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Synchrony: self-organization and the emergence of order,
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This review is from: Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
The subject of the book is synchrony that is coupled phenomena which occur simultaneously. Synchrony is all permeating in nature and is encountered in both living and non living matter while the underlying entity that unifies all these disparate phenomena is mathematics.
More analytically the book is a study of 'coupled oscillators' - entities that cycle automatically, that repeat themselves over and over again at regular intervals. Fireflies flash; planets orbit; pacemaker cells fire. Two or more are said to be coupled if some physical or chemical process allows them to influence one another. Fireflies communicate with light. Planets tug one another with gravity. Heart cells pass electrical current back and fourth. Nature uses every available channel to allow its oscillators to communicate with each other. The results of these communications is often synchrony, in which all oscillators begin to move as one that is occur simultaneously.
But apart from the synchrony appearing in nature, we have synchrony with the invention of the marvelous oscillators of the twentieth century: electrical generators and phase-locked loops, lasers and transistors and superconducting Josephson junctions.
The underlying unifying entity of the preceding disparate phenomena - naturally occurring or invented - is the intractability of non-linear mathematics. But the reader should not panic. The author does not use even a suspicion of Mathematics but instead illustrates the key ideas relying on metaphors and images from everyday life.
The author concludes the book with a speculative but profound insight. He points that even mainstream scientists begin to acknowledge that reduction-ism may not be powerful enough to solve all the great mysteries we are facing: cancer, consciousness, the origin of life, AIDS, global warming, the functioning of the cell, the ebb and flow of the economy. And believes that nonlinear dynamics is central to the future of science. As one of the oldest and most elementary parts on nonlinear science (dealing, as it does with purely rhythmic units), synchrony has offered penetrating insights into everything from cardiac arrhythmias to superconductivity, from sleep cycles to the stability of the power grid. It is grounded in rigorous mathematical ideas; passed the test of experiment; and it describes and unifies a remarkably wide range of cooperative behavior in living and nonliving matter, at every scale of length from subatomic to the cosmic. Aside from its importance and intrinsic fascination, the author believes that synchrony also provides a crucial first step for what is coming next in the study of complex nonlinear systems, where the oscillators are eventually to be replaced by genes and cells, companies and people.
I found it amazing that a book that is already ten years old would ring so remarkably modern.
As my own epilogue may I add that only weeks ago I listened here in the university of Cyprus a compellingly fascinating lecture by professor Focas who is also the chair of the recently established line in nonlinear Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.