4/19/00 Despite the seeming heresy..., of saying nature does not follow rules, our laws and equations do not communicate in nature, only physical interactions do. But the rules we follow for her seem to work, what gives?. What nature actually does follow may be most visible in how physical processes start and stop, when the mechanisms of change are displayed. Solving a second paradox is the key, how change is able to start and stop without controls in an open system. The implication of the conservation laws and relativity is that for change in an uncontrolled open system to start and stop requires continuity, and therefore accumulative processes. The tell tale sign of this in nature is the appearance of growth curves, what physicists call 'rate equations in unstable equilibrium' representing local uncontrolled accumulative processes, (key shapes). You can find them right where they should be found to identify the locally distributed synthetic processes of change. What starts things off is one question, but where the organization of the thing that starts comes from is quite another. The practical meaning of this is that the rules we follow to successfully predict natural events describe events that generally develop by another means. Following the path of this contradiction leads to the discovery of causation.
At the foundation of modern scientific philosophy is a premise that all we can know is the data we collect, and so it doesn't matter what is 'really' happening. This solves the issue of 'metaphysics' (what is real), by saying that what we don't know can't matter. Consequently we have described things as being relationships of measures, which they are not. The problem is that the mechanisms of complex systems are poorly described by measure. Surely, needlessly complex arguments are avoided (pointless philosophizing where it may be only the facts that matter), but we also don't get to study, it turns out, the main subject.
True, complex observations and explanations aren't needed where the rules we find work well. For the simple rules of elasticity, or the behavior of a syphon, or pendulums, waves or electrical currents, what to eat for dinner and lots of other things, a complex explanation just isn't initially practical or useful.
When carefully considering short lived processes, changes of physical state, storms developing and passing, biological growth, ecological systems or social change, the interactions are regionally distributed, and the path of change is locally complex and indeterminate even if the outcome is sometimes predictable. In these kinds of events any rules defining the outcome are clearly not what is followed to get there, and the role of complex accumulations of effects in determining the outcome is more visible. The active mechanisms of accumulating effects in such cases are usually a cascade of local events, the self propagating organizational patterns that follow a course of inflationary growth. This appears to be the quintessential behavior and evidence of nature not following rules, but making them. Inflationary growth is evident in all manner of change, from the first enabling process in the birth of the universe itself, to the fine details at the beginning and end of the click of a mouse.
That all of nature's organizations are original, individually developing through complex processes right where we see them does not come easy. We prefer to think in categories. Our most useful observations allow us to successfully skip over the details, reading unique local events as following universal patterns. How nature locally works, however, is by accumulating direct individual interactions, building up patterns from scratch. How this is done is partly observable in the individual flows of change viewed as uniquely individual events, using sensitively shaped curves of carefully recorded measures to symbolize their progress and identify their phases. They have universal phases.
Studying only the sameness of events was Plato's mistake, repeated by modern science. It inevitably leads to describing the whole world as composed of our own abstractions. Ideal categories, unfortunately, are fabrications of human genius, simplifications of how things appear to us, the categories we see, and are not otherwise part of nature. Would that nature followed our rules (!), but the presence of actual rules (other than the ones we make for ourselves) seems to be an illusion, one that conceals a quite marvelous trick.
There's also a troubling social dimension to the matter, having no bearing on the physics, but a question of how to apply it. As we come to understand how organizational structures evolve through distributed accumulative processes, we will wish we may wish we had known some of the important details in designing our own inflationary growth centered habitation of the earth. Our life support system is not one of our abstractions, but a natural thing evolving in a natural way.
The future of mankind is completely bound to the outcome of a supposedly endlessly accelerating cascade of change in human activities called economic growth. Our addiction to continual growth is utterly bizarre and completely untenable as a permanent design for humanity. Of considerable intrigue is that this central structure of human society, compounding accumulation, also appears to be a central structure in all organizational change. We couldn't have gotten here without it, but we can't keep it either, it's transient, with possible outcomes that change absolutely.
This means that the question of where cascading change comes from and what it leads to is not simply academic, but one of great importance, of which we are deeply ignorant. Recognition, as it occurs, will present us with a moment for observing a rare beauty in our naive ideas of the world, that will certainly be fleeting and could be hard to make the best of. We have gotten away with rapid compound growth this far (~300 years), but we have also lost much of the beauty of the earth, much of its biodiversity, the health of its lands and oceans and atmosphere. What will more likely cause a runaway collapse, though, is the raw absolute speed of change, and the consequent certainty of pending confusion. It seems to lie at a relatively short distance along our present path of changing bigger and more complicated things ever faster. Are we smart enough to continue this way forever....no.