Tyler Marghetis on Breakdowns & Breakthroughs: Critical Transitions in Jazz & Mathematics


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Whether in an ecosystem, an economy, a jazz ensemble, or a lone scholar thinking through a problem, critical transitions — breakdowns and breakthroughs — appear to follow universal patterns. Creative leaps that take place in how mathematicians “think out loud” with body, chalk, and board look much like changes in the movement through “music-space” traced by groups of improvisers. Society itself appears to have an “aha moment” when a meme goes viral or a new word emerges in the popular vocabulary. How do collectives at all scales — be they neurons, research groups, or a society at large — suddenly change shape…and what early warning signs portend a pending bolt of inspiration?

This week we talk to SFI Fellow Tyler Marghetis of UC Merced about regimes and ruptures across timescales — from the frustration and creativity of mathematicians and musicians to the bursts of innovation that appear to punctuate civilization and the biosphere alike.

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Related Reading & Listening:

“Creative leaps in musical ecosystems: early warning signals of critical transitions in professional jazz” by Matt Setzler, Tyler Marghetis, Minje Kim

“The complex system of mathematical creativity: Modularity, burstiness, and the network structure of how experts use inscriptions” by Tyler Marghetis, Kate Sampson, David Landy

“An Integrated Mess of Music Lovers in Science” – press release with video playlist of the 2020 Musicology & Complexity Working Group

“Explosive Proofs of Mathematical Truths” – Simon DeDeo SFI Seminar on inductive networks

Complexity 29: David Krakauer

Complexity 33: Tim Kohler & Marten Scheffer

Complexity 35, 36: Geoffrey West

Complexity 37: Laurence Gonzales

Complexity 65: Deborah Gordon

Topics Discussed:

• competitive wrestling to complex systems science
• free jazz ensembles as a mode of distributed cognition like ant colonies
• creative transitions as analogous to ecosystemic transitions (loss of resilience due to autocorrelation, etc)
• the difference between composed and improvised music
• creativity and boredom
• the relationship between improvisation and trauma, exploration and nonlinearity
• the death of the genre (?)
• the role of the body in thought
• how can you tell an “aha moment” is about to happen?
• what does a healthy mathematical ecosystem look like?
• burstiness and virality

72 episodes