Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Complexity Matters
Blog Home All Blogs
The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.


Search all posts for:   


Top tags: complexity matters  buscell  health  research  culture  stopMRSA  news  cohn  community  innovation  nature  catching butterflies  MRSA  education  healthcare  neuroscience  medicine  positive deviance  leadership  relationships  resilience  music  science  technology  networks  art  environment  leaders  organizations  ecology 

Leadership Success Varies With Conditions and Context

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, September 25, 2015

When Did CEOs Become Celebrities?

When A. G. Lafleyretired as CEO of Proctor & Gamble in 2009, Fortune Magazine noted he was beginning a "gilded semi-retirement" hailed as an "in-demand guru on corporate strategy." Since taking over leadership in 2000, he had built the company into a consumer powerhouse and a hotbed of innovation in new products, marketing, sales and rigorous costumer focus. Business writers praised what appeared to be a carefully executed hand-off to the new CEO Robert McDonald, a highly qualified corporate insider.

Things didn't go as planned. By 2013, sales were below expectations, P&G market share was down, and critics complained about slack financial performance. McDonald, who now heads the Veterans Affairs Administration, resigned under pressure and P&G brought Lafley back.According to James Surowiecki and other analysts, Lafley's efforts have been OK.

And that raises the question of why highly successful leaders may not be able to repeat earlier achievements.In the New Yorker story "Comeback Conundrum," Surowiecki writes that such inconsistent performances challenge the common conception of the "corporate savior," from whom heroic skill and capacities are expected. In an interesting earlier article, Surowiecki blamed ascent of the flamboyant 1980s chief executive of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca,for a dramatic change in American attitudes toward CEOs. In earlier eras, CEOs were viewed as competent buttoned-down organization men, Surowiecki writes. But Iacocca's marketing savvy, individuality and tough-guy image had mass appeal. He became a celebrity. The media called him a mogul, his autobiography became a best seller, and there was talk of his running for president.

Lackluster CEO comeback performances aren't always the fault of the CEO, Surowiecki writes, and while top leadership is vital, success depends on many elements beyond any individual's control: demographic shifts, changing consumer tastes, and the state of the economy as well as expectations about leadership. 

Leaders well suited for one period may be ill equipped for the next. Surowiecki cites Henry Ford as a classic example. He was brilliant at efficiency, but less astute on customer appeal. He apparently did say people could buy his Model T in any color "as long as it's black."

Lafley earned his reputation as a visionary during a booming economic period when his expansions and acquisitions were highly successful. Upon his return, he began sweeping cost cuts, reorganization, and planned to shed more than half of P&G's brands to get out of some unprofitable business areas.
A Strategy+ Business piece Lafley wrote in 2008 describe some of the early successes of his first tenure that he had to dismantle in his second. Surowiecki writes that despite Lafley's experience and capabilities, P&G faces the same problems now it did when he returned.

Surowiecki quotes Dartmouth Management Professor Sydney Finkelstein as saying it's a sign of trouble when firms rehire a former CEO. Further, the professor notes, luck plays a bigger part in success than most of us like to admit. He adds that companies that most perfectly fir their current environments are the most vulnerable when conditions change, whoever is in charge. David Taylor, a P&G veteran, has been designated the new CEO will take over in November. Read the New Yorker story here.     

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

In Businesses or the Arts, Constraints Aid Creativity

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, September 21, 2015
Aligning Simple Rules With Goals
Claude Monet's famous water lilies are actually part of a series of some 250 paintings in which the artist repeatedly explored shape, form, and movement in the light, color, and reflections that varied with time and seasons. Ever changing perceptions of the lilies, which he cultivated himself at his garden at Giverny, were the focus of his artistic work in the last 30 years of his life.
His earlier series of paintings that were related by subject and perspective included at least 10 paintings done at the Valley of the Creuse, and at least 25 canvases showing how his vision of haystacks in the fields near his home varied with the hour, the light, rain, sun and season. Critics say his work expanded the boundaries of vision and its representation with paint and brush strokes.
An introduction to the Water Lilies exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York provides Monet's thoughts on what he was trying to accomplish with the series: he said he wanted to create "the iIlusion of an endless whole, without horizon or bank." As he explored  the continually changing qualities of light and color, the introduction says, spatial cues of boundary and distance disappear as water and sky commingle. MoMA Curator Ann Temkin explains that Monet's work forever changed Impressionism, creating a new form that inspired and influenced later artists including Picasso. Earlier Impression gave the onlooker a view of a defined space in an understandable location-a field, a seaside. Seeing Monet's water lilies, she said, the viewer is immersed in the light and color of water, flowers and sky without edges or conventional markers.
Do the most creative artists relish the freedom to let their imaginations run wild? Or does their creativity flourish with the discipline of constraint? Kathleen Eisenhardt, in the book Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, which she coauthored with Donald Sull, describes research suggesting that rules foster creativity. In one study, high school students given "how to" rules, one type of simple rules, were judged most creative in composing a story and a sticker collage. Their work was compared with that of similar students who were given no rules, or just told to be creative. The authors also quote Patricia Stokes, a painter and psychologist at Columbia University, who has studied how master artists such as Monet, Piet Mondrian and the Scottish poet William Motherwell produced their groundbreaking work. Stokes says they imposed constraints on themselves, in terms of their subjects, the tools and materials they used, and the artists from whom they drew inspiration.
"By constraining infinite possibilities, simple rules allow creativity to flourish," Eisenhardt and Sull write, "less from thinking outside the box and more from deciding how to draw the box in the first place."    
The authors address creativity in music as well as visual arts, and describe the speed with which the band White Stripes produced two hit albums. The Guardian hailed White Stripes as "the key band of their time" and Rolling Stone reported White Stripes were the most influential band of the 2000s, with their mix of classic rock and boisterous punk. Eisenhardt and Sull write that the 2001 hit White Blood Cells was based on five simple rules: no blues, no guitar solos, no slide guitar, no covers and no bass. The rules constrained the musicians to a certain box, fueled rapid fire creativity, and led them to finish 18 songs in 10 days. The authors quote White Stripes frontman Jack White's comment to a New York Times interviewer: "I'm disgusted by artists or song writers who pretend there are no rules. There's nothing guiding them in their creativity." People in retailing or banking might agree.  
In their book on simple rules, Eisenhardt and Sull draw on a decade of research on how people develop the art of applying  simple rules tailored to a multitude of complex situations in businesses, professions, and personal lives. The book is full of great stories and interesting ideas, as well as discussions of different kinds of rules and their applications in vastly different environments. You can learn more about Kathleen Eisenhard's discoveries and insights on tomorrow's PlexusCall.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

“Molecular Tweeting” Sheds Light on Antibiotic Resistance

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 10, 2015

Disrupting Social Lives of Superbugs

Researches trying to learn how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance are getting clues from the networks formed among millions of twitter users.


Radu Marculescu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks better understanding of the way information flows through Twitter networks may provide insights on the way bacteria communicate with one another to initiate formation of dense biofilms that protect them against antibiotics. Bacteria communicate through a process called quorum sensing, in which cells release a chemical signal when their population has reached a certain density. In effect, the researchers say, that means the bacteria have   formed a social network that coordinates their behavior to build the biofilm, the biological shield that thwarts antibiotic penetration.


A Scientific American story by Larry Greenemeier explains how the micoblogging service is a useful metaphor for bacterial behavior, and why the complex mathematics of networks, in microbial and social media worlds, may help fight treatment resistant pathogens. Marculescu and his CMU team grew and studied many different bacterial specimens to learn what population density and other circumstances for each type preceded the cooperation to build the biofilm.  Then they created detailed software simulations of biofilm creation and development.


The story tells how scientists found it helpful to think about Twitter. They based computer models on three observed bacterial behaviors.  One bacterial group creates and passes along signaling molecules that tell all network cells to generate substances to for the biofilm; the scientists likened that to composing molecular tweets and retweets. A second group sends signals, but doesn’t share messages it receives—it doesn’t retweet, but instead hoards resources for its own growth. A third group neither tweets nor retweets. It just uses its uses its own material to build its own biofilm.


“We are able to use concepts from network theory to describe the bacteria quorum sensing network  dynamics across the population, and its contribution to  virulence factors, biofilm formation and antibiotic resistance,” Marculescu told the Scientific American.  CMU researchers think information about behavior of intercellular bacterial networks can help other researchers learn to disrupt quorum sensing, which could thwart creation of biofilms that defend against antibiotics.  Marculescu thinks that as work on carefully designed computer models of bacterial behavior continues, it will help scientists learn how different pathogens act under attack and enable discovery of more effective treatments.  In the long term, he thinks, the math and modeling will aid in development of personalized treatment plans for individual patients.

Marculescu is to present his “molecular tweeting” research this month at the Association for Computing Machinery’s ACM Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology and Health Informatics in Atlanta.  Read the Scientific American story here



This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Cultivating Intelligent Ignorance

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 03, 2015

Great Questions Emerge From Good Answers 

Columbia neuroscientist Stuart J. Firestein has what he calls an ancient proverb posted on his website: “It’s very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room. Especially when there is no cat.”

Discovery, he has explained in lectures and interviews, is like “feeling around in dark rooms, bumping into unidentifiable things, looking for barely perceptible phantoms.” And science, he says, is not the linear accumulation of facts to come up with a tidy proof for a preconceived hypothesis.  In his TED talk and in his 2012 book Ignorance, How it Drives Science, Professor Firestein emphasizes that facts, while necessary, are not solid permanent constructs.  Bits of information known to one generation will be challenged and revised by later generations.  What’s bigger than knowledge and perhaps even more intriguing, he asserts, is ignorance: all the things we don’t know and haven’t even imagined.

In a recent New York Times article, Jamie Holmes, author of the book Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, makes a case for teaching ignorance so that students learn the limitations of knowledge and begin to appreciate that some questions may merit more attention than answers. Firestein, Holmes and other scholars have asserted that the best answers don’t only answer existing questions, they generate new questions.  In his Times article, Holmes cites an analogy used by Michael Smithson, a social scientist at Australian National University: as the island of knowledge grows, so does the shoreline, where knowledge and ignorance mix.  

Like the fertile realm where ecosystems meet, the knowledge shoreline is a place of ambiguity, conflicting information and mystery. Holmes says psychologists find that ambiguity intensifies emotions—surprise and excitement as well as frustration and confusion. All these emotions, in his view, can drive students, researchers and the rest of us to pursue more understanding, follow curiosity and ask more questions. Agnotology, the study of ignorance, is a term popularized by  Robert Proctor, a Stanford historian of science.  Holmes traces scholarly examination of ignorance, and says “educators should devote time to the relationship between ignorance and creativity, and the strategic manufacture of uncertainty.” He also calls study of ignorance an emerging field, and notes its interdisciplinary nature is highlighted in a new book, the Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies.

Firestein describes good and bad kinds of ignorance. The good kind ignites discovery and questions. His own work on the sense of smell raises questions involving what we know and don’t know about the brain. For example, how do we detect and combine scent from five different molecules and recognize the smell of a rose? Valuable ignorance, he stresses, isn’t stupidity, the narrowness of bias or the callow disregard of fact. It’s intelligent recognition of not knowing that expands the boundaries of the knowable and the unknown.  Read Holmes’s piece here.  Hear Firestein’s TED talk here.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Predators and Protectors in Spicy Collaboration

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, August 24, 2015

A Dangerous Dance that Works for All

Before your pungent oregano reaches your spice rack, the plant may have played a role in an inter-species drama of life, death, treachery and transformation that scientists have only recently begun to unravel.

The Large Blue, an endangered butterfly once widespread in Europe, lays its eggs on the wild oregano plant. The caterpillar feeds on the plant’s dainty flowers for about two weeks. Then it drops to the ground, where it tricks a red ant known as Myrmica into taking it into the Myrmica’s underground nest. There it spends the next 10 months cannibalizing its faux siblings in the ant colony until it swells to 50 times its original weight, turns into a pupa and emerges as a Large Blue butterfly.

A New York Time story by Nicholas Wade describes this bizarre inter-species interaction.  How does the caterpillar deceive the ant into thinking it’s one of the ant’s own lost grubs? Its first tactic is timing, Wade explains.  It falls from the oregano plant at night, just when the Myrmica comes out of its nest to forage.  It adopts the physical posture of the Myrmica grub and even exudes a scent that mimics the grub, so the deceived ant takes it home.  Once inside, the imposter mimics the little sounds made by the ants’ queen, positioning itself to start feasting on ant larvae. Wade writes that ants eat their own larvae in hard times, so the adoptee’s behavior may not seem unduly odd.

Scientists have known about the association between the Large Blue and the Myrmica for a century, but researchers have only recently figured out how the Large Blue knows to lay its eggs in proximity of the underground nests of the only ant specie that will adopt its caterpillars. Dario Patricelli and Emelio Balletto at the University of Turin in Italy and Jeremy Thomas at the University of Oxford have developed evidence that the oregano plant brings the butterfly and ant together chemically.  In Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researches explain that oregano exudes insecticide fumes to keep ants and other pests away. The Myrmica evolved to detoxify the oregano’s insecticide, called carvacrol,  which allows it to flourish without other competitors. As the underground ants nip at the oreganos roots, the irritated plant doubles its carvacrol output, which signals the butterfly about the presence of its flowers and the location the Myrmica ants.

Despite its deadly ramifications, the system works well for ant, plant and butterfly, the researchers say. The oregano sacrifices some of its flowers, but benefits because the caterpillar will wipe out many of the ants that disturb its roots.  The Myrmica ant loses some of its colonies, but the oregano’s emissions provide it safe space free of rival ants. The Large Blue gets a safe underground nursery for its offspring.

When Large Blue and other butterflies were nearing extinction in England, Jeremy Thomas, the Oxford ecologist, discovered one reason: changing land use was destroying the Myrmica ant habitat.  These particular ants are sensitive to temperature, he found, and need warm soil just below the surface for their colonies. When farmers stopped grazing their animals on hillsides with poor soil, longer grass made the soil cooler. Thomas figured short turf in the butterfly’s habitat would aid its survival, but he found human habits hard to change.  “To persuade people to change the management of nature’s reserves, and then see the results, took many years,” Thomas told the Times. “By the time I had got people to turn things around, the butterfly was gone.”  Undeterred, Thomas introduced a nearly identical variety of Large Blue from Sweden, and now the Large Blue flourishes in 30 sites in Britain.  Read the Times story here and the Proceedings article here.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

How Successful Entrepreneurs Think: Constantly, Curiously

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bringing Creative and Operational Talents Together 

How do self-make billionaires differ from the rest of us? It’s more than money. Successful entrepreneurs  look at the world differently. They envision how ideas can become great businesses, they think and act in ways that generate creativity and effective leadership, and they have patience. They also tend to team with others with the skills to manage, organize and optimize human endeavor.

Researchers looked at the 2012 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, and identified those who had made their own fortunes rather than inheriting them.  They selected 120 they thought mirrored the geography and industries represented in the larger sample, and set about learning everything they could about them. John Sviolka, who heads Global Thought Leadership at PricewatehouseCoopers LLP and Mitch Cohen, vice chairman at PwC, describe their research in stories in Business + Strategy. They expected to find many like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, who had deep understanding of technology and markets in a fast moving sector of the economy, but they didn’t. They were surprised to find many were serial entrepreneurs, who made fortunes on second, third and even fourth businesses in an established market.

They found five habits of mind common to all the successful entrepreneurs they researched.

Empathetic imagination, they write, combines knowledge of a field, awareness of critical trends, and underexploited customer need, and creative empathy with the customer. As one example, they cite Judith Faulkner, who as a grad student in computer science founded Epic Systems, one of the world’s leading vendors of electronic heath record systems. She knew patients needed continuity in treatment and doctors needed efficiency, the authors say, and her empathy for both enabled her to design for both needs. Another entrepreneur with empathetic imagination, they say, is Lynda Resnick, who with her husband Stewart, developed a way to juice and market pomegranates just when people were looking for foods with antioxidant power. Her POMWonderful reached $165 million in annual sales five years after it was launched.   

A trait the authors call “patient urgency” enables entrepreneurs to recognize that good ideas may take time, and that they can be building toward their goal while waiting for the right time in the marketplace.  In a podcast posted on the Strategy + Business site, they talk about how the real estate developer Stephen  Ross envisioned a redeveloped Columbus Circle in New York well before it became upscale.

Inventive execution, the authors say, is the ability to bring creative and operational departments together. Doing this means applying design principles to all facets of a business, not just the publicly visible. For instance, Tim Brown in a Harvard Business Review article, explains how Thomas Edison realized success of his newly invented light bulb needed power generation and transmission systems, so he designed and created those too.  

Sviolka and Cohen say entrepreneurs take a balanced view of risk. They look at the benefits of taking or not taking a chance along with consequences of missed opportunities. The authors describe how Cheung Yan  came to the U.S.  from China and started a company that within 10 years became the leading exporter of paper. She bet her life’s savings, but she also realized the U.S. had better resources, including reams of recycled office paper, and less official corruption.  

Most of the highly successful entrepreneurs, they found, teamed with others who knew how to optimize advantages. They describe people who have the creative vision as producers, and those who know how to execute as performers. In their article on Two Types of High Potential Talent, they emphasize successful organizations need both. They say most success doesn’t come from solitary genius. In their podcast, they vice the opinion that solo albums by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were awful, but “together they magic.”

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

In Memory of John Holland: Complexity Science Pioneer

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Grand Intellectual Legacy from a Complexity Science Pioneer

 John Holland Explored “Ideas at the Interface of Disciplines” 

John Holland, pioneering scholar of complexity science and a professor who taught computer science, engineering and psychology, died August 9, 2015, at the age of 86. He devoted decades of scholarship to the examination of complex adaptive systems and formulated what became known as genetic algorithms. He was a long-time science advisor to Plexus Institute.

Dr. Holland was a professor at the University of Michigan, where he founded and led the Center for the Study of Complex Systems.  He was also a professor and member of the executive committee of the board of trustees at the Santa Fe Institute. His honors included a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 1992.

His books included Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems (1975), Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (1995), Emergence: From Chaos to Order (1998), Signals and Boundaries: Building Blocks for Complex Adaptive Systems (2012), and Complexity: A Very Short Introduction (2014).

His groundbreaking 1975 book has been cited more than 50,000 times and has been published in several languages. Intended to be the foundation for a general theory of adaptation, this book introduced genetic algorithms as a mathematical idealization that Dr. Holland used to develop his theory of schemata in adaptive systems. Later, genetic algorithms became widely used as an optimization and search method in computer science. Most optimization textbooks now include a chapter on such evolutionary algorithms, and his insights led to the field of evolutionary computation.

A tribute from the National Center for Science Education says Holland's work was inspired by the work of the evolutionary biologist R. A. Fisher. According to Kevin Kelly's Out of Control (2009), he regarded Fisher's The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930) as opening "a new world of human knowledge by subjugating nature's most potent force — evolution — with humankind's most potent tool — mathematics," and accordingly "began the job of trying to code evolution into a machine." The interaction between evolution and computation in Dr. Holland's work was bidirectional.

In the Santa Fe institute's memorial notice, David Krakauer, the president of the institute, commented that Holland was "unique in that he took ideas from evolutionary biology in order to transform search and optimization in computer science, and then he took what he discovered in computer science and allowed us to rethink evolutionary dynamics. This kid of rigorous communication between two communities of thought is a characteristic of very deep minds. And John’s ideas at the interface of disciplines continues to have a lasting impact on the culture and research at SFI.”

 In a 2007 Q&A session with NOVA, Dr. Holland noted that complex behavior emerges naturally from genetic algorithms that model evolution, adding, "Such concrete illustrations of emergence give little comfort to those advocating intelligent design." 

Holland was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on February 2, 1929. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his B.S. in physics in 1950, and the University of Michigan, where he received his M.A. in mathematics in 1954 and his Ph.D. in communication sciences in 1959. At the University of Michigan, he was a professor of computer science and engineering from 1967 onward and a professor of psychology from 1988 onward.

In 1994, Holland gave the first SFI Stanislaw Ulam Community Lectures in Santa Fe, an annual series that continues to this day. (Read about Holland's Ulam lectures in theWinter 1994 issue of theSFI Bulletin.)

"For those of us who knew him personally, John's enthusiasm for ideas was contagious,"says SFI External Professor Stephanie Forrest, one of his PhD students at Michigan in the 1980s. "He leaves us not only with a grand intellectual legacy, but with memories of the pure joy he brought to his research, cheerful disregard of academic dogma, and a great sense of fun and mischievousness."





This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Cultural Adaptation: Baseball in Japan and America

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Sport that Combines Stardom and Teamwork

Americans were shocked when a Japanese team won the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal for Baseball. Sports  historians say the victory highlighted not only rapidly increasing skill in an imported game but some similarities in distinctively different Japanese and American societies that made baseball a harmonious fit for both.

John Thorn is an author, cultural commentator and the official historian of Major League Baseball. In a recent blog Thorn reflected on a new book about Masanori Murakami, a pitcher who signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and was the first Japanese player in Major League Baseball. Thinking about  achievements of Murakami and others who followed led Thorn to recall an essay by Merritt Clifton, What Baseball Means to Japan and Humanity—Where the Twain Shall Meet.” Thorn says the essay is as insightful today as it was when it was written 30 years ago.

Clifton believed baseball fills a cultural role in Japan and America that other sports don’t. In distinguishing baseball’s essential difference from other sports, Clifton cited a 1977 doctoral thesis by a University of California sociologist Ken Hogarty, who maintained that the primary conflict in baseball represents both the tension between the individual and society and the harmony of teamwork. Immigrants to America came to prefer baseball to the European-style sports they’d known at home, cricket, rugby and rounders, which took less space and equipment, Clifton suggested, because many immigrants arrived in America after rebelling against some oppressive authority elsewhere.  

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis and even chess, Clifton wrote, the model is war and the object is for competing sides to capture territory or treasure. Individualism is subordinate to the group. Clifton theorized that those sports survive because we “retain our tribal instincts, expressed as nationalism and political partisanship.”

On defense, baseball teammates need cooperation. But each player has to emerge briefly from his team and perform as an individual. The batter has only his own skill and speed to hit the ball and get on base. Americans already viewed individualism as separate from mere selfishness, Clifton observed. So the game’s balance of social and individual responsibility must have appealed to young men who wanted to make the most of their own abilities and belong in a new society.

Professional baseball took root in Japan in the 1930s, when other foreign imports were viewed with suspicion amid the tensions that would culminate in World War II, Clifton wrote.  Japanese baseball promoters fostered a nationalistic attitude toward the game, which continued after the war as the sport grew.  Clifton thought the prominent focus on the man at bat encouraged the game’s Japanese popularity because it let team players shine while making an individual contribution. In addition, he wrote it added to a growing idea of mobility that in Japan and America accompanied increasing industrialization. A player could achieve status based on his own skill.

The diffusion scholar Everett Rogers wrote that one condition for innovations to take hold is compatibility with existing values and beliefs. Another is the capacity for reinvention -- for adaptations that suit local circumstances. Americans and Japanese value teamwork and individual skill. And several writers have observed the game has evolved with differences specific to each country. Clifton cites an American historical tendency for rough play, and a Japanese pride in courtesy, which would suggest an apology if a pitcher hit a batter. A USA Today story recounts some observations American and Japanese players in both countries. An American pitcher on a Japanese team, for instance, warns American newcomers to respect extremely rigorous practice drills and not to assume larger stature conveys any superiority. Read Thorn’s piece here and Clifton’s essay here.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Cancer and the Cells that Cheat

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Rogue Cells Cooperate Only to Help Themselves 

Among the microbes that cooperated to divide responsibilities, share resources and eventually evolve into the multi-cellular creatures that include humans, there have always been cheaters. And those cellular scoff-laws, many scientists say, may help explain the ancient origins of cancer.

In a New York Times science article, George Johnson explains that cooperating communities within multi-cellular organisms are held together “by a delicate web of biological compromises,” in which each cell surrenders some of its autonomy and contributes to the prosperity of the whole. He says cheaters are individual cells that break loose from the constraints of community, multiply selfishly, hog resources and expand their turf.  Johnson cites research suggesting cancer is an inevitable consequence of multi-cellularity. In “Cancer Across the Tree of Life, Cooperating and Cheating in Multicellularity,” in Philosophical Transactions B, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin report finding cancer and cancer-like conditions in nearly all multi-cellular organisms--fungi, plants, insects, birds, reptiles, fish and corals, as well as in mammals.

The Institute researchers say cancer is a breakdown of cellular cooperation. While healthy cells reproduce only enough for maintenance or modest growth, rogue cells proliferate wildly, consuming too much nutrition and space and can poison their environments. While healthy cells differentiate, taking on specialized functions, such as being cells for skin, bones or nerves, rogue cells abandon specialized roles and behave in ways that only benefit themselves and not the whole organism. The Institute researches say “deregulation of differentiation is a fundamental and universal aspect of carcinogenesis.” Further, while aberrant cells are usually eliminated by apoptosis, or cellular suicide, the rogue cancer causing cells don’t die until their host does.  

Of course, cooperating microbes are capable of extraordinary collective feats, not all of which are good for humans. A Quanta magazine article by Emily Singer notes, for instance, microbes can cooperate to secrete polymers that enable them to form microfilms that utterly thwart antibiotics. Singer cites research showing that some cooperating cellular communities thrive under specific conditions, such as expanding frontiers. Some researchers, she reports, have begun cautious examinations of whether principles that seem to support cellular cooperation may also apply to human populations.

Cooperation and competition can also change and fluctuate. Johnson writes that once cancer cells gain the upper hand, they too can begin cooperating, to the benefit of a tumor and the peril of the host. They can divide and mutate into new differentiated communities with deadly chemical capacities that feed tumors and colonize in remote parts of the body.

“Through a complex chemical dance, cancer cells can even beguile healthy cells into doing their bidding, acting in ways that promote malignancy,” Johnson writes. “It’s a strategy all too familiar in life: cooperate just enough to gain your competitors’ trust them betray them for your own advantage.  In the end, there are no winners. The cancer destroys its own ecosystem and dies with its host.”   


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

If You Love the Beat It’s Probably Fractal

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fractal Drumming and Pink Noise

Fractals, the extraordinary self-similar patterns in nature and math that repeat at every scale, have been discovered in leaves, trees, clouds, coastlines, seashells, hurricanes, and the swirling gasses in outer space. They’ve also been found in art and music, and recently in rhythms of a musical mind.  


 Physicist Holger Henning and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization in  Gottingen, Gemany, and colleagues decided to analyze the technique of drummer Jeff Porcaro, in the 1980s Michael McDonald song “I Keep Forgettin’.”  For more than a decade Porcaro, who died of a heart attack in 1992,   drummed for the band Toto, and as a session musician he kept time for musical icons including Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. Porcaro’s technique was chosen for study because one of the researchers, Esa Räsänen of the Tampere University of Technology in Finland, is himself a drummer and admires Porcaro’s work. The scientists’ analysis of the fluctuations and dynamics of drumming in the song is published in PLOS One.  


The research is also described in a Nova Next story by Anna Lieb. The signature rhythm, she writes, comes from Porcaro’s work on a pedal operated cymbal known as a hi-hat. The scientists measured the spacing between the hits and the volume of each hit and found a fractal sound pattern sometimes called “pink noise.” Lieb explains the name comes from the color of the visible light that comes from the frequency spectrum of the sound.

While the listener hears flawlessly steady drumming, Hennig knew that the fractal-like deviations he’d observed in previous studies were imperceptible to the human ear.  Porcaro hit four hi-hats per beat and nearly 1,000 hi-hats by the end of the song. Hennig and his team statistically analyzed the onset times, interbeat intervals, and amplitudes of Porcaro’s sixteenth notes. Both the intervals between sixteenth notes and their volumes wavered throughout the piece, and those variations were similar on time scales, ranging from a few seconds to the length of the entire song, forming a fractal pattern.  “It seems that the timekeeper in the brain not only produces fractal timing,” Hennig said, “but likely also fractal intensity or, in this case, loudness.”

The scientists noted the volume and spacing were independent of each there, suggesting Porcaro was controlling each separately.

Hennig plans to continue studying rhythmic patterns found in recorded music and produced by multiple players. Previous research by Hennig and others has shown humans prefer music that exhibit the fractal nature of time and volume patterns produced by individual musicians over computer generated music with the dogged precision of a metronome.  Hennig’s new research may help him hone a computer algorithm he developed to introduce “humanizing” imperfections into computer-generated music.   His software is already being used by electronic musician James Holden and other recording artists.


Hennig doesn’t think his work demystifies art He thinks the study shows how beautiful and mysterious the human brain can be. “I would say that we are totally unpredictable and somewhat predictable at the same time,” he said. “But on top of that, we expect that there’s some Jeff Porcaro magic in there.”


Fractals have been identified in many types of music. Compose and music researcher Dmitri Kormann,  or instance, has analyzed fractal patterns in musical pieces that inlude Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring” and John Cage’s percussion sextet “First Construction.”


Read the PLOS One paper here and the Nova Next story here.

With thanks to Tuyen Tran.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
Page 1 of 38
1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  >   >>   >| 
Association Management Software Powered by®  ::  Legal