Archive for sociology

Fractally Speaking

Posted in Complexity, Geek, Nature, Writing with tags , , , , , on June 9, 2016 by reddragonpub

Sorry for the bad pun, but I couldn’t think of a title for this post.  In working with complexity and complex systems, fractals have an uncanny way of showing up in the research in the oddest of places.  Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since a lot of naturally occurring complex systems seem to generate fractal patterns as part of their evolution and operation.  You see them everywhere, every day without realizing it.

Not sure what a fractal is?  I’ve posted a video that gives a brief explanation of what they are and how they form.

Complexity – What is it?

Posted in Complexity, Geek with tags , , , on May 4, 2016 by reddragonpub

I know that I talk a lot about Complexity and Complex Systems on my blog.  And I realize that there are probably folks out there who are not familiar with these two areas of study.  So, I’ve put together a short video that goes over the basics of how this area of study came about and which also gives a basic definition of what a Complex System is.  Hope you enjoy.

Ironic Post for the Day

Posted in Geek with tags , on October 6, 2014 by reddragonpub

Please excuse the inherent irony of using a form of social media (IE. my little blog) to post a video that addresses the rampant use of technology and social media in our world today, but this gentleman’s message struck a cord with me and I had to share.

The Effects of Technology on Our Environment

Posted in Complexity, Writing with tags , , on December 3, 2013 by reddragonpub

Complexity science tells us that our world is a vast complicated system containing many smaller sub-systems that are just as complex as the over-arching system that emerges through the interaction and operation of the myriad parts of that system.  With this view of the world around us, it is not possible to consider the development of technology without considering its effect on the complex systems that make up the world around us.

Every complex system has its own form and inherent characteristics.  But in order to be considered a true complex system, it must display these following characteristics.  It must be:

  • Emergent.
  • Self-Organizing
  • Complex
  • Dynamic
  • Evolving
  • Agent-Based
  • Operating in a position far from equilibrium.

A true complex system is more than the sum of its parts.  This is due to the interactions between the agents that make up the system.  Once these interactions have caused a complex system to emerge, you cannot reduce the system to something less than it is without it becoming a different system or ceasing to be a complex system all together.

A complex system is considered be to complex because the agents that work together to make up the system are themselves complex systems.  The inter-relationships between the members of this web of sub-systems give the over-lying complex system the ability to react when faced with a threat or other conditions that differ from the norm.  The system reacts to these outside stimuli as well as feedback inputs that are generated internally.  Because of this, complex systems are dynamic in nature.  They will never reach a point of equilibrium.

If equilibrium is reached, the system will become static and will eventually stagnate and die.  Complex systems do not seek a state of equilibrium.  Instead, they seek a state of self-organized criticality at a point far from equilibrium.  This steady state of operation is distributed across the system as a whole and it allows the system to adapt to the changes or perturbations that are introduced into the system.

So, when technology is introduced into this vast complex system that is our environment, it is not possible to predict or take into consideration all of the variables that will be affected or acted upon.  Indeed, it has been shown that, “technology in the past has been used to create a human-built world, to make machines for production, to create large systems, especially ones dedicated to information,” (Hughes, 154).  It is the creation of this ‘human-built world’ that has affected the complex system of our environment in both beneficial and detrimental ways.  Even simple technologies can have far-reaching and powerful impacts when they are introduced to a vast complex system like our environment.

A prime example of this is the internal combustion engine.  This relatively simple invention has led to some of the largest ecological, economic and political issues that our culture is facing today.  Among these issues are global warming, toxic pollution, economic and territorial disputes over petroleum deposits and exploitation, and even armed conflicts between nations. To think that all this came about because Henry Ford wanted to make a car that everyone could afford simply boggles the mind.  And the resolution of these issues will not be simple, because any solution must consider all of the variables.  That is to say, “A reductionist approach that is limited to technology will not respond adequately to the problem.  Such a reductionist approach is rightly labeled a ‘technological fix’,” (Hughes, 154) and will not be sufficient to correct or overcome the problem.  Because this ‘simple’ technology has become a part of the complex system of our world, the solution requires a multifaceted, complex approach.  Or to put it in the words of my grandfather, “There ain’t no quick fix, boys and girls.  We’re gonna have to work at it.”

Deja what?!?

Posted in Complexity with tags , , on October 30, 2013 by reddragonpub

I read this today on a tumblr blog and had to re-post it.  Possible proof that even vastly complex systems may have patterns inherent in them and that it’s possible to recognize them.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

You may have heard about Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon before. In fact, you probably learned about it for the first time very recently. If not, then you just might hear about it again very soon. Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that the other day” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof.

Most people seem to have experienced the phenomenon at least a few times in their lives, and many people encounter it with such regularity that they anticipate it upon the introduction of new information. But what is the underlying cause? Is there some hidden meaning behind Baader-Meinhof events?
The phenomenon bears some similarity to synchronicity, which is the experience of having a highly meaningful coincidence… such as having someone telephone you while you are thinking about them. Both phenomena invoke a feeling of mild surprise, and cause one to ponder the odds of such an intersection. Both smack of destiny, as though the events were supposed to occur in just that arrangement… as though we’re witnessing yet another domino tip over in a chain of dominoes beyond our reckoning.

Despite science’s cries that a world as complex as ours invites frequent coincidences, observation tells us that such an explanation is inadequate. Observation shows us that Baader-Meinhof strikes with blurring accuracy, and too frequently to be explained away so easily. But over the centuries, observation has also shown us that observation itself is highly flawed, and not to be trusted.

The reason for this is our brains’ prejudice towards patterns. Our brains are fantastic pattern recognition engines, a characteristic which is highly useful for learning, but it does cause the brain to lend excessive importance to unremarkable events. Considering how many words, names, and ideas a person is exposed to in any given day, it is unsurprising that we sometimes encounter the same information again within a short time. When that occasional intersection occurs, the brain promotes the information because the two instances make up the beginnings of a sequence. What we fail to notice is the hundreds or thousands of pieces of information which aren’t repeated, because they do not conform to an interesting pattern. This tendency to ignore the “uninteresting” data is an example of selective attention.

In point of fact, coincidences themselves are usually just an artifact of perception. We humans tend to underestimate the probability of coinciding events, so our expectations are at odds with reality. And non-coincidental events do not grab our attention with anywhere near the same intensity, because coincidences are patterns, and the brain actually stimulates us for successfully detecting patterns… hence their inflated value. In short, patterns are habit-forming.

But when we hear a word or name which we just learned the previous day, it often feels like more than a mere coincidence. This is because Baader-Meinhof is amplified by the recency effect, a cognitive bias that inflates the importance of recent stimuli or observations. This increases the chances of being more aware of the subject when we encounter it again in the near future.

How the phenomenon came to be known as “Baader-Meinhof” is uncertain. It seems likely that some individual learned of the existence of the historic German urban guerrilla group which went by that name, and then heard the name again soon afterwards. This plucky wordsmith may then have named the phenomenon after the very subject which triggered it. But it is certainly a mouthful; a shorter name might have more hope of penetrating the lexicon.

However it came to be known by such a name, it is clear that Baader-Meinhof is yet another charming fantasy whose magic is diluted by stick-in-the-mud science and its sinister cohort: facts. But if you’ve never heard of the phenomenon before, be sure to watch for it in the next few days… brain stimulation is nice.

2 Sites to Talk About

Posted in Complexity, Writing with tags , , , on May 6, 2010 by reddragonpub

A couple of cool new places on the web.  First, the website for my book, The Stone Men, has been given a make over.  Browser on over to Red Dragon Publishing and check it out. – and maybe even order a copy of the book. 🙂

Second, as part of my graduate work with Dr. Castellani, we have launched a new research center.  The Center for Complexity in Health at the Robert S. Morrison Health & Sciences Building is the first of it’s kind at Kent State Ashtabula.  The charter members of the center include, Dr. Brian Castellani, Dr. J. Galen Buckwalter, Dr. Frederic Hafferty, Dr. John Castellani, Kenny Carvalho and myself.  The main focus of the center will be to promote the application of complexity science to the study of health and health care through a cross-disciplinary program of teaching, training and research.

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