Archive for July 15th, 2009
What if the waters are rising and you’ve got to save the Queen, but you and your buddies have no cell phones, you don’t have anything resembling human spoken language, and your brain is really tiny? How tiny? Less than 300,000 neurons (for comparison, a mouse’s brain is 50 times bigger–it has 16 million neurons).
So how do you save the Queen with your incredibly tiny brain? You work elegantly as a collective, like the ants you are. Check out this incredible footage. I felt chills when I saw the workers helping their Amazonian Queen off the raft near the end. Un-be-liev-able, except you can see it with your own eyes.
I was watching the one hour documentary “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer” and thought I’d share a few thoughts. Presumably anyone reading this already knows the principle of “Six Degrees of Separation” and the game involving this actor. My thoughts have nothing to do with the actor, but rather with the field of study that actually emerged from this Urban Myth: Network Theory.
One thing that jumped out at me was that network theory appears to neatly show how organization and information growth are necessary results of random connections. In other words, organization Just Happens. This has always been observed. It was historically explained as either the result of very, very sophisticated design, or a “goal” of evolution. But now there is a mathematical model showing that systems become organized because of entropy, not in spite of it. Unfortunately, those who doubt evolution usually never get far enough in math to see this.
Another thought I had was in response to the observation that a network becomes efficient given many points (or nodes) with few and local connections, plus a few nodes with many and far-ranging connections. These widely connected nodes are the key to the usual success of the game of six degrees, or the stability of the internet, or the synchrony of crickets, or the efficiency of our nervous system, or any other network.
I asked myself, “Given a choice, would I want to be a social node of local, or widespread connections?” I’m not particularly interested in how useful I may be as a connection in a game of Six Degrees, but rather how much fuller is ones life given wider connections. More points of view lead to understanding more ideas. I talk to people in all lines of work, of any political or religious affiliation. I converse to listen. Ideas that conflict with what I “know” are interesting to investigate. (At least until I understand why they conflict, and then they are inflicted repeatedly by those who don’t understand the conflict.)
Although I am a social stick-in-the-mud, I’ve met relatives who live on 4 continents, and have visited yet another. I gravitate toward people who also collect people. This blog (for example) has authors from several continents.
I have also traveled to a few places, many shown on this “Cities I’ve Visited” vanity map:
And I am always asking questions, and making connections. I enjoyed the TV series, too.
I’ve criticized President Obama for not keeping his campaign pledges to end the faith-based initiative and restore transparency to government, but when he does something right, I’ll give him credit where credit is due. So, it’s good to see him taking this unapologetically progressive stance on an issue where some reason is badly needed – the precautionary use of antibiotics in animals raised on factory farms:
The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.
…In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.
Feeding massive doses of antibiotics to farm animals enables them to live in crowded, unsanitary and often inhumane conditions. It also encourages the evolution of antibiotic resistance to the dangerous bacteria that inevitably live inside them, and when those bacteria spread through the food chain to humans, the result is outbreaks of virulent, drug-resistant diseases.
Having recently seen the movie Food, Inc., it’s easy for me to appreciate how serious a threat this is. Antibiotic use, like fossil fuels, have promoted a dangerously unsustainable way of life in our culture. This first attempt may or may not make it past the powerful corporate food lobby – but kudos to the Obama administration for bringing it into the national consciousness in a bold way.