Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
Steven H. Strogatz
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At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat, the sound of cycles in sync. Along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies congregate and flash in unison; the moon spins in perfect resonance with its orbit around the earth; our hearts depend on the synchronous firing of ten thousand pacemaker cells. While the forces that synchronize the flashing of fireflies may seem to have nothing to do with our heart cells, there is in fact a deep connection.
Synchrony is a science in its infancy, and Strogatz is a pioneer in this new frontier in which mathematicians and physicists attempt to pinpoint just how spontaneous order emerges from chaos. From underground caves in Texas where a French scientist spent six months alone tracking his sleep-wake cycle, to the home of a Dutch physicist who in 1665 discovered two of his pendulum clocks swinging in perfect time, this fascinating book spans disciplines, continents, and centuries. Engagingly written for readers of books such as Chaos and The Elegant Universe, Sync is a tour-de-force of nonfiction writing.
income distribution and less like the height distribution). At an anatomical level—the level of pure, abstract connectivity—we seem to have stumbled upon a universal pattern of complexity. Disparate networks show the same three tendencies: short chains, high clustering, and scale-free link distributions. The coincidences are eerie, and baffling to interpret. For example, to construct a network for the English language, the physicists Ramon Ferrer i Cancho and Ricard Solé considered two words to
electrically through gap junctions, which act like resistors. As such, the cells of the pacemaker are in constant electrical communication and interact throughout their cycle of activity, not only at the moment of firing, as Peskin assumed. For a more recent model, see D. C. Michaels, E. P. Matyas, and J. Jalife, “Mechanisms of sinoatrial pacemaker synchronization: A new hypothesis,” Circulation Research 61 (1987), pp. 704–714. 19 FLIPPING THROUGH A BOOK Arthur T. Winfree, The Geometry of
A. N., 215–16 zero, absolute, 128 Zhabotinsky, Anatol, 215–16 Zhabotinsky soup, 212–16, 219 “Zombie Within, The” (Koch), 283 zombie zone, 85, 94, 98
mechanics. Gregor Mendel discovered the laws of genetics by studying the inheritance patterns of peas. Some modern statisticians have questioned his data, calling it too clean to be credible, while others suggest more generously that Mendel carefully chose the peas that would best illustrate the principles he sought to propound. Whichever version you believe, it seems clear that Mendel knew exactly what he was looking for. Although Wiener was wrong about the alpha rhythm, the irony is that he
upon certain metals was found to stimulate the emission of electrons. Until Einstein’s work (which later won him a Nobel Prize), no one could understand why some colors of light ejected electrons at high speeds, while others were completely ineffectual. Niels Bohr solved the puzzle of nose-diving electrons by sheer fiat. He declared that electrons were confined to a discrete set of circular orbits whose angular momentum was quantized in units of a smallest denomination, a penny of angular