Monday, December 16, 2013

Emergence and Campai

I was asked to make the final remarks at the end of the banquet of the recent 14th RIES-Hokudai Symposium.* Quite an honor, but also a lot of pressure. One thing I've learned over the years is that humor rarely translates, and it's easy to accidentally offend in a foreign language. My only saving grace was that the expectations were low. The symposium theme is "mou" —meaning networks— and that presumably had to be weaved in too.  So what to say?

I started by saying "Minasan Konichiwa." That got a round of applause. Proof that the expectations really were low. But here's the kicker: I asked Professors Tsuda, Nakagaki and Ohta, in turn, to say "campai." Each did so but at a sound level that was barely audible. I then asked all three to say "campai." The volume of sound was not the sum of the three earlier statements which would have remained barely audible. Rather, it was loud enough for all to hear easily. This little experiment involving a social network with sound as the observable is indicative of a non-additive (nonlinear) emergent phenomenon. I did not tell my three participants that I planned to ask them to do this. So I really got lucky that the experiment worked as planned. In so doing, though, I was able to provide an example of emergent function arising from collective (network) behavior in a way that most of the audience was able to appreciate and toast to. It also served as a basis for the seminar I delivered the following day on the emergence of structure from Janus and striped particles. Campai!

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