whereas specific case studies demonstrate such forces at work, such as the transition from Cornish to English in the United Kingdom and from Horom to English in Nigeria, this is the first study to examine losses worldwide and rank economic growth alongside other possible influences, he says.
Data on the number and location of surviving fluent speakers of endangered languages are scant, but Amano and colleagues used the most complete source available—an online repository called Ethnologue—for their analysis, he says. From the database, the group was able to calculate the geographical range, number of speakers, and rate of speaker decline for languages worldwide and map that data within square grid cells roughly 190 km across, spanning the entire globe. Although they were able to obtain information about the range and number of speakers for more than 90% of the world’s estimated 6909 languages, they could only glean details about the rate of decline or growth for 9%, or 649, of those languages, Amano notes.
Next, they looked for correlations between language loss and factors such as a country's gross domestic product and levels of globalization as calculated by an internationally recognized index. In addition, they examined environmental factors such as altitude, which might contribute to language loss by affecting how easily communities can communicate and travel.
Of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss, Amano says. Two types of language loss hotspots emerged from the study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. One was in economically well developed regions such as northwestern North America and northern Australia; a second was in economically developing regions such as the tropics and the Himalayas. Certain aspects of geography seemed to act as a buffer or threat, Amano says. For example, recent declines appear to occur faster in temperate climates than in the tropics or mountainous regions—perhaps because it is easier to travel in and out of temperate regions, Amano says. More research is necessary to determine precisely what it is about economic development that kills languages, he adds. Figuring out how growth interacts with other factors such as landscape is the next step, he says.
"This is the first really solid statistical study I've seen which shows principles about language decline that we've know about, but hadn't been able to put together in a sound way," says Leanne Hinton, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley. Economics is far from the whole story, however, she says. In the United States, for example, current attitudes toward endangered tongues stem in large part from historical policies that forced young American Indians to eschew their native tongues in order to learn English, she says. Generations of disease, murder, and genocide—both historic and present, in some regions—have also played an important role and were not included in the new study's analysis, she says.
Although the study is silent on the subject of interventions to help preserve endangered languages, there is a range of revitalization efforts that can serve as examples, such as the incorporation of the Hawaiian language into school curricula and daily government operations, she says.
Vax, a game by Ellsworth Campbell and Isaac Bromley, explores how a disease spreads through a network, starting with just one infected person. It's a simple concept that works well.
When you start the game, you have a network of uninfected people. The more connected a person is, the more chances that person can infect others upon his or her own infection. Your goal is to strategically administer a limited supply of vaccinations and to quarantine people to prevent as many infections as you can.
Two great trends are evident in the evolution of life on Earth: towards increasing diversification and towards increasing integration. Diversification has spread living processes across the planet, progressively increasing the range of environments and free energy sources exploited by life. Integration has proceeded through a stepwise process in which living entities at one level are integrated into cooperative groups that become larger-scale entities at the next level, and so on, producing cooperative organizations of increasing scale (for example, cooperative groups of simple cells gave rise to the more complex eukaryote cells, groups of these gave rise to multi-cellular organisms, and cooperative groups of these organisms produced animal societies). The trend towards increasing integration has continued during human evolution with the progressive increase in the scale of human groups and societies. The trends towards increasing diversification and integration are both driven by selection. An understanding of the trajectory and causal drivers of the trends suggests that they are likely to culminate in the emergence of a global entity. This entity would emerge from the integration of the living processes, matter, energy and technology of the planet into a global cooperative organization. Such an integration of the results of previous diversifications would enable the global entity to exploit the widest possible range of resources across the varied circumstances of the planet. This paper demonstrates that it's case for directionality meets the tests and criticisms that have proven fatal to previous claims for directionality in evolution.
The direction of evolution: The rise of cooperative organization John E. Stewart
Neuroscience depends on monitoring the electrical activities of neurons within functioning brains (Alivisatos et al., 2012; Bansal et al., 2012; Gerhard et al., 2013) and has advanced through steady improvements in the underlying observational tools. The number of neurons simultaneously recorded using wired electrodes, for example, has doubled every 7 years since the 1950s, currently allowing electrical observation of hundreds of neurons at sub-millisecond timescales (Stevenson and Kording, 2011). Recording techniques have also diversified: activity-dependent optical signals from neurons endowed with fluorescent indicators can be measured by photodetectors, and radio-frequency emissions from excited nuclear spins allow the construction of magnetic resonance images modulated by activity-dependent contrast mechanisms. Ideas for alternative methods have been proposed, including the direct recording of neural activities into information-bearing biopolymers (Kording, 2011; Zamft et al., 2012; Glaser et al., 2013).
Simultaneously measuring the activities of all neurons in a mammalian brain at millisecond resolution is a challenge beyond the limits of existing techniques in neuroscience. Entirely new approaches may be required, motivating an analysis of the fundamental physical constraints on the problem. We outline the physical principles governing brain activity mapping using optical, electrical, magnetic resonance, and molecular modalities of neural recording. Focusing on the mouse brain, we analyze the scalability of each method, concentrating on the limitations imposed by spatiotemporal resolution, energy dissipation, and volume displacement. Based on this analysis, all existing approaches require orders of magnitude improvement in key parameters. Electrical recording is limited by the low multiplexing capacity of electrodes and their lack of intrinsic spatial resolution, optical methods are constrained by the scattering of visible light in brain tissue, magnetic resonance is hindered by the diffusion and relaxation timescales of water protons, and the implementation of molecular recording is complicated by the stochastic kinetics of enzymes. Understanding the physical limits of brain activity mapping may provide insight into opportunities for novel solutions. For example, unconventional methods for delivering electrodes may enable unprecedented numbers of recording sites, embedded optical devices could allow optical detectors to be placed within a few scattering lengths of the measured neurons, and new classes of molecularly engineered sensors might obviate cumbersome hardware architectures. We also study the physics of powering and communicating with microscale devices embedded in brain tissue and find that, while radio-frequency electromagnetic data transmission suffers from a severe power–bandwidth tradeoff, communication via infrared light or ultrasound may allow high data rates due to the possibility of spatial multiplexing. The use of embedded local recording and wireless data transmission would only be viable, however, given major improvements to the power efficiency of microelectronic devices.
This course of 25 lectures, filmed at Cornell University in Spring 2014, is intended for newcomers to nonlinear dynamics and chaos. It closely follows Prof. Strogatz's book, "Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering." The mathematical treatment is friendly and informal, but still careful. Analytical methods, concrete examples, and geometric intuition are stressed. The theory is developed systematically, starting with first-order differential equations and their bifurcations, followed by phase plane analysis, limit cycles and their bifurcations, and culminating with the Lorenz equations, chaos, iterated maps, period doubling, renormalization, fractals, and strange attractors. A unique feature of the course is its emphasis on applications. These include airplane wing vibrations, biological rhythms, insect outbreaks, chemical oscillators, chaotic waterwheels, and even a technique for using chaos to send secret messages. In each case, the scientific background is explained at an elementary level and closely integrated with the mathematical theory. The theoretical work is enlivened by frequent use of computer graphics, simulations, and videotaped demonstrations of nonlinear phenomena. The essential prerequisite is single-variable calculus, including curve sketching, Taylor series, and separable differential equations. In a few places, multivariable calculus (partial derivatives, Jacobian matrix, divergence theorem) and linear algebra (eigenvalues and eigenvectors) are used. Fourier analysis is not assumed, and is developed where needed. Introductory physics is used throughout. Other scientific prerequisites would depend on the applications considered, but in all cases, a first course should be adequate preparation
Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos - Steven Strogatz, Cornell University
In 2011, the wrath of the 99% kindled Occupy movements around the world. The protests petered out, but in their wake an international conversation about inequality has arisen, with tens of thousands of speeches, articles, and blogs engaging everyone from President Barack Obama on down. Ideology and emotion drive much of the debate. But increasingly, the discussion is sustained by a tide of new data on the gulf between rich and poor. This special issue uses these fresh waves of data to explore the origins, impact, and future of inequality around the world.
What the numbers tell us Gilbert Chin, Elizabeth Culotta
Individuals in groups, whether composed of humans or other animal species, often make important decisions collectively, including avoiding predators, selecting a direction in which to migrate and electing political leaders. Theoretical and empirical work suggests that collective decisions can be more accurate than individual decisions, a phenomenon known as the ‘wisdom of crowds’.
[...] Our results demonstrate that the conventional view of the wisdom of crowds may not be informative in complex and realistic environments, and that being in small groups can maximize decision accuracy across many contexts.
The generality of network properties allows the utilization of the ‘wisdom’ of biological systems surviving crisis events for many millions of years. Yeast protein-protein interaction network shows a decrease in community-overlap (an increase in community cohesion) in stress. Community rearrangement seems to be a cost-efficient, general crisis-management response of complex systems. Inter-community bridges, such as the highly dynamic ‘creative nodes’ emerge as crucial determinants helping crisis survival.
Crisis Responses and Crisis Management: what can we learn from Biological Networks? Péter Csermely, Agoston Mihalik, Zsolt Vassy, András London
Systema: connecting matter, life, culture and technology
Everyone cheats a little from time to time. But most major betrayals within organizations – from accounting fraud to doping in sports – start with a first step that crosses the line, according to Dan Ariely, a leading behavioral economist at Duke and author of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves. That step can start people on a “slippery slope.” In this interview with Wharton management professor Adam Grant, Ariely helps leaders understand how to prevent people from taking that first step, how to create a code of conduct that makes rules and expectations clear and why good rules are critical to organizations.
It is commonly believed that information spreads between individuals like a pathogen, with each exposure by an informed friend potentially resulting in a naive individual becoming infected. However, empirical studies of social media suggest that individual response to repeated exposure to information is far more complex. As a proxy for intervention experiments, we compare user responses to multiple exposures on two different social media sites, Twitter and Digg. We show that the position of exposing messages on the user-interface strongly affects social contagion. Accounting for this visibility significantly simplifies the dynamics of social contagion. The likelihood an individual will spread information increases monotonically with exposure, while explicit feedback about how many friends have previously spread it increases the likelihood of a response. We provide a framework for unifying information visibility, divided attention, and explicit social feedback to predict the temporal dynamics of user behavior.
The Simple Rules of Social Contagion Nathan O. Hodas & Kristina Lerman