The symbiotic relationships of the Coral reefs – A model social network for the future


Coral reefs around the world are great tourist attractions. Nature provides some of its greatest lessons in some of its unlikeliest places.

The coral reefs are filled with immense bio-diversity with millions of distinct species of tiny organisms all living in harmony and teaching us the virtues of being altruistic, helping each other in difficult circumstances, to adapt and collaborate for mutual benefit and sustenance.

Back in the 1980’s a very popular television video series called ‘The undersea world of Jacques Cousteau’ was aired on television. The series was telecasted every Sunday. Some of us would know it. The legendary Jacques Cousteau, a filmmaker, explorer, and researcher, hosted it. Jacques had received several awards including the National Geographic special gold medal.

As a middle-schooler, I was biding time for my parents’ nod just to watch the television series. Watching an underwater film with explorers venturing the depths of the ocean was rare and a treat during that time. The videos presented an incredible view of the marine biodiversity of our planet and the content was excellent. It was educational, informative and at the same time awe-inspiring.

At that age, the term ‘Bio-diversity’ seemed alien to me and I hardly knew what it was. However, the pictures and memories are still vivid.

Now with knowledge, advancement and the internet, our awareness has only expanded. It was not just for the educational content, such videos at a very fundamental level helps us understand how the marine diversity of our planet influences it. It is intricately connected to the natural cycles of the earth and helps regulate our climatic conditions.

The clown fish is normally found in the Coral reefs
The clown fish is normally found in the Coral reefs. I used Sketchbook to draw the picture.

We all know that 2/3rds of the earth’s surface is covered with water. A vast number of marine organisms live in the ocean. Researchers are still not able to come to terms with their numbers. It is so complex that there are unexplored depths of the ocean. Some are obvious like the ‘fish’ and still there are others hidden at the edges of the ocean that perform marvelous jobs.

These marine organisms actually help in building new land and some even extend the shorelines (Like the Atoll) by just recycling waste.

We are talking about the humble Stony coral, which creates new land on the ocean through its own excretion. Although its use comes after its death, the tiny marine animal grows in vast colonies at the edge of the ocean.

A theoretical state called the ‘edge of chaos’ prevails at the edge of the ocean . A state neither too rigid nor too loose, enabling molecules to collaborate for new life to evolve. That is exactly what happened to the vast colonies of the Stony coral. They collaborated with other species and evolved.

During its course of life, the Stony coral builds a calcium-based exo-skeleton. This exo-skeleton is so strong and stable that it can remain pristine for hundreds of years even after its host organism; the Stony coral is long dead.

In effect, the Coral reef is a stable ground – building new lands at the edges of the ocean. Thus, millions of these calcium-based exo-skeletons joined to form a Coral reef.

We just need to take a step back and look at it from an inter-disciplinary point of view. These tiny organisms were actually building a scalable network, a dense structure for millions of other organisms to thrive and evolve. This remarkable structure happens at the edge of chaos and that too in ocean waters that are not rich in nutrients.

There are millions of distinct species, which live in these coral reefs around the world. The ‘Great barrier reef’ in Australia is the greatest and biggest organic bio-structure in the world.

‘The tiny organisms and plants that live on the Coral reefs actually recycle the nutrients’ says Steven Johnson in his book “where good ideas come from’. You can find the book here. Scientists have actually studied this seamless flow of energy within the Coral reefs Eco-system.

A symbiotic relationship exists between the Stony coral and the algae that thrive in these waters.

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The Human brain helps us to make intelligent decisions in everyday life social networks

pre-frontal cortex makes intelligent decisions

The Human brain helps us to unravel the complexity of the social networks.  It can spontaneously access information and help us make intelligent decisions and appropriate responses for acceptable social outcomes.

In a recent research paper published in  ‘Nature – Human behavior’ author Carolyn Parkinson of the University of California talks about how the brain seems to encode the messages we send when meeting familiar people and their position in the social network.  This may not seem like a breakthrough immediately but then the author says this has implications in the way of how we can use this information to understand an individual’s standing in the social network.

In addition, this research can help behavioral studies on how our knowledge of a person’s social standing in a social network can make changes in our attention, empathy, and trust on that person. The brain region where this information is recorded is the higher order pre-frontal cortex and there is a spontaneous access to it.

We interact with many individuals on a daily basis.  Keeping track of our acquaintances and our relationships with others is no mean task.  Sometimes our friends and relatives will have second degree and third degree relationships with their friends and relatives.  It becomes complex as we go on extending the chain.  Now in this complexity, tracking our own relationships and the extended relationships we have with others (not in a sense of self-interest) requires some degree of understanding the relationships.

The question is can the brain in its natural state help us?

Yes, says the research conducted by Carolyn Parkinson of University of California.  Thanks to the Mo Costandi of Scientific American to bring this information to light.

FMRI on 21 MBA Students

Parkinson and her colleagues from Dartmouth College surveyed 275 first year MBA students.  In the survey, the questions where directed specifically towards their social habits.  It included how they preferred mingling with the crowd and with whom they preferred to hang around with and visit their homes.  Their preference in attending social events and so on.

They measured the responses in three different ways.  The first one looked at the ‘degrees of separation‘ from one another.  The second one looked at ‘their closeness to well-connected individuals’ in the social network” and the third ‘the extent of their closeness with aloof individuals’.

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Swarm theory practicality for social collaboration- Part 1

Swarm theory

I drew the above picture of two ants talking to each other. It is a simple doodle sketch of two ants.

I would like to comment and talk about the subject context behind this simple doodle sketch. Hope you all will appreciate it.

A single bee or an ant is not smart but colonies of them are. We can draw intriguing insights from their behavior.  We must be thinking, a single ant should be very intelligent and confident.  We have always seen it marching so confidently up the sugar bowl in the kitchen cabinet. It is probably executing a planned action.  After all, we have seen ants making long winding lines, build elaborate ant hills and forage food like crazy.

‘It is not the case, a single ant is very incapable of accomplishing anything’ says Stanford University biologist, Deborah Gordon. She had written a good book titled ‘Ant encounters, interaction networks and colony behavior’. If you have the time, read it. It is available on Amazon. You can find the link here.

Then a question comes to our mind, how are they successful as species on earth for so long years. The answer lies in their group behavior. Colonies of ants also known as swarms are far more intelligent than a single ant on its own.  Colonies of ants can accomplish tasks, which are practically impossible for single ants to even think of. For example, colonies of ants can identify the shortest possible route to the food source and they can even organize and allocate various tasks to other ants. They are able to do all this with something called ‘Swarm intelligence’.

Please read our blog post article:  Swarm social media systems, intriguing swarm insights

It is not just with ants. There is a host of other insects and animals, which display the swarm intelligence. A school of Herring fish, for example, can coordinate their behavior collectively and turn their direction in a split second to avoid a threat.  They do this action collectively. It turns out there is no single fish within the school that is aware of the big picture. Scientists term this behavior as the ‘Swarm theory’.

Swarm theory practicality

Many scientists are intrigued by this swarm theory for the past 20 years and research is underway for the past 10 years to gain insights from this intriguing behavior.  Applications of swarm theory are enormous and can be used for wide applications in Artificial intelligence and Robotics to bring business efficiency.

Further, an interesting insight from the colony of ants is that none of the ants have a boss or a manager. The ants forage food, follow other ants, through a pheromone trail, and have countless interactions. They are self-organizing and collaborate among themselves. They have learned to adapt to this swarm behavior for millions of years. Their strengths lie in being together as a swarm and therein lies their success.

Please read our blog post article: Do ants have brains

Similarly, birds do not have a leader. Have you ever seen how migratory birds fly (There is Swarm theory in action!). There are countless pictures of them. Birds change the leadership often, as and when the lead bird gets tired. No bird is telling the other birds what to do. Birds just follow their neighbor as they fly across the sky. For once it is not about individual decision making. It is just blind following and trust on the neighbor birds, to coordinate their movement.

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