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2008: Year of Emergence

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That said, we need to keep several things in mind:

1)      We are at the initial down slope of a rapidly declining chasm or valley. From such a position, even though we can’t go back, many divergent trajectories are still possible. Think of arrows radiating out from a point across say, 120 degrees. All of these trajectories represent moving into the basin of attraction for the crisis attractor, however, they lead to totally different outcomes. If trajectories between 1 and 120 degrees are allowed at this point, then setting off in the direction represented by 2 degrees leads very quickly to a totally different historical trajectory than the one represented by 115 degrees. Very quickly, given the increasing down slope, such choices become locked in—you can’t go back and re-choose. The historical trajectory or world line of the civilization that chose the 2 degree trajectory becomes ever more different from that of the one that chose the 115 degree trajectory. This means that right now is the last opportunity we shall have to—within the constraints imposed upon us by the crises—to choose a more desirable future over less desirable ones.


2)      A fitness landscape is not preexisting and unchanging. Rather, as it represents the sum total of all human choices and interactions, as they interact with the natural world within which civilization is nested, it is ever changing and malleable. If we change say, how we produce food and energy, if we change the degree of cooperation towards a common goal which exists across the whole world, then we significantly alter the lay of the land, the terrain of our civilization’s fitness landscape.  Not only can we choose a more desirable trajectory, but we can also consciously alter the very contours of the landscape over which we travel. Some limits apply—resource constraints, the capacity of the biosphere to absorb our externalities are the most critical ones.


3)      Human civilization represents a system. As such it is characterized by three fundamental properties:

a)      Interconnectedness

b)      Emergence

c)       Boundedness

All systems consist of some number of elements. These elements interact together with one another such that collective, group properties emerge. These collective properties are properties of the whole system; they cannot be reduced to the properties of the elements comprising the system. For a very simple example, water possesses the property of…call it wetness. Wetness is a collective property of an H2O molecule. It cannot be reduced to the properties of hydrogen or oxygen atoms. Thus it “emerges” from the interaction of its constituent parts—two hydrogen atoms along with an oxygen atom. All systems possess a boundary between the system and its surrounding environment. “Inside” this boundary is the system. “Outside” of it is the environment.

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Emergence is a very real, scientific miracle of nature. It is also, potentially a powerful force which we can harness to change the world as I shall describe soon.

The Earth’s biosphere, human civilization, and our global economy, are each examples of complex systems. As is typical of complex systems, each of the three systems I’ve named just above is nested within the preceding one. Simple systems can be, in at least some cases, modeled using equations. Complex systems cannot be. Computer simulation is required to research this class of system. Complex systems are also referred to as complex adaptive systems.

The emergent properties of a civilization are very different depending upon how that civilization is put together. The ability of a globally integrated, environmentally rational civilization would be both different from and greater than those of our present one. We can increase our ability to respond to crisis by fundamentally reconfiguring our political economy in a very brief period of time.

Now, let’s put 1-3 above together:

We still have a range of choices about our future available (1).

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We have some ability to consciously alter our fitness landscape and so shape our future (2).

Because of emergence, we potentially can become much more capable in almost no time, by fundamental systemic reconfiguration (3).

Absent life and death universal crisis affecting all humanity fundamental change with respect to items 2 and 3 above are improbable, though item 1 is still in play even absent crisis.

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Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including (more...)

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Your conclusions are accurate. Industrial Civiliza... by martinweiss on Tuesday, Jul 29, 2008 at 6:17:07 AM