Scientists identify a mathematical 'crystal ball' that may predict calamities

Oct 28, 2013
Scientists identify a mathematical ‘crystal ball’  that may predict calamities
Bank run: Neuroscientists identify a mathematical equation that could predict financial crises of the sort that brought about the banking collapse of 2008.

Neuroscientists have come up with a mathematical equation that may help predict calamities such as financial crashes in economic systems and epileptic seizures in the brain.

The University of Sussex-led study, published this week (24 October 2013) in Physical Review Letters, could have far-reaching implications. If the principle is generalised in other real-world , such as climate change or disease control, it could open up the possibility of catastrophes being averted before they happen.

In a collaboration between the University's Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and the Centre for Research in Complex Systems at Charles Sturt University in Australia, researchers used mathematics and detailed computer simulations to show that a measure of '' reaches a peak just before a system moves from a healthy state to an unhealthy state.

Such 'phase ' are common in many real systems, and are often highly significant: and financial market crashes are just two examples of transitions. Until now, though, ways to predict these transitions in advance have been lacking. Previous measures, which peak at the transition itself, have been of no use for purposes of prediction.

Lead researcher Dr Lionel Barnett says: "The key insight in the paper is that the dynamics of complex systems – like the brain and the economy – depend on how their elements causally influence each other; in other words, how information flows between them. And that this information flow needs to be measured for the system as a whole, and not just locally between its various parts."

Essentially this means finding a way to characterize, mathematically, the extent to which the parts of a complex system are simultaneously segregated (they all behave differently) and integrated (they all depend on each other). In the present study the research team managed to do just this, and to show for the first time that their measure reliably predicts in standard systems studied by physicists now for many decades (the so-called 'Ising' model).

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre, says: "The implications of the work are far-reaching. If the results generalise to other real-world systems, we might have ways of predicting calamitous events before they happen, which would open the possibility for intervention to prevent the transition from occurring.

"For example, the ability to predict the imminent onset of an epileptic seizure could allow a rapid medical intervention (perhaps via brain stimulation) which would change the course of the dynamics and prevent the seizure. And if similar principles apply to financial markets, climate systems, and even immune systems, similar interventions might be possible. Further research is needed to explore these exciting possibilities."

Explore further: Chaos-on-a-chip model shows market bubbles may be predictable, controllable

More information: prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v111/i17/e177203

Related Stories

Learning more about phase transitions in small systems

Jun 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- "People want to understand phase transitions in a finite system by quantum simulation," Luming Duan tells PhysOrg.com. Duan is a professor at the University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor. "Being able t ...

Recommended for you

Magnetic neural control with nanoparticles

11 hours ago

Magnetic nanoparticles don't have to be "one size fits all." Instead, individual magnetic nanoparticles can be tailored in an array of differing sizes and compositions to allow for heating them separately ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DavidW
1.4 / 5 (11) Oct 28, 2013
Let's see... More than 1/2 of of the people in the usa cheat in marriage. Most kill animals for nothing more than taste. Many steal. Almost everyone has many lies to hide.

Reminding others that the Truth is what we need to fix our current condition of mutually assure destruction 9 ways to Sunday mostly falls on the ears of those who promote the lie and have much to hide.

The whole world is about to explode in violence. Billions of people... our children and grandchildren and maybe even ourselves, along with the all the animals are almost certain to die tragically because the Truth is refused.

How's that for a crystal ball of phase transition?

Oh, if it does happen, guess who's fault that will be? Every single person that was reminded of the The Most important Truth in Life; Life is Most Important in Life and ignored/opposed it by refusing to reaffirm it in their self and their peers.

Deny this Truth and the blood of our children will be on your hands. Tick-tock. We had a choice.
DavidW
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 28, 2013
So, you thought your cheating in marriage had it's down side? That your partner and/or children would feel hurt and you would lose self respect. Sure, that's True. It's also a piece going to possible get everyone killed if you can't get back to the importance of the Truth because of your choices. The same goes for needlessly killing the animals. It's bad enough to needlessly take the innocent lives and make them suffer. But again, if you can't see, hear, accept, choose, and reaffirm the Most Important Truth in Life because of your choices to lie then the results of your choices are far worse then you ever did imagine in your selfishly guided thoughts. Where is the honor for all those that have given their lives for us to succeed? Where is the honor in putting all the children on earth in the path of certain death?

That's really what's in your lap and on your hands. I witness this before the Spirit of Man and this witness is True. Judgment Day. This Day is almost over. Crystal clear?
G_Qiao
1 / 5 (4) Oct 28, 2013
Minority Report, is the first thing I thought about. We need Tom Cruise for this.
Kato77
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 28, 2013
Reminds me of what Asimov wrote about that in his Foundation series. Using history, mathematics, and the general behavior of people certain mathematicians were able to predict the future.
kochevnik
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 28, 2013
I would add that information flow need not be causal, but correlational or even unobservable in the quantum realm

Also, predicting a phase transition is not a crystal ball. Indeed players initiate transitions in markets. Market bubbles are far from unpredictable. One merely need observe the informational content peaking while the system continues it's euphoria. For example the decline of the USA empire is easily predicted in this way. 90 million Americans of working age are merely sitting on their ass, and not in any office
DavidW
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 28, 2013
Truth defines the future. Specifically, the level of Truthfulness in the information provided and the level of Truthfulness of the measuring. We can have different values of Truthfulness in either and the end result signifies probability on these alone. The end result can be grossly distorted if the Truthfulness at the foundation of all reality is ignored. A person can predict how fast a ball will drop in a controlled experiment very closely. Yet, if they ignore the Most Important Truth in Life; Life is Most Important in Life, and so does everyone else, then there won't be any Life, and thus the experiment does not hold True for Life anymore.
Lurker2358
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 28, 2013
90 million Americans of working age are merely sitting on their ass, and not in any office


Even if that number were true, an I haven't checked to verify it, what exactly do you suggest to create 90 million non-redundant jobs?

Given production technology, there isn't a global demand for the amount of goods and services another 90 million employees would represent.
kochevnik
2 / 5 (8) Oct 29, 2013
90 million Americans of working age are merely sitting on their ass, and not in any office


Even if that number were true, an I haven't checked to verify it, what exactly do you suggest to create 90 million non-redundant jobs?

Given production technology, there isn't a global demand for the amount of goods and services another 90 million employees would represent.

Repairing USA's rotting infrastructure would be a start. Eliminating the real estate bubble which is a stupid distraction to make people thing they're not slipping away. Instead build affordable housing for everyone. Eliminate corporations parasitizing charities and replace them with directed microfunding, in the spirit of kickstarter. Eliminate the quantitative easing which billionaire importers and unemployment. Really Lurker there are so many things the USA needs to do. Any trip abroad will prove that. Unfortunately most believe their media which says they're #1, although that was thirty years ago
Lurker2358
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2013
Unfortunately most believe their media which says they're #1, although that was thirty years ago


If not for the trend of Presidents and Congress spending a half Trillion dollars deficit, or more, per year, with over half of that being on wars, the dollar would still be worth something and they wouldn't be paying 0.6 trillion dollars per year in interest on existing debts.

What hasn't been explained to the "American People" is that half of the deficit is spending on war, and the other half is spending on the interest of the existing debt, most of which came from other spending on wars.
DavidW
1 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2013
The real Truth is so not politic right now. You both make good points. Yet, if people don't have a clear understanding of what is driving their better choices their thoughts can get easily hijacked. It's so bad, they hijack their thoughts themselves at times just out of familiarity and ego.
ralph638s
1 / 5 (2) Oct 29, 2013
If calamaties are preceded by an increase in "information flow" (whatever that is), does increasing "information flow" create them?
RealScience
not rated yet Oct 29, 2013
@ralph - indirectly.
Increasing information flow between parts of a system tends to synchronize those parts of a system. One aspect of synchronization is that the whole system can crash at once, catastrophically, rather than the more gradual degradation of an occasional isolated component failing.
But information flow also has good points in that it can make a system much more efficient..

Consider someone pushing a child on a swing.
If the pushes are not synchronized it is very inefficient - in spite of numerous pushes, the swing merely gets bounced around a little because sometimes the pushes speed it up but other times they slow it down.
However if the person pushes somewhat synchronously with the swing's motion (using information on that motion), the energy builds up efficiently.
The calamity is the equivalent of the synchrony being so good that the swing eventually starts wrapping around the support bar at the top, faster and faster (phase change).
DavidW
1 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2013

Consider someone pushing a child on a swing.
If the pushes are not synchronized it is very inefficient - in spite of numerous pushes, the swing merely gets bounced around a little because sometimes the pushes speed it up but other times they slow it down.
However if the person pushes somewhat synchronously with the swing's motion (using information on that motion), the energy builds up efficiently.
The calamity is the equivalent of the synchrony being so good that the swing eventually starts wrapping around the support bar at the top, faster and faster (phase change).


Or the pushing is in sync and the person pushing the swing and the person on the swing ignore someone screaming that the legs are not only on sand, but are also almost completely rusted through, with the bolts to ready to snap from never being replaced with better ones, and the actual seat is saturated with lead and mercury. No matter the push, they ignored the foundation, structure, and their peer.