Self organized criticality in our brains (and media consumption)

Example of a small world network from Mathaware website

There has been a lot of work done on the way human organise their social activities.  (Here is an excellent summary)  From Einstein to Aristotle, these are serious questions regarding just how many people we “know”.  With our global markets steaming along and more and more people trying to decipher Facebook and other such phenomena the questions are more pertinent than ever.  If nothing else because we are reaching the limit of what our brains can handle.

And brain research indeed is what has helped me move ahead on this issue.    John Beggs at Indiana University has done some groundbreaking work to show what we always suspected:  our brains are tittering on the brink of chaos!

If we had a regular network of neuron operation we would be too slow.  If it was random it would again not be the most efficient way of dealing with our environment.  Small world network organisation fits perfectly with all previous work on the topic.

And it also explains “aha” or “eureka” moments.  Our brain works like sand on a beach.  The wind piles it up and then suddenly it crumbles.  (Here some recent research on this in relation to sudden realisations or discoveries.)  You can apply the model to natural disasters or avalanches.  What is interesting is that Beggs figured out how to test (and prove) the theory in our brains.

It is the changes between a calm state and a flurry of activity that defines intelligence in many ways but that is not what is interesting for social media.   In many ways, people using them will reflect similar patterns.  And if you want to use them you will have to adapt.

The reverse side of this coin was proved in an interesting experiment with believers and atheists.   It showed that believers’ “deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities”.   ie to accept religion your brain actually switches off critical parts of it’s functionality.

The slogan “TV is dead” is simply not true (as proven by increased consumption of television globally) exactly because it is a great way of doing something similar.  We (well some people more than others!) need a method of “switching off” and relaxing like trash TV.   It is just a shame that so many people do it through passive soap opera and reality show consumption instead of just getting out for a walk.

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