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In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonder of Complex Systems

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Parisi knows, knew or at least acknowledges pretty much everyone who ever won a Nobel Prize in Physics (He won his in 2021). I saw a post on Facebook and I just shared it, thinking it was an interesting idea, but I never actually tried it. That would save a lot of time, but I would lose a lot of people because a formula that seems easy for me to read is harder for other people. My suspicions arose when I opened the file and found it was only 94 pages, divided over eight tiny chapters.

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.

Studying the movements of these communities, he has realized, proves an illuminating way into understanding complex systems of all kinds—collections of everything from atoms and planets to other animals, such as ourselves. The most beautiful and profound irony is that he found multiple equilibria by pursuing multiple equilibria … through time. When you have two simultaneous images of a flock seen from a different angle, it’s not easy to match the bird in the first image with the same bird in the second. 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.

I wanted to start there to emphasize how difficult it is to understand the many phenomena that we observe almost daily and to convey that complexity is not about what happens in laboratories. Part elegant scientific treatise, part thrilling intellectual journey, In a Flight of Starlings is an invitation to find wonder in the world around us. One direct descendant is artificial intelligence, in the sense that work on spin glasses has been very important for a lot of developments in studying neural networks in the 1980s and 90s, and neural networks are the basis of modern artificial intelligence. I watched about five minutes of it before being distracted by a series of articles about Parisi’s controversial statements about cooking pasta . But since the book was supposed to be about complex systems, from a man who won a Nobel Prize for his insights, I eagerly ploughed onward.These concepts echo through nature, with nature being random in its initial selection and deterministic in its outcome. And therefore if for any reason whatsoever someone needs a comment from a Nobel laureate, they ask me.

The interaction between starlings depends not so much on the general distance between them as on the connections between the closest birds. In so doing, he removes the practice of science from the confines of the laboratory and brings it into the real world. The book is a lovely overview of complex systems and shared mathematical similarities across fields. We had a meeting of academics at the G7 in Paris in 2019, and one thing that we were very worried about was weapons systems controlled by AI. As Parisi explains, its the inverse with quantum mechanics, where the evolution of the state is deterministic and the selection measurement is randomly chosen among the various possible outcomes of the experiment.He studied physics at the Sapienza University in the city, and is now a professor of quantum theories there. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average.

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