In this episode, Haley talks with physicist, complexity scientist, and MIT professor, Cesar Hidalgo. Hidalgo discusses his interest in the physics of networks and complex system science and shares why he believes these fields are so important. He talks about his book, Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, which takes a scientific look at global economic complexity. Hidalgo also shares how economic development is linked to making networks more knowledgeable.
Quotes from this episode:
“Thinking about complexity is important because people have a tendency to jump into micro explanations for macro phenomenon.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“I think complex systems give you not only some practical tools to think about the world, but also some sort of humbleness because you have to understand that your knowledge and understanding of how the systems work is always very limited and that humbleness gives you a different attitude and perspective and gives you some peace.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“The way that we think about entropy in physics and information theory come from different traditions and sometimes that causes a little bit of confusion, but at the end of the day it’s the number of different ways in which you can arrange something.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“To learn more complex activities you need more social reinforcement.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“When we lead groups we have to be clear about the goals and the main goal to keep in mind is that of learning.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“Everybody fails, but not everyone learns from their failures.” — Cesar Hidalgo
“Learning is not just something that is interesting to study, it is actually a goal.” — Cesar Hidalgo
A solid interview here with Cesar Hidalgo. His book has been incredibly influential on my thoughts for the past two years, so I obviously highly recommend it. He’s got a great description of entropy here. I was most surprised by his conversation about loneliness, but I have a gut feeling that’s he’s really caught onto something with his thesis.
I also appreciated about some of how he expanded on learning in the last portion of the interview. Definitely worth revisiting.
Reversing the trend toward privatization will thus require not just massive public mobilization and demand of elected officials, but also a hard turn away from efficiency as a primary value, a recognition that the building of relationships and the cultivation of care is slow and difficult and of necessity inefficient. In fact, that its value lies in its inefficiency — but making the case for such inefficiency as a necessary value requires a lot of effort, and a lot of caution.
There’s a kernel here of something about the value of links (social, business, etc.) as put forward by Cesar Hidalgo in Why Information Grows. Where is the real value? How can it best be extracted? Built up? Having a more direct means of valuing these otherwise seeming intangibles will be important in the future.
In the early ’90s, Hank Rowan gave $100 million to a university in New Jersey, an act of extraordinary generosity that helped launch the greatest explosion in educational philanthropy since the days of Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers. But Rowan gave his money to Glassboro State University, a tiny, almost bankrupt school in South Jersey, while almost all of the philanthropists who followed his lead made their donations to elite schools such as Harvard and Yale. Why did no one follow Rowan’s example?
“My Little Hundred Million” is the third part of Revisionist History’s educational miniseries. It looks at the hidden ideologies behind giving and how a strange set of ideas has hijacked educational philanthropy.
The key idea laid out stunningly here is strong links versus weak links.
I’m generally flabbergasted by the general idea proposed here and will have to do some more research in the near future to play around further with the ideas presented. Fortunately, in addition to the education specific idea presented, Gladwell also comes up with an additional few examples in sports by using the differences between soccer and basketball to show the subtle differences.
If he and his lab aren’t aware of the general concept, I would recommend this particular podcast and the concept of strong and weak links to César Hidalgo (t) who might actually have some troves of economics data to use to play around with some general modeling to expand upon these ideas. I’ve been generally enamored of Hidalgo’s general thesis about the overall value of links as expressed in Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies1. I often think of it with relation to political economies and how the current administration seems to be (often quietly) destroying large amounts of value by breaking down a variety of economic, social, and political links within the United States as well as between our country and others.
I wonder if the additional ideas about the differences between strong and weak links might further improve these broader ideas. The general ideas behind statistical mechanics and statistics make me think that Gladwell, like Hidalgo, is certainly onto a strong idea which can be continued to be refined to improve billions of lives. I’ll have to start some literature searches now…
Hidalgo C. Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies. New York: Basic Books; 2015.
📖 Read loc 1-682 of 12932 (5.27%) of American Amnesia by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
This portends to be very interesting in that they plan to show what has changed over much of the 1900’s to indicate the drastic evolution in American politics, life, and philosophy over the recent decades. In light of the political battles between the left and the right over the past several years, this could provide some much needed help and guidance.
Their basic thesis seems to be that a shift away from a mixed economy has slowed American growth and general prosperity. While they do seem to have a pointed (political) view, so far it’s incredibly well documented and footnoted for those who would like to make the counter-argument. They’ve definitely got some serious evidence to indicate how drastic the situation is, but I’m curious if they can directly tie their proposed cause to the effect. If nothing else, they’ve created a laundry list of problems in America which need to be addressed by some serious leadership soon.
In some sense I’m torn about what to think of a broader issue this touches upon and which I mentioned briefly while reading At Home in the Universe. Should we continue on the general path we’ve struck out upon (the mixed economy with government regulation/oversight), or should we continue evolving away? While we can’t see the complexity effects seven levels further in, they may be more valuable than what we’ve got now. For example Cesar Hidalgo looks at the evolution along a continuum of personbyte to larger groups: firms (firmbyte), governments, and mega-corporations in Why Information Grows, so I can easily see larger governments and corporations like Google drastically changing the world in which we live (operating at a level above what most humans can imagine presently), but the complexity of why and how they operate above (and potentially against) the good of the individual should certainly be called into question and considered as we move forward.
Yesterday I ran across this nice little video explaining some recent research on global language networks. It’s not only interesting in its own right, but is a fantastic example of science communication as well.
I’m interested in some of the information theoretic aspects of this as well as the relation of this to the area of corpus linguistics. I’m also curious if one could build worthwhile datasets like this for the ancient world (cross reference some of the sources I touch on in relation to the Dickinson College Commentaries within Latin Pedagogy and the Digital Humanities) to see what influences different language cultures have had on each other. Perhaps the historical record could help to validate some of the predictions made in relation to the future?
The paper “Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk” indicates that of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss.
Finally, I can also only think about how this research may help to temper some of the xenophobic discussion that occurs in American political life with respect to fears relating to Mexican immigration issues as well as the position of China in the world economy.
Those intrigued by the video may find the website set up by the researchers very interesting. It contains links to the full paper as well as visualizations and links to the data used.
Languages vary enormously in global importance because of historical, demographic, political, and technological forces. However, beyond simple measures of population and economic power, there has been no rigorous quantitative way to define the global influence of languages. Here we use the structure of the networks connecting multilingual speakers and translated texts, as expressed in book translations, multiple language editions of Wikipedia, and Twitter, to provide a concept of language importance that goes beyond simple economic or demographic measures. We find that the structure of these three global language networks (GLNs) is centered on English as a global hub and around a handful of intermediate hub languages, which include Spanish, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese. We validate the measure of a language’s centrality in the three GLNs by showing that it exhibits a strong correlation with two independent measures of the number of famous people born in the countries associated with that language. These results suggest that the position of a language in the GLN contributes to the visibility of its speakers and the global popularity of the cultural content they produce.
“A language like Dutch — spoken by 27 million people — can be a disproportionately large conduit, compared with a language like Arabic, which has a whopping 530 million native and second-language speakers,” Science reports. “This is because the Dutch are very multilingual and very online.”