Last week we published Part I of the interview with Professor Jonathan Touboul who is one of the leading figures in applied mathematics. This week we bring to you the second and the concluding part.
… I. part of an interview with Professor Touboul …
…II.part of an interview with Professor Touboul…
In which areas is the phenomenon of the hipster effect most observed?
In fact, the mechanisms underpinning this synchronization effects are extremely general, and we even showed that this phenomenon was what we call universal, namely present in a variety of systems sharing a few similarities (Touboul et al, Phys. Rev. X 2020). It shall happen in a variety of models in which a large number of individuals take decisions as a function of others, and may not follow the majority, and I would not be surprised if a hallmark of this phenomenon would be found in neuroscience, sociology or finance.
How does this synchronization take effect?
The synchronization takes place when decisions are taken opposing to a trend after a long enough delay. Let us take hipsters for instance, since they serve here as an enlightening metaphor. Imagine a population made of hipsters, that have only 2 choices, to grow a beard or to shave, and they take their decision looking at what others have decided and making the opposite a month after. Assume also that at some point in time, hipsters realize most people don’t have a beard. They have a tendency to decide to grow a beard, and a month later, they go ahead and proudly display a nice, well-groomed beard. That’s when they realize most hipsters now have beards (because others also noticed, a month earlier, the originality of growing a beard and took the same decision), so our hipster decides to shave. Because all share the same strategy, and cannot adjust fast enough, other hipsters will shave as well, and they will keep oscillate, just doing the same thing at the same time, out of trying to be as different as possible.
How long does it take for the information to spread for the synchronization to happen?
This is a great question. All in the model depends on that time. If this time is too short, then no synchronization happens, and hipsters manage to be as different as they can be. In neurons, delays combine both the transport of information through axons (sort of electrical cables), transmission of activity through specialized structures called synapses, and eventually the time it takes for the neuron to respond. This can take hundreds of milliseconds, which is fast, but many in neuroscience believe these delays can be important to shape the collective activity.
One of the more surprising results is said to be when there are equal proportions of hipsters and conformists and the entire population then switches randomly between different trends. How does this happen?
Well, I am still not sure, and that’s maybe why I find this question interesting….
Would you call non-conformism pretentious?
I believe that it is great when people do things their own way, even if that leads to making things differently.
I have no competence to answer this question, but personally I would not. In fact, I believe that it is great when people do things their own way, even if that leads to making things differently. Not simply out of opposition to the trends, but just our way. Not conforming leads to new ways of seeing the word, key for creativity and innovation.
Tell us about your self motivation and those who motivated you into your chosen field.
I think what led me to become a researcher in applied mathematics was my curiosity. A researcher learns new things every day. In applied mathematics, we have opportunity to explore other fields, which an incredible opportunity. As a professor, I get also to share my passion for applied mathematics with students, and I try to transmit how exciting it is to use mathematical models to solve problems.
Please tell us about your growing up years.
I grew up in Nice, on the French Riviera. I would describe my younger self as a curious boy always willing to better understand how all things worked, from planets to car engines.
Our readers are mainly the youth from different parts of the world who look up to achievers such as yourself for inspiration. A word of advice for them?
Believing in yourself means, in fact, being demanding about your achievements, never give up in the face of difficulties, and never let others diminish you.
Well it is hard to give any advice on that matter, and oftentimes I feel I would need such advice myself. I always think it is great to fully embrace our passions, with pertinacity, trying to make things our own way and to be perseverant. One of the most important advice I could give the readers is to believe in themselves, which does not only mean trust their own opinions, but also to be exacting, to not be satisfied with imperfect results. Believing in yourself means, in fact, being demanding about your achievements, never give up in the face of difficulties, and never let others diminish you. This, I believe, are a few thoughts I believe can help achieve one’s dream. So believe in you, make your best, and then make it even better.
Dr. Jonathan Touboul is Associate Professor of Mathematics at the Brandeis University. He is a known expert in Applied Mathematics and has conducted several studies. His research as he describes, lies at the boundary between mathematics and biology. He collaborates with experimentalists, mathematicians and physicists. His study on non-conformists ending up looking the same drew worldwide attention.
Photos: From the Archive of Professor Jonathan Touboul / Shutterstock
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