Physics of complex systems

A narrative around a Short-term-scientific-mission in TD1210 KnowEscape to the eHumanities Group at the KNAW and encounters around a workshop on complexity-in-the-digital-humanities

It was dark, it was raining, it was cold; I pulled my suitcase with my left arm, carried my brief case with the computer on my right side. I had checked on Googlemap how to get from Amsterdam Centraal to the Hotel. No problem, I knew it by heart, no need for a map. In fact, in my previous live, I had been a pigeon. It is well known that in the Northern hemisphere, I know where to go and usually where I am. So, let’s go: right, right again, then cross the street, and go straight; no problem. According to Googlemap I should cross before the big intersection, too bad there is no pedestrian crossing path; never mind, there is no tram, no car, no bicycle, no boat, no pedestrian; there are painted white triangles on the street. Let’s cross here.

I had asked Jeannette how to go from the Hotel to the Meertens Institute, requesting directions and means avoiding cycling, swimming and sailing. It so well organized in NL: cars have their roads; trams have their tracks; boats have their canals; cycles have their trails; pedestrians their sidewalks. I can do it. However there are tiny bumps separating them all. I decided to be flying. Pigeon, yes, but landing; opened wings, but flat. Suitcase to the left, computer to the right; myself in between; surprised, cursing, but not rolling; no need to break my shoulder before a so enthusing week. Ouch, it hurts a bit, the left side, but so what. I had already broken my feet, before; THAT hurts. No problem to-night. My glasses were still on my nose; my cap on my head. Fine.
Nevertheless, at the hotel, my voucher was full of blood; I wore no glove. Fortunately, I wore pants. In fact, when I reported the “physical problem” to my wife, by email, to let her known that she was not the only one falling in the family, she wrote back: “I hope that you have not destroyed your clothes”. Obviously, she does not care about my body anymore.

November 03, the day after the one for remembering the dead ones!
Physics of complex systems. You bet! Walking at night in Amsterdam, in a dark city, water pouring from top to bottom and conversely. Academic scholars are not rich, like tailors or bankers; scholars walk, take time to embrace thoughts about the past and thoughts about the future. Thinking about the present, it’s impossible, since it is already past. Learn from the past, to make models, and  fit empirical or experimental data. Great! Then forecast, and get famous. Yeah,  but be aware of anti-traps in Amsterdam! Be aware of diffusion bumps. Before potential wells. Heisenberg principle claims that you cannot locate a particle if you know precisely its speed. Fractals claim that it’s always the same. Wonderful physics for complex systems.

Make a review of scientific achievements: how many articles did I publish on  scattering potentials, about nonlinear differential equations with traps: did I study enough instability conditions for so many steady states. According to the boundary conditions, one can obtain a distribution of zones and regimes. Thanks! Was that well published? Will I be able to discuss it at the next meeting and conferences. The COST STSM  grant, does it provide some health (and cloth destruction) insurance? My computer seemed to have been shaken, but worse, my travel alarm clock is kaput.
My visit to the eHumanities was like a reward that I was given for my previous endeavors on complex systems. Andrea wanted me to learn, and to advise. I had gotten some schedule of appointments; well organized as usual; they had been told to send me some material before meetings. Thanks to those who did. I also met one  at a previous meeting 2 weeks before. Fortunately, because the range of research projects is so broad, so specific, so interesting (One is always a student).

I’m not going to summarize the content of each meeting; the questions I had to raise, since I had to understand how to fit. The answers I got, or supposedly I understood. I learned a lot. Did they learn something from me? Will they send me some data, or quality information? Will they ask me some hard work? To publish with them? As usual, we’ll see how the contacts will be maintained. Developed, maybe? I have enough experience with research groups and coworkers to know how hard it is to convince someone that an idea he/she does not have yet is a good one. Mine. Only if one has authority. During my stay, and maybe more later, I had the feeling of being incomplete. Was I interesting “enough”? Did I reinforce their skill, competence, self-esteem? Should I go back again? Yes, to see the progress, evolution. Do they need more physics? Yes, they should not be afraid. I repeat: look for the correlations between fluctuations. Don’t forget numbers and ranking plots. Invent thresholds. Remove those in the middle of a dark, wet, street. Please.