Wednesday, October 12, 2011
"If a 2 g shrew has a reasonable volume of blood to support its metabolism, say 0.1 g, a 2 ton elephant will require 100 tons of blood, an obvious impossibility."
Just reading this announcement, I know I have absolutely no idea what it means. Well, I might get a vague sense of what it means, but clearly the little description of why means nothing.
So, some choices are:
1. Do something else that night
2. Go, and laugh at how ridiculous the talk is because, well, because I don't understand it, so obviously it isn't worth knowing anyway, after all I got this far without understanding it
3. Go and understand as much as a I can and be reminded how much I don't know and appreciate that humility is appropriate here
4. Go and pretend I understand so others will be impressed
5. Go and stretch my mind as far as it will go
As I'm reading this, and thinking about the quote in the title, which is from a 2008 article in the online Journal of the Royal Society Interface on which Dr. Moses was the lead author, some of it is making a little sense.
OK, here's what I'm guessing:
It's about scaling. How big things are, and can be. Things can work at one size, but if you make them too big using the same scale for things, like the shrew/elephant example, it won't work. And it sounds like she's applying this to organizations and humans. Is there going to be a lesson here about if organizations that worked when they were shrew sized keep the same scaling, they'll get unworkable like the elephant with 100 tons of blood?
And are there implications from that about banks that are 'too big to fail?" Or maybe "too big to succeed?" Am I reading too much into this?
I guess I have to go on Thursday night to find out.
Since Thursday evening at 7pm is a public lecture, my guess is that it will be aimed at the general public and not at an audience of computer science/biologist types.
The Complex Systems group at UAA has been presenting lectures that deal with complex systems for at least seven or eight years. People from all disciplines present an application of complex systems relevant to their own fields. I went to the first ones with some trepidation. But I quickly saw that if I paid close attention - taking notes helps - I could get the gist of things if not every detail. And the ideas of one field could transfer into another field.