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New Scientist: The end of history

fire

Chaos and disaster seem unpredictable. Not for much longer, says Per Bak, a revolution is under way

Ubiquity

by Mark Buchanan, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Intriguing review, with something of a scientific slant on patterns we might see as psychological or synchronistic. Here are a couple o paragraphs:

The concept of “ubiquity” expresses the view that details are not important in deciding the outcome. In 1998, Don Turcotte and Bruce Malamud from Cornell University studied the distribution of forest fires in Australia and the US. They found that the distribution could be understood from a simple “toy model” developed in 1992 by Barbara Drossel and Franz Schwabl. This implies that the forests are in the self-organised critical state.

In 1996, Roy Anderson and Chris Rhodes of the University of Oxford took the same model and plugged in people in place of trees and measles in place of fires. The result explained the distribution of measles epidemics on the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. “If this does not bring home the point [of ubiquity], perhaps nothing will,” Buchanan concludes: “The ubiquity of the critical state may well be considered the first really solid discovery of complexity theory.”

I must admit now that I am not your usual unbiased, emotionally detached book reviewer. I was heavily involved with the discovery in 1987.

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