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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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Are Distrust and Incivility on the Rise?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 29, 2014
Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trust in our fellow humans is eroding, according to polls and surveys, and nearly a third of Americans reportedly don't even completely trust their own families.

A Pew Survey on social trends found that the Millennial generation, people ranging in age from 18 to 33, have emerged into adulthood with considerably lower social trust than earlier generations. Asked the long-used social science survey question "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?" only 19 percent of millennials say people can be trusted. By comparison, 31 percent of Gen Xers, those born 1965 to 1980, 40 percent of Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964, and 37 percent of those born in 1945 or before say people can be trusted. The poll, conducted in February, also showed millennials are less attached to religious and political institutions than older people.

An AP-GfK poll conducted in 2013 suggests most Americans are suspicious of each other in daily interactions. Fewer than one third said they trust clerks who swipe their credit cards, other drivers on the road, or strangers they meet traveling. Only a third of those responding to the AP-GfK poll said they thought most people could be trusted. In 1972, half of adults surveyed said others were trustworthy.

Only 69 percent of Americans questioned for a World Values Survey reported that they completely trust their family members. That places the U.S. near the bottom of the 55 countries surveyed on that question. Family trust was reported to be lower only in Ghana, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands, where just 59 percent of respondents reported complete trust in their families. Three quarters of Americans think war is sometimes needed to obtain justice-second only to Pakistan. And 16 percent of Americans surveyed say they carry a gun or other weapon for security. That sounds low, but it places the U.S. third in the world, behind only Libya and Lebanon. See the Washington Post Wonkblog charts on world values.

Social scientists and political analysis say trust is necessary for a civil society-it helps people work together for the common good, and promotes cooperation among people who have different beliefs and backgrounds. April Clark, a Purdue University political scientist, says distrust promotes rancor and incivility. Surveys appear to confirm we have an increasingly wary view of others. Theories differ on why. A USA Today story quotes Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, who says Americans have abandoned clubs and civic associations in favor of watching TV at home, thereby reducing common social experiences and the ties they create. University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner studies politics and trust. He writes that economic inequality drives distrust. If you believe the world is a good place and that you can help make it better, you'll be trusting, he says. If you think it's a dark place run by forces beyond your control, you won't.

Uslaner says trust has declined as the gap between rich and poor has grown because more Americans feel they no longer have a shared fate with the affluent and rich. A 2007 Pew Research Center analysis, showing minorities and low income adults had lower levels of social trust than wealthier groups, theorized that people who feel vulnerable or disadvantaged find it riskier to trust "because they are less well-fortified to deal with the consequences of misplaced trust."

Can a more trusting society emerge? Millennials, the digital natives who build their own social networks and use social media with ease, hold the key. Despite their low levels of trust, they are more optimistic than those who've gone before them. The Pew research shows nearly half think America's best years are in the future.

Trust men and they will be true to you. Treat them greatly and they will show themselves great. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  culture  research 

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Lean and Innovation: Perfect Together

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 22, 2014
Updated: Friday, May 23, 2014

Canopy ecology is about life at the very top of the world's forests, a distinct aerial realm where an estimated 30 million species share their space with leaves, branches, rain, sunlight and wind. Life on the ground is interconnected with life on the top and everything in between. In fact, survival of the whole forest depends on the success of the life at every level. And health care organizations have much in common with forests.

The design team envisioning a new Kirkland Clinic at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle studied rainforest ecosystems as they considered how different teams of specialists, internal medicine and family medicine providers could blend individual design needs for their own patients while working together on whole clinic with core support services. As a result, the Mountain, Meadow and Beach corridors in the clinic allow the teams to share resources and operate autonomously as needed.


In his new book Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation, internationally renowned consultant Paul Plsek describes Virginia Mason Medical Center's continuing work to integrate Lean and innovation in pursuit of "the perfect patient experience." Learning from analogies in nature is one tool. Word play was another. Participants in a workshop convened for design of another clinic used the word "lagoon" to temporarily sum up a guiding metaphor. A lagoon is flexible because it supports both fresh and salt water and while it looks calm and beautiful it's teeming with life under the surface.

In 2002, Virginia Mason adopted the basic tenets of the Toyota Production System, called it the Virginia Mason Production System, and integrated it throughout the organization in an ambitious program to change the way it delivers health care and improve patient safety and quality. Plsek, a management guru and expert in large scale change in complex systems, served as the center's chair of innovation. He explains lucidly and with dozens of examples why Lean and innovation are complementary. Lean is about standardization that improves flow and removes waste, and it stretches people's thinking by aiming for perfection even when that seems impossible. That requires busting myths, re-thinking basic assumptions, and examining practices in other industries. During various change efforts, staff members were asked to study weather forecasting, air traffic control, and computer virus detection for any key features that might relate to improvement in hospital care. Inspired by the fast food business, Virginia Mason began the first drive through flu vaccine program.

The tools of lean and the directed creativity described by Plsek brought about a clinic operation so well designed that patients were seen immediately, eliminating the need for a waiting room, and an infection prevention and communication system so efficient that time needed to identify a catheter associated urinary tract infection was reduced from seven hours to 11 minutes. Plsek talks about the long commitment to create a learning organization, where all community members are introduced to VMPS, all engaged in improvement, and leaders learn to coach and support learning. Plsek discussesa commitment to andragogy-the education of the adult learner, who unlike the child or complete novice, needs opportunities for application of new concepts, dialogue, and guided reflection in a safe environment that permits the learner to challenge and unlearn old and deeply held beliefs and assumptions.

As Plsek makes clear, none of this is quick or easy. He quotes reflection by Virginia Mason neurosurgeon Dr. Farrokh Farrokhi who studied the Toyota system in Japan and came come to understand that the Japanese after 50 years are still perfecting their system, and the journey of lean and innovation is infinite. "I now realize that paradoxically, what you need is patient urgency," Dr. Farrokhi said. Listen to tomorrow's PlexusCall with Paul Plsek and Daniel Pesut.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  innovation 

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Spider Personality a Communal Affair

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 15, 2014

Behavior and personality are strongly influenced by participation in groups, and individuals living in stable environments seem more able to develop their own distinctive styles than individuals who face frequent disruption.

That sounds like human experience, but this finding came from research on social spiders. While most of the world's 43,000 varieties of spiders work alone as they spin webs and devour prey, Stegodyphus dumicola is one of the 35 or so arachnid species that could make an arachnophobe flee in horror. These social spiders collaboratively build massive webs that allow them to capture prey bigger than they are, and they organize their activities and divide their labors. And as Natalie Angier writes in a New York Times story, research on these unusual creatures may provide fresh insights into such human mysteries as where personality comes from and why some individuals are innately shy while others are naturally aggressive. Jonathan N. Pruitt, PhD, a biologist at the University of Pittsburgh, who studies social spiders, told Angier, "It's very satisfying to me that the most maligned of organisms may have something to tell us about who we are."


People and animals differ hugely in such traits as shyness, boldness, and adventurousness. Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Dr. Pruitt and Kate Laskowski, of the Leibnitz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, report that social spiders display individual predispositions early. Further, spiders living in a stable, predictable environment didn't become conformists. They became more individualistic and had more pronounced personal quirks than spiders that were experimentally shifted from one group to another. And personality tended to dictate how labor was divided.

Angier explains that among honeybees, caste depends on age-the youngest tend the young, while older bees forage for food and defend the hive. Ants wind up as soldiers or workers depending on their nutrition when they are larvae. Social spiders find their niche in community operations based on such individual characteristics as size and temperament.

Dr. Pruitt and colleagues found that, the innately aggressive spiders were in charge of capturing prey and defending the colony while more docile spiders tended the young. How do you discover spider personality? In one method the Times story describes, researchers puffed air at the spiders through a bulb-topped syringe. The bold ones bounced back from the perceived threat in five or fewer seconds, while the more timid ones took 10 seconds or longer. And the stable groups had the greatest variety of bold and shy. Researchers even found that whole colonies can have distinctive personalities, just as human neighborhoods can.

Scientists are discovering more and more animals that have traits we once considered exclusively human. So we can marvel at spider individuality. We can also be glad we don't share the Stegodyphus approach to family life. The father spiders commit infanticide and the mothers are suicidal. Females attach their egg cocoons to the web and guard them until babies hatch. Male Stegodyphus spiders like to steal the eggs, forcing the female to replace the cocoon and use the miscreant's sperm to fertilize at least some of her eggs. Once the babies hatch, the mother feeds her young by regurgitating most of her own meals directly into their mouths. When the babies are about a month old, they attack the mother, injecting her with their venom and digestive enzymes, and eat her. When she is consumed, the siblings cannibalize as many of their brothers and sisters as they can before the survivors embark on new lives. Read the Times story here.

left image by Dr VB Whitehead

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  nature 

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When Flying Pizzas and Medicines Drop from the Sky

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 08, 2014

When Jeff Bezos announced last year that Amazon was testing drones to speed purchased goods to Amazon customers, lots of people laughed. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wondered whether other alpha moguls would want their own drone fleets to provide their customers with instant gratification, and she worried about the dizzying logistics and hazards of thousands of delivery drones crisscrossing the nation's airspace. Netflix mocked Amazon with a fake ad.

Entrepreneur Andreas Raptopoulos scoffed when Domino's launched two pepperoni pizzas on a publicity-driven drone delivery last summer. "Why the hell would you do that," he asked, when perfectly good ways to deliver pizza already exist? But as a story by Shane Hickey in The Guardian explains, Raptopoulos already had his own vision of drones delivering medical supplies to places that roads don't reach. He founded Matternet, a company devoted to a network of stations for flying drones that could expand beyond medical applications to become the world's next generation transportation system. Matternet has tested drone prototypes for deliveries in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The technology isn't yet ready for long distances and mass development, but Raptopoulos believes safe, reliable drone systems are inevitable.

Bezos, the Amazon CEO, is serious too. Amazon's core business is selling and delivering physical stuff, and a Wired Magazine story by Marcus Wohlsen reports plans for drone delivery are well underway. According to the story, Bezos told shareholders in his annual letter that the Amazon "Prime Air team is already testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8."

It not as far-fetched as it sounds. An administrative law judge for the National Transportation Traffic Safety Administration ruled the Federal Aviation Administration has no authority to ban the commercial use of unarmed aerial vehicles. Amazon has said it hopes FAA rules for civilian drone flights will be in place sometime in 2015.

What if they crash or smash into things? What if people shoot them down? An Atlantic story by Alexis Madrigal explains why Raptopoulos thinks those are baseless fears and why drones are the transportation of the future.

Drones have been used already for a friendly gesture, with a little advertising thrown in. Singapore is a wealthy country, but it relies on a million immigrant workers from China, India and Bangladesh who get paid as little as $1.60 an hour for manufacturing and construction work. Fast Company reports that to cheer people missing their homes, Coca Cola asked Singaporeans to take photos of signs thanking the immigrants for building their buildings. The photos were wrapped around cans of Coke, and 2,500 cans of cold soda were delivered by drone to construction workers. The ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Singapore filmed workers happily getting their drinks and messages, and you can watch here. Well, that is nice, but don't forget scientists say soft drink consumption is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes, in wealthy and developing countries world wide.

Tags:  buscell  business  complexity matters  innovation 

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Social Sharing Builds New and Different Markets

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 01, 2014

Young people who care more about social capital than market capital, and who think access is more valuable than ownership, will increasingly disrupt established businesses and transform economies, according to economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin.

Rifkin is the author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, a new book that describes how the emerging Internet of Things is propelling us toward an era of nearly free goods and services and how a growing culture of sharing rather than owning is speeding the growth of a global Collaborative Commons. And those forces, he says, will mean the eclipse of capitalism as we know it.

In an essay posted at CommonDreams.org, Rifkin cites opinion surveys by Latitude Research reporting 75 percent of respondents believe their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next five years; 78 percent said online interactions have made them more open to sharing with strangers; and 85 percent think the web and mobile technologies will help build large scale sharing communities.

In a New York Times essay, Rifkin identifies what he calls "a paradox at the heart of capitalism." He says the "inherent dynamism of competitive markets" is bringing costs so far down that many goods and service are becoming cheap, plentiful and no longer subject to market forces. He says that began with peer to peer file sharing that let people bypass conventional sources for entertainment and information. He predicts many giant enterprises in a variety of commercial sectors won't survive the trend.

Airbnb is a six-year-old start up that has booked three million guests for 10 million nights in 33,000 cities in 192 countries. This year, Rifkin writes, Airbnb expects to fill more rooms than the Hilton InterContinental hotel chain -the world's largest hotel operation. Airbnb connects people who want to earn income by renting out their unused space and people looking for interesting, inexpensive temporary lodging. The website offers accommodations that range from rooms and apartments to boats and tree houses. Its biggest competitor, Couchsurfing.org is described on its website has a global community of 7 million people in more than 100,000 cities who "share their life, their world, their journey." Couchsurfing members provide free space to each other, and emphasize the opportunity for social interaction. Rifkin says more than 19.1 million friendships have developed from couchsurfing visits.

A multitude of websites offer sharing and renting of cars, toys, tools, and clothing for children and adults. Tie Society is a subscription service for men who can receive and exchange the high-end fashion accessories for as little as $11 a month. The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit that claims more than seven million members world wide and allows users to give away used items for free.

"It's not surprising that a younger generation that grew up recycling plastic, glass and paper would turn to recycling items they own," Rifkin writes. "The notion of optimizing the life cycle of items in order to reduce the need to produce more partially used goods has become second nature to young people for whom sustainability is the new frugality."

Rifkin thinks The Internet of Things, a recent phenomenon based on a technology platform that is beginning to connect everyone to everything, has potential to create a new economic model in which collaborative consumption outpaces owning. According to WhatIs.com, a thing, in the Internet of Things (IoT), can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low -- or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. Rifkin writes that today, more than 11 billion sensors are attached to things and feeding data into the IoT. People can connect to the network and use available tools to access a huge range of products and services. Rifkin calls IoT a game changer that will allow a collaborative commons to flourish alongside conventional commercial markets.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  networks  scaling 

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Structures that Unleash Collaboration and Innovation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 24, 2014

A vibrant economy needs more organizations where people thrive, and evidence suggests we're far from that ideal. A recent Gallop report finds 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs, and nearly 20 percent of the disengaged actively resist their employers' goals. Gallop also reports disengagement may cost up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity, and untold losses in employee potential. With only 22 percent of employees committed to their work and thriving, there clearly is an urgent need to plant seeds to grow engagement.

In their new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, both experienced in business and skilled facilitators, give us an entire seed catalog: 33 Liberating Structures which, used alone or in combination, provide an endless variety of ways to include and engage people in groups of any size.

The authors identify the sweet spot where changes are easy to implement and make a big difference: the routine practices that people use to structure how they interact when they meet to plan, learn, solve problems, and make decisions. They call these practices "microstructures" and they have found that nearly everyone uses the same five conventional microstructures over and over: presentations and lectures in the classrooms, managed discussions, status reports, open discussions and brainstorms. Unfortunately, these five conventional structures are designed primarily to direct and control and are inadequate for engaging people. In contrast, Liberating Structures (LS) are designed to make it easy to include and engage everyone regardless of rank or seniority.

In introducing LS the authors help us become much more aware of the ubiquitous presence of structures and how they both support and constrain all our activities. They show us how we can configure them to help us achieve surprisingly better outcomes. The conversations we start, the questions we ask, and our listening skills all make a difference. The authors challenge us to observe circumstances and events more closely with attention to what's really important to us and to others. They make it clear that we can all learn to use simple structures that enable any group of people working together to radically improve collaboration, innovation and decision-making.

With LS everybody affected by a problem can be included in discovering how to tackle it. The role of leadership is to participate and support but not dictate. The book has a whole chapter on how leaders using LS can learn to contribute their own best while energizing others to develop and flourish in their work.

Creative icons represent each of these microstructures on the Liberating Structures website.



LS are easy to learn. For example, in 1,2,4,All, participants get a minute to reflect on an issue and write their thoughts. They get two minutes to share their thoughts in pairs, and two minutes to repeat the process in a group of four. The four person groups each decide on the most important points to share with the whole group. The entire exercise can take three to 15 minutes, and surprising new ideas are likely. All participants, regardless of position, can articulate and test their ideas in a safe space and all have an equal chance to contribute. Good ideas can emerge from anyone. There is no limit on how many people can be included.

With TRIZ, inspired in part by a Russian inventor, participants are invited to engage in creative destruction and dispatch sacred cows. They think of an important objective and then list everything they can do to achieve the exact opposite. Some of the suggestions are likely to be hilarious. During the second step their task is to identify anything they currently do that resembles the things on their list. Now they know what they need to creatively destroy in order to make space for innovation. Other LS will help with a deeper dig for solutions.

This book is elegantly structured and designed for easily accessible answers to questions. Part One offers a thoughtful discussion of "The Hidden Structures of Engagement," how to see them under the surface, how they work, and how the power of small changes can induce transformations without expensive training and personnel changes at work and without strife at home. In Part Two, the authors share their wisdom on learning and using different LS. They suggest ways to match specific challenges to specific structures. Is your purpose unclear? Try 9 Whys. It works at home just as well. Lipmanowicz recalls a colleague saying she used 9 Whys to help her daughter crystallize ideas for a school paper. Want to analyze progress to date and decide how to proceed? Try What, So What, Now What. That too works in home and career. Mixing LS can refine inquiries and discoveries. The authors suggest ways to string several LS together to work on complex issues. But they stress their examples are not prescriptions. While LS are easy to understand, advanced skill using all of them takes practice. "Learning to customize Liberating Structure designs for the specific purpose of each complex challenge is an art form that can be improved over a life time," the authors declare.

An extensive field guide explains each LS, its structural elements, its possibilities, its derivation, and some tips, potential traps and variations.

The stories from the field are instructive. Lisa Kimball is an experienced entrepreneur who started using LS in the 1980s. In her work with the U.S. Army, a User Experience Fishbowl allowed soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to hear first-hand experiences of soldiers returning from war. That included vital information on how they built trusting relationships with women in rural villages to improve intelligence and discourage Taliban recruitment. Officers reported they learned far more from personal exchanges than from formal summaries. Michael Gardam, MD, medical director of infection prevention at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains the way Social Network Mapping showed new relationships developing across units and diverse disciplines as people collaborated to stop the spread of infections. Simple Ethnography interviews, ranging from housekeeping to executives, then documented the culture changes and differences of habits and behavior brought about by new ways of working together.

Liberating Structures may be the seeds to grow engagement in your organization. They may also nurture new thoughts and actions in your communities and personal lives.

To learn more, participant in a PlexusCall May 9, in which Henri and others will discuss Liberating Structures. Buy the book, visit the LS website, and attend the Liberating Structures Workshop May 29-30. Read the Gallop State of the American Workplace Report.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  innovation  leaders 

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Big Data: Challenges, Changes, and Benefits

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 17, 2014

Big data, the combined billions of pieces of information available electronically, can be expected to change the whole realm of managerial decision making, according to Tom Davenport, a business analyst and the President's Distinguished Professor in Management and Information Technology at Babson College.

Davenport, the author of Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities, describes the challenges and changes he anticipates in an interview with Strategy+Business. For starters, much of the data used in big data analysis is unstructured, which means it takes considerable time and effort to get it into a format that allows for analysis, and even then it's not always easy to get shades of meaning. Another problem, he says, the sheer speed and volume of data makes it hard for businesses to use it for decision making.

Companies that can develop high speed decision making capabilities in response to the speed of big data will be taking a big step forward, he told the magazine. He notes that Peter Drucker warned 20 years ago that corporate IT's reliance on internal data created a dangerous focus on inward costs and efforts. But big data will create a healthier focus, Davenport says, because so much of it comes from external sources-from social media, data gathered from macro economics, science, politics and weather. Companies that learn how to include this external data in their models for decision making will have better ideas on how successful particular products and marketing campaigns might be.

For example, Davenport cites the company Recorded Future, which scans vast amounts of information on the Internet-news publications, government web sites, financial data bases, trade publications and blogs-and analyzes content to forecast future events.

Davenport notes intelligence agencies use Recorded Future data to assess potential for terrorism, and private companies use it to evaluate their competition, their present and potential markets, and changes among customers or suppliers that might impact their success.

Big data may produce surprising changes in healthcare. Technology experts expect that wearable devices that record and monitor people's bodily functions will increase quantity and potential uses of data in health data bases. Social media is already a rich source of new heath information. In a recent New York Times column, economist Eduardo Porter described research indicating analysis of the way a woman used the first person singular in her Twitter posts provided an uncannily accurate prediction of her odds of suffering post partum depression. Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Microsoft analyzed two years Twitter posts from four cities in Mexico and identified numbness and other mental health issues among bystanders who had witnessed violence resulting from activities of drug cartels. They said the findings had potential to provide mental health resources and other aid to impacted groups and communities.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  health  scaling 

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Earthquakes, Forest Fires, Stars and Brains

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 10, 2014

Human brain activities that give rise to thinking may be akin to the dynamics of earthquakes, forest fires, the spread of contagious disease, the distribution of galaxies in the universe and the sand in an hourglass.

Flip an hour glass upside down, and sand running into the bottom of the glass forms a pile that eventually becomes so unstable that one more grain can cause the pile to collapse into an avalanche. When that happens, the base of the sand pile flattens out, another pile begins, and then it too reaches a point where it collapses. Through several avalanches of varying sizes, the sand pile maintains overall stability. It's a process Danish-American scientist Per Bak called "self organized criticality."

When he died in 2002, The New York Times described Dr. Bak as an "intellectually pugnacious physicist who sought to understand how complexity arises in the world," and how the simple particles that make up the universe could be transformed into the extraordinarily intricate order found in nature. A story by Jennifer Ouellette in Quanta Magazine and reprinted in the Scientific American, explains that Dr. Bak found an answer in phase transition, the process in which materials pass from one state to another. The phase change of water to steam, for example, depends only on temperature and air pressure. Ouellette explains Dr. Bak proposed phase change in which local interactions among many elements of a complex system could spontaneously self organize to reach the tipping point he called criticality. In a 1987 paper in Physical Review Letters, Dr. Bak and coauthors described self organized criticality as the underlying mechanism behind the flow of rivers, the luminosity of stars, and what happens in sand piles and other dynamical systems. His book How Nature Works expands on the idea.


Neuroscientists didn't immediately embrace Dr. Bak's idea on brain function when he proposed it 15 years ago. In the last decade, however, EEG recordings of the interactions among individual brain neurons, large scale studies comparing computer model predictions and fMRI images, and examinations of slides of cortical tissue, have produced evidence that the brain exhibits properties of criticality. Neurophysiologist Dante Chialvo, from the University of California at Los Angeles, is among the renowned scientists who now think self organized criticality could explain brain activity. The idea is also being explored by national and international research efforts.

Getting back to the hour glass. Ouellette explains that when the sand pile-a complex system with millions of tiny elements-reaches the critical point, there is no way to predict which next grain will cause the avalanche, how big any avalanche will be, or how many there will be before all the sand is in the bottom of the glass. The things you can predict are that the falling of one extremely tiny grain can have a big impact; and that while overall stability of the system is maintained-there's still a pile-and there will be more small avalanches than big ones, in line with what mathematicians call power laws.

The exact moment of transition in a phase change is the critical point when the system is half way between one phase and the next. Each of the tens of billions of neurons in our brains, their connections and their interactions, produce "the emergent process we call thinking," the Quanta article says. It goes on to say that Dr. Bak's idea "implies that most of the time, the brain teeters on the edge of a phase transition, hovering between order and disorder."

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  nature  neuroscience  science 

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Dance and a "Talent for Unconscious Entrainment"

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 03, 2014

What is happening in that mysterious space between people who discover they have fine interpersonal chemistry?

tango dancers Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University, hopes dancing holds clues. She is using dance to investigate human brainwave synchronization and learn how it can happen. "NeuroTango" was hosted recently by the Greater New York City Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience as part of its Brain Awareness Week. It was also an opportunity for Dikker to get pairs of tango dancers to wear EEG headsets to measure their brain waves as they danced and thought about dancing. A Scientist.com story by Eli Chen describes Dikker's experiment.

Couples who were experienced dancing partners danced to music as they usually would. They then switched partners, so they were dancing with a new partner or someone less familiar. Next, they stood still with their original partners and imagined dancing. Dikker projected graphics onto the walls, showing when dancers' brains were in sync, and not. Other studies have shown that experienced dancers coordinate their movement differently from novices, and that both dancing and mentally rehearsing the dance stimulate similar brain activity.

Dikker said she is using the tango because the dancers perform fast, intricate movements that require exceptional coordination and the need to anticipate each other's every step, sway and twirl. In addition, leaders and followers have different mental tasks. She also hopes to learn whether the EEG can reliably measure brain activities of people who are moving. The Scientist story says Dikker had worked with Marina Abramovic on "Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze," at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow in 2011. In that event, designed to examine empathy and nonverbal communication, Amramovic and volunteers sitting opposite her gazed into each other's eyes while EEG headsets captured their brain activities. In that case, the subjects were stationary.

Lawrence Parsons, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, did a neuroimaging study of dancers in 2008. An article he co-authored for the Scientific American says coordinated dancing may not occur anywhere in the animal kingdom except among humans. "Our talent for unconscious entrainment lies at the core of dance, a confluence of movement, rhythm and gestural representation," the article says. "By far the most synchronized group practice, dance demands a type of interpersonal coordination in space and time that is almost nonexistent in other social contexts."

Lewis Hou, a research associate at the University of Edinburgh, is studying what happens in the brains of Scottish folk dancers as they perform. He praises NeuroTango as excellent science communication and a good way to engage the public in neuroscience. Hou will be participating in a science festival this April in Edinburgh where the dance performances will be partnered with scientific explorations.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

From "Among School Children" by William Butler Yeats

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  music  neuroscience  research 

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Different Network Structures in Twitter Maps

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, March 27, 2014

Twitter conversations create identifiable networks that have structural differences depending on the topic and the influence of dominant individuals. The structures are created as participants in the network choose the people they answer, retweet, and mention in their own messages, according to the Pew Research Internet Project.

The Pew researchers found six identifiable network structures: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. The report summary contains explanations and examples of teach type.

People who tweet about political topics, for instance, tend to form divided structures, in the form of two separate and polarized conversational networks. Participants in these differing networks don't interact with each other and they rely on very different sources of information. In many controversial conversations participants in the networks that Pew identified as liberal or conservative cited very different websites and distinctly different words and hashtags. People in the liberal groups generally cited URLs for mainstream news outlets, whereas conservatives tended to cite URLs for conservative news and commentary websites, the report says. The report says the finding underscores the partisan nature of political tweeting and group reliance on different people and organizations as well as different news sources. It also shows the two groups usually ignore each other despite intense interest in the same topics.

Unified networks are tight crowds of highly interconnected people often joined together by professional interests and hobbies. These structures often show how networked learning communities work and how social media can foster sharing and mutual support. People who form Twitter groups based on their interests in brands, products or celebrities, tend to form fragmented networks because they focus on their interest, but don't usually connect with each other.

Clustered conversations often look like bazaars with many centers of activity, the report says. For instance, people interested in the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 307 could follow the news presented in several languages by several news outlets. Any global story, the report says, can generate multiple and diverse audiences that illustrate diverse opinions and perspectives.

Broadcast networks tend to form a hub and inward spoke structure, in which participants repeat and comment on the output of well known media outlets. Participants are often connected to and in conversation with the hub, not each other. Support networks, such asbusinesses trying to resolve customer complaints, create a hub and outward spoke structure, where the hub business sends replies and information to many disconnected users.

Social media is the new public square, Pew researchers say, and the network maps formed by Twitter conversations are like aerial photographs that show size, composition, and network locations that are analogous to positions of strategic importance in physical landscapes. These locations can help identify key people who influence social media conversations. Read the Pew Research Internet Project report for more information, illustrations of the maps, and further sources on network data and visualizations.

Thanks to Buck Lawrimore for pointing out this story.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  connection  systems 

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