TED Conversations

Andrew Tam

This conversation is closed.

What makes an idea spread? Duration? Quality? Loudness?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we talked about the propagation of electrical signals in the body. In the body, cells transmit action potentials (or "spikes") which propogate along the cell membranes of electrically excitable cells like neurons and muscles. However, these action potentials are only produced if the stimulus is of long enough duration, or of high enough amplitude. If signals are too weak, they instead dissipate as they decay in time and space. I was wondering: is the same true of the real world? If news spreads rapidly, is this reason to believe that the news is of of good quality? Is the spread of news proportional to the quality of it?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Feb 25 2012: I think what makes an idea spread is it's gravity, timing and how relatable it is. E=mc2 spread and stuck because it was true, useful and it affected a lot of people. The Jeremy Lin phenomena spread because he provided a spark for a desperate basketball franchise (timing/gravity) and people could relate to his story.

    Rumors have no gravity and "decay in time and space". They are usually unrelatable and have no gravity.

    And how are relatable and relatability not words?? Using them anyway...
    • Feb 28 2012: You bring up a good point about the “relatability” of an idea. When I read your comment initially, I was inclined to disagree with it. My first thought was that some ideas (negative ones, especially) are not relatable to the people who are forced to accept them. For example, consider communism in the old Soviet Union. It was an idea that the entire population was expected to subscribe to, under threat of incarceration and physical violence. However, the citizens themselves certainly did not relate to the tenets of communism. The general population merely pretended to support the oppressive regime to avoid incarceration.

      After some further thought, though, I came to the conclusion that a person can relate to an idea without agreeing with it. That is, due to the series of circumstances surrounding the idea, the idea can become relevant and significant to a person who would not normally be opposed to it. I suppose one could term this phenomenon “forced relatability.” Or, to make a film reference, perhaps “inception” is the appropriate term.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.