To gain insights we don’t need too much of data. The size of the data does not matter. The data distribution remains same and it also does not matter much the way we observe it. That is good news for lazy people like me.
The firing that takes place in the brain during an insight is similar to the patterns we see during forest fires, epidemics, earthquakes. All these have similar distributions — very low activity for a period of time followed by an avalanche like activity that produces critical insights.
But we must not be led to believe that the patterns form fractals. They don’t. This is called the fractal – power law fallacy. Then what is it?
In recent years, neuroscientists have noticed a remarkable pattern in the way neurons fire in brain samples. This activity seems to occur in avalanches which vary in size with a distribution that is scale invariant.
Scale invariance is a somewhat counterintuitive phenomenon. It means that the scale at which you examine data makes no difference to the distribution you observe. In other words, the distribution looks exactly the same whether you look at it close up or from far away.
Scientists have seen this kind of behaviour, called criticality, in all kinds of systems: the size of earthquakes, forest fires, epidemics and so on–all have the same kind of distribution.
It occurs in systems that are delicately balanced between inactivity, where the changes are always small, to a state of overactivity where any change tends to be runaway.