Friday, January 2, 2009


Inspired by Team Hedengren, I've decided to post more often on this blog.  It makes for a great New Years Resolution, *plus* an excellent way to procrastinate on already overdue term papers.  (Don't worry, they're overdue for legitimate reasons.)

Today I want to plug an excellent book I reread over the break: Sync : The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order.  The book starts off with an improbable chapter about fireflies.  Evidently, there are places in the world where fireflies spontaneously start to blink in unison every evening.  (See blurry youtube video here.)  The puzzle: how do all these bugs achieve perfect unison?  They don't start of in sync, they're not particularly smart, and they don't share a metronome or a conductor.

Strogatz (the author) goes on to relate how scientists (including himself) have started to crack this problem.  He describes the strong similarities among fireflies, human sleep cycles, pacemaker cells in hearts,  superconductors, power grids, collapsing bridges, and so on.  It turns out that all of these systems are governed by the same kind of spontaneous order.  The book is part mystery novel, part math book, all very readable.  Definitely worth a visit to the library or bookstore.

(And now I'll head back to my term paper on "Issue-specific part unity.")

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