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Understanding the Science of 'Sync' : Cornell Daily Sun

  1. Sep 16, 2003 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    A little tough to call the correct forum for this

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2003 #2


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    A few years back, I was driving on a moderately traveled highway (Or 138 between Reedsport and Sutherlin) It was a nice day on a pretty road and I was in no real hurry so I choose a nice wide spot at the side of the road for a bit of a break. I sat there for quite a while when it became very apparent that traffic traveled in packs, there would be long (several minutes) periods of virtual silence then a pack of cars would pass 2,3 or more generally, and very rarely a single. Since then I have observed this same thing virtually every where I go.

    I have always marvelled that this, while striving to find the center of the space between packs, of course this is impossible because the packs travel at different speeds, they merge, seperate and change the cars in the pack but the packs remain. I have assumed that stop lights were the begining of packs but there may be more to it then that.

    (I think this may be an instance of the syncing phenomena)
  4. Sep 17, 2003 #3


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    People generally have herd mentality and will drive as fast as the guy in front of him. They will pass relatively seldom.

    - Warren
  5. Sep 18, 2003 #4
    I read the article (thanks Ivan,
    more than usually interesting to
    me) and your well expressed obser-
    vation of the tendency of drivers
    to "clump" when there is no obvi-
    ous cause for it (like traffic
    lights), and thought about it.

    Chroot, accurately I believe, has
    pointed to herding tendencies to
    explain the traffic "clumps".
    This makes me wonder how far the
    authors of the book are willing
    to go when it comes to human
    psychology and their Science Of
    Spontaneous Order
    ? Is the herd
    mentality accounted for by their

    Strictly speaking I think the
    traffic situation that would fall
    squarely into their "Science Of
    Spontaneous Order" would be one in
    which all the cars on the road
    inexplicably sought out the mean
    point between the car in front and
    the car behind them. This would
    result in a situation where traf-
    fic would always be observed to
    be seeking regular spacing of the
    vehicles at play at any given

    But if they embrace exclusively
    psychological phenomena as also
    falling into their "Science", then
    the urge to herd is an example of
    what they're talking about.

    I see a potential problem with the
    whole thing, also for psycholog-
    ical reasons, but at a different
    level: Order is often in the eye
    of the beholder. Some would say
    the traffic is in chaos untill
    all red cars are clumped together.
    Others would require all Hondas
    to be driving in the same direct-
    ion at any given time, never in
    both directions at once. A third
    might require that all six-cyl-
    inder vehicles must pass every
    four cylinder vehicle they happen
    to overtake, and all eight
    cylinder vehicles must pass all
    four and six cylinder vehicles, in
    order for "sync" to be said to

    Integral saw "order" in irregular
    clumping because statistically
    there should probably have been
    instances of regularly spaced cars
    interspersed with the clumped
    ones, which he did not observe.
    Was this because a different
    "order" (herd mentality) was gov-
    erning the situation?

    Is there, then, a way to distin-
    guish what might constitute, I
    hate to use this word, but nothing
    else comes to mind, "objective"
    order, from what we might call
    "idiosynchratic" order?

    Recall, if you will, the Feynman
    story where he expresses mock
    amazement at having spotted a
    liscence plate: ARW 357, and says
    something like "What were the
    chances of that!!??, Of all the
    plates, I happened to see THAT
    one!" or words to that effect.

    He was adressing a different issue
    but I think it fits here as well,
    because we always have to ask our-
    selves if the order we percieve is
    idiosynchratic to our own person-
    ality, or if it is something we
    could think of as (again, I'm not
    happy with this word) "objective".

    I am intrigued by this book, and
    will see if the library has it.
    (I'm leary of the choice of words
    "Spontaneous Order", but I'm not
    sure why. Maybe because it calls
    the term "Spontaneous Human Com-
    bustion" to mind.)

  6. Sep 18, 2003 #5


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    zoobyshoe: I think you miss the point of chaos theory here. A major factor is that simple systems do not have simple behaviour, but patterns can emerge from them.

    The article in fact deliberately ignores herd-mentality et al. It's point is that even with the simplist system, we can still obtain patterns of action. That when we see complexity or order, it is not neccessary to call on a more complex phenomenon to establish order. It doesn't say herd mentality etc doesn't have an effect - it says it doesn't need to, to make what we see.

    What spontaneous order is saying is that if we imagine an universe stripped to it's barest essentials, where everything is chance, how much do we need to generate what we see today? The answer which it is trying to give is very little.

    Now this is true. This is where the mathematical chaos theory comes in. Order vs chaos in mathematics is based on the idea of the Lyapunov exponent, which is based on whether the system diverges based on initial conditions, and complexity is based on either the fractal dimensions of a system, or some facet of information theory. Chaos theory - which spontaneous order is about, does try to quantify this in objective terms.

    What chaos theory additionally argues is that looking for a statistical average is in itself misleading, in many systems.
  7. Sep 18, 2003 #6

    You are quite correct: I did miss
    the point of Chaos Theory. Before
    this day I knew nothing about
    Chaos Theory. I came away from the
    article having already forgotten
    Chaos Theory was mentioned in it.

    Your response, then, pretty nearly
    answers my question, in sketch
    form, the details to be filled in
    by learning more about Chaos

    I would be interested to find out
    the history and cast of characters
    in a nutshell, if this is some-
    thing you're interested in dis-
    coursing upon.

    Thanks much, very informative

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