Complexity Matters

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Complexity Matters posts from 2013 - 2016 are available here.

Athletes, Scholars, Gut Microbes Have Their Own Circadian Rhythms

  Circadian Timing: Vital to Us and the Microbes Living in Us Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycles of physiological processes that take place in all living things, including fungi, cyanobacteria, plants, insects, animals and humans. These rhythms are important in the sleeping and eating patterns of all creatures, and in humans their influence ranges from moods, metabolism and obesity to health and illness, mental acuity and the performance of sports teams. Scientists at Harvard,

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What Do We Learn From Catastrophes?  

The social, physical and economic anguish that Hurricane Harvey visited upon flood-devastated Houston is reminding officials and residents in cities across the country of the need to plan for unexpected catastrophes. People rarely think ahead about the possible 500-year flood or likelihood of the tsunami or earthquake that kills thousands of people and leaves thousands more homeless. Scientists say such events have low probability and high consequence. And unless there is a recent memory, people don’t pay too much

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Teacher Plays Saxophone as His Brain Tumor is Removed

For Love of Science, Music,and Medicine When a young music teacher stayed awake and played the saxophone during surgery to remove his brain tumor, it was part of an extraordinary six-month collaboration. The teacher wanted to be reassured he wouldn’t lose his musical ability. The medical team wanted to know more about how the brain processes music. Dan Fabbio was teaching music and finishing his Master’s degree in music education in the spring of 2015

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Networks of the Brain

Updating the Map In 2009, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) was launched to  to build a “network map” (connectome) for the healthy human brain. The purpose of the connectome is to decipher the amazingly complex wiring diagram to reveal what makes us uniquely human and what makes every person different from all others. Dr. Olaf Sporns from Indiana University at Bloomington, author of Networks of the Brain (February 2011) has been leading the work of creating a complete

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Infections May be the Key When Genes and Cells Go Rogue

A gene believed to have protected human survival in ancient times may have become a rogue agent that nudges many contemporary humans toward Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Ben Trumble is an anthropologist trained in evolutionary medicine who spent years learning about the lives of the Tsimane people, an indigenous forager-farming group in Bolivia. Interviewed in a New York Times story by Pagan Kennedy, Trumble observes that most medical research focuses on people who live in modern

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An Open Mind and a Permeable Consciousness

Do you ever get a scrambled mash-up picture in your mind when different visual images appear simultaneously in your left and right fields of vision? If you do, it may just be the price you pay for being open minded. Luke Smillie, a senior lecturer in psychology and director of the Personality Processes Lab at the University of Melbourne in Australia has been studying open-mindedness and traits that seem to relate to it. One such

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A Healing Fix From the Eclipse?

Geography, psychology and history suggest the total solar eclipse August 21, in addition to offering rare fascination for astronomers and sky watchers, could also provide opportunity for national healing in a time of partisan discord, science writer David Baron says. Baron, who is an eclipse fanatic himself, wrote the book “American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race To Catch The Shadow Of The Moon And Win The Glory Of The World.”It’s a fascinating story of the total eclipse of 1878,

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The Music of the Spheres is Jazz

Astrophysicist Finds Planets in Orbital Resonance When the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven earth sized planets orbiting around a sun 39 light years from our sun, was announced earlier this year, astronomers were excited by the possibility of life in these distant worlds. It appeared there might be lakes and oceans on the surfaces of three or more of these planets. Daniel Tamayo, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto at Scarborough’s Center for Planetary Sciences and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, had a different

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Improvisation: The Most Complex Human Ability?

What goes on in the brains of jazz musicians at work? “When Melody Takes a Detour, the Science Begins,” a New York Times story by Pam Belluck, captures the thoughts of musicians and scholars who are looking at the importance of music in human development, cognition and communication. One of the ways music touches us, apparently, is by its tonal and rhythmic patterns. We like familiar and predictable patterns, but we also like a certain amount

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Do We Have Imagination Deficit Disorder?

Imagination and Creativity are Different Are we so enamored with technical innovations, with the incremental improvements to all our gadgets, devices and the latest trendy life styles fads that we forget the possibilities of grander visions? Brian Reich thinks so. In his new book, The Imagination Gap, Reich argues that the pace of change today is so rapid that it’s easy to become focused on small novelties that we think will make our lives dramatically

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