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Out-of-Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms (quantamagazine.org)
174 points by pseudolus 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

I've always felt that the oddballs and outcasts among us are like the sentinels or vanguards of society. They detect problems before the majority and try to warn others. It's a painful and unappreciated role, exemplified by one of the major alien characters in Greg Egan's book Incandescence.

Now that we can see all the oddballs on Twitter, doesn't it just seem like they are in total warning about every possible outcome all the time, to the point that it would only ever be actionable in retrospect?

Every day my local health agency reports the latest pandemic statistics, and then all the oddballs pile in with every (incompatible) permutation of conspiracy theories that you can imagine.

Some of them might not be broken-clock right, but I don't see a way of filtering the noise.

There is a Chinese saying 当局者迷, 旁观者清 “the one involved is baffled, the one watching from the side sees clearly.” The observers see more than the players.

> painful and unappreciated role

I think the fact that an outcasts are unappreciated is an inherent correlation. Being influenced by appreciation is mostly useful for getting individuals to adhere to the behavior of the group.

As for it being painful? That's all relative. Individuals tend to choose the actions that result in the most reward and least pain, so outcasts probably choose to be outcasts because following the group must produce not as much reward or even more pain.

Or Holden Caulfield.

That guy is such a phony

Cranks on Twitter are a fantastic early warning system. You start to suspect that people who actually do know things are behind the racist beagles or the shitposting norse god avatars...

> You start to suspect that people who actually do know things are behind the racist beagles or the shitposting norse god avatars...

Like the Machines from the Matrix who learned to exploit humanity's inherent mistrust of the status quo and created Zion as a cattle-pen to draw "enlightened" humans who rejected the system into and periodically slaughter, the powers that be have discovered that no mind is easier to enslave than the one that believes itself free.

So yes, people who do actually know things are behind a lot of that, but not for the reasons you might think.

Interesting, but I wouldn't draw too much out of the matrix. The matrix is a nice movie, but made in Hollywood. So it is also part of the establishment. If I were you, you should also distrust its message.

Who says its goal was not to demoralize the rebel from taking action?

I think the shitposters of the 'anime right' feel we are living more and more in a dystopian corporate crime ridden hellscape. They want to go back to their youth or to a fictitious past. If you ask them what they want, a lot of them wants a traditional family, a farm and a nice green patch around them. It are modern day romantics in their core.

They fear what is coming next. And you remember perhaps what is said about fear: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

You might start to wonder if it's all interconnected.

Just watched this documentary about two interesting ladies (twin savants).


For people that are not blowing through emotional capital online (or offline), we probably see something similar with exponential growth in other capacities that individuals nurture instead.

Saying something is impossible just means you can`t do it personally.

Those two are amazing!

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve heard referring to someone(s) as retarded without it being an insult.

> in some ways, they’re retarded. And in some ways, they’re geniuses.

- some guy that looks like a researcher.

I've always felt like a bit of an outsider. The idea that my disposition may be a result of mother nature hedging her bets, in case the rest of the swarm is taken down, is oddly comforting.

Really, really good read. Natures way of also looking into wacky solutions to problems. She does not put all her eggs in one basket.

I can’t wait to project these slime molds’ behavior onto human psychology!

Someone's gonna make a metaheuristic algorithm out of this insight. Probably call it "Swarm Sentinel Search" or something.

It seems conceptually similar to the firefly (and closely related particle swarm optimization) algorithm (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_algorithm).

Loners are the kingmakers of humanity: they completely lost the game, but are able to decisively determine who will win. And kingmakers are the real winners anyway because everyone is at their mercy.

Pretty confused by what you mean here. Could you give examples of how loners decisively determine who wins the game? Or what the game even is?

Lord Varys from Game of Thrones.

If a character from a fantasy series is the best example one can come up with, I'm not sure how much one should rely on this construct as an accurate model of the real world.

Additionally, Varys is not a "loner" in any sense. The core of his power is in the powerful network of relationships he wields.

people who generally speak up for doing the right (pro-social) thing, even in the face of gain from doing the wrong (anti-social) thing, or even just letting others slide by doing wrong things, are such out-of-sync 'loners' who are a form of bet hedging against social collapse.

it doesn't need to be many of us, but some of us have to pay the social cost of keeping sociopathic behavior in check. it's often thankless and ostracizing (whistleblowers, for instance), and why we often give those folks titles like 'hero', to provide some measure of social compensation most of us aren't willing to take on.

>But previous work in game theory has shown that when individuals can “opt out” of a collective activity for a few rounds, it can help maintain cooperation and diversity in a population and protect the group against parasitic individuals.

Would love to know what research they are referring to here. Sounds fascinating.

It’s a noble function...

That must be performed periodically...

Please don’t turn this website into reddit

I've heard puns are the ultimate form of humor. I'll let this one slide

Let us not incur dang's infinite wrath.

Sounds like the gay uncle hypothesis.

Sheepdogs & sheep herds?


That, in and of itself, is a form of identity politics.

So long as it's a qualitatively different form compared to the rest.


Not really. "Reject all forms of identity politics" is both a political statement and, being the first (coherent) comment you've made after creating this account for this thread, clearly a statement of self-identity.

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