Complexity

The emergent properties of complex adaptive systems. Systems with many agents constantly acting, and reacting, in parallel to produce large scale emergent behavior that can evolve in response to stimuli from the environment. Irreversible history, and uncertain future, with strong path dependency, and a tendency to maximize the entropy of the system as whole.

The Evolutionary Origins of Ritual, Music, and Dance

Evolutionary Psychology posits that many human behaviors are evolved adaptations. In his excellent books The Red Queen, and The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley explains the evolutionary origins of human sexuality, reciprocity, and collaboration. It is an easy mistake to assume that all common behaviors are adaptations of some kind, when in fact many are often merely side effects and confer no direct advantage. Despite this problem, the evidence that many behaviors are advantageous is compelling. With this in mind I am always on the look-out for evolutionary explanations of other behaviors, but remain wary that these may not imply adaptation.

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Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read many books that discuss various aspects of evolution but never a complete overview of the subject. While I understand how evolution works, and have no doubt about its veracity, I was not aware of the overwhelming supporting evidence for the theory from multiple different scientific disciplines: Paleontology, Biogeography, Embryology, Genetics, Comparative Anatomy etc. Mr Coyne relishes his task, clearly presenting the evidence fact by fact. Within the first 100 pages he presents a broad, and consistent body of evidence in which he weaves together facts from multiple fields. It was hugely entertaining reading an academic, at the top of his game, build such an impressive case. The evidence is undeniable and overwhelming. Evolution is true!

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Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been interested in the work of Stuart Kauffman since I first read about him 10 years ago. I have read his other book “At Home in the Universe” and so wanted to read this one. I find Kauffman very difficult to read, but worth the effort. This time I took notes as I was reading, which helped a great deal. Part of the reason I find him so interesting is that his books are, for me, a view into a mind on the edge of discovering something significant. I’m not sure Kauffman will actually discover whatever it is he is closing in on, but he’s barking up the right tree and its fascinating to watch him wrestle with his problems.

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The Imortal Game


The Immortal Game, originally uploaded by Virtual Traveler.

This is a photo of a painting I commissioned from Blair Bradshaw last year. It shows the final crushing move of the Immortal Game, circled in red. I chose Blair because I have a print of one of his other pieces and had been to his studio so was familiar with his style. I thought he would do a great job of the immortal game, which I had been thinking about getting painted for some time. The piece is 5ft square and is comprised of 64 small square mini-canvases. Blair and I spoke at length about how to visually show the history of the game. I think he did a great job and am very pleased with what I got.

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Unprecedented Phenomena. The Implications of the Oklo Fossil Reactors

When Stephen Hawking said “The only thing nature abhors more than a vacuum is a naked singularity”. He was talking specifically about the laws of physics in relation to black holes. But his observation could equally apply to the body of human knowledge and the existence of unprecedented phenomena. The only thing that drives our desire for knowledge more than a complete absence of information is the presence of a single, undeniable but unprecedented piece of evidence. Such tantalizing evidence demands explanation.

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The Evolution of Cooperation – Social Software and the Shadow of the Future.

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod is an outstanding book. First published in 1984 it has increased in significance with the evolution of the Internet. In the book Axelrod examines how cooperation can emerge and stabilize in multi-participant environments. The book is fascinating as an analysis of the evolution of cooperation, but is of particular interest to anyone seeking to establish effective; social software systems, peer-to-peer networks, or multi-player gaming environments. Axelrod builds his thesis on the analysis of a gaming tournament he organized. He invited multiple people from many different fields; economics, computer science, evolutionary biology, etc, to submit computer programs employing well defined strategies to play a series of games of Prisoner’s Dilemma. Each program played several hundred games against every other program. The results were surprising and enlightening.

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Comparing the 2001 World Trade Center Attack with the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

RMS (Risk Management Solutions) is a small US company that specializes in catastrophe models for the insurance industry. These models cover natural perils such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and other windstorms. In 2002 RMS produced a report entitled Accessing Workers Comp Risk from Earthquakes. What if the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake occurred today. The point of this report was to draw the attention of catastrophe risk managers in the insurance industry to the potentially high costs of workers compensation in large catastrophes. It also makes fairly sobering reading for people who work in San Francisco.

RMS assumed the replay of the Great Quake would occur at peak office occupancy hours; mid-afternoon, mid-week. The Diagram below shows the relative ground shaking used to calculate potential losses

The following table shows the potential losses in workers compensation from a repeat of the 1906 earthquake compared to equivalent losses from the World Trade Center Attack.

Total Losses 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Repeat World Trade Center Attack
Expected 90% Confidence
Workers Compensation Injuries 37,000 78,000 Unknown
Workers Compensation Deaths 3,000 5,000 2,700
Workers Compensation Insured Loss $3.4 billion $7.1 billion $2.5 – $5.0 billion

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Economics and the Internet’s Large-Scale Topology

Distribution of the Internet around the world. (Top) Worldwide router density map obtained using NetGeo tool to identify the geographical location of 228,265 routers mapped out by the extensive router level mapping effort of Govindan and Tangmunarunkit. (Bottom) Population density map based on the CIESIN’s population data. Both maps are shown using a box resolution of 1 degree by 1 degree. The bar next to each map gives the range of values encoded by the color code, indicating that the highest population density within this resolution is of the order 10**7 people/box, while the highest router density is of the order of 10**4 routers/box. Note that while in economically developed nations there are visibly strong correlations between population and router density, in the rest of the world Internet access is sparse, limited to urban areas characterized by population density peaks.

This graph and the explanation above are taken from Modeling the Internet’s Large-Scale Topology by Soon-Hyung Yook, Hawoong Jeong, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Department of Physics, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA.

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The Art of Turing Completion

As I was researching the invention of the computer I found a few sites that while only tangentially related to the subject at hand were definitely worthy of note.

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Emergence of Cooperation in Balinese Rice Farming

Cooperation in Balinese Rice Farming by J. Stephen Lansing and John H. Miller

This great article explains in clear terms how Balinese rice farmers acting in self interest and following a few simple rules have caused the emergency of a large scale system that tends to maximize rice yields given the prevailing constraints.

For centuries Balinese rice farmers have engaged in cooperative agricultural practices. Without centralized control, farmers have created a carefully coordinated system that allows productive farming in an ecosystem that is rife with water scarcity and the threat of disease and pests.

It seems to me that P2P computing networks are in some ways analogus to the rice famers networks of fields and irrigation channels. Yet they have so far failed to produce any large scale emergent features, unless you count the destruction of the music industry as an emergent feature! The current crop of P2P systems seem to lack the simple rules that lead to emergent properties. I suspect it will not be too long before we see P2P systems that feature these simple rules and produce large scale emergent features.

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