Category Archives: Complex adaptive systems

The Case for a Slimy CAS

The following is a TED talk by Heather Barnett on slime molds. At 12:12 minutes it is a fascinating glimpse at an extraordinary organism.

A slime mold may exist as a single celled organism of the amoeba family. It has the unique ability, however to join – fuse – with other slime molds to create a single super cell. This composite organism is still a cell because it ha a contiguous cellular membrane. The difference from a normal cell which has a single nucleus is that it has multiple nuclei, one from each constituent member.

The video shows how it searches for food (energy) and the resulting structure that emerges. For more on slime molds go to The Slime Mould Collective

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Power Structures of Cities

We capture here, a TED talk on power in city politics. As we approach an in-depth look at cities from a CAS perspective

we were engaged by the idea. There are many social networks within a city but the network based on power may be the most important in terms of affecting the emergent structure of the city.

An idea that just popped up is the distinction of active and passive structures.

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The Economy As a Complex Adaptive System

We are not ready to address this topic in detail but we came across this TED talk that we capture below (20 minutes):

We have thoughts bubbling below the surface that are beginning to fix on the interactions or feedback loops between agent behavior and emergent behavior.

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A Tale of Two Cities

In rural Southern Ontario we find two towns about 3 km apart. The first is the town of Jarvis located in Walpole Township, Haldimand County, in the agricultural heartland of Southern Ontario. The second is the town of Townsend also in Haldimand County, created by the government of Ontario  in 1976. The purpose short essay is to compare two  towns geographically closely located, one that evolved naturally and one that was created by a central planning authority.

Inside a Silo

Zero Hedge posted an article today titled  BP’s Latest Estimate Says World’s Oil Will Last 53.3 Years. The article states (emphasis ours):

BP’s annual report on proved global oil reserves says that as of the end of 2013, Earth has nearly 1.688 trillion barrels of crude, which will last 53.3 years at current rates of extraction. This figure is 1.1 percent higher than that of the previous year. In fact, during the past 10 years proven reserves have risen by 27 percent, or more than 350 billion barrels.

In Jeopardy Question: This Body of Water Determines the Fate of the Modern Day Anasazi, we stated:

We are linear deterministic thinkers. Another description of our thought processes is that we think in “silos”. Broad dynamic networks of independently acting agents are beyond our ability to model and rationalize so we simply ignore them.

This is a classic example of “silo” thinking. This is a linear projection of future reserves based on a figure for the current rate of extraction projected to the point where the reserves are exhausted. What are totally ignored are the feedback loops that will affect extraction decisions.Certainly the cost of the next barrel extracted will not be the same as the cost of the last barrel extracted.  Certainly demand will not stay constant, affectingh both price and extraction decisions. But the feedback loops that Gail Tverberg speaks of (read Oil: Primary Energy Source for the Human Social CAS) will affect extraction costs and decisions long before the last barall is reached. In facct, society as we know it will have changed in unimaginable ways and perhaps collapsed altogether before known reserves are exhausted.

The BP extrapolation is useful for drawing people’s attention to the immediacy of the problem but for no other reason.

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Oil: Primary Energy Source for the Human Social CAS

On the “About” page of her blog site, Our Finite World, Gail Tverberg writes:

In early 2007, Gail decided to devote full-time to issues related to oil shortages, and other shortages, and their impact on the economy.

She explains in one sentence what she is about – a researcher and writer on the relationship between material shortages, particularly oil, and the economy. A sharp focus like this is usually the sign of a sharp mind. At the same time, she confirms our intuition that the issues around oil are a full time job, validating our decision to largely avoid the topic. Now that we share her interest in the context of networks or CASs, we will pick up the topic by distilling her latest essay, Why Standard Economic Models Don’t Work–Our Economy is a Network.

This essay becomes the first on the energy aspect of our new series on complex adaptive systems (CAS: The Operative Principle Behind Everything). In extracts that we quote from her essay any emphasis will be ours unless otherwise noted.

Jeopardy Question: This Body of Water Determines the Fate of the Modern Day Anasazi

The answer is Lake Mead and the civilization that is about to disappear like the Anasazi is Las Vegas and its profligate life style.  We were motivated to write this essay, partly because it is a piece in the puzzle of a larger theme that we have begun on complex adaptive systems (CAS: The Operative Principle Behind Everything) and partly by this article from Zero Hedge: Las Vegas Is “Screwed”; The Water Situation “Is As Bad As You Can Imagine”. We first look at a few facts about Las Vegas. Then we look at Lake Mead and its importance to the region. Finally we look at the present state of affairs and Las Vegas’ future.

CAS: The Operative Principle Behind Everything

under construction

We first encountered complex adaptive systems (CASs) when doing graduate work in computer science. When our interests moved to economies and markets, the fact that these were CASs was always in the back of our mind. Recently it occurred to us that a/the fundamental property of a CAS is its internal energy in both quantity and structure, how this energy is acquired and how it is used. The acquisition of energy in an appropriate form is a necessary condition for the survival and growth of a CAS. Consequently we began to rethink CASs from the viewpoint of their inputs.

Very recently, several articles have come to our attention that seem related from our new perspective. It’s quite wonderful how a new line of thinking turns everything we encounter into a “nail” for it hammer out. We see a path forward that applies CASs to a diverse range of topics that have engaged our interest – some we have written about and many not even touched.

This inaugural essay will act as a table of contents to the series much like the one on socialism that we have been developing (Socialism: One of the Two Great Destructive Forces of the Twenty-first Century). The first step is to develop a definition of a CAS that we can begin from. A very cursory look at the literature suggest possibly several essays or chapters leading to a concise and sufficiently abstract representation of what a CAS is that it will have the widespread generality required to encompass our physical world. The notion of energy will have to be abstracted as part of this initial research or a close follow-on. We may then begin to analyze the classes of global problems that are gaining global prominence.

CAS: Limits in a Connected World

The grand strategy that we have adopted is to understand our global civilization as a complex adaptive system (CAS) or less formally, a networked or connected world. One of the first sources of commentary that came our way when we launched this effort is the video by Chris Martenson below (56:04 minutes). After the video we comment on it, extracting what are key ideas for our theme.

This is a long but well produced and clearly explained analysis of the current state of our civilization from three key viewpoints, economic, environmental, and energy. We examine each in turn.

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