Brainbows to Black Holes

November 3, 2007

Some days I’m just blown away by the universe. There I’ll be, zipping along through my life worrying about all the things I’m forgetting to do, picking up after a party, opening the shades in the early morning, or picking up milk at the grocery store and then BAM the infinite variety and wonder of the universe ends up in my lap (literally) on my computer in two truly gorgeous pictures.

Wonder #1 is the discovery of brainbows. Neuroscientists at Harvard used fluorescent proteins to make strands of complex nervous system tissue stand out from each other. This allows them to look at the detailed microcircuitry in the brain.

One click away from this mind-illuminating prospect was Wonder #2: a newly discovered gigantic black hole which scientists say is between 24 and 33 times the mass of our sun.

I don’t know about you, but these pictures made me stop and think about a lot of things – predominantly, connections. The pictures of connections in the brain and a picture that connects human beings to the vastness of the universe also made me think about the connections between human beings. Our interactions with, and attachments to, each other are, in my mind, just as wondrous as these other types of connections.

In the same day that I saw these pictures, I learned that an acquaintance of mine (who has three small children) has had a recurrence of her cancer. It is lodged in her brain – a dark mass amidst what could be a riot of rainbow colors. Her presence in a network of friends, family, and community is as bright as all of those beautiful colors. If we lose her, all of that lovely circuitry, that unique tapestry, will unravel in a way that will leave a hole that cannot be repaired. In it’s own way, it would be as large as the newly discovered black hole.

Everything truly is connected.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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