Nature’s Tipping Point ~ Red Queen, Tooth and Claw

Games are attractive, aren’t they? While not everyone is drawn magnetically to their charms, no matter how lovingly the little figures on the board are carved, or how gay the plumage of the various pieces, studying the rulebook can yield a lot of information about how the thing works.

Even Those who prefer ornithology might find the notion of note-taking on their observations delightful, and nature not only parades its varied plumage, but plays by some rules, too, as species evolve, to win the game of life. The feathers may fly, sometimes, in the fight for survival, but that’s how the game is played, and the rules, it turns out, are very simple to grasp.

Let’s have a look at how Game Theory comes into play in evolutionary strategy, with an example from the game played on the Galapagos Islands. The pieces on the board in this case are finches, so even the ornithologists who don’t like to be stuck indoors, when they could be out in the field, bird watching, might like this game.

Ask the ornithologist to read the Rulebook, to know how the Game’s played

It starts with two pieces (finches), and you win more as you go along (takes a while, ‘cos you have to wait for them to mate, and observe the proceeding generations as they evolve). What fun the game is then, as you notice the new pieces begin to change the game, as they develop new characteristics over time, and the game plays out, with the best players dominating the board. All the time, things edge towards chaos, but gravitate towards stability, in order for the species to live to fight another day, and play the game that goes on and on, until someone upsets the board, and all the pieces are thrown into chaos.

Mashup vid with a reading of John Gribbin’s book, “Deep Simplicity” chapter 6, “The Facts of Life” (turn the sound up a smidge at 2:17, and down a bit again, at 4:29, as the Red Queen was interfering slightly, as she loves to do)

Darn Red Queen is always getting her flippity flappity sleeves caught in the edges of chaos, so sometimes it’s just sensible to move the board out of her reach. Quite a nice island, this. Lots of birds about, beaches to swim on, and sandpiles galore, for the progeny to roll down. Splendid view, too, from the top, if you’re King of the Hill.

Video Sources:

Fish footage was from the BBC Earth YouTube channel:

I also loved the sea birds chase, again from BBC Earth:

The Mourning doves fighting were from Ostdrossel’s video, here:

Then there were Greg Dill’s fighting cranes:

There was nice footage of finches to be seen on Mogan Hallas’s Galapagos channel:

…and from Latest Sightings channel, from which the fighting hawk bit came:

The sand footage was from Manuel Meier’s channel:

…while the Bak Sandpile explanation was on Art Scott’s channel:

(Per Bak wasn’t in my vid, but he’s so interesting I’m including this short clip of him speaking about Self Organised Criticality, so there)!

If, like me, you like a nice Trilobite, you’ll enjoy Ben G Thomas’s video:

Primer does lots of informative and fun animations, including the one on hawk/dove game theory:

Best of Science had nice stuff on evolution as well:

You might have recognised the elderly guy enjoying his chess game as coming from Pixar Productions. That’s Geri:

The Red Queen footage was straight from the Queen’s mouth, so to say, as it’s on Helena Bonholm Carter’s YouTube channel (or maybe just a fan chan). I bet she enjoyed playing that character:

A Physic(al) Journey

I love a good adventure, and lately I’ve been on a journey of exploration into the fascinating world of physics. I didn’t get to do physics at school, probably being deemed not bright enough to be let pack my bags, to set off on that trip with some of the students who set off on that adventure; in fact, I was once told by a rather sour-faced and lightly mustachioed member of the penguin tribe we know as “The Nuns” that I was a mathematical illiterate, so that’s probably why I stayed behind to watch sunbeams slant, and dream of traveling on the dust motes that spun in lazy patterns, as I dropped out, and tuned in, to different dimensions, traveling happily on my own secret adventures of the mind, for years.

In recent years, though, I’ve tuned in again to read about the wonderful world of physics. You don’t need to be able to do maths, you see, to appreciate the beauty of physics. All you really need is a sense of awe, and a curious mind (which I’ve often been told I have, ahem) to really dig physics, and start getting dug in. Bring your spade, ‘cos you’re invited, and we’ll dig down into the dirt of matter, but make it a fun exploration, perfect for dreamers, hopefully not getting stuck in the holes. How about some music while we learn? We can have our adventures go our own way, and there won’t even be an exam at the end. Sounds fun? Off we go, then, singing merrily along the way.

What’s that you say? Not quite what you were expecting? Good. Physics is full of delightful surprises, for something that proceeds in such a logical way. The little video I made, was a classic (Newtonian) timeline visual of ideas I’d been reading about in the always easy to understand Brian Gribbin’s book “Deep Simplicity”, but, wouldn’t you know, the journey took many twists and turns along the way, as I explored some of the ideas further, enjoying the side-streets and alleys of a new town I visited.

There were so many really great explainer videos on YouTube, that helped bring the ideas home effectively, and were stunning visually as well. Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” is a favourite musical piece of mine, and I couldn’t resist gathering up some of the best videos I found, during my reading explorations of the topic of how complex systems emerge from chaos, and how chaos is, in fact, intrinsic to order. I thought, why not, then, organise the nicest bits into a kind of visual diary of my reading, and have a bit of dreamer-style fun with it. It’s OK to dream, while studying physics, I discovered. I reckon it helps you learn, as you need to be able to imagine concepts, and play around with them, in your mind, to really get the WOW factor. I took plenty of time to dream, and still haven’t come to the last chapter of the journey, because I keep putting down the book, looking out the window, as I did in my school days, and saying “WOW”. Whatta trip.

Wanna see some of the videos I used for my mashup video? These talented creators put most of the effort in, in their wonderfully explanatory and visually beautiful videos, after all. First up, let’s have a look at the main video I used for the background, and overlaid other videos on, to create the mashup vid in OpenShot (free) video software. This was a brilliant video by Stephanie Yeoh, for the music track “Knee Play 5”. I know, it was a bit cheeky of me to even think of covering up parts of this perfect video, with other graphic elements overlaid, but the nuns always said I was a cheeky little rip, as well as mathematically illiterate, so…

Next up, let’s get outta the bus, and wade right in to the river, and hoist our sails, ‘cos there are so many more lovely places to see along the way, in our journey into physics. Here are some of the other videos I enjoyed, and made use of, in my imaginative journey, with my little guide book in hand.

What? Hotel’s full, even with infinite rooms? How can that be? Never mind, let’s skip the chaos and camp out for the night. Don’t get the matches wet, ‘cos we’ll need them to get a fire going, and get the party started, under the stars.

Erm, not sure we’re going in the right direction, and not terribly certain about how we got here, but I’m sure we’ll end up somewhere, with a fixed point to refer to (pulls out compass and taps it, playing for thinking time).

(Wakes at sunrise, under a semi-chaotic collapsing tent). Wow, my back hurts. I’m in bits, but I’m sure I’ll be OK for the homeward leg of the journey. Probably. Should be pleasant to finish my adventure in an armchair, with the rest of my book. Hope you had fun as well. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and all that. I see you’re in bits too. He he. Many of the best adventures are like that. Bye bye. May the road rise with you. It does, a bit, apparently (waves at tiny dot on the horizon).

Other videos used:

Crab Canon on Mobius Strip:

Ant on Mobius Strip:

Starlings, Murmuration:

Pendulum Waves:

Chaos Pendulum:

Freehand Circle:

Ten Dimensions in Two Minutes:

N-body Orbits:

Fractal Curves, Growing the Snowflake Sweep:

nicogetz’ “Vibrations on Singing Strings”:

(Other clips include Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, and an animation from a CGI movie, which I don’t know the name of, and this “Niagara” software tutorial, for particle animations

ps. Had a lovely trip. Glad you were here.