By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Kevin T. Collins
Sync…is a puzzling audio book written about synchronicity by Steven Strogatz. It is puzzling because of its 4 out of 5 star review by Audible.com listeners. Strogatz’s audio book and his TED lecture and YouTube’ videos are difficult to appreciate. His theory of sync is broadly acclaimed by himself and others but utility appears either unclaimed or unexplained. Of course, science is science and utility often comes long after discovery.
Strogatz suggests that all things in nature seek synchronicity. At the same time, Strogatz acknowledges science shows all things, at a subatomic level, exist in chaos. On many occasions Strogatz cites evidence of sync in hands clapping, metronomes ticking, and fire flies blinking but, in every case, sync degrades into chaos. Chaos may seek synchronicity but only in finite increments.
Strogatz tells a story of Alan Alda (actor, writer, director) calling to meet him to discuss the idea of sync in changing the behavior of society to combat socially infectious diseases like aids. Also, their meeting suggests the idea of using a sync construct to reduce teen pregnancy and other societal maladies. Strogatz acknowledges Alda’s serious ideas but concludes that sync theory is unlikely to help. The complex nature of societal behavior precludes practical application of the theory of sync. All experiments noted in Stogatz’s book suggest, at best, sync returns to chaos after an unpredictable period of synchronicity.
Strogatz proposes a structure for sync that has potential for behavioral modification. However, Strogatz acknowledges social complexity precludes converting chaos to linear predictability. Human beings do not live in the same cause and effect world of Newton’s time. Humans now live in the world of Heisenberg’s uncertainty. Strogatz notes there are too many variables to precisely forecast events. Any one variable, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wing, changes reality. Strogatz shows that a mathematical construct for sync can be created to include many probable causes, but the quantity of “many” is not the quantity of “infinite”. He gives the example of improving social synchronicity to a level above 80% but there is still a big, unaccounted for, remainder.
Strogatz’s sync is a state of being that was unknown to the general public until his 2003 book. The theory of sync infers the truth of “spooky action at a distance” (aka “entanglement”) which may open a door to communication speeds greater than the speed-of-light. Such an improvement in communication speed would overturn a fundamental law of physics (nothing exceeds the speed of light, according to Einstein). When humans reach the stars, the principle of sync could make interstellar communication possible. Sync phenomena may be a critical component of humanity’s future but today it seems more like a magician’s parlor trick.
In the end, even if Strogatz is correct about sync, existence remains mired in an unpredictable, probabilistic, and chaotic world.