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Life and Death as Systems Collapse

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Slides from presentation to Science, Technology & the Future group looking at commonalities across scales of systems collapse

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Life and Death as Systems Collapse

  1. 1. Life and Death as Systems Collapse Tony Smith Science, Technology & the Future 25 July 2019
  2. 2. Life and Death as Systems Collapse Tony Smith Science, Technology & the Future 25 July 2019
  3. 3. Life and Death as Systems CollapseWith talk of an unwanted race between unimaginable global-scale ecological and economic collapse, it can be useful to remind ourselves that systems collapse is a common and familiar occurrence at other scales. While there are various ways systems can collapse, commonalities include difficulty of precise prediction and common involvement of multiple contributing factors. Systems prone to collapse have a web of internal dependencies which are needed to adjust to external variability. Life itself is a classic example. Continued health depends on keeping those internals performing within tolerance limits. Increasing connectedness of man-made systems is pushing them into similar territory. Deaths from natural causes provide familiar examples of systems collapse at human scale. They can also inform our understanding of bigger risks.
  4. 4. Rally for Elijah 6 pm 28 July 2017
  5. 5. Going Down with the Egg Basket David Graeber is a cultural anthropologist, anarchist activist, veteran of Occupy Wall Street, and award-winning author. His book stitches together prior essays with a strong introduction, focuses on the phrase “structural violence” (structures that could only be created and maintained by the threat of state violence) and raises the lack of distinction between “play” and “rules” in most languages and a human need for certainty and uncertainty. Going Down with the Egg Basket aims to put a Complex Systems theory wrapper around Graeber’s wealth of data, with emphasis on the emergence of entities which get established within gradients of words and money, gathering influence and resources for their own unexamined purposes. SUPERVENIENCE how emergent minds and money seize power over matter a work in progress Tony Smith Kororoit Institute Tonight in outline • Connectedness • Long histories and quick deaths • Model systems • Singular cause as exception • Panicking constructively Extra background • Systems Collapse is central to • Going Down with the Egg Basket • building on Graeber’s structural violence • plus other topics of the Supervenience project
  6. 6. Too Funny for Words Abstractions, Category Errors, Epistemic Cuts Life on an Active Planet The Two-edged Sword Multiple Paths to Emergence Constraints and Degrees of Freedom Birds and Others Interweb to Facebook Better than Out of Control Information, Maps and Territories Urban Hydrology out of Sight Going Down with the Egg Basket Self-organising, Adaptive Codification and Communication Exploiting a Dissipating Gradient: creaming, trickle down Dystopian Utopias and Science Fiction Towards Healthy General Knowledge The Inside View: knowing when you're dreaming Verbal Blindness Accepting Cosmological Responsibility
  7. 7. The last thing I want is to be right about any of this
  8. 8. Connectedness: passing the limits of what we can learn by isolation • Particles or fields? [Brooks 2010] • Life as a few billion years making more ribosomes or • Life as a whole self- nurturing system? • Network effects • Route 70 tram view of “independent” small businesses • Deep dependencies underpinning newly vital technologies [Bridle 2018] • Energy Returned on Energy Invested
  9. 9. For me, regenerative practice starts with working on myself and checking in with and regularly renewing my clear intention to be of service to the healing of the unbroken whole, to life as a planetary process. Regenerative practice is about building one’s own capacity and that of our communities to work creatively from the potential inherent in the bio- cultural uniqueness of each place and its people. Humanity at the Edge of Chaos Daniel Christian Wahl, author of Designing Regenerative Cultures There is a big difference between looking at the past for answers and looking to the past for guidance. Ribosomes comprise a complex macromolecular machine, found within all living cells, that serves as the site of biological protein synthesis (translation). Ribosomes link amino acids together in the order specified by messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. Ribosomes consist of two major components: the small ribosomal subunits, which read the mRNA, and the large subunits, which join amino acids to form a polypeptide chain. Each subunit consists of one or more ribosomal RNA molecules and a variety of ribosomal proteins. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribosome Life thrives on the excess (re)production of other life. Only humans use industrial methods to kill indiscriminately.
  10. 10. Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) is more sensible than money as a measure of value, making it clear that fossil fuels are already on a down slope with no sense to extending profligacy.
  11. 11. Fracturing coal seams has uncosted externalities
  12. 12. Long histories and quick deaths • Otherwise helpful ten- dency to keep doing what already works • Delusions of universality • Suppressed wisdom • All eggs in one basket • Bankruptcy • Too big to fail • Safe is dangerous • “Didn't see it coming” • Optimisation to threshold of criticality • Accumulation • Diversity
  13. 13. ❧ Is human nature an oxymoron? Death is the natural price of life Language was human difference Loose use is now the problem Gregory Bateson’s Double Bind Tiny blue dot’s diverse landscapes James C Scott Seeing Like a State Globalisation universalises risks Longer it works Harder it breaks Lifetime in shadow of armageddon Loving and hating America’s acts ❧ Comedy and Tragedy and Drama Us and Them ever more inclusive Emotional price of Their wellbeing Life was cheap Children cheaper The value of large old growth trees Where is value of a life well lived? Journey is more than reward Recovering endangered species Nurturing healthy ecosystems The only truly final state is death How far should we postpone it? ❧
  14. 14. “Didn't see it coming”
  15. 15. Optimisation to threshold of criticality
  16. 16. Model systems • Sand pile • Landslide • Earthquake • Eruption • Double whammy • Triggering depleted system • Chain of circumstance • Adaptive self- organisation • Chimera • Positive feedback • Flooding • Undermining • Congestion • Turbulence • Keystone species • Trophic cascade • Resonance 15 Jan 2018 28 Dec 2018 12 Oct 2014 25 Dec 2015 24 Jan 2016 6 Jan 2017
  17. 17. Landslide
  18. 18. Adaptive self-organisation
  19. 19. Flooding of Australia’s major civil manufacturing site, H.V. McKay’s Sunshine Harvester factory, in the 1940s led to the diversion of the upstream flow from Stony Creek via concrete pipes to the Kororoit
  20. 20. Congestion
  21. 21. Keystone species
  22. 22. Singular cause as exception • Science as practiced in reductionist silos delivers ever more information from specific research while ever more dependent on theory and instrument technology for choice of what to look at • Nothing happens in isolation • Many low hanging fruit have already been picked Brick building was a four storey high machine for turning wheat into flour
  23. 23. Checking inside the heritage
  24. 24. Nothing happens in isolation
  25. 25. Panicking constructively • Painful as it is to a SciFi fan yes, it does appear most likely our light cone’s only space-capable civilisation is fatally wounded with key thresholds crossed on our watch • Before laying down to die we should at least explore more hopeful exit strategies • We can only affect the future
  26. 26. But we must also learn from the past, like Holdgate et al [2011]’s finding that Port Phillip was closed at Nepean Bay Bar until breached 1000 years ago, suggesting how Melbourne can be protected from 20m sea level rise
  27. 27. Questions? Suggestions!