Posts Tagged ‘Complexity’

I CERTAINLY wouldn’t want to meet this bunch in a dark alley. Some are sitting and glowering at me from the shadows, and others are brawling in an unruly scrum, their wings and limbs flailing against the sides of their Perspex prison. Every last one of them is armed, and I can’t help wondering if they are planning some kind of coup. Fortunately, I am assured that they can be easily placated with a quick fix of the sweet stuff. “Mostly, our bees collaborate quite happily,” says Lars Chittka, whose lab I am visiting at Queen Mary, University of London. That’s just as well, because these miniature brawlers show an extraordinary intelligence when they are given the chance to shine. Chittka and others have found that bees can count, read symbols and solve problems that would perplex some of the smartest mammals. Some have an eye for art appreciation, having been trained to pick either Monet or Picasso’s paintings from a choice of the two artists’ work. They may even have a form of self-awareness, and all of this with a brain the size of a pinhead. Studying how they are capable of such great ingenuity promises to reveal much about the evolution of intelligence. It might even provide a new perspective on the workings of our own brains. Bees have long enjoyed our admiration. Ever since the ancient Egyptians began to cultivate their taste for honey, the hive has been revered for its apparent altruism and tireless work ethic. Whether bees themselves are intelligent has been a matter of dispute, however, with many considering each individual to be relatively stupid – a mindless cog in the greater honey-making machine. As the Latin proverb had it: “una apis, nulla apis” – “one bee is no bee”. Hints of apian intellect began to emerge with the research of Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch. Working in the years around the second world war, he observed that foraging bees often perform a strange jive across the honeycomb – the famous “waggle dance”, the steps of which signal the direction and distance to nearby flowers.

Hive minds: Honeybee intelligence creates a buzz – life – 28 November 2012 – New Scientist

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Posted: December 1, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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One of the first chemical reactions children learn is the recipe for photosynthesis, combining carbon dioxide, water and solar energy to produce organic compounds. Many of the world’s most important photosynthetic eukaryotes such as plants did not develop the ability to combine these ingredients themselves. Rather, they got their light-harnessing organelles—chloroplasts—indirectly by stealing them from other organisms. In some instances, this has resulted in algae with multiple, distinct genomes, the evolutionary equivalent of a “turducken*.” Chloroplasts originally evolved from photosynthetic bacteria by primary endosymbiosis, in which a bacterium or other prokaryote is engulfed by a eukaryotic host. The chloroplasts of red and green algae have subsequently come to reside within other, previously non-photosynthetic eukaryotes by secondary endosymbiosis. Such events have contributed to the global diversity of photosynthetic organisms that play a crucial role in regulating and maintaining the global carbon cycle. In most organisms that acquired photosynthesis by this mechanism, the nucleus from the ingested algal cell has disappeared, but in some cases it persists as a residual organelle known as a nucleomorph. Such organisms have four distinct genomes. (via Tiny Algae Shed Light on Photosynthesis as a Dynamic Property | ZeitNews)

Posted: November 18, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Ubiquity: A simple starting question: What is “complexity”?

Melanie Mitchell: I would call this a “deceptively simple” question—in fact, it is one of the most difficult questions of all! The field of complexity arose out of the strong feeling of some scientists that there are deep similarities among certain highly “complex” systems in nature, society, and technology. Examples of such systems include the brain, the immune system, cells, insect societies, economies, the World Wide Web, and so on. By “similarities,” I don’t mean that there are necessarily a single set of principles that governs these disparate systems, but rather that all these systems exhibit behavior that has been described as “adaptive,” “life-like,” “intelligent,” and “emergent.” None of these terms have precise meanings, yet, which makes a formal definition of “complex system” impossible at this time. One informal (and somewhat circular) definition of complex system is the following: A system with large numbers of interacting components, in which the components are relatively simple compared with the system as a whole, in which there is no central control or global communication among the components, and in which the interactions among the components gives rise to complex behavior. Here, “complex behavior” refers to the informal terms (e.g., adaptive, emergent) that I listed above.

Ubiquity: Is there a science of complexity?

MM: I think of the field of complexity as a loose grouping of different disciplines that study such complex systems and seek to elucidate common principles among these systems. More than 100 years ago, the philosopher and psychologist William James said psychology is not yet a science but rather “the hope of a science.” I think the same thing can be said today of complexity. I personally try to avoid the term “complexity science” and instead use the term “the sciences of complexity.” (via An interview with Melanie Mitchell)

Posted: November 6, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Photographer Svjetlana Tepavcevic is crazy about seeds. Ever since she discovered the intricately woven, vein-like structures of a vine seedpod on a trail in Los Angeles, she’s been an avid collector. She uses a flatbed scanner to capture the seeds she collects in hi-res and make prints of them as large as possible. Just this week she collected two new boxes on a return trip to LA from Northern Virginia where she now lives. “I can’t wait to get home, I’ll probably be scanning for a full week,” she says. For Tepavcevic, the series of seed photos, called Means of Reproduction, is about seeing the beauty of the mundane and staying aware of life’s origins. A perspective influenced by living through the Bosnian War in her early 20s. “Because I’ve lived through the war and seen a lot of death and destruction, it’s often what’s on my mind,” she says. “There is going to be a day when all this life is no longer present, everything changes and moves and dies.” (via Beautiful Seed Photos Show Complexity of Life’s Beginnings | Raw File | Wired.com)

Posted: October 29, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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A provocative new theory of history which has won influential support from Bill Gates poses the latest challenge to the coalition government plans to return to a traditional school curriculum. Big History, a movement spearheaded by the Oxford-educated maverick historian David Christian, is based on the idea that the academic study of the past can no longer be carried out from a nationalist perspective. Christian and his acolytes argue that the discipline will progress only once it charts human activity with a global scope, looking at chains of cause and effect that do not respect national borders. On a Big History course, the species Homo sapiens is not even mentioned until more than halfway through. “I believe human beings mark a threshold in the development of the planet, of course,” Christian has explained, “but it is only part of the picture. What Big History can do is show us the nature of our complexity and fragility and the dangers that face us, but it can also show us our power, with collective learning.” (via Big History theories pose latest challenge to traditional curriculum | Education | The Observer)

Posted: September 8, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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The 3-D genome Writing the genome out as a string of letters invites a common fallacy: that it’s a two-dimensional, linear entity. It’s anything but. DNA is wrapped around proteins called histones like beads on a string. These are then twisted, folded and looped in an intricate three-dimensional way. The upshot is that parts of the genome that look distant when you write the sequences out can actually be physical neighbours. And this means that some switches can affect the activity of far away genes Job Dekker from the University of Massachusetts Medical School has now used ENCODE data to map these long-range interactions across just 1 percent of the genome in three different types of cell. He discovered more than 1,000 of them, where switches in one part of the genome were physically reaching over and controlling the activity of a distant gene. “I like to say that nothing in the genome makes sense, except in 3D,” says Dekker. “It’s really a teaser for the future of genome science,” Dekker says. Gingeras agrees. He thinks that understanding these 3-D interactions will add another layer of complexity to modern genetics, and extending this work to the rest of the genome, and other cell types, is a “next clear logical step”. (via ENCODE: the rough guide to the human genome | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine)

Posted: July 18, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Human beings have the ability to convert complex phenomena into a one-dimensional sequence of letters and put it down in writing. In this process, keywords serve to convey the content of the text. How letters and words correlate with the subject of a text is something Eduardo Altmann and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems have studied with the help of statistical methods. They discovered that what denotes keywords is not the fact that they appear very frequently in a given text. It is that they are found in greater numbers only at certain points in the text. They also discovered that relationships exist between sections of text which are distant from each other, in the sense that they preferentially use the same words and letters. The Dresden-based scientists mathematically studied the semantic properties of texts by translating ten different English texts into various codes. One of the chosen texts was the English edition of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. (via In search of the key word: Bursts of certain words within a text are what make them keywords)