Book Review: Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order


Following up on reading Emergence, I read Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order (2003) by Steven Strogatz. The book sums up the history and many applications of this hot topic in mathematics, much of it the story of Strogatz’s own life research. Strogratz touches on many examples of living creatures and non-biological things syncronizing to one another without any leader to tell them what to do Topics include fireflies in Malaysia that blink in sync (sadly I could not find video of this phenomenon online), our circadian rhythms, 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon and pacemaker cells in the heart. While Strogatz makes every effort to fill this book with analogies for mathematical concepts, I still found it a slow if fascinating read. I recommend reading Peter O’Malley for a good summary/review of Sync.

Here are a couple of examples I found on YouTube illustrating some concepts from the book.

Metronome Synchronization:

The opening of the Millenium Bridge in London where pedestrians inadvertently walking in sync cause the bridge to vibrate in unexpected ways:

Finally, pay a visit to the Radio Labs website and download the podcast for their episode on Emergence where I first heard of the concept and was inspired to read these two books.

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