full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Nathan S. Jacobs: How do schools of fish swim in harmony?

Unscramble the Blue Letters

How do slocohs of fish swim in harmony? And how do the tiny cells in your brain give rise to the complex thoughts, memories, and consciousness that are you? Oddly enough, those questions have the same general answer: emergence, or the seonpoautns creation of sophisticated behaviors and functions from large groups of simple elements. Like many animals, fish stick together in groups, but that's not just because they ejony each other's company. It's a matter of survival. Schools of fish exhibit complex swarming beovhrias that help them evade hungry predators, while a lone fish is quickly singled out as easy prey. So which brilliant fish leader is the one in cghrae? Actually, no one is, and everyone is. So what does that mean? While the school of fish is elegantly twisting, turning, and dodging sharks in what looks like dbrtlaeiee coordination, each individual fish is actually just following two basic reuls that have nothing to do with the shark: one, stay close, but not too close to your neighbor, and two, keep swimmming. As individuals, the fish are focused on the mintiaue of these local interactions, but if enough fish join the group, something remarkable happens. The movement of individual fish is eclipsed by an entirely new entity: the school, which has its own uuniqe set of behaviors. The school isn't clloeorntd by any snlgie fish. It simply emerges if you have enough fish following the right set of local rules. It's like an accident that happens over and over again, allowing fish all across the oecan to reliably avoid petoadrin. And it's not just fish. Emergence is a basic prteropy of many cmopelx systems of interacting eemltnes. For example, the sefiicpc way in which millions of ganris of sand collide and tumble over each other almost always produces the same basic pattern of ripples. And when moisture freezes in the atmosphere, the specific binding properties of water molecules reliably produce radiating lattices that form into beautiful snowflakes. What makes emergence so complex is that you can't understand it by simply taking it apart, like the engine of a car. Taking things apart is a good first step to understanding a complex system. But if you reduce a school of fish to individuals, it loses the ability to evade predators, and there's nothing left to study. And if you reduce the biran to idanivdiul neurons, you're left with something that is notoriously ublnreaile, and nothing like how we think and behave, at least most of the time. Regardless, whatever you're thinking about right now isn't reliant on a single neuron lodged in the corner of your brain. Rather, the mind emerges from the collective activities of many, many neurons. There are billions of neurons in the human brain, and tollniris of connections between all those neurons. When you turn such a complicated sesytm like that on, it could behave in all sorts of weird ways, but it doesn't. The nonrues in our brain follow simple rules, just like the fish, so that as a gruop, their activity self-organizes into reliable pnttaers that let you do things like recognize faces, successfully repeat the same task over and over again, and keep all those slily little habits that everyone likes about you. So, what are the simple rules when it comes to the brain? The biasc function of each neuron in the brain is to either excite or ibhniit other neurons. If you connect a few neurons together into a simple circuit, you can geartnee rhhymitc patterns of activity, faecedbk lpoos that ramp up or shut down a signal, coincidence detectors, and disinhibition, where two inhibitory neurons can actually activate another neuron by removing inhibitory brakes. As more and more neurons are connected, increasingly complex patterns of activity eergme from the network. Soon, so many neurons are interacting in so many different ways at once that the system becomes chaotic. The trajectory of the network's activity cannot be easily eepxinald by the simple local circuits described earlier. And yet, from this chaos, patterns can emerge, and then emerge again and again in a reproducible maennr. At some point, these emergent patterns of activity become suceitlffiny complex, and coiuurs to begin studying their own biological origins, not to mention emergence. And what we found in eeergmnt phenomena at vastly different scales is that same remarkable characteristic as the fish displayed: That emergence doesn't require someone or something to be in charge. If the right rules are in place, and some basic conditions are met, a complex system will fall into the same habits over and over again, turning chaos into order. That's true in the molecular pandemonium that lets your cells function, the tangled thicket of neurons that produces your thoughts and identity, your network of friends and family, all the way up to the structures and ecomenois of our cietis across the planet.

Open Cloze

How do _______ of fish swim in harmony? And how do the tiny cells in your brain give rise to the complex thoughts, memories, and consciousness that are you? Oddly enough, those questions have the same general answer: emergence, or the ___________ creation of sophisticated behaviors and functions from large groups of simple elements. Like many animals, fish stick together in groups, but that's not just because they _____ each other's company. It's a matter of survival. Schools of fish exhibit complex swarming _________ that help them evade hungry predators, while a lone fish is quickly singled out as easy prey. So which brilliant fish leader is the one in ______? Actually, no one is, and everyone is. So what does that mean? While the school of fish is elegantly twisting, turning, and dodging sharks in what looks like __________ coordination, each individual fish is actually just following two basic _____ that have nothing to do with the shark: one, stay close, but not too close to your neighbor, and two, keep swimmming. As individuals, the fish are focused on the ________ of these local interactions, but if enough fish join the group, something remarkable happens. The movement of individual fish is eclipsed by an entirely new entity: the school, which has its own ______ set of behaviors. The school isn't __________ by any ______ fish. It simply emerges if you have enough fish following the right set of local rules. It's like an accident that happens over and over again, allowing fish all across the _____ to reliably avoid _________. And it's not just fish. Emergence is a basic ________ of many _______ systems of interacting ________. For example, the ________ way in which millions of ______ of sand collide and tumble over each other almost always produces the same basic pattern of ripples. And when moisture freezes in the atmosphere, the specific binding properties of water molecules reliably produce radiating lattices that form into beautiful snowflakes. What makes emergence so complex is that you can't understand it by simply taking it apart, like the engine of a car. Taking things apart is a good first step to understanding a complex system. But if you reduce a school of fish to individuals, it loses the ability to evade predators, and there's nothing left to study. And if you reduce the _____ to __________ neurons, you're left with something that is notoriously __________, and nothing like how we think and behave, at least most of the time. Regardless, whatever you're thinking about right now isn't reliant on a single neuron lodged in the corner of your brain. Rather, the mind emerges from the collective activities of many, many neurons. There are billions of neurons in the human brain, and _________ of connections between all those neurons. When you turn such a complicated ______ like that on, it could behave in all sorts of weird ways, but it doesn't. The _______ in our brain follow simple rules, just like the fish, so that as a _____, their activity self-organizes into reliable ________ that let you do things like recognize faces, successfully repeat the same task over and over again, and keep all those _____ little habits that everyone likes about you. So, what are the simple rules when it comes to the brain? The _____ function of each neuron in the brain is to either excite or _______ other neurons. If you connect a few neurons together into a simple circuit, you can ________ ________ patterns of activity, ________ _____ that ramp up or shut down a signal, coincidence detectors, and disinhibition, where two inhibitory neurons can actually activate another neuron by removing inhibitory brakes. As more and more neurons are connected, increasingly complex patterns of activity ______ from the network. Soon, so many neurons are interacting in so many different ways at once that the system becomes chaotic. The trajectory of the network's activity cannot be easily _________ by the simple local circuits described earlier. And yet, from this chaos, patterns can emerge, and then emerge again and again in a reproducible ______. At some point, these emergent patterns of activity become ____________ complex, and _______ to begin studying their own biological origins, not to mention emergence. And what we found in ________ phenomena at vastly different scales is that same remarkable characteristic as the fish displayed: That emergence doesn't require someone or something to be in charge. If the right rules are in place, and some basic conditions are met, a complex system will fall into the same habits over and over again, turning chaos into order. That's true in the molecular pandemonium that lets your cells function, the tangled thicket of neurons that produces your thoughts and identity, your network of friends and family, all the way up to the structures and _________ of our ______ across the planet.

Solution

  1. rules
  2. patterns
  3. cities
  4. rhythmic
  5. feedback
  6. neurons
  7. complex
  8. loops
  9. emergent
  10. specific
  11. system
  12. trillions
  13. deliberate
  14. curious
  15. single
  16. unique
  17. schools
  18. sufficiently
  19. predation
  20. elements
  21. basic
  22. individual
  23. inhibit
  24. silly
  25. spontaneous
  26. economies
  27. unreliable
  28. manner
  29. controlled
  30. charge
  31. generate
  32. ocean
  33. brain
  34. grains
  35. behaviors
  36. minutiae
  37. group
  38. emerge
  39. property
  40. enjoy
  41. explained

Original Text

How do schools of fish swim in harmony? And how do the tiny cells in your brain give rise to the complex thoughts, memories, and consciousness that are you? Oddly enough, those questions have the same general answer: emergence, or the spontaneous creation of sophisticated behaviors and functions from large groups of simple elements. Like many animals, fish stick together in groups, but that's not just because they enjoy each other's company. It's a matter of survival. Schools of fish exhibit complex swarming behaviors that help them evade hungry predators, while a lone fish is quickly singled out as easy prey. So which brilliant fish leader is the one in charge? Actually, no one is, and everyone is. So what does that mean? While the school of fish is elegantly twisting, turning, and dodging sharks in what looks like deliberate coordination, each individual fish is actually just following two basic rules that have nothing to do with the shark: one, stay close, but not too close to your neighbor, and two, keep swimmming. As individuals, the fish are focused on the minutiae of these local interactions, but if enough fish join the group, something remarkable happens. The movement of individual fish is eclipsed by an entirely new entity: the school, which has its own unique set of behaviors. The school isn't controlled by any single fish. It simply emerges if you have enough fish following the right set of local rules. It's like an accident that happens over and over again, allowing fish all across the ocean to reliably avoid predation. And it's not just fish. Emergence is a basic property of many complex systems of interacting elements. For example, the specific way in which millions of grains of sand collide and tumble over each other almost always produces the same basic pattern of ripples. And when moisture freezes in the atmosphere, the specific binding properties of water molecules reliably produce radiating lattices that form into beautiful snowflakes. What makes emergence so complex is that you can't understand it by simply taking it apart, like the engine of a car. Taking things apart is a good first step to understanding a complex system. But if you reduce a school of fish to individuals, it loses the ability to evade predators, and there's nothing left to study. And if you reduce the brain to individual neurons, you're left with something that is notoriously unreliable, and nothing like how we think and behave, at least most of the time. Regardless, whatever you're thinking about right now isn't reliant on a single neuron lodged in the corner of your brain. Rather, the mind emerges from the collective activities of many, many neurons. There are billions of neurons in the human brain, and trillions of connections between all those neurons. When you turn such a complicated system like that on, it could behave in all sorts of weird ways, but it doesn't. The neurons in our brain follow simple rules, just like the fish, so that as a group, their activity self-organizes into reliable patterns that let you do things like recognize faces, successfully repeat the same task over and over again, and keep all those silly little habits that everyone likes about you. So, what are the simple rules when it comes to the brain? The basic function of each neuron in the brain is to either excite or inhibit other neurons. If you connect a few neurons together into a simple circuit, you can generate rhythmic patterns of activity, feedback loops that ramp up or shut down a signal, coincidence detectors, and disinhibition, where two inhibitory neurons can actually activate another neuron by removing inhibitory brakes. As more and more neurons are connected, increasingly complex patterns of activity emerge from the network. Soon, so many neurons are interacting in so many different ways at once that the system becomes chaotic. The trajectory of the network's activity cannot be easily explained by the simple local circuits described earlier. And yet, from this chaos, patterns can emerge, and then emerge again and again in a reproducible manner. At some point, these emergent patterns of activity become sufficiently complex, and curious to begin studying their own biological origins, not to mention emergence. And what we found in emergent phenomena at vastly different scales is that same remarkable characteristic as the fish displayed: That emergence doesn't require someone or something to be in charge. If the right rules are in place, and some basic conditions are met, a complex system will fall into the same habits over and over again, turning chaos into order. That's true in the molecular pandemonium that lets your cells function, the tangled thicket of neurons that produces your thoughts and identity, your network of friends and family, all the way up to the structures and economies of our cities across the planet.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
individual fish 2
complex system 2

Important Words

  1. ability
  2. accident
  3. activate
  4. activities
  5. activity
  6. allowing
  7. animals
  8. atmosphere
  9. avoid
  10. basic
  11. beautiful
  12. behave
  13. behaviors
  14. billions
  15. binding
  16. biological
  17. brain
  18. brakes
  19. brilliant
  20. car
  21. cells
  22. chaos
  23. chaotic
  24. characteristic
  25. charge
  26. circuit
  27. circuits
  28. cities
  29. close
  30. coincidence
  31. collective
  32. collide
  33. company
  34. complex
  35. complicated
  36. conditions
  37. connect
  38. connected
  39. connections
  40. consciousness
  41. controlled
  42. coordination
  43. corner
  44. creation
  45. curious
  46. deliberate
  47. detectors
  48. disinhibition
  49. dodging
  50. earlier
  51. easily
  52. easy
  53. eclipsed
  54. economies
  55. elegantly
  56. elements
  57. emerge
  58. emergence
  59. emergent
  60. emerges
  61. engine
  62. enjoy
  63. evade
  64. excite
  65. exhibit
  66. explained
  67. faces
  68. fall
  69. family
  70. feedback
  71. fish
  72. focused
  73. follow
  74. form
  75. freezes
  76. friends
  77. function
  78. functions
  79. general
  80. generate
  81. give
  82. good
  83. grains
  84. group
  85. groups
  86. habits
  87. harmony
  88. human
  89. hungry
  90. identity
  91. increasingly
  92. individual
  93. individuals
  94. inhibit
  95. inhibitory
  96. interacting
  97. interactions
  98. join
  99. large
  100. lattices
  101. leader
  102. left
  103. lets
  104. likes
  105. local
  106. lodged
  107. lone
  108. loops
  109. loses
  110. manner
  111. matter
  112. memories
  113. mention
  114. met
  115. millions
  116. mind
  117. minutiae
  118. moisture
  119. molecular
  120. molecules
  121. movement
  122. neighbor
  123. network
  124. neuron
  125. neurons
  126. notoriously
  127. ocean
  128. oddly
  129. order
  130. origins
  131. pandemonium
  132. pattern
  133. patterns
  134. phenomena
  135. place
  136. planet
  137. point
  138. predation
  139. predators
  140. prey
  141. produce
  142. produces
  143. properties
  144. property
  145. questions
  146. quickly
  147. radiating
  148. ramp
  149. recognize
  150. reduce
  151. reliable
  152. reliably
  153. reliant
  154. remarkable
  155. removing
  156. repeat
  157. reproducible
  158. require
  159. rhythmic
  160. ripples
  161. rise
  162. rules
  163. sand
  164. scales
  165. school
  166. schools
  167. set
  168. sharks
  169. shut
  170. signal
  171. silly
  172. simple
  173. simply
  174. single
  175. singled
  176. snowflakes
  177. sophisticated
  178. sorts
  179. specific
  180. spontaneous
  181. stay
  182. step
  183. stick
  184. structures
  185. study
  186. studying
  187. successfully
  188. sufficiently
  189. survival
  190. swarming
  191. swim
  192. swimmming
  193. system
  194. systems
  195. tangled
  196. task
  197. thicket
  198. thinking
  199. thoughts
  200. time
  201. tiny
  202. trajectory
  203. trillions
  204. true
  205. tumble
  206. turn
  207. turning
  208. twisting
  209. understand
  210. understanding
  211. unique
  212. unreliable
  213. vastly
  214. water
  215. ways
  216. weird