Emergence and complex systems, explained with interactive diagrams.
Tuesday, February 11th, 2020
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019
A cornucopia of interactive visualisations. You control the horizontal. You control the vertical. Networks, flocking, emergence, diffusion …it’s all here.
Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
This is an utterly fascinating interactive description of network effects, complete with Nicky Case style games. Play around with the parameters and suddenly you can see things “going viral”:
We can see similar things taking place in the landscape for ideas and inventions. Often the world isn’t ready for an idea, in which case it may be invented again and again without catching on. At the other extreme, the world may be fully primed for an invention (lots of latent demand), and so as soon as it’s born, it’s adopted by everyone. In-between are ideas that are invented in multiple places and spread locally, but not enough so that any individual version of the idea takes over the whole network all at once. In this latter category we find e.g. agriculture and writing, which were independently invented ~10 and ~3 times respectively.
Play around somewhere and you start to see why cities are where ideas have sex:
What I learned from the simulation above is that there are ideas and cultural practices that can take root and spread in a city that simply can’t spread out in the countryside. (Mathematically can’t.) These are the very same ideas and the very same kinds of people. It’s not that rural folks are e.g. “small-minded”; when exposed to one of these ideas, they’re exactly as likely to adopt it as someone in the city. Rather, it’s that the idea itself can’t go viral in the countryside because there aren’t as many connections along which it can spread.
This really is a wonderful web page! (and it’s licensed under a Creative Commons Zero licence)
We tend to think that if something’s a good idea, it will eventually reach everyone, and if something’s a bad idea, it will fizzle out. And while that’s certainly true at the extremes, in between are a bunch of ideas and practices that can only go viral in certain networks. I find this fascinating.
Sunday, February 17th, 2019
Living things are just a better way for nature to dissipate energy and increase the universe’s entropy.
No anthropocentric exceptionalism here; just the laws of thermodynamics.
According to the inevitable life theory, biological systems spontaneously emerge because they more efficiently disperse, or “dissipate” energy, thereby increasing the entropy of the surroundings. In other words, life is thermodynamically favorable.
As a consequence of this fact, something that seems almost magical happens, but there is nothing supernatural about it. When an inanimate system of particles, like a group of atoms, is bombarded with flowing energy (such as concentrated currents of electricity or heat), that system will often self-organize into a more complex configuration—specifically an arrangement that allows the system to more efficiently dissipate the incoming energy, converting it into entropy.
Thursday, October 5th, 2017
A web book with interactive code examples.
How can we capture the unpredictable evolutionary and emergent properties of nature in software? How can understanding the mathematical principles behind our physical world help us to create digital worlds? This book focuses on the programming strategies and techniques behind computer simulations of natural systems using Processing.
Saturday, February 4th, 2017
Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.
Friday, February 1st, 2013
I, for one, welcome our slime mould overlords.
The slime mould is being used to explore biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot controllers, much of which borders on the world of science fiction.
Monday, August 29th, 2011
A wonderful reminder by Kevin Kelly of the amazing interconnected world we live in, thanks to network effects.
Saturday, February 21st, 2009
Conway's Game of Life executed using the canvas element.
Friday, October 31st, 2008
Philip Ball (author of the excellent Critical Mass) is coming to Brighton to speak at the CafÃ© Scientifique on the third Thursday of November. Excellent!
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.
Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
Emergence, network theory, behavioural science ...these things have been occupying my mind a lot lately.