A domino can knock over another domino about 1.5x larger than itself. A chain of dominos of increasing size makes a kind of mechanical chain reaction that starts with a tiny push and knocks down an impressively larger dominos.
A tiny domino that can hardly seen, can ultimately knock over a domino larger than the sun, if one could build dominos that large and stack them in order properly. The original idea for this video came from Lorne Whitehead, American Journal of Physics, Vol. 51, page 182 (1983).
The first domino may only be an a subatomic particle inside of an atom, which then bumps into an atom, which bumps into a molecole, which bumps into a small nano sized dust mote, which then bumps into; you get the picture. Or, it could be something unforeseen which has major repercussions, such as the Carrington Effect, combined with loss of power on a global basis, which then results in 400 nuclear power plants melting down.
Super Solar Storm To Hit Earth – ‘Carrington Effect’; 400 Nuke Plants Will Melt Down/Explode; via A Green Road Blog http://agreenroad.blogspot.com/2012/03/super-solar-storm-predicted-to-hit-2013.html
Theoretically, a person knew which way a chaotic stream of events was going to happen, they could start a hurricane by blowing a certain direction with their breath, in an outdoor park. A butterfly could also initiate a hurricane.
Wikipedia says that; “In chaos theory
, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system
can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz
, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier.
Although the butterfly effect may appear to be an esoteric and unlikely behavior, it is exhibited by very simple systems. For example, a ball placed at the crest of a hill may roll into any surrounding valley depending on, among other things, slight differences in initial position.
The butterfly effect is a common trope
in fiction, especially in scenarios involving time travel
. Additionally, works of fiction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting in a significantly different outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the butterfly effect.
The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere
that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado
or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. Note that the butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado. The flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t.
The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect
Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different – it’s possible that the set of conditions without the butterfly flapping its wings is the set that leads to a tornado.
|The butterfly effect in the Lorenz attractor
|time 0 ≤ t ≤ 30 (larger)
||z coordinate (larger)
|These figures show two segments of the three-dimensional evolution of two trajectories (one in blue, the other in yellow) for the same period of time in the Lorenz attractor starting at two initial points that differ by only 10−5 in the x-coordinate. Initially, the two trajectories seem coincident, as indicated by the small difference between the z coordinate of the blue and yellow trajectories, but for t > 23 the difference is as large as the value of the trajectory. The final position of the cones indicates that the two trajectories are no longer coincident at t = 30.
|A Java animation of the Lorenz attractor shows the continuous evolution.
The butterfly effect is most familiar in terms of weather; it can easily be demonstrated in standard weather prediction models, for example.
The potential for sensitive dependence on initial conditions (the butterfly effect) has been studied in a number of cases in semiclassical and quantum physics including atoms in strong fields and the anisotropic Kepler problem.
Some authors have argued that extreme (exponential) dependence on initial conditions is not expected in pure quantum treatments; however, the sensitive dependence on initial conditions demonstrated in classical motion is included in the semiclassical treatments developed by Martin Gutzwiller and Delos and co-workers.
Other authors suggest that the butterfly effect can be observed in quantum systems. Karkuszewski et al. consider the time evolution of quantum systems which have slightly different Hamiltonians. They investigate the level of sensitivity of quantum systems to small changes in their given Hamiltonians.
Poulin et al. presented a quantum algorithm to measure fidelity decay, which “measures the rate at which identical initial states diverge when subjected to slightly different dynamics”.
They consider fidelity decay to be “the closest quantum analog to the (purely classical) butterfly effect”.
Whereas the classical butterfly effect considers the effect of a small change in the position and/or velocity of an object in a givenHamiltonian system
, the quantum butterfly effect considers the effect of a small change in the Hamiltonian system with a given initial position and velocity.
This quantum butterfly effect has been demonstrated experimentally.
Quantum and semiclassical treatments of system sensitivity to initial conditions are known as quantum chaos
Chaos reigns in Nature, but in a good way. For example, if a rabbit population goes out of control, that is not good in the long term for either the rabbits or the environment they live in, because they will destroy it totally if allowed to continue, so a group of predators will come in from other regions, enough to take out the excess that is causing unbalance. Or a disease will infect 90% or more of the rabbits. Or most of the overpopulated lemmings will get the urge to run off a nearby cliff.
These natural overpopulation reducing schemes are all chaotic in Nature. But within the chaotic means and variety of methods by which they happen, they all serve to bring back into balance what was out of balance.
The form of a collapse in any population of animals or humans takes the shape of a bell curve, or even a sharp mountain peak wave, with all populations of predator and prey reaching equilibrium eventually and staying there over the LONG term.
Normalized Gaussian curves with expected value μ and varianceσ2. The corresponding parameters are a = 1/(σ√(2π)), b = μ, c = σ
Chaos reigns in human civilizations as well. The same laws that cause the collapse or extreme reduction in animal overpopulations also exist in human societies.
Civilizations have risen and fallen throughout all time, since humans became more than simple animals, subject totally to the chaotic whims of Nature. Our modern global society is not immune to the forces of chaotic Nature which will eventually serve to reduce the overpopulated planet to a sustainable level, whatever that is.
What distinguishes the more dramatic failures of human societies, seeming to deserve the term “collapse”, from less dramatic long term decline is not widely agreed on. The subject may include any other long term decline
of a culture
, its civil institutions or other major characteristics of it as a society
Common factors that may contribute to societal collapse are economic, environmental, social and cultural, but they manifest combined effects like a whole system out of balance. In some cases a natural disaster (e.g. tsunami
, massive fire or climate change) may seem to be an immediate cause. Other factors such as a Malthusian catastrophe
or resource depletion
might be the proximate cause of collapse.
Significant inequity may combine with lack of loyalty to a central power structure and result in an oppressed lower class rising up and taking power from a smaller wealthy elite. The diversity of forms that societies evolve corresponds to diversity in their failures too.
Several key features of human societal collapse can be related to population dynamics
Reversion/Simplification: A society’s adaptive capacity
may be reduced by either a rapid change in population or societal complexity, destabilizing its institutions and causing massive shifts in population and other social dynamics.
Incorporation/Absorption: Alternately, a society may be gradually incorporated into a more dynamic, more complex inter-regional social structure. This happened in Ancient Egypt
, theLevantine cultures
, the Mughal
and Delhi Sultanates
in India, Sung China
, the Aztec
culture in Mesoamerica, the Inca
culture in South America, and the modern civilizations of China, Japan, and India, as well as many modern states in the Middle East and Africa.
Destratification: Complex societies stratified on the basis of class, gender, race or some other salient factor become much more homogeneous or horizontally structured. In many cases past social stratification slowly becomes irrelevant following collapse and societies become more egalitarian.
Despecialization: One of the most characteristic features of complex civilizations (and in many cases the yardstick to measure complexity) is a high level of job specialization. The most complex societies are characterized by artisans and tradespeople who specialize intensely in a given task.
Indeed, the rulers of many past societies were hyper-specialized priests or priestesses who were completely supported by the work of the lower classes. During societal collapse the social institutions supporting such specialization are removed and people tend to become more generalized in their work and daily habits.
Decentralization: As power becomes decentralized people tend to be more self-regimented and have many more personal freedoms. In many instances of collapse there is a slackening of social rules and etiquette.
Geographically speaking, communities become more parochial or isolated. For example, following the collapse of the Mayan civilization many Maya returned to their traditional hamlets, moving away from the large cities that had been the centers of the empire.
, institutions, processes, and artifacts are all manifest in the archaeological record in abundance in large civilizations. After collapse, evidence of epiphenomena, institutions, and types of artifacts change dramatically as people are forced to adopt more self-sufficient lifestyles.
Depopulation: Societal collapse is almost always associated with a population decline
. In extreme cases, the collapse in population is so severe that the society disappears entirely, such as happened with the Greenland Vikings
, or a number of Polynesian
In less extreme cases, populations are reduced until a demographic balance
is re-established between human societies and the depleted natural environment
. A classic example is the case of Ancient Rome
, which had a population of about 1.5 million during the reign of Trajan
in the early 2nd century CE, but had only 15,000 inhabitants by the 9th century.
The decline of the Roman Empire
is one of the events traditionally marking the end of Classical Antiquity
and the beginning of the European Middle Ages
. Throughout the 5th century, the Empire’s territories in western Europe and northwestern Africa, including Italy, fell to various invading or indigenous peoples in what is sometimes called the Barbarian invasions
, although the eastern half still survived with borders essentially intact for another two centuries (until the Arab expansion
This view of the collapse of the Roman Empire is challenged, however, by modern historians who see Rome as merely transforming from the Western Empire into barbarian kingdoms as the Western Emperors delegated themselves out of existence, and the East transforming into the Byzantine Empire, which only fell in 1453 CE.
‘s populous and flourishing civilization collapsed after exhausting its resources in internal fighting and suffering devastation from the invasion of the Bedouin
tribes of Banu Sulaym
and Banu Hilal
Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.
In the brutal pillaging that followed Mongol invasions
, the invaders decimated the populations of China, Russia, the Middle East, and Islamic Central Asia
. Later Mongol leaders, such as Timur
, though he himself became a Muslim, destroyed many cities, slaughtered thousands of people and did irreparable damage to the ancient irrigation systems of Mesopotamia
. These invasions transformed a civil society to a nomadic
The coupled breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions with ecological relationships is perhaps the most common feature of collapse. The most accessible and thorough discussions of the subject are the review of the scientific anthropology literature by J.A. Tainter
and the popular but thorough book of similar title by Jared Diamond
According to Jared Diamond’s theory, there are five interconnected occurrences that may reinforce each other: non-sustainable exploitation of resources, climate changes, diminishing support from friendly societies, hostile neighbors, and inappropriate attitudes for change.
theorizes that societies essentially exhausted their own designs, and were unable to adapt to natural diminishing returns for what they knew as their method of survival. It matches closelyToynbee’s
idea that “they find problems they can’t solve”.
Linking social/environmental dynamics
Modern social critics commonly interpret things like sedentary social behavior as symptomatic of societal decay, and link what appears to be laziness with the depletion of important non-renewable resources. However, many primitive cultures also have high degrees of leisure, so if that is a cause in one place it may not be in another—leisure or apparent laziness is then not a sufficient cause.
What produces modern sedentary life, unlike nomadic hunter-gatherers
, is extraordinary modern economic productivity. Tainter argues that exceptional productivity is actually more the sign of hidden weakness, both because of a society’s dependence on it, and its potential to undermine its own basis for success by not being self limiting
as demonstrated in Western culture’s ideal of perpetual growth.
As a population grows and technology makes it easier to exploit depleting resources, the environment’sdiminishing returns
are hidden from view. Societal complexity
is then potentially threatened if it develops beyond what is actually sustainable, and a disorderly reorganization were to follow. The scissors model of Malthusian
collapse, where the population grows without limit and resources do not, is the idea of great opposing environmental forces cutting into each other.
For the modern world economy, for example, the growing conflict between food and fuel, depending on many of the same finite and diminishing resources is visible in the recent major commodity price shocks
. It is one of the key relationships people, since the early studies of the Club of Rome
, have been most concerned with.
Energy return on energy invested theories
A related economic model is proposed by Thomas Homer-Dixon
and by Charles Hall
in relation to our declining productivity of energy extraction, or energy return on energy invested (EROEI
). This measures the amount of surplus energy a society gets from using energy to obtain energy.
There would be no surplus if EROEI approaches 1:1. What Hall showed is that the real cutoff is well above that, estimated to be 3:1 to sustain the essential overhead energy costs of a modern society. Part of the mental equation is that the EROEI of our generally preferred energy source, petroleum
, has fallen in the past century from 100:1 to the range of 10:1 with clear evidence that the natural depletion curves all are downward decay curves. An EROEI of more than ~3, then, is what appears necessary to provide the energy for societally important tasks, such as maintaining government, legal and financial institutions, a transportation infrastructure, manufacturing, building construction and maintenance and the life styles of the rich and poor that a society depends on.
The EROEI figure also affects the number of people needed for sustainable food production. In the pre-modern world, it was often the case that 80% of the population was employed in agriculture to feed a population of 100%, with a low energy budget. In modern times, the use of cheap fossil fuels with an exceedingly high EROEI enabled 100% of the population to be fed with only 4% of the population employed in agriculture. Diminishing EROEI making fuel more expensive relative to other things may require food to be produced using less energy, and so increases the number of people employed in food production again.
Models of societal response
According to Joseph Tainter
(1990), too many scholars offer facile explanations of societal collapse by assuming one or more of the following three models in the face of collapse:
The Dinosaur, a large-scale society in which resources are being depleted at an exponential rate and yet nothing is done to rectify the problem because the ruling elite are unwilling or unable to adapt to those resources’ reduced availability: In this type of society, rulers tend to oppose any solutions that diverge from their present course of action. They will favor intensification and commit an increasing number of resources to their present plans, projects, and social institutions.
The Runaway Train, a society whose continuing function depends on constant growth (cf.Frederick Jackson Turner
‘s Frontier Thesis
): This type of society, based almost exclusively on acquisition (e.g., pillage or exploitation), cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Empires, for example, both fractured and collapsed when no new conquests were forthcoming.Tainter argues that capitalism
can be seen as an example of the Runaway Train model in thatgenerally accepted accounting practices
require publicly traded companies, along with many privately held ones, to exhibit growth as measured at some fixed interval (often three months
Moreover, the ethos of consumerism
on the demand side and the practice of planned obsolescence
on the supply side encourage the purchase of an ever-increasing number of goods and services even when resource extraction and food production are unsustainable if continued at current levels.
The House of Cards, a society that has grown to be so large and include so many complex social institutions that it is inherently unstable and prone to collapse.
This type of society has been seen with particular frequency among Eastern bloc
and other communist
nations, in which all social organizations are arms of the government or ruling party, such that the government must either stifle association wholesale (encouraging dissent and subversion
) or exercise less authority than it asserts (undermining its legitimacy in the public eye).
By contrast, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed
, when voluntary and private associations are allowed to flourish and gain legitimacy at an institutional level, they complement and often even supplant governmental functions:
They provide a “safety valve” for dissent, assist with resource allocation, provide for social experimentation without the need for governmental coercion, and enable the public to maintain confidence in society as a whole even during periods of governmental weakness.
Tainter argues that these models, though superficially useful, cannot severally or jointly account for all instances of societal collapse. Often they are seen as interconnected occurrences that reinforce each other.
For example, the failure of Easter Island
‘s leaders to remedy rapid ecological deterioration (“Dinosaur”) cannot be understood without reference to the other models above. The islanders, who erected large statues called moai
as a form of religious reverence to their ancestors, used felled trees as rollers to transport them.
Because the islanders firmly believed that their displays of reverence would lead to increased future prosperity, they had a deeply entrenched incentive to intensify moai production (“Runaway Train”).
Because Easter Island’s geographic isolation made its resources hard to replenish and made the balance of its overall ecosystem very delicate (“House of Cards”), deforestation led to soil erosion and insufficient resources to build boats for fishing or tools for hunting.
Competition for dwindling resources resulted in warfare and many casualties (an additional “Runaway Train” iteration). Together these events led to the collapse of the civilization, but no single factor above provides an adequate account.
Mainstream interpretations of the history of Easter Island also include the slave raiders who abducted a large proportion of the population and epidemics that killed most of the survivors (see Easter Island History#Destruction of society and population
.) Again, no single point explains the collapse; only a complex and integrated view can do so.
Tainter’s position is that social complexity is a recent and comparatively anomalous occurrence requiring constant support. He asserts that collapse is best understood by grasping four axioms. In his own words (p. 194):
human societies are problem-solving organizations;
sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response reaches a point of declining marginal returns.
With these facts in mind, collapse can simply be understood as a loss of the energy needed to maintain social complexity. Collapse is thus the sudden loss of social complexity, stratification, internal and external communication and exchange, and productivity.
Toynbee’s theory of decay
Toynbee argues that the breakdown of civilizations is not caused by loss of control over the environment, over the human environment, or attacks from outside. Rather, ironically, societies that develop great expertise in problem solving become incapable of solving new problems by overdeveloping their structures for solving old ones.
The fixation on the old methods of the “Creative Minority” leads it to eventually cease to be creative and degenerates into merely a “Dominant minority
” (that forces the majority to obey without meriting obedience), failing to recognize new ways of thinking. He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their “former self,” by which they become prideful, and fail to adequately address the next challenge they face.
He argues that the ultimate sign a civilization has broken down is when the dominant minority forms a “Universal State,” which stifles political creativity. He states:
“First the Dominant Minority attempts to hold by force – against all right and reason – a position of inherited privilege which it has ceased to merit; and then the Proletariat
repays injustice with resentment, fear with hate, and violence with violence when it executes its acts of secession.
Yet the whole movement ends in positive acts of creation – and this on the part of all the actors in the tragedy of disintegration. The Dominant Minority creates a universal state, the Internal Proletariat a universal church, and the External Proletariat a bevy of barbarian war-bands. ”
He argues that, as civilizations decay, they form an “Internal Proletariat” and an “External Proletariat.” The Internal proletariat is held in subjugation by the dominant minority inside the civilization, and grows bitter; the external proletariat exists outside the civilization in poverty and chaos, and grows envious. He argues that as civilizations decay, there is a “schism in the body social,” whereby:
abandon and self-control together replace creativity
truancy and martyrdom together replace discipleship
by the creative minority.
He argues that in this environment, people resort to archaism
(idealization of the past), futurism
(idealization of the future), detachment
(removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), andtranscendence
(meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, as a Prophet).
He argues that those who Transcend during a period of social decay give birth to a new Church with new and stronger spiritual insights, around which a subsequent civilization may begin to form after the old has died.
Toynbee’s use of the word ‘church’ refers to the collective spiritual bond of a common worship, or the same unity found in some kind of social order
The great irony expressed by these and others like them is that civilizations that seem ideally designed to creatively solve problems find themselves doing so self-destructively.
Researchers, as yet, have very little ability to identify internal structures of large distributed systems like human societies, which is an important scientific problem. Genuine structural collapse seems, in many cases, the only plausible explanation supporting the idea that such structures exist.
However, until they can be concretely identified, scientific inquiry appears limited to the construction of scientific narratives,
using systems thinking
for careful story telling about systemic organization and change.
History includes many examples of the appearance and disappearance of human societies with no obvious explanation. The abrupt dissolution of the Soviet Union
in the course of a few months, without any external attack, was evidently caused by some kind of structural change in its internal complex system.
Although a societal collapse is generally an endpoint for the administration of a culture’s social and economic life, societal collapse can also be seen as simple a change of administration within the same culture.
would seem to have outlived both the society of Imperial Russia
and the society of the Soviet Union
, for example. Frequently the societal collapse phenomenon is also a process of decentralization of authority after a ‘classic’ period of centralized social order, perhaps replaced by competing centers as the central authority weakens.
For example, the black plague
contributed to breaking the hold of European feudal society
on its underclass
in the 15th century, societal failure may also result in a degree of empowerment for the lower levels of a former climax society, who escape from the burden of onerous taxes and control by exploitative elites.
Societal collapse antidotes
Examples of civilizations and societies that have collapsed
Malthusian and environmental collapse themes
Drivers of collapse used to be limited for the most part to individual countries or regions, with a few notable exceptions, such as the Ice Ages, huge meteor strikes and super mega volcanic eruptions, which were global population reduction methods, of all populations on Earth, including human ones.
Will humanity avoid the fate of the Greek story about the boy who flew too close to the sun, and due to having wax wings, the sun melted the wings and he fell to his death? Nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons are like the wings made of wax.
The hubris of nuclear experts will not overcome the power of natural events, such as 9.0 earthquakes, huge tsunamis, and Carrington Events, just to name a few of the many things that bring down nuclear power plants.
The Domino Effect, The Butterfly Dynamic And Why All Civilizations Fall Eventually; via @AGreenRoadhttp://agreenroad.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-domino-effect-butterfly-dynamic-and.html
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