Strogatz On Sync

“For some reason we take pleasure in synchronizing.”

Steven Strogatz



The debate on Marc Bekoff’s blog on Psychology Today about the nature of “dominance” in social behavior has caused me to revisit the Ted lecture on the nature of synchronization by Steven Strogatz.

I fail to see how someone deeply involved with animals and theorizing about the evolutionary roots of such noble traits as cooperation, altruism, complex teamwork, deferred gratification, sublimation of individual desire for the good of the whole, love, morality, and all that, would not be able to seize on the notion of synchronization as the best candidate for the genesis of all this rather than the neo-Darwinian notion of reciprocity and genetic self-interest.

My study of dogs (which is the easiest way to study the physics of emotional attraction, if that is one’s thoughts can be put aside) has shown me that we take pleasure in synchronizing because of the principle of emotional conductivity. The simple pursuit of emotion (the body/mind as a pipe, i.e. as a conduit for the movement of emotion) always meets with resistance and this is then internalized and stored as stress, or unresolved emotion, the physical memory of a desire that didn’t come to 100% fulfillment (the body/mind as emotional battery.) The experience of resistance has an “ionizing” effect within the body/mind (emotional affects) and simultaneously a “polarizing” effect on the body/mind (body language) that becomes visible to external observers. The internal ionizing affects cause an individual to innately recognize the external polarities in others that will bring release from these internal affects, and this enables two individuals to connect and if the relationship continues to elaborate according to the principle of emotional conductivity, ultimately synchronize their feelings and their actions so that they can collectively attain a goal that would remain unavailable by singular action. This begets complexity. The energetic hallmarks of this evolutionary process can be seen step-by-step any time two dogs meet, greet and get along.

Strogatz posits that this synchronizing tendency evolved so that flocks of birds, herds of animals and schools of fish can protect themselves and he sees it this way because he is putting the phenomenon into a neo-Darwinian framework. However certain predators tap into this tendency (sharks and whales) to herd the prey into tight formations so that by synchronizing as predators, they can methodically sweep through their numbers in this stationary, tightly bunched, easy to harvest formation. Aboriginal whalers and Killer Whales were able to do the same, and early man and wolves likewise evolved from hunting to herding. The tendency to sync up in the prey, begets the tendency to sync up in the predator and to the disadvantage to the prey’s chances of survival, (unless of course you want to think like Dawkins that sheep have gamed the system.) But it’s not about survival or genetic replication because the phenomenon is stronger than survival and reproduction. It’s about nature as a whole tapping into the syncing up phenomenon in order to solve the one and only problem that matters if the evolution of life on earth is to ever get going, entropy.

The principle of emotional conductivity is bigger than any individual, group, or network of inter-relationships and ecosystems. It is invested in the genetic makeup of all forms of life, even plants respond chemically to morning birdsong, and around which the anatomy, physiology and neurology of all life is organized because this principle is how consciousness synchronizes with the forces of nature in order to solve the problem of entropy. Stress is how consciousness solved the problem of entropy. Emotional conductivity, which itself is predicated on the laws of nature, turns disorder, the loss of heat, i.e. the experience of social friction, into heat, or stress. Stress is not only information as a reminder of unfinished business and potential danger, but it also internally ionizes and externally polarizes so as to harvest new energy through syncing up as a group. Social behavior reverses the drain of energy and turns entropy into information which then begets more energy. And if science would apply this framework to the data, what a story the statistics could tell.

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Published February 20, 2012 by Kevin Behan
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2 responses to “Strogatz On Sync”

  1. Christine says:

    Bravo, Kevin! I had a similar thought re: neo-Darwinian reference to survival instincts and such. That just doesn’t fit with synchronization. It felt rather jarring to have that thought inserted into the discussion.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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