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Out of Control
Chapter 2: HIVE MIND

A sink brims with water. You pull the plug. The water stirs. A vortex materializes. It blooms into a tiny whirlpool, growing as if it were alive. In a minute the whirl extends from surface to drain, animating the whole basin. An ever changing cascade of water molecules swirls through the tornado, transmuting the whirlpool's being from moment to moment. Yet the whirlpool persists, essentially unchanged, dancing on the edge of collapse. "We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves," wrote Norbert Wiener.

As the sink empties, all of its water passes through the spiral. When finally the basin of water has sunk from the bowl to the cistern pipes, where does the form of the whirlpool go? For that matter, where did it come from?

The whirlpool appears reliably whenever we pull the plug. It is an emergent thing, like a flock, whose power and structure are not contained in the power and structure of a single water molecule. No matter how intimately you know the chemical character of H2O, it does not prepare you for the character of a whirlpool. Like all emergent entities, the essence of a vortex emanates from a messy collection of other entities; in this case, a pool of water molecules. One drop of water is not enough for a whirlpool to appear in, just as one pinch of sand is not enough to hatch an avalanche. Emergence requires a population of entities, a multitude, a collective, a mob, more.

More is different. One grain of sand cannot avalanche, but pile up enough grains of sand and you get a dune that can trigger avalanches. Certain physical attributes such as temperature depend on collective behavior. A single molecule floating in space does not really have a temperature. Temperature is more correctly thought of as a group characteristic that a population of molecules has. Though temperature is an emergent property, it can be measured precisely, confidently, and predictably. It is real.

It has long been appreciated by science that large numbers behave differently than small numbers. Mobs breed a requisite measure of complexity for emergent entities. The total number of possible interactions between two or more members accumulates exponentially as the number of members increases. At a high level of connectivity, and a high number of members, the dynamics of mobs takes hold. More is different.