In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonder of Complex Systems

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In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonder of Complex Systems

In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonder of Complex Systems

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Studying the movements of these birds, he has realized, proves an illuminating way into understanding complex systems of all kinds - collections of everything from atoms to planets to other animals like ourselves.

Parisi’s voice is amiable and conversational, which endows [In a Flight of Starlings] with the feel of a conversation with a wise and generous elder.

Photograph: Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/PA Images View image in fullscreen Giorgio Parisi: ‘Trying to describe some sophisticated physics problem without formulae takes real effort. However, while there was closed captioning, it was only in Italian (fair enough), and there were even more (and more daunting) charts in his video presentation than in his book.

The most beautiful and profound irony is that he found multiple equilibria by pursuing multiple equilibria … through time. For decades, science has been warning us that human behavior is setting the stage for a dramatic rise in the temperature of our planet. As a young child, I was interested in numbers – my mother told me I learned to read numbers aged three. For, even with my limited insight into the dynamics of magnetic interactions or the basics of combinatorial calculus (a term wisely left off the book’s cover), I did grasp the main thrust of Parisi’s argument: We live in an intricate web of ever more complicated dynamics, but that web is shaped, stretched, and spun by our little choices and chats. The deceptively slim volume serves as a forceful argument for the value of scientific literacy at a time when it’s increasingly being challenged by misinformation .

It is as if we were driving at night: the sciences are our headlights, but it is the responsibility of the driver to not leave the road and to take into account that the headlights have a limited range. At this moment in time, perhaps more than any before it, it is essential that the public have a fundamental understanding of the practice of science—that is to say, not only the results at which scientists arrive but how they do so. Overall his writing skills are very good - easy to follow and grasp without getting lost in his thoughts.

We wanted to see if there were rules of interaction between starlings that account for their collective movements. In her novel The Waves , Virginia Woolf wrote about something similar occurring among a group of young friends: “The complexity of things become more close…What am I? Now that climate change is starting to affect people’s lives, there is perhaps a stronger reaction, but we need much more forceful measures to be taken. It’s a bit like what happens on crowded buses, where frequently the crush is greatest near the doors, where passengers who have just got on accumulate, together with those who are about to get off and others still who want to continue their journey. This connected to attempts in physics to understand the behaviour of systems composed of a large number of interacting components.

If citizens and politicians do not trust science, we will move inexorably in the wrong direction, and the struggle against any number of global ills—global warming, infectious disease, hunger and poverty, the depletion of the planet’s natural resources— will fail.

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