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Andrew Tam

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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?


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    Feb 27 2012: Hi Andrew - I go with you that loudness is not quality of an idea. Spreading ideas - for how long to last and to endure opposition and change?

    My experience is that loud ideas with quick success are not the one which will last for 200 years. democracy never had a quick success.... and the internet needed some 20 years of pre-development before its break though came asf asf

    My explanation is a learning in institutional economics: personal incentives are the motives and attractors to engage and to take on an idea - and thus spreading as a person. To discover that an idea has an incentive / advantage for me - that can take awhile.

    Curious enough: If you are being told on TV that such and such idea is good for you - what do you do? You distrust and you are careful....one can easily see that mass media is not the solution to spreading ideas... personal networks of similiar minded people like TED or Dog-Lovers are more likely to generate the trust between persons - to make them spread and share ideas...
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      Feb 28 2012: Hey Bernd,

      Maybe I'm kind of gullible, but I like to trust the things I see on TV. Of course if something just sounds ridiculous and too good to be true, its going to go over my head, but there are plenty of ideas that have been presented via mass media that seem credible.

      Suppose most people are distrustful of the mass media: doesn't this give us reason to do our own research to figure out what is true? I think mass media does a great job with spreading ideas, or at least planting the seeds for an idea to be spread, regardless how correct or incorrect the ideas are. If we don't believe it, we will try to seek the truth, and if we do believe it, we might spread the word.
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        Feb 28 2012: This question reminds me of a concept in my signals class.

        Two basic types of signals are digital signals and analog signals. Digital signals only have values at discrete moments in time, while analog signals are valued at every moment in time. One way of characterizing the way that a system will respond to a signal is to test its impulse response, or the way the system responds to a short pulse at the input. Analog systems tend to have infinite impulse responses, meaning that the response lasts for infinite time, while digital systems tend to have finite impulse responses.

        If you'll pardon the electrical engineering jargon, I swear there's a metaphor for the spread of ideas through society in here somewhere. I think that discrete, digital signals are perhaps like ideas that seem to spread in discrete jumps, like through individual letters, articles, or broadcasts. This type of idea spreading is distinct from word-of-mouth, which I liken more to an analog system, in which the definition of each measurement is infinitely more refined. It is perhaps this resolution that carries the information out to infinity.

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