13 January 2007

Unplayable Music... and Fireflies

Unplayable Music
Ever played in an ensemble?

With sincerest appreciation to RLM for pointing me to this, several pieces of hilariously detailed unplayable music. IMHO, these are worthy of printing out and studying. I stared at the "Fairie's Aire" for a good 20 minutes and kept finding stuff.

Bryan Higgins's collection of various unplayable music scores.

Enjoying the book Sync by Strogatz
I'm only a few chapters in, which explores how on earth a particular species of firefly could be capable of seemingly sudden massive blink-synchrony. It's actually a nasty mathematical problem. Why study this? The author explains,

Beyond serving as an inspiration to engineers, the group behavior of fire flies has broader significance for science as a whole. It represents one of the
few tractable instances of a complex, self-organizing system, where millions of interactions occur simultaneously - when everyone changes the state of everyone else. Virtually all the major unsolved problems in science today have this intricate character. Consider the cascade of biochemical reactions in a single cell and their disruption when the cell turns cancerous; the booms and crashes of the stock market; the emergence of consciousness from the interplay of millions of neurons in the brain; the origin of life from a meshwork of chemical reactions in the primordial soup. All these involve enormous numbers of players linked in complex webs. In every case, astonishing patterns emerge spontaneously. The richness of the world around us is due, in large part, to the miracle of self-organization.

Unfortunately, our minds are bad at grasping these kinds of problems. We're accustomed to thinking in terms of centralized control, clear chains of command, the straightforward logic of cause and effect. But i nhuge, interconnected systems, where every player ultimately affects every other, our standard ways of thinking fall apart. Simple pictures and verbal arguments are too feeble, too myopic. That's what plagues us in economics when we try to anticipate the effect of a tax cut or a change in interest rates, or in ecology, when a new pesticide backfires and produces dire, unintended consequences that propagate through the food chain. (Strogatz, 2003, p. 34)



TroopOfChimps said...

Hey, we saw those fireflies! At least, we saw some synchronized fireflies in Malaysia this summer, and the publicity claimed they were the only ones in the world.

N's theory was that each firefly blinked much *faster* than the overall synchronized rate, which helped them match up somehow.

G-Fav said...

Yes! Those are probably the ones he was writing about.

According to the book, there was (perhaps just) one other place with fireflies like that, in some dark cove in the U.S. somewhere.