Chapter 3 Response: Resilience, Self-Organization, and Hierarchy
When I went running yesterday, I thought about how my body has to be resilient to the food I eat and the water I drink in order for me to be able to run. Eating and drinking too soon before running, like I did yesterday, causes my stomach muscles to cramp up. But the act of eating and drinking isn’t what you would call a normal “disturbance” to a system because food and water are some of my most basic needs. I don’t know if a term has been coined for this type of disturbance, it probably has, but I guess you could call this a “basic needs disturbance.” Maybe resilience to a basic needs disturbance should be called “basic needs resilience.” I can think of lots of examples of basic needs resilience. Can your vehicle overcome the added weight of its fuel? Can you wake up in the morning after sleeping? Can you wake up in the morning after a night of fulfilling your need to have social interaction? For how many years can your knees be resilient to the impact of the rest of your body on top of them so that they can keep carrying you to get your basic needs? Basic-needs resilience seems like an important category of resilience because it deals with disturbances that are necessary to the system.
It seems to me that perhaps the greatest tool for self-organizing of all time is the internet; a network that connects every device that can connect to it. People from every corner of existence can connect, share ideas, and organize. I can go on the internet and find a group of people who share my ideas about anything. I can self-organize with these people, and share two-way communication with them instantly. It works so well because every device on the internet doesn’t have to connect to every other device – it just has to connect to the server that makes the connections. This means that the internet is organized into sub-systems, where every device connected to the internet is a sub-system. This makes the system resilient, because even if my computer crashes while connected to the internet, the rest of the internet is unaffected. So the internet lets us freely self-organize with resilience.
Hierarchy affects the internet as well. The server that runs a website is at a higher level than the laptop or phone that accesses it. Information in a university is organized into a hierarchy, too: professors, student teachers, and students. The hierarchies in the internet and in a university are different because in a university, the hierarchy’s levels have progressively more knowledge; in the internet, the hierarchy’s levels have more connectivity. It seems like it can be hard to tell if some systems even have a hierarchy, and not just separate-but-equal sub-systems. Does the internet really have a hierarchy, or just separate sub-systems? The servers are nothing without people with devices who access them. A market can’t function without shoppers and sellers; they rely on each other. I suppose there are usually sub-systems in a hierarchy. There are different levels of buyers and sellers, like the luxury market and the middle-class market. There are infinite levels of sub-systems and hierarchies everywhere you look.
Chapter 4 Response: System History, Nonlinearities, Limits, and Law of the Minimum
“When a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing he or she does is look for data, time graphs, the history of the system. That’s because long term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding no just what is happening, but why” –p88. This brings up an important idea that I’ve often thought about that has to do with why people are reluctant to understand the importance of global climate change. When I see that most people seem to not care at all that the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, I wonder, “what could have happened in their lives to make this seem insignificant?” And then it dawned on me: my dad told me about what it was like to live in the cold war. Every day the world could end. You might not make it to your next birthday, and you would only have a few hours’ notice that the end was neigh. In contrast, the news that the earth is going to warm up by about ten degrees isn’t very scary. The social history lends itself to understanding our collective social consciousness.
If the collective consciousness were a linear system, the news that we need change to avert disaster would result in that change. But because the collective consciousness is nonlinear, input does not equal output. Proven science does not lead to changed opinions. Humans are not robots; we use feeling and intuition to make our decisions. The fact that animal populations cycle in a nonlinear fashion is another way to explain human’s outsized impact on the earth. All species are programmed to make the most of circumstances that let them multiply. But since humans have overcome the limiting factors that would usually stop the population from growing, we are running into the limit of our global system: space. Space for our bodies, space for our waste, and space for growing food. We are approaching this limit, and other limits, with nonlinear speed. It’s my goal, and I think the goal of most environmentalists, to avert the nonlinear decline in our population if we reach our limits too abruptly.
I like the idea of the Law of the Minimum, which says that a system needs a certain amount of all of its necessary inputs, no matter how much excess it has of a certain input. No matter how many jobs an economy has available, it won’t function without a healthy workforce. No matter how much oil there is, an oil-based economy can’t function if the wastes from it are too harmful, or there is inadequate infrastructure to deal with the waste. No matter how much people try to recycle, recycling won’t happen if there isn’t a facility to do it.