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The Math of the Amazing Sandpile

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Remember domino theory? One country going Communist was supposed to topple the next, and then the next, and the next. The metaphor drove much of United States foreign policy in the middle of the 20th century. But it had the wrong name. From a physical point of view, it should have been called the “sandpile theory.”

Real-world political phase transitions tend to happen not in neat sequences, but in sudden coordinated fits, like the Arab Spring, or the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. These reflect quiet periods punctuated by crises—like a sandpile. You can add grains of sand to the top of a sandpile for a while, to no apparent effect. Then, all at once, an avalanche sweeps sand down from the top in an irregular pattern, possibly setting off little sub-avalanches as it goes.

This analogy doesn’t necessarily get us anywhere. After all, real sand is hard to analyze, just like real politics. But here’s the miracle. A kind of abstraction of a sandheap, known as the “abelian sandpile model,” created by physicists Per Bak, Chao Tang, and Kurt Wiesenfeld in 1987, seems to capture some of the rich, chaotic features of real sandpiles, not to mention other complex systems from biology, physics, and social science—while remaining simple enough to study mathematically.

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Numbers Math

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Click the link below for the article:

https://nautil.us/issue/107/the-edge/the-math-of-the-amazing-sandpile?utm_source=pocket_discover

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mic
    Oct 14, 2021 @ 16:48:54

    👌👌👌✒ math is magical

    Like

    Reply

    • Mohenjo
      Oct 14, 2021 @ 21:27:07

      I Concur! thanks for your comment.

      Like

      Reply

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