Good ideas . . .

Eric & all,

Thanks for asking. Let me just attempt to describe the ship and the wave idea. You know any great graphic designer types? It could be a good poster, and could make good money too!The idea of turning the ship of mankind into the wave of calamities coming at us, is so we don’t get blindsided and capsize. It would be a matter of doing one thing right, even though we get everything else wrong. It’s also about the common idea that you can’t learn from habitual mistakes until you watch as you make them.If you make a big mistake 10 times without seeing how it happens, it could happen to you 100 times. But when you see it as it’s happening, once or twice, then you don’t do it again. My best realistic hope for us is that we become aware enough of the genuine hidden errors of our ways to be watching as the earth’s bounty crashes down around us…

The specific wave I’m talking about is the wave, or more accurately, the wall, of complicated decision making that is rapidly approaching us as the unexpected consequences of exponential growth multiply and go out of control and our capacity for making competent decisions fails us. There’s a profound synergy of confusion and missteps developing as the destructive limit to growth. It’s not just huge over-consumption, species and ecological collapse, growing helpless populations and global warming. We also have ballooning imaginary finances, a new perpetual state war and extreme government dysfunction just when it’s most needed. There are also many of our ’solutions’, like promoting growth with conservation, that simply make things much worse. Then there’s, just, plain, speed. Growth is inherently a continuous acceleration of radical changes. Everyone is beginning to feel the swell of disorder, but its also swelling almost majestically, as if it were normal. Well, it is. It’s what necessarily happens to growth that doesn’t have other limits. If we’re alerted to watching it, i.e. turn the big ship and face the swell head on, we’ll have a chance of weathering it, blaming the wave instead of other things, learning from it as it crashes down on us. It could well be a profound tragedy to watch too, of course.

Living systems are a juggling act, amazingly entertaining and resourceful, but if the balls multiply and the juggler gets confused, chaos ensues and all the balls fall down. After systemic collapse you can’t simply flip a switch and restart a complex system. It has to regrow, and our not having the resources to do that any more could slow us down quite a bit further. The wall of complexity we’re heading into could collapse this whole seemingly vital and thriving world of ours the way Katrina collapsed New Orleans, or worse. We can hope a system shock comes early and is less than severe, giving us more evidence, and time for real insight to grow and spread.


Maybe we could work some of that into the Apology to our Grand Children… I also don’t want to focus exclusively on the ’sword of Damocles’ that we are clearly walking into. There’s also that ‘next bigger fish’ of mine. The growth of complex systems in nature is quite frequently for the purpose of giving birth to entirely new things. The possibilities seem very small that our amazing continuous 600 year growth process will have that happy end, but they’re definitely there.

My apology is that I haven’t written the book, having spent my time struggling to find any language I could speak in. In the mid 70’s I stumbled across this whole can of worms, in the guise of trying to understand what ‘approximation’ in science was leaving out. Approximation leaves out ALL the messy bits. That includes ALL the natural processes which connect things, and ALL the natural processes that are out of control, which for me was a real feast of discovery once I figured out how to spot them. It’s a long story.

Is any of this suggestive?

Phil Henshaw


> Hi Phil,


> I am still most intrigued with your big approach to turning
> the ship
> into the waves. We need to brainstorm about how we could
> accomplish
> this, even in slight ways.

> Eric R. Pianka
> The University of Texas at Austin


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.