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timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the arise-ye-ants dept.

Science 149

Tangurena writes "Emergence is a field that is trying to come to grips with how new behavior emerges out of smaller units. There is no gene that determines the behavior of a hive of bees or colony of ants, but the behavior of the nest emerges from the individuals within. Some people are using cellular automata as a means of explaining higher order behavior (like Wolfram in A New Kind of Science )." Read on for Tangurena's review of Steven Johnson's 2002 book Emergence: the Connected lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software.

The author makes a point that there are 3 main camps of scientific study.

  1. The study of simple systems - under a few dozen variables, like electromagnetism, or celestial mechanics.
  2. The study of stochastic systems - few million to few billion variables, like actuarial sciences and genetics.
  3. The study of disorganized complexity. Systems in the middle between a dozen and a few million variables, where the second order characteristics - how they interact, is of primary concern.

Deduction and induction work for the first two camps, but for the third, the interactions cause actions and reactions which are what scientists politely call counter intuitive, meaning your first thought is Huh? Or, in other words, it behaves quite differently from what your instincts and (so-called) common sense would tell you.

There are five basic principles for developing a system (or simulation of one) which can express emergent behavior:

  1. More is different. You get a very different behavior of the system when certain thresholds are reached.
  2. Ignorance is useful. Ants communicate with a vocabulary of around 20 words/ideas.
  3. Encourage random encounters. Much of the behavior of an ant colony comes from them just bumping into each other (or external things like food, or my foot).
  4. Look for patterns in the signs. Even with the limited vocabulary of ants, they can also express things based on the decay in the pheromones they deposit.
  5. Pay attention to your neighbors. Also described as "local information can lead to global wisdom."

One of the enduring myths we have, is that of the Ant Queen. The myth supposes that there is some central planning done in an ant colony. Instead, the queen exists only to pop eggs out. Male ants have such short lives, that in most species of ants, they have no mouths to eat with; they just don't live long enough to get hungry. The production of warriors and workers is stimulated by pheromones in the colony. Information on where to gather food is gathered through random acts of bumping into things. There is no ant which tells another to go lift that bale or tote that barge. It appears that our intelligence is a by-product of the neural interactions of our brains.

The economist Jane Jacobs had been studying things like this for years, and has been demonized by the majority of economists: they want to believe in some centralized controlling force, control that force, and you control the development of your economic system. People reading her books tend to think she worships sidewalks, instead, she values the communication that can only happen on sidewalks; people meeting each other and exchanging words. You can't say "hi" to your neighbors if you are each zipping past each other on the freeway.

One can experiment with emergent behavior with some software tools. The author explains a few, of which you are most likely to have experience with SimCity.

The main difference between chaos theory and emergent behavior theory lies in a couple important differences. A chaotic system has a number of determinable feedback loops, all of which are (usually critically) dependent upon the starting conditions. Emergent behavior has more to do with feedback loops causing totally different behavior, and when some threshold (usually population) is passed, the nature of the system drastically changes.

If you are looking for sample code to simulate things, you won't find it in this book. If, however, you want to get an overview of where this field is coming from, read this book.

You can purchase Emergence: the Connected lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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SRY DIKKY (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097332)

DIKKY plz2unban kthx


I am confused! (0, Flamebait)

Almond Paste (838493) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097344)

Could anyone sum up what this is all about. I am too lazy to RTFA..

Re:I am confused! (1)

flumps (240328) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097401)

Ok here goes:

Ants brains are very very very complex, far too complex if you can't even be arsed to read the book. The End.

Behavior of the nest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097345)

There is no gene that determines the behavior of a hive of bees or colony of ants, but the behavior of the nest emerges from the individuals within.
In scientific circles, this is known as the "Slashbot meme."

Please (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097349)

Could someone translate this for non Gentoo users? :)

Slashdot example (3, Funny)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097352)


Definition (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097485)

Cellular automata (Noun): A cell phone-wielding social ingrate. The automata's effective IQ is proportional to the distance between phone and ear. Usually identified by loud, annoying one-sided conversations on buses and restaurants.

China: the Herd Mentality (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097540)

The example of emergence also applies to Chinese people [] . As of today, I am not aware that the Chinese are genetically programmed to be ruthless. Nonetheless, they are.

Take the case of Tibet. Why do the folks in Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan province [] support integrating Tibet into "One China"? Why are engineering classes overflowing with Chinese folks and Amnesty International [] meetings being nearly devoid of Chinese?

What is the name of this Chinese emergence? It is "Chinese culture". The god of Chinese culture is Chinese nationalism. Visit the link about Taiwan [] . It has been updated within the last 24 hours, and there is an interesting statistic (courtesy of "The New York Times"): 1 million Taiwanese (about 4.3% of Taiwan's population) have emigrated mainland China. Of course, the Taiwanese are responsible for their behavior even though we can ascribe it to "emergence". (I know. I know. I was shocked by the statistic too, and I have a Ph.D. in Political Science.) The Taiwanese are responsible for insisting, via their constitution, that Tibet is part of "One China".

The Taiwanese, the Hong Kongers, and the mainlanders all do not give a damn about Tibet.

Re:China: the Herd Mentality (-1, Offtopic)

tigersha (151319) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097970)

Sigh. I wish sometimes that you American would understand one simple thing about China. China has a veeeeeeery long historical memory, going back 4000 years. The US has a history going back, what? 350 years? China has had the rather interesting thing that, despite differences in language everyone in the country could read the script for more than a thousand years. It has had an interesting unifying force on the country and the Chinese sens of history simply goed back waaaaay longer.

China: Memory == Bigotry (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098044)

No. Most of the people in both China and the USA were born after 1950. A person cannot have a memory of an event (which occurred 1000 years ago, for example) which she never experienced.

The "historical memory" to which the Chinese refer is bigotry, taught from one generation to the next. Bigotry is popular and fun in Chinese society.

Americans, like other Westerners, explicitly reject "historical memory". We know that bigotry is not fun; it is wrong.

Chinese are VERY different from Westerners. What else is new, besides the 4 additional Tibetans rounded up and tortured by the Chinese this month?

Re:China: Memory == Bigotry (0, Offtopic)

UranusReallyHertz (567776) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099715)

In what other country is it common to refer to foreigners as "white devils" or "black devils" or just "foreign devils".

Re:Slashdot example (1)

gr0kCalvin (750832) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099767)

The complexity of networks has barely begin to be realized. This realization will lead to the downfall reductionism, as the very interaction itself is something new and cannot be derived directly from a "full" understanding of the agents involved. A nice example of this is the Travelling Salesman problem. Rather, not the problem itself, but the reason why it's considered NP-hard. By this I mean, as the number of nodes increases the number of elementary paths increases by "(n-1)!". Chaos, CA, Complexity, Emergence, etc are physical and metaphysical theories that try to formalize network interaction. Of these, Chaos is the most pleasing metaphysically, while Complexity Theory is the most advanced mathmatically. It's obvious that none of these theories hold the hole truth, but one could say they're on the right track. Scientifically, something doesn't exist unless it can be measured experimentally. Something can't be measured without some sort of interaction. So, one could say that nothing exists except for interactions. The question is, is this just a relic of the Scientific Method (or hyperbole :), or is it saying something about the very nature of reality?

Prey (1)

lateralus_1024 (583730) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097358)

Michael Crichton touches on autonomous organization processes in his book Prey...however remember that Crichton is very very afraid of technology. []

Re:Prey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097382)

Michael Crichton touches on autonomous organization processes in his book Prey

And he spent the rest of that book touching on teh suck.

Re:Prey (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097431)

The thing is, there's no reason to be scared of autonomous organization - it is literally everywhere around us.

Swarming/flocking/schooling algorithms are a great example of this. All it takes is a desire to be close to your neighbors but not too close, and the swarm/flock/school functions largely on its own - it can even go around obstacles and re-merge, it optimizes into aerodynamic shapes, etc.

I love complexity from simplicity. One of my favorites occurs from the standard predator/prey population equation. If you run it for a while, it switches into repeating cycles of population size. However, the positions and numbers of cycles are dependant on the equation conditions. If you plot the cycles vs. the starting conditions, you get this beautiful graph of the data starting at a single point, then branching, and again, faster and faster until it forms into pure chaos... and then from the chaos, emerges three clean branches, which then fall to chaos again.

Re:Prey (1)

glitch23 (557124) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099356)

The thing is, there's no reason to be scared of autonomous organization - it is literally everywhere around us.

The thing is, there IS reason to be scared. Sure, there are examples all around us but humans didn't create those examples. A perfect higher power created them. Humans are imperfect and can and have made mistakes. If you make a mistake in the "intelligence" of a swarm (or is it instinct?) then you create an unnatural problem that hasn't ever existed because the systems that are out there have been created; they did not develop. Big difference.

Re:Prey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11099477)

yah, you were literally constructed by it... from autocatalyic chemistry to embryonic genesis to the way your immune system works.


Re:Prey (1)

lateralus_1024 (583730) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097464)

While i agree with most of the Crichton opinion article, let me be the first to denounce as utter garbage. Thank you, carry on.

Re:Prey (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098613)

Michael Crichton was a good author 20 years ago. Now he's a luddite freak. Read Congo and Sphere to see what I mean. Don't watch the movies, they cause your neurons to go critical, and your head will radiate at 9000 degrees kelvin.

Crichton (1)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098832)

The thing though, even when technology *isn't* evil in Crichton's books (as in Congo) the books are still about how some discovery could change the world but doesn't (semi-intelligent apes, cloned dinosaurs, time travel, etc) -- in the end *always* the discovery gets lost and the world is no different than before. Wouldn't it be more interesting to read about how time travel or cloned dinosaurs would change society?

Book reviews: (1)

NoseBag (243097) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097371)

There goes my Christmas book budget! Another "must-have" gets added to my list.

Emergence & Hidden Order (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097379)

Try also John H Holland 'Hidden Order' and 'Emergence: From Chaos to Order'.

Re:Emergence & Hidden Order (1)

tcyun (80828) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099805)

FYI, Holland was one of the MacArthur Foundation Fellow's [] a few years ago.

I like sidewalks too (-1, Offtopic)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097398)

I live in the country, and we have no sidewalks here. If you don't own a car, you might as well be living on a deserted island. Luckily computer games make that life bearable.

Cellular Automata != Wolfram (4, Insightful)

utexaspunk (527541) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097404)

While A New Kind of Science may have lots of pretty pictures, and may be a decent survey of the field of cellular automata and its potential applications, and while Stephen Wolfram is no doubt a smart man, the quality of the book is overshadowed by his pathetically arrogant writing, wherein he pratically claims credit for CA, despite actually doing very little to even further the field. It's sad that people are beginning to think he really is a leader in the study. Please dissociate Wolfram and CA in your mind. Thanks...

Re:Cellular Automata != Wolfram (1, Insightful)

Sir Pallas (696783) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097452)

You're just jealious because you didn't write a book, which, on every page, says "I did this, I'm so smart." Also, you don't look like George Costanza.

But seriously, you're right that Wolfram's book read more like a reference than anything really innovative. It's not a new kind of science either: because it's not even a new kind of mathematics. His pictures are just more complex (and glossy) than everyone else's. Still, the book is useful as a primer for the neophyte.

Re:Cellular Automata != Wolfram (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097851)

BS... ANKS is much less useful for the neophyte than a list of say three really insightful questions and a either some simware or an editor and gcc.

ANKS best use is as a boat anchor.

Re:Cellular Automata != Wolfram (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097506)

Wolfram's smart writing was done before, A New Kind Of Science, he has actal done a lot works behind the teory of CA's.

But ANKs is just a book of pretty pictures, dont read the tekst at best is says nothing


Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097520)

nothing more to say

Re:Cellular Automata != Wolfram (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098021)

".. a rare blend of monster raving egomania and utter batshit insanity"

Cosma Rohilla Shalizi on S.Wolfram, A new kind of science r-automata.html []

Re:Cellular Automata != Wolfram (1)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099426)

No kidding. I've never before read a book in which every paragraph started with either "And" or "But." I think I'm including the opening paragraph here. If you're not laughing or shaking your head, you haven't read it.

Kevin Kelly did this in 1994 (1)

wils0n (139703) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097412)

Just from reading the review, this reminds me of Out of Control [] , which may be a bit outdated but is still a very relevant look at similar concepts.

6Day creationists and Flat earthers need not read (-1, Flamebait)

KaeloDest (220375) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097417)

It is clear and proven that Ants evolved from Wasps. there is a obvious advantage of "hive" and mob mentality. How else can one explain organized religon? Or Windows?

Re:6Day creationists and Flat earthers need not re (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097461)

and theres me thinking windows WAS a religion.

Man thats 5 years of worshipping down the toilet :(

Re:6Day creationists and Flat earthers need not re (1)

raider_red (156642) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097652)

Or atheists?

Re:6Day creationists and Flat earthers need not re (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097973)

Zing! What a comeback. I bow to your wit, sir.

Higher order behavior (4, Funny)

caramelcarrot (778148) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097432)

"...using cellular automata as a means of explaining higher order behavior (like Wolfram in A New Kind of Science)."

Well, not quite sure if it can explain as high order behavior as Wolfram yet...

This is nothing new (1, Insightful)

flumps (240328) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097438)

.. we kind of knew already that complexity can be acheived with a basic set of rules re flocking. This may be interesting, but its hardly new.

Sounds like they are rehashing old ideas into a book just in time for Xmas to get you to splash your cash.

Re:This is nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098298)

I was looking at doing a PhD in this area ten years ago, but decided I couldn't compete with the published work in the field. I could write better programs, I just couldn't imagine managing to hype the "significance" of my results to the same heights.

It doesn't sound as though much reality has crept in yet.

Re:This is nothing new (1)

LarryRiedel (141315) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098555)

Sounds like they are rehashing old ideas into a book just in time for Xmas to get you to splash your cash.

Xmas of what year? The book was published in 2001.


/. in the book (4, Interesting)

JohnGrahamCumming (684871) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097445)

This is, indeed, an interesting book and the reviewer fails to point out that Emergence goes into detail concerning the karma, moderation and meta-moderation system of this here web site.

Author seems to think taco is a genius or something, but it's still a good read :-) Towards the end where he's talking about emergent video games I got a little bored, but definitely a book that got me thinking. Worth reading even if you are aware of the way ants behave, because you probably don't know as much about slime mold as you should.


Re:/. in the book (2, Funny)

flumps (240328) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097633)

you probably don't know as much about slime mold as you should.

Ooohhh yes I do matey, I played Baldurs Gate all the way through I'll have you know.

ugh (2, Informative)

twentycavities (556077) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097454)

I read the first two chapters or so of that book. It's totally an essay strrrreeeetched into a book. Terribly boring (in a lite-on-content sort of way). On the topic of taking recommendations from Slashdot: A poster raved about "The Non-Designers Design Book," so I bought it. It's not completely worthless for total amateurs (like me), but it's pretty much written for the purpose of teaching secretaries how to make better-looking newsletters. Lesson learned.

This is as much about philosophy than science... (2, Interesting)

wwest4 (183559) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097462)

...but interesting, nonetheless. For two viewpoints that are more or less opposing, read Daniel Dennett and John Searle - the latter of whom is a latter-day dualist who talks a lot about emergence, aka emergent properties. Dennett thinks machines will be able to think, Searle doubts it.

Philosophy, semantics, yadda yadda (2, Interesting)

Kozz (7764) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098141)

Reminds me of an old quote about the study of AI,
"The question of whether computers can think is like the question of whether submarines can swim." * "The question 'Can machines think?' is as ill-posed and uninteresting as the question 'Can submarines swim?'"
- E W Dijkstra []
Seems to me that emergent properties is what it's about. I've got to concede Dijkstra's point.

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097463)

I find the 3 classes of scientific study to be abritray. I would like some proof of the 20 word ant vocabulary which seems to be pulled out of a very tiny ass.

Re:Bullshit (3, Funny)

DrEasy (559739) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097931)

I would like some proof of the 20 word ant vocabulary which seems to be pulled out of a very tiny ass. ant's ass?

Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (3, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097495)

> 2. Ignorance is useful. Ants communicate with a vocabulary of around 20 words/ideas.

I knew our collective hive mind would come in handy someday:

1. "I, for one, welcome our emergent overlords."
2. "???"
3. "Profit!"
4. "In Soviet Russia, our groupthink comes from emergent behvaior, or is it the other way around?"
5. "Who cares? Look, it's Natalie Portman!"
6. "Does Netcraft confirm it?"
7. "Yeah, but only in Korea."
8. "Netcraft does not confirm it. Old people are not quite dead yet."
9. "OK, that's the Monty Python reference out of the way. Has someone bashed China yet?"
10. "No, and we also haven't bashed Micro$oft yet, at least not until this line.

Crap. I'm only at #10 and the well's running dry. (What, you want me to yell "MEEPT!" or something?)

If you're a glass-half-empty type: we won't be as useful in the underground sugar mines as I'd previously thought. We're only capable of half as many thoughts.

If you're a glass-half-full type: or maybe we've achieved antlike emergent behavior using only ten words and ideas, making us twice as efficient as our formic emergent-behavior-exhibiting overlords!

Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (1)

JohnGrahamCumming (684871) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097527)

> Crap. I'm only at #10 and the well's running dry. (What, you want me to yell "MEEPT!" or something?)

This only goes to show what many have already suspected: the average /.er has less communication skills than an ant.


Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098024)

It's always why I stopped 'chatting' in online chat rooms. The vast majority of the 'communication' would devolve into the playing of previously scripted 'gestures'. A gesture on one person's part eliciting dozens of seemingly 'appropriate' response gesture on other person(s) part. Ad nauseum. But no one actually says anything intelligent anymore.

However, I suppose this book is inferring that some sort of 'higher' behaviour is supposed to manifest itself when you get a bunch of brain-dead chatters together in a room. I myself have never been able to adduce such manifestations.

Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097551)

All your bases are belong to us

Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097665)

Crap. I'm only at #10 and the well's running dry. (What, you want me to yell "MEEPT!" or something?)

That's because you need a Beowulf cluster to help you out. T

Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098063)

No, it's because he's a dumbass. /gratuitous flame

Re:Slashdot Hive Mind: Emergence! (1)

brettper (206948) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098221)

I can't believe you forgot 'All Your Base'

Pray (1)

krahd (106540) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097496)

If you're interested in emergent behaviour and like sci-fi thrillers, you must read Michael Crichton's Prey [] .

I know a lot of people here seems to despise Crichton but, IMHO, he writes book that are really fun (and much better than the movies they span).. so I encourage everyone to give them a try.

btw, if you like Prey you should read Andromeda Strain [] , also...


mod me up, Scottie!

Re:Pray (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097751)

There is a good reason to despise Crichton: over the years he's degenerated from a moderately talented SF/thriller writer into a Luddite ideologue whose "novels" are thinly disguised political screeds -- and in the process, he's stopped doing his homework, which for a writer in his genre (especially one with his education) is unforgivable. His later novels, including Prey, have replaced storytelling with pseudoscientific hysteria.

Re:Pray (1)

Kehvarl (812337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098702)

If he's trying to portray technology as evil and to be avoided, then he has an opposite effect on me. I find that Chricton's novels pique my interest in the various fields rather than cause me to shy away or reject them as evil.

Or it could be that I'm secretly evil so his works appeal to me on a destroy-the-world level.

Re:Pray (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099315)

Thank you.

His basic theme doesn't change much: advanced technology and hubris gets us into trouble that only Mother Nature, in her serendipitous magnanimity, can rescue us from. Like Andromeda Strain ... the human race was on the verge of extinction from a space-born microbe (that wouldn't have bothered us if we hadn't been overstepping our bounds in the first place by building spacecraft) and we're saved at the last minute by a random mutation. Phooey. I've never really considered Crichton to be even moderately talented. It's the likes of a Steven Spielberg that have taken some of his not-particularly-original ideas and turned them into something worthwhile. Even though Spielberg completely changed the ending of Jurassic Park, it still had a Crichtonian feel to it: our heroes would have been velociraptor food if the T-Rex hadn't jumped in and just incidentally saved them. Mother Nature to the rescue. Again.

The thing is, people talk about Crichton being a not-so-closet Luddite, but frankly, I don't think he likes human beings very much either.

Re:Pray (1)

mbvgp (624905) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097783)

I've read Prey and almost all of Crichton's book. I dont agree with his view wrt technology but his books are fun neverthless. As for despising Crichton one cant really complain too much when the theme that sells in almost all form of media is the "technology developed by evil corporation X brings about doom". Even the popular computer games ( doom 3 and half life 2 ) have that theme. I dont see people despise them for that.

Re:Pray (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098264)

Pray? I don't get it. Sure, I'm not a fan of Crichton's books, but they're not that bad!

I thought the book (1)

supun (613105) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097497)

was about coming to term with Gentoo, guess not.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Santschii (1, Informative)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097570)

I use the following amusing/horrifying anecdote from Dawkins [] in the Genetic Omnidominance Hypothesis [] that sheds light on the real connection between ant colonies, brains and cities:
...scholars of revolutions may find the following passage from chapter 4, "Arms Races and Manipulation" particularly interesting:

"Several species of ant have no workers of their own. The queens invade nests of other species, dispose of the host queen, and use the host workers to bring up their own reproductive young. The method of disposing of the queen varies. In some species, such as the descriptively named Bothriomyrmex regicidus and B. decapitans, the parasite queen rides about on the back of the host queen and then, in Wilson's (1971) delightful description, 'begins the one act for which she is uniquely specialized: slowly cutting off the head of her victim' (p. 363)."

"Monomorium santschii achieves the same result by more subtle means. The host workers have weapons wielded by strong muscles, and nerves attached to the muscles; why should the parasite queen exert her own jaws if she can subvert the nervous systems controlling the numerous jaws of the host workers? It does not seem to be known how she achieves it, but she does: the host workers kill their own mother and adopt the usurper. A chemical secreted by the parasite queen seems the likely weapon, in which case it might be labeled a pheromone, but it is probably more illuminating to think of it as a formidably powerful drug. In line with this interpretation, Wilson (1971, p 413) writes of symphylic substances as being 'more than just elementary nutritive substances or even analogues of the natural host pheromones. Several authors have spoken of a narcotizing effect of symphylic substances.' Wilson also uses the word 'intoxicant' and quotes a case in which worker ants under the influence of such a substance become temporarily disoriented and less sure of their footing."

"Those who have never been brainwashed or addicted to a drug find it hard to understand their fellow men who are driven by such compulsions. In the same naive way we cannot understand a host bird's being compelled to feed an absurdly oversized cuckoo, or worker ants wantonly murdering the only being in the whole world that is vital to their genetic success. But such subjective feelings are misleading, even where the relatively crude achievements of human pharmacology are concerned. With natural selection working on the problem, who would be so presumptuous as to guess what feats of mind control might not be achieved?"

When we see words such as "prejudice" and "discrimination" used in morally perjorative and even medically diagnostic ways that are otherwise indistinguishable from "knowledge", "wisdom" and "discernment" -- particularly in the areas of thought about "genes" -- who would be so presumptuous as to assert no genetic interests are at work generating emotional confusion of clear headedness?

Finally, Dawkins completes this paragraph on mind control with a warning:

"Do not expect to see animals always behaving in such a way as to maximize their own inclusive fitness. Losers in an arms race [genetic omni-recessives -- jab] may behave in some very odd ways indeed. If they appear disoriented and unsure of their footing, this may be only the beginning."

I guess I'll have to read the book to be sure, (3, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097578)

but isn't this terrain Douglas Hofstadter [] covered about twenty-five years ago in Gödel, Escher, Bach [] ? Does Johnson's book say much new? Has a quarter-century's "progress" in CA and AI brought us any closer to singularity [] ? And will I ever stop posting this comment in rhetorical question form?

Re:I guess I'll have to read the book to be sure, (2, Interesting)

teeker (623861) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097770)

but isn't this terrain Douglas Hofstadter covered about twenty-five years ago in Gödel, Escher, Bach?

Exactly what I was thinking. I may have to read this book just for that comparison alone. For those who have not read it, I highly recommend's not a weekend browser, but has some fascinating insight and thought experimentation. One of the most interesting books I've ever read. And the kind of books I usually like have more pictures than words :)

Re:I guess I'll have to read the book to be sure, (1)

bozendoka (739643) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097855)

Possibly, but I'll wager more people get further in this book than GEB.

Lord knows my brain melted around chapter 4 or 5.

Re:I guess I'll have to read the book to be sure, (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097992)

B ackwards

Beh beh! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097580)


Emergence (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097583)

I actually quite enjoyed this book. The stuff in there about the emergence of communities and trading groups in cities as a result of simple motivations was really interesting, and got me thinking about this for a while. The way in which simple interactions within an ant colony result in complex higher level behaviours such as cemetries and food distribution are also quite amazing!

However, it wasn't until I read Mitch Resnick's 'Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams' that emergence and self organisation really clicked for me. Resnick basically developed a scripting language and an environment for investigating emergence in biological systems (termites, turtles, ants) and social systems such as traffic patterns and communities. The system is called StarLogo, and is well worth googling for.

Re:Emergence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11099052)

Agreement. I picked up a copy of Resnick's book in high school and thought it was totally cool.

Orson Scott Card (1, Troll)

Glsai (840331) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097585)

brings up an interesting idea in his Ender's Game series of books. What if there were a sort of connection between all the ants, or birds, or creatures that show this sort of behavior, like there was with the buggers in his book. What if there is some sort of connection there that we with current tools cannot detect. Or as George Lucas put it, sort of like the Force. It's there, it allows birds/ants to communicate in a method that we can't detect. Is that possible?

Re:Orson Scott Card (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097706)

The whole point of this field is that no such connection is needed, complex behavior can arrise from simple things.

Re:Orson Scott Card (2, Insightful)

Icarus1919 (802533) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097724)

No, no it's not. Now go find a sci-fi thread somewhere.

Re:Orson Scott Card (1)

Jerf (17166) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099658)

It's there, it allows birds/ants to communicate in a method that we can't detect. Is that possible?

Possible? Everything is. But who needs it when the things we can detect seem to run the gamut? See the original formulation of Occam's Razor.

Very much in the same vein... (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097595)

Try 872346/102-1898615-3811317?v=glance [] .
It's a bit dated, since complexity theory and emergence are actually not all that new. People familiar with cellular automata modeling and games like SimCity will chuckle.

But the book is fascinating, has great explanations of many of the concepts, and touches on many of the people who have made the study of complexity so fascinating. I'd definitely recommend it for a geek holiday gift.

Re:Very much in the same vein... (1)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097676)

I also recommend both books titled ``Swarm Intelligence'' (search amazon), as well as most books by Dawkins.

Other Books by the Same Author (1)

Morphix84 (797143) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097604)

I prefer his 2004 Book, Mind Wide Open. A very interesting read into the way the brain works. Good in conjunction with Jeff Hawkins' On Intelligence, for those interested in Cortical AI.

Psychohistory (fictional) emerging? (1)

NZheretic (23872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097671)

This sound like the precursor science to Isaac Asimov's fictional Psychohistory [] .

BTW has anybody else noticed the analogies between Asimov's original Foundation series and the adoption of Open Source/Free Licensed Software. We are about heading towards the second Stallman [] crises : The Merchant Princes.

"So by the same reasoning which make me sure that the Korellians will revolt in favor of prosperty, I am sure
we will not revolt against it. The game will be played out to it's end.

Trader Mallow from The Merchant Princes, second chapter of Foundation by Isaac Asimov

opps, should be "third chapter of Foundation" (1)

NZheretic (23872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097712)

Digging in my book boxes to find Foundation and empire.

Re:Psychohistory (fictional) emerging? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11098850)

JESUS FUCK. You're telling me even Asimov couldn't distinguish between ITS and IT'S??

Matrix (2, Interesting)

Kallahar (227430) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097692)

This was also a theme from the Matrix. The machine world was not controlled by a single overlord but was instead made up of billions of different programs. All the way down to the "wind" or the "bird" programs. Taken individually they're all rather simple and pointless, but when taken as a whole they build something much more valuable.

Re:Matrix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11099690)

I think you missed a couple of points. There definitely were some programs that had more to do with the whole system than others, and that in the "yin-yang" of the thing, the one needed the other while trying to destroy all it made at the same time, and the One (Neo) came about periodically to sort of help kick the system back into equilibrium for awhile, but the system over time could not exist without this conflict cycle.

Different School of Thought Plug... (1)

hellomynameisclinton (796928) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097756)

The terms "connectionism" and "emergence" are used in the field of cognitive science to represent a particular school of thought (generally accepted as Rumelhart and McClelland's territory, which Wolfram is known to align with). This school feels that simple elements, when combined into "sufficiently large and complex" systems begin exhibiting behavior that the elements alone cannot explain.

I think there are great chasms of logic in this.

I highly suggest also reading a Steven Pinker book such as The Blank Slate (which has goes into many aspects of this debate) before getting too deep into emergence. Then at least you will be aware of other views.

The big idea Pinker aligns himself with (as I do) is that there is structure to be understood in the organization of the smaller elements, and this structure is perhaps as important as the elements themselves. Though describing these structures, we will gain understanding of the overall behavior, and not get stuck treating it like a magic black-box.

[Apologies to all the people I mentioned if I've summarized their complicated views in an overly simplistic manner]

threat modeling for web applications (2, Informative)

mytho (774195) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097759)

I quoted this excellent book and gave some future directions about using the bottom-up Emergence technique when dealing with Threat Modeling. Read the last chapter in my MSc paper Threat Modeling for Web Applications using the STRIDE model [] Comments welcome. Thanks

Gestalt (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097767)

You know, as someone at an art school, I can't help but think "Gestalt Theory" when I read this summary.

I did some work with this stuff... (5, Interesting)

B747SP (179471) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097777)

Emergence is a really interesting field to tinker in. I've been doing some work with this, have a couple of published papers on the application of agent based modelling to operations management problems.

The essential concept is that each individual is a simple agent that operates autonomously, and makes very few very simple decisions as it goes about its work. The behaviour of one individual is unremarkable, but the behaviour that emerges from a large group of the same individuals is really quite amazing.

Because the concepts are really quite logically simple, this stuff is really simple to program too. Just fire up perl or java or any language that has a similar capability to OO concepts, write a simple object - your agent - that behaves according to a simple set of rules and responds in defined ways to certain stimuli. Make a wrapper program to create the playing field, instantiate as many 'agents' as you see fit, and let them loose. Tweak, rinse, repeat.

As an aside, when I was writing a simulation to emulate the behaviour of ants foraging (more to prove that perl and java were suitable languages for the task than to demonstrate anything new with ants per se), I went off and RTFM'ed quite a bit on ants. They're very interesting little critters in their own right. I picked the eyes out of the various behaviours of a bunch of different species of ants to come up with one that made a fun simulation (refer references below).

The bare mechanical simplicity with which some of these critters operate is really quite amazing. Take, for example, the concept of trail laying. I guess it's pretty widely known that many species of ants lay trails from food sources back to the nest to guide other ants to the food. (Try: find a line of ants climbing up the wall in the kitchen or somewhere, moisten your finger, wipe straight through the line (washing off the trail). They'll be all disoriented for a little while, but they'll quickly re-establish the trail, largely by random search). Anyhoo, what's really quite cool is how one species does it. The trail is just an emission from the back end of the ant that wipes along the ground as it walks. The mechanics are such that if the ant has a full crop, it puts pressure on the digestive tract, and forces stuff out the back. If its only lightly fed, it only forces a bit out the back, if its had a big feed, it forces a lot out the back and lays a denser trail. The outcome is that the ants lay stronger trails to the better food sources. Elegant, isn't it!

I could go on forever, but I won't. Some references below. Another behaviour that is probably even more interesting than trail laying is navigation. They're absolutely amazing. Various ants use various combinations of reference to the sun, counting the amount of ground that passes underneath them as they walk *AND* remembering turns!!!, and reference to major landmarks as they travel. Did I say amazing?

Anyhoo, here's a bunch of references on ant behaviour if anyone's interesting.

NOTE: slashdot doesn't like 'junk' characters, so I'm removing all the comment chars :-(
#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w
Dancing Ants. An agent-based simulation of ant scouting and
foraging behaviour. Demonstrating the application of open-
source programming tools to agent-based simulation.

# B747SP, University of xxxxxxxxxxxx. 3rd December 2003

# In this simulation, we define an 'ant' object with behavioural
# patterns drawn from various published works on Biology, Zoology,
# and Behavioural science. We define a 'foraging area', then release
# those ants into it. And then we observe...

# What we know about ants...

Note: These 'definitions' merely describe the behaviour of a fictional, theoretical
ant specifically 'bred' in the mind of the author for this specific simulation.
Their behaviours are derived from the various species of ants studied in the
belowreferenced research papers. The behaviour described and emulated herein
is a derivation of that of several different species of ants, and not intended
to be a representation of any one species. In particular, traits that were
deemed to be 'interesting' from a simulation point of view are favoured, whereas
traits that seem overly complex (and thus outside the scope of this work), or not
likely to further the course of research on agent-based simulation are quietly

In Summary: The belowdefined 'facts' about ant behavour *may* be true for various
actual species of ant, but are in fact only true in their entirety
for this simulated ant.

By various means, ants know the way back home. They set out from the nest on a
scouting trip and once (if) they find food, they know a path back home to return
that food to the nest.
Ants use path integration, that is, they measure distances travelled and angles
steered throughout the course of their outbound scouting trip. When they need
to return home, they can 'calculate' a return path based on that accumulated
information.[1] [2]
Additionally, ants (and bees) can rely on visual references for navigation and
return-path following. They use both sun position, and landmarks in determining
return paths. [1] [2]
Ants are truely amazing little critters. All of the aforementioned references
are well worth hunting down and reading.

Ants, for the benefit of this discussion, divide themselves into two key groups,
those being 'scouts', and 'foragers'. (There are, of course, other functions,
but those are not relevant here). Scouts comprise, in our interpretation, some
3-4% [3] of those ants that are available for active retrieval of food. The
remaining foragers will retrieve food once it is found by scouts.

Various 'recruitment' techniques exist within different species. Active communication
between individuals occurs in some species. This simulation implements the more
simplistic (and apparently more common) method of recruitment by the laying of
some form of 'trail'. [3] [4]

Lamb and Ollason [4] observe that the ants they study only lay a trail on the
return path to the nest.

The actual implementation of this behaviour varies between species. At it's most
simplistic, the trail-laying behaviour of the 'red wood-ant' is purely mechanical,
and apparently involuntary [4]. The red wood-ant lays a trail of fecal matter
during the course of it's trip back to the nest, a mechanical side-effect of it's
crop being filled with food. In other species, the 'decision' to lay a trail relies
on the individual's interpretation of the broader usefullness of the food source. The
size of the food source is a key indicator, though the individual's method of
determining the size is somewhat simplistic! [3]

Watch this space.

Lizards, frogs, birds, and schoolboys with magnifying glasses all pose very real
threats to the already very short lifecycle of the ant. Our simulated ants are immune
to all of these threats, a result of the author's consideration that, given a large
enough population, the occasional dissapearance of an individual will be largely
irrelevant to the group outcome.

Authors note: whilst reference [5] is not specifically applied or referenced in this
simulation, the author of that paper makes several observations that
tie well with classic 'agent based' modelling. The observation of sub-
optimal behaviour by individuals resulting in optimal performance of
the colony as a whole makes very interesting reading. Overall, reference
[5] takes a more analytical approach (whereas references [1] through
[4] are largely biological and directly observational. For this reason
alone, reference [5] is interesting.


[1] Visual navigation in insect. Coupling of egocentric and geocentric information
Wehner, Michel, Antonsen. Journal of Experimental Biology 199, 129-140 (1996)

[2] Local and gobal vectors in desert ant navigation.
Collett, Collett, Bisch, Wehner. Nature, Vol 394, 269-272 (16 July 1998)

[3] Scavenging by Pheidole pallidula: a key for understanding decision making systems
in ants.
Detrain, Deneubourg. Animal Behaviour, 1987, 53, 537-547.

[4] Trail-laying and recruitment to sugary foods by forgaing red wood-ants Formica
aquilonia Yarrow (Hymenoptera: Formicidai)
Lamb, Ollason. Behavioural Processes 31 (1994) 111-124.

[5] Foraging behaviour of Atta cephalotes (leaf-cutting ants): an examination of
two predictions for load selection.
Burd. Animal Behaviour, 2000, 60, 781-788.


Re:I did some work with this stuff... (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097947)

> I picked the eyes out of [...] ants
> ... a fun ...

Get out more...

Re:I did some work with this stuff... (2, Informative)

bnenning (58349) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098854)

Make a wrapper program to create the playing field, instantiate as many 'agents' as you see fit, and let them loose. Tweak, rinse, repeat.

Better yet, use a simulation environment like breve [] and you get 3d rendering, collision detection, basic physics, and a lot more for free.

Re:I did some work with this stuff... (2, Interesting)

B747SP (179471) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099267)

Better yet, use a simulation environment like breve and you get 3d rendering, collision detection, basic physics, and a lot more for free.

We did look at a bunch of those tools. An argument that I was trying to make, and trying to demonstrate, was that many common-or-garden programming languages - perl, java et al - are perfectly suitable tools for this type of work. There are a lot of simulation environments around, and they all have their quirks, their own languages, and stuff. What I wanted to demonstrate was that I could develop equally effective simulations without using specialised tools. I wasn't trying to suggest that the specialised tools were bad, just that they weren't the only way to skin that particular cat.

I guess I was coming at it from a different angle to a lot of researchers in that I already had good programming skills with mainstream languages, and I wasn't particularly excited about learning another language. In particular, I felt that the absolute vast magority of coding for the things I was trying to simulate was peculiar to the specific simulation - there wasn't much coding going into wrappers and housekeeping and game execution, and so I questioned the degree of contribution that a specialised environment could make.

Of course, as you imply, one of the issues with this type of work is finding ways to represent the outcomes in ways that you can demonstrate in presentations and ideally, in static printed form. That's not easy. The graphical capabilities of some of the simulation environments are, arguably, one of their key benefits.

Ignorance is useful. (1)

CraigoFL (201165) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097806)

2. Ignorance is useful.

If that were true, my company would be the most productive on the planet.

Is Christmas vacation here yet? :-\

Similar in scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11097866)

Genius within [] is similar in scope to this topic. It discusses how intelligence can arise out of a mass of smaller pieces(i.e. bacteria, lymphocytes, cytoplasm, neurons). Definitely an interesting read as well as providing some examples where and why scientific advances aren't able to keep pace with biological mechanisms.

Not that great (1)

splitretina (706377) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097880)

I have long been interested in emergent systems. I picked up this book a few months ago, very excited. But one chapter in I was so frustrated I nearly stopped reading. Two chapters in I quit.

The author seems to not be able to stay on topic. The idea is presented, then a long digression into who worked with whom and how they new each other (a needless asside into Turing's life almost did me in). Then the idea is briefly recapped.

To be fair, I didn't finish the book, so my view may very well be unfounded as it pertains to the complete work. But honestly, I felt like I was wasting my time. Ideas were good, execution: poor.

The Tipping Point is a book based on similar ideas that reads like melted butter is smooth. Not as technical by any stretch, but at least comparing writing quality, The Tipping Point is an example of how it should have been done.

Interesting ideas (2, Insightful)

xnot (824277) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097911)

Kind of like the continuum going from observing at the atomic level to observing at the macroscopic level. The physics of the atomic level is VERY different then the physics of the macroscopic level. Understandably, when you get to a point where you can't use one model over the other, things can get pretty hairy.

Can you say that the atomic level CAUSES the macroscopic level, i.e. one level emerges out of the other? My feeling is, it doesn't make much of a difference. The interactions you get depend upon your level of observation- they don't necessarily depend on what the interactions are at a different level. Observing at both levels is useful for different reasons. For example, for most low-speed aerodynamics, the model of air that you use is streamlines in the flow. For this situation and it's goals, it doesn't much matter to the airplane what is going on at the atomic level. The airplane is on a macroscopic level, so what matters is the physics of the macroscopic level. You fit the model to the same level and dementions of the thing you're observing. Remember calculus and limits? The limit works because it creates a fundmental building block of experience in a relavant dimension. Ex: dt is an infinitely small measure of a direction in time. But time is relevant in the demensions of the thing you're observing (actions the real world), so it's useful for the theory about the real world you want to create.

Due to my study on how people work, and that there are fundamental principles of human interaction that apply regardless of the individual person, I think it's probable that they're are fundmental principles of the overall interactions of an ant colony (we may not know them yet, but they are there). It's just that if you observe the colony at the microscopic level, you may not find them, since you're looking in the wrong place. Chaos Theory shows that even when behavior appears random, there are principles which create the randomness.

I guess it's nice these people have their "new" science to investigate- emergence. Hey, if it creates some new thought and gets people interested, I'm all for it. But I don't think that one thing is emerging out of another: it's just observing that for this particular level of observation, traits that were appearent at other levels have a bearing on the problem.

It's all the same thing, just different levels with different rules. (For example, duality is pretty much a law in the universe. You can't really equate the things that compose the duality, you can only recognize that the duality exists.)

After Thought (2, Informative)

bgalbraith (741719) | more than 9 years ago | (#11097976)

Another good book on the subject of emergent systems is After Thought [] by James Baily. It is a quick and enjoyable read that takes a look at the evolution of mathematical and philosophical attempts at describing our universe from the ancient Greeks to modern day scientists. Specifically, he focuses on how we attempt to model the human brain electronically, and touches on parallel computing, cellular automata, genetic algorithms, and the techniques required to allow a machine to learn.

Modern applications (1)

bm17 (834529) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098219)

It's worth mentioning here that, unlike some of the other books mentioned, 'Emergence' ends up tying the concepts to modern applications. For example, it discusses's use of self-organizing groups.

Good ref for Emergentism in philosophy (3, Informative)

Zukix (641813) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098280)

I found the following to be surprising and useful background for the glut of writing about complexity/emergence/universality etc. Lots of historical detail from J. S. Mill onwards about the use of emergence in philosophy. Good bibliography too of which I can recommend the Kaufman books as good fun: ent/ []

How local information leads to global coordination (2, Informative)

rabtinyrhedlites (739878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098631)

This seems like a fascinating book. I wrote a research paper on how local information leads to global coordination, and seems very relevant to the topics covered in the book. The idea is to take an array of nodes which are in one of two states. Each node can tell the state of only a few neighbors on either side. The idea is to find a cellular automata rule so that all states in the array converge to one state (this is known as the density classification task). This is the "local information can lead to global wisom" idea as stated in the review and is relevent to a score of biological and economic decentralized systems. I used genetic algorithms to solve this problem. I was a semi-finalist in the Siemens-Westinghouse contest and submitted the paper to the Intel Talent Search (yet to be judged). A pdf can be found at []

Another novel... (1)

hailstop (638166) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098681)

Coalescent, by Stephen Baxter.

Foundation (1)

bozojoe (102606) | more than 9 years ago | (#11098948)

wasn't this already written by Isaac Asimov?

No news... (1)

BaconLT (555713) | more than 9 years ago | (#11099877)

Flamebait mods be ready...Truth hurts.

This book was reviewed by Wired Magazine in 2002 when it came out. I read the book and liked it; it was insightful but redundant.

Is it possible that there is nothing important in the world of Technetium so the front page of the hallowed Slashdot has to use two year old commercial buzz from Wired?
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