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Self-organization -- it's a profoundly self-evident quality of nature, but one that so far has eluded much deep understanding in science. Strogatz makes it easy to see why: nature, from atoms up to cells up to societies, is made up of many non-linear components working together, and non-linear systems, with their feedback loops, impulses, and fractal components, are fiendishly difficult to get one's head around, nothing like the idealized systems we encounter in Freshman Physics. Yet, their non-linearity is the key to... well, maybe everything?
Sync explores the synchronization phenomena inherent in many complex systems, the way they coordinate their actions with respect to time, building order out of seeming noise. From fireflies to circadian rhythms to swinging pendulums to brain neurons to orbiting bodies to Higgs boson fields, there's an eerie tendency in nature for things to fall in step.
Despite being free of equations, it's a book that delves into some pretty dense territory, and might not be well suited to audiobook form. In most chapters, I found that a moment of daydreaming or distraction would have me rewinding to get back on track with the lecture. Strogatz spends a lot of time explaining abstract models, which held my interest as an engineer (the runners-on-a-track metaphor actually mirrored a traffic simulation I’d developed, which had sync issues of its own), but might appeal less to other readers. There are also some rather esoteric topics in physics, which I didn’t understand very well. I kinda wish he'd put those chapters towards the end, because I almost quit listening after one frustrating section dealing with spiral waves, which luckily turned out to be followed by a much more interesting and accessible overview of Chaos Theory. I also liked the chapters that explore networks and their characteristics (think of the connections between film actors, exemplified by the party game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”).
If you're hoping for some grand unifying theory of synchronization, you won't find it here, just an examination of some different systems in which sync is present and praise for the work of several different researchers. I wouldn’t have minded more resonance between the separate parts (as it were), but I was curious about the topic and the book was worth my time. It’s always cool to learn about a field in which many key developments have happened within my own lifetime. Strogatz convinced me that the qualities that make self-organizing systems difficult to model with traditional mathematics might be the same qualities that are most important to understand. As a software developer, I found it exciting to think about how computers will be used to further exploration of the universe’s emergent interconnectedness, and how discoveries might feed back into how we think about software design. We might even find out something profound.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as Gleick's book on chaos. Strogatz is an excellent writer. Able to convey complex concepts of chaos and synchronicity to the general reader, this book is for anyone with interest in the topic. If you don't fully understand chaos from one perspective, don't worry. Storgatz provides many.
With discussions of his own work as well as the work of mentors, students, and others in the field, Strogatz addressed the broad application of sync in the world and universe. Skilled at capturing the various personalities of people he has worked with, Strogatz also included interesting stories about many researchers in the field as well as interesting stories about the inner workings of academia. With examples from biology (ie., neurons, heartbeat, and sleep/circadian rhythm), to physics and engineering (ie., metronomes, super conductors, power grids, and the bridge in London), to social connectedness (ie., 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon/small world model), and the future of sync studies (consciousness, evolution, immune system, the universe as a computer, and more), there are many fun things to learn about. I was also happy to learn about the lesser known role of Stanley Milgram in uncovering the 6 degrees of separation principle.
Who knew what the study of fireflies would bring? Excellent book.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful