Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar

Fall 2010 Seminars

All seminars are Tuesday at 12:05 pm in 4274 Chamberlin except as noted. Refreshments will be served

Short List


September 7, 2010

Looking for the next Black Swan instead of chasing the last one

Vicki Bier, UW Department of Industrial Engineering

Topics to be addressed:
How to anticipate low-probability events that are not currently getting attention.
How to get organizations to take high-impact, low-probability events seriously. 
What to do about high-impact, low-probability events once an organization decides to take action.

This talk is available as a PowerPoint Presentation.

September 14, 2010

Designing climate change solutions

Tracey Holloway, UW Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Climate change is affected by almost every sector of the economy and society (transportation,  electricity, consumption, food, agriculture, land use, manufacturing, etc.). Similarly, the  impacts of climate change affect these same systems (extreme weather, seasonal shifts, agricultural vulnerability, infrastructure, public health, coastal areas, etc.). So, the options for  mitigating – reducing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases – or adapting – reducing  vulnerability of systems – are almost limitless.  For the third year in a row, the SAGE (the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment in the Nelson Institute) hosts the largest student environmental innovation competition in the world: the Climate Leadership Challenge (CLC). The CLC focuses on innovative, scaleable solutions to climate change. In 2011, the CLC will again be awarding a $50,000 grand prize to a student team interested in advancing a climate solution. This talk will discuss climate change mitigation and adaptation broadly, success stories, and opportunities for students to compete this year.

September 21, 2010

Dynamics of agents repeatedly facing alternatives

Michael Allen, Physics Dept, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

We have been examining the dynamics of agents who repeatedly face a fixed set of alternatives. The agents could, for example, be commuters with a choice of routes or departure times.  The choice the agents make each time is determined by the number of agents that made the same choice on the previous occasion. The decision process is determined by means of a satisfaction function which gives the number of agents that make the same choice on the following occasion. For most of the satisfaction functions we have looked at, the system settles down to either a steady state or periodic oscillations, but in some cases we find chaos.

September 28, 2010

Simplest chaotic circuit

Bharathwaj Muthuswamy, Department of Electrical Engineering, Milwaukee School of Engineering

A chaotic attractor has been observed with an autonomous circuit that uses only two energy-storage elements: a linear passive inductor and a linear passive capacitor. The other element is a nonlinear active memristor. Hence the circuit has only three circuit elements in series.We discuss this circuit topology, show several attractors and illustrate local activity via the memristor's DC v-i characteristic.

October 5, 2010

Sustainability: The lay of the land for 2010

Thomas L Eggert, UW School of Business

Tom Eggert is the Co-Director of the Business, Environment & Social Responsibility Program at the WI School of Business, and also is the Executive Director of the WI Sustainable Business Council. His talk will focus on the adoption of "green" or sustainable practices by institutions throughout the state.

This talk is available as a PowerPoint Presentation.

October 12, 2010

Climate, energy, and the economy: A new Theory of Everything.

Jim Pawley, UW Department of Zoology

During the industrial revolution, science gained a reputation for mathematical accuracy and precision. Scientific models were effective at predicting the performance of simple systems, from those that spun and wove to those that created the worldwide web. Less appreciated was the fact that these technologies worked ONLY because, during this same period, humankind had also acquired access to a new and immense store of controllable energy. Instead, we were taught that these riches were due to increases in "economic efficiency" and, like the sciences, economics promised a future that was both predictable and bright.

Then a few decades ago, one scientific discipline after another seemed to hit a wall: Although the Uncertainty Principle was at first understood only to affect very small systems, scientists began to realize that some uncertainty was unavoidable, and furthermore that, as it propagates through a complex system, the errors become so large that it is hard to have confidence in any but the broadest of predictions: often only those emerging from thermodynamics.

We had entered the Age of Chaos. Although at first some theorists hoped that "faster computers" might be the answer, in the end computers merely clarified two things: 1) that large changes were exponentially less likely than small ones and 2) that the presence of positive feedback makes it very hard to make any confident predictions, while the relative stability of our environment was based on a variety of negative feedbacks. As time went on, it became evident that most aspects of modern life, from arctic ice to advertising, from politics to preaching and from Wall Street to war, acted as though they too were largely chaotic.

In the real world, the one that now entirely relied on the technology, the advent of the Age of Chaos was not much noticed. Accurate predictions were still expected ("If we can put a man on the Moon...") from a science that now recognized that such things were impossible.

This was unfortunate because, over the past 2 centuries fossil-fuel-powered technology had allowed humans and their domestic animals to multiply until their bodies represented over 98% of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass. More important still, acting either directly, by producing CO2 and other gasses that affect the climate, or indirectly, for instance by the creation of bioactive chemicals, changes to the albedo or barriers to migration, the use of fossil fuel had brought all of the major ecological systems (the atmosphere, forests, oceans etc.) near to the point of collapse.

So now, when society went to science for the precise answers needed to guide a response to these challenges, science had few simple answers, and most of these were from from thermodynamics: There is no free lunch. Use less energy or else.

Previous meetings of this forum have addressed many of these matters individually or in small groups. I have the feeling that the fact that so many of these essential but chaotic and interacting factors are approaching a critical point simultaneously adds an additional level of concern. Perhaps we can use what we have learned about chaotic systems to improve the odds? I hope to get some ideas. Or perhaps to raise the threat level...

This talk is available as a PDF document.

October 19, 2010

What do the ears do?

Tom Yin, UW Department of Psysiology

Of course most people would answer the question in the title by saying that we use our ears to hear sounds. However, if we restrict “ear” to refer to the external ears, or pair of protuberances on either side of our head (which is the common casual meaning of the word), then the question becomes more difficult to answer. In this talk I will explore the function of the external ears, or pinnae. I will show evidence that the pinnae play an important, and counter-intuitive, role in sound localization. Furthermore, little is known about how animals with mobile pinnae use their ear movements. I will discuss our behavioral experiments in cats in which we have measured movements of the pinnae and discovered a new reflex, which we call the vestibulo-auricular reflex (VAR), that is hypothesized to help the cat maintain a stable acoustic space in the face of head movements.

October 26, 2010

Bat White-Nose Syndrome and Geomyces destructans

Andrea Gargas, Symbiology LLC

Bats in Eastern North America are at risk of extinction within the next few years. White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), is causing mortality of nearly 100% of cave-hibernating bats. Since first detected in bats near Albany, NY in 2007, WNS has been confirmed in 10 additional U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, leading to the deaths of over one million bats. We isolated and described a new species of cold-loving fungus that causes the hallmark skin infection of WNS, naming it Geomyces destructans. We developed PCR primers to search for the DNA signature of G. destructans in association with bat skin or environmental samples. Currently we are analyzing DNA sequences taken from cave sediments collected both inside and outside the region of known WNS occurrence to refine the identification of G. destructans among other cave-dwelling microbes.

November 2, 2010

Water: Wild card in the chaotic climate system

John Young, UW Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Water is an active participant in the workings of the climate system and its changes. This will be an illustrated overview of the basics, illustrated with maps and satellite imagery.
All three phases of water are important: ice and clouds reflect sunlight, and water vapor (humidity) is an effective greenhouse gas which absorbs and emits infrared energy (as do clouds). These climate processes contain feedbacks which vary with the patterns of ocean, land, and daily weather. It is believed that regional climate warming is enhanced by greenhouse warming associated with increased water vapor.

For weather patterns, the latent heat of condensation (e.g., conversion of humidity to clouds and rain) is a strong positive feedback which increases the chaos of weather systems such as thunderstorms, hurricanes, and larger systems. Hence, the dynamic elements of the water cycle link weather, climate, its changes, and its predictability.

November 9, 2010

How people get the way we are--A Table of Elements: Chaos, complex systems and conflict in human development

Bernard Z. Friedlander, UW-Madison Faculty, 1967-70; Research Professor of Human Development, Emeritus, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT

The presentation consists of four connected Parts--
    1. Chaos, Complex Systems and Conflict—The Name of the Game
    2. Our Habitat: The Absolute Context of Human Behavior
    3. New Paradigms for Thinking About Human Behavior, Self, and Consciousness
    4. Are New Modes of Adaptation Possible in Our New Human Habitat?

November 16, 2010

Jacquelyn Gill, UW Department of Geography

Climatic and megaherbivory controls on late-glacial vegetation: Linking the end-Pleistocene extinctions to novel plant communities and enhanced fire regimes

Vegetation assemblages from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Midwestern North America (17-11 ka) are compositionally unlike any found today, a feature long recognized by Quaternary paleoecologists. These “no-analog” communities have been attributed to increased climatic seasonality and moisture, though recent work suggests that the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction coincided with and may have contributed to these novel assemblages. The role of Pleistocene megaherbivores in shaping late-glacial vegetation change is largely unknown, due to dating uncertainties and the poor spatiotemporal and taxonomic resolution of fossil bone data. Spores of the dung fungus Sporormiella, which are preserved in lake sediments, can be directly compared with fossil pollen and charcoal data, potentially recording the ecological context and the consequences of megafaunal population collapse.

At Appleman Lake, IN, the coincidence of the Sporormiella decline, the rise in deciduous broadleaved pollen types, and a large peak in sedimentary charcoal suggests that keystone megaherbivores may have altered ecosystem structure and function through 1) the release of palatable hardwoods from herbivory pressure and 2) a shift in fire regimes due to increased fuel loads. Additional records are needed to assess the spatiotemporal pattern of the Sporormiella decline, whether it is a qualitative or quantitative proxy for megafaunal abundance, and whether Sporormiella is consistently associated with increases in the pollen abundances of broadleaved deciduous taxa. I propose a hierarchy of controls on late-glacial plant communities, with climatically-limited species distributions potentially modified by megaherbivore activity. This talk will report paleoecological data from Appleman Lake, preliminary results from other sites in the no-analog region of late-glacial Eastern North America, and a modern process study of Sporormiella and bison at Konza Prairie, Kansas.

November 23, 2010

How drifting continents jumped from fringe to core

Jim Blair, Milton College, Emeritus

A. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: two models of how new theories are accepted by the scientific community.

B. How Continental Drift became Plate Tectonics and was elevated from a fringe idea in the company of Atlantis, ancient aliens & flying saucers, to become the Fundamental Core of Geology in the company of the Atomic Theory, the Periodic Table of the Elements, Evolution, and the Big Bang.

C. Cataclysmic Events and Uniformitarianism, Asteroids and Dinosaurs,  Creationism and Evolution, Frederich Engles and Dialectics,  and Punctuated Equilibrium.

November 30, 2010

Why does a molecular spectroscopist care about chaos?

Ned Sibert, UW Department of Chemistry

The assignment of the individual lines in a molecular spectra allows chemists to gain insights into the dynamics that occurs upon laser excitation. At low energies, where the underlying classical dynamics of the molecular vibrations is regular, this assignment is relatively straightforward. At higher energies, however, the underlying classical dynamics explores larger regions of phase space and may be chaotic. If this occurs, spectra may be intrinsically unassignable and alternative methods for assignment must be explored. In this talk, I will review research in this area and then describe some intriguing features of quantum localization due to interference of homoclinic circuits.

December 7, 2010

Two modes of social behavior
Russell Gardner, Jr., M.D., UW Department of Psychiatry
Forty years ago ethologists Chance and Jolly delineated two modes of group interactive behavior in monkey populations, showing dramatic species-differences. Chance later emphasized that the dichotomy pertains to human populations as well (stemming less from genome-determination). This presentation reviews his work, that of others, and implications for human organizational behavior. For instance, observers of business independently noted parallel characteristics of group interaction and have delineated implications for productivity.
Both “agonic” and “hedonic” modes cohere groups but in opposite ways: agonic mode deploys clear hierarchies including punishment, sometimes with tension, whereas those in hedonic mode exhibit affiliation and the observer may discern any hierarchy with difficulty. Chance who died a decade ago had fostered a small international group centered in the UK (Birmingham Society); a related society more focused on facets of psychopathology centered in the US elected him as its first president (Across-Species Comparisons and Psychopathology). I will report on the September 4, 2010, London meeting of the Birmingham group.
Ref: Social groups of monkeys, apes and men, by Michael R. A. Chance and Clifford J. Jolly, London: Cape, 1970

December 14, 2010

Earthquakes in Wisconsin-Why so few and far between?

Dave Hart, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey

Wisconsin has had only around 18 recorded earthquakes in the last 120 years with none greater than magnitude 4. In contrast, earthquakes are more common in other Midwestern states. Illinois has had 23 earthquakes in the last 20 years with magnitudes between 3 and 5. The area around New Madrid, Missouri has numerous earthquakes, 50 within the last 6 months, and was the location of some of the largest earthquakes to occur in the U.S. Three earthquakes of magnitude 8 occurred there during the winter of 1811-1812.
What is different about Wisconsin? Is it the stress field or is it the geology that makes earthquakes less common here. In this presentation, we examine a few responses to those questions. We’ll also see a short demonstration of the non-linearity of earthquakes using a coupled slider blocks model. This model gives insight into the difficulties of earthquake prediction.