March 5, 2003
The moon spins in perfect resonance with its orbit around the Earth; millions of neurons fire together to control our breathing; every night along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies flash in silent, hypnotic unison. All of these astonishing feats of synchrony occur spontaneously – as if the universe had an overwhelming desire for order.
The tendency to synchronize may be the most mysterious and pervasive drive in all of nature. It has intrigued some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, including Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Norbert Wiener, Brian Josephson, and Arthur Winfree. But only in the past decade have scientists from disparate disciplines come to the stunning realization that the study of synchrony could revolutionize our understanding of everything from the origin of life to certain types of human behavior.
At once elegant and riveting, SYNC tells the story of the dawn of a new science. As one of its pioneers, Steven Strogatz, a leading mathematician in the fields of chaos and complexity theory, explains how enormous systems can synchronize themselves, from the electrons in a superconductor to the pacemaker cells in our hearts. He shows that although these phenomena might seem unrelated on the surface, at a deeper level there is a connection, forged by the unifying power of mathematics.
Along with vivid explanations of cutting-edge theory, Strogatz provides an intimate and highly personal narrative filled with often humorous anecdotes about some of the visionary thinkers of our time. He also describes the startling applications of this new knowledge, such as the harnessing of synchronized electrons to create the world’s most sensitive detectors, able to locate oil buried deep underground and to pinpoint diseased tissues associated with epilepsy and heart arrhythmias.
From life’s little curiosities to the grandest unsolved mysteries of science, SYNC explore such questions as:
- Why traffic jams can occur even when there is no accident or other apparent cause
- Why women roommates sometimes find that their menstrual periods occur in sync
- What caused hundreds of Japanese children to fall into seizures while watching an episode of Pokémon
- What triggers riots, fads, and mass hysteria
- How synchrony in the solar system may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs
- How consciousness arises from the interplay of millions of mindless brain cells
A tour de force of science in prose, SYNC reveals the hidden but beautiful order that governs the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of ourselves.
Steven Strogatz received his doctorate from Harvard University and served on the faculties of Harvard and MIT before becoming a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University in 1994. Widely recognized for his groundbreaking discoveries in chaos and complexity theory, he has received numerous awards throughout his career, including MIT’s highest teaching prize and a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the White House. He lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife, Carole, and their two daughters, Leah and Joanna.