Did a fallen tree grow in the woods??

In my journals I have page after page of large and small ideas, research ideas, notes to myself, and occasionally share them. Here’s one from today.

– The philosopher’s puzzle of whether a tree that falls in the woods makes a sound, posits that someone walking in the woods discovers a fallen tree, and wonders whether it had made “a sound” when it fell.  It presents it as a general question about unanswerable questions.

Endless discussions on subjects like that still consume philosophical discussions.  What they seem to miss is whether it matters, whether what we can conclude about a lack of information makes any difference.  It can, but it might also be only a difference in what we know, and in how we observe it.

That’s the “two realities” problem, that what nature does and what we make of it ourselves are very different. Continue reading Did a fallen tree grow in the woods??

Red Flag in our Usual Theories

Brad mentioned Catton’s theory of response to overpopulation as “We must learn to live in harmony with natural systems…”, which is true enough.

In the details he talks about human values and not about how nature physically works, though.

It’s a major “red flag” to talk about solving physical system problems in terms of human system values.  Our values are what we should use to motivate our learning about how the systems of nature work.   Organizing to live by our own values is to act as if our social systems supersede nature’s systems.

That’s the very error that got us into all our environmental problems, and won’t change them! Continue reading Red Flag in our Usual Theories

Growth Friendly? – natural v. compulsive growth

James Greyson said:

Phil, Do you think it helps to distinguish between modest returns (which could be part of a flow of money) and big accumulations of wealth (which seem to take money out of circulation and to often redirect flows of money destructively)? I wonder whether a slight tweaking of the language here and there could make the writing more engaging and less bleak.

For example the harvesting of renewable resources such as solar is low only because we don’t bother and it is maybe not limited to being steady if we expand nature? You must be thinking of ways forward, as well as how growth as usual is ending?

Diminishing returns and complexity make an excellent introduction. Have you tried wiserearth as a community for posting and discussing ideas and solutions? I’ve been surprised at how well it functions and the sense of being among supporters. See for example the comments on the Dubai talk (linked below).  Of course if you have criticisms please feel free to add those too!

Hang in there Best wishes, James


The difference is that allowing “modest” returns really needs to mean “responsive” instead, since returns are measured in %’s.

Even a 1% return if reinvested for continual growth is still exponential and will exceed any limit and be “immodest”.

It’s not that 1% is “big”, it’s that the right thing to regulate is not growth rate but the response, to growth accumulation, at whatever rate.   So, the real issue is “when” to say a relative change in scale has become an absolute change in kind.    Continue reading Growth Friendly? – natural v. compulsive growth

Harvard Business School, searches its soul

There’s been a real “soul searching” discussion within Harvard Business School about it’s responsibility in having trained many of the people whose business practices got the world into our present still worsening economic crisis.  It was reported today on NPR.

It seems they have discovered they should teach business leaders to take some responsibility, not just make as much money as humanly possible and push the risks on others… That’s great if you believe it.   I wonder it is even possible for people making money not to want to push their risks on others, to not “optimize” the making of money?  That is not being asked yet as far as I can tell.

Another thing not being asked yet seems even more telling. Still clearly missing from the public eye, and the professional soul searching all around, is the question of why our economic system produces catastrophic systemic risk at all.

missing from the professional “soul searching” is asking why making money has always so regularly created systemic risk

You simply can’t pop a bubble that isn’t under a lot of accumulated pressure, is the physics principle. There’s got to be a pump, with pressures not being relieved. Continue reading Harvard Business School, searches its soul

Everyone feels it in the making!

On a ClimateConcernGroup thread, “Can 350.org save the world?

In response to Maria Guzman’s:

Admirable efforts, but of dubious efficacy. Nothing is likely to make a real difference until everyone in the industrial societies personally feels the impact of a disaster in the making. How long this will take is hard to predict.

http://tinyurl.com/pobspv   Maria Guzman

Yes, that seems more and more likely, if even then.   I think what will make people personally feel the problem is feeling that we have all been entirely misled on the limits of our current path.   We’ve been misled about the real limits of growth.  We can now it’s for all parts of the system to come into conflict with each other.

We’ve been misled about the real limits of economic growth,
all the parts of the system coming into conflict with each other.

Almost anyone who logically thinks about a system of independently growing things in a confined space can see and make sense of that.   It’s more the scientists who can’t (1).    Continue reading Everyone feels it in the making!

Capitalism Plus Plus?

On a 5/14 Global Foresight thread Wolfgang Spendel had said:

I call it Capitalism Plus. The old rules don’t work anymore. Many of multiple persuasions are in denial about the lack of utlility for business as usual. Given the load on the planet and the desire for many to improve their standard of living we have to change how we do things. Change won’t be easy, since those that have made out well by the old rules will fight change. The problem becomes even more difficult because the new rules will be written as we go (pleasant or not).

Are we going through the beginning of birthing pains or death pains. I hope and will work for birthing. Pain there will be.

When organisms switch from immature growth to maturing their strengths and finding roles in new environments.


Yes, I agree.  But would you go for “Capitalism Plus Plus” maybe??

The natural systems physics points clearly to “birthing pains” as a time when new beginnings emerge, as “the main event” at the end of compound growth.  IF people were to recognize that the end of compound growth is always *the beginning* of what we’d call adult “life” some interest might develop.   Continue reading Capitalism Plus Plus?

Something easier to comment on?

to contacts in sciences interested in the “physical world” problem….

In the list below, it would help me a lot to know where you were stopped; was it at a, b, c, d or e?    I’m thinking it might make it easier if I explain less, rather than more, to get a response to my main question.

I observed an effect of how both ecology and economy adopt the physics model, of representing the living things they talk about with formulas.

a) What about the problem that if life only followed rules it would be quite lifeless.

The physics model represents living things as machines, is the problem.

b) By directing our attention to “controlling variables” and “numerical relationships” do we lose sight of the liveliness of things operating beyond the rules somehow, that is much more important to us? Continue reading Something easier to comment on?

Examples of “whole systems accounting”

On the LCA list Simon asked: Are there any tangible examples of where something meaningful was created (not necessarily materially produced) by humans undertaking a “whole systems accounting” approach?  I had offered the obscure example of one of my proud little examples, a whole system account of money exchange in a 1985 paper for SGSR proving that learning lags would be a limit for economic growth, and later the following. P.S.


Perhaps better examples of “whole systems accounting” would be the more common ways that the whole systems are accounted for.    One is energy budgets the way the physicists do it, like for the climate models.

They divide up a pie they already know the total of

They don’t just add up the totals.  They divide up a pie they already know the total of, measuring the system from both inside and out.  That forces them into doing what is needed to explain the difference.     Continue reading Examples of “whole systems accounting”

Climate Science & Our Gaps in Learning

On the CCG list RML had posted a good article on how public engagement is critical to solving climate crisis.  It overlooks the special problem we have, that science still tries to describe uncontrolled systems with control theory…


Well, one of the major barriers to using science to communicate the choices available to people is that scientific models, confusingly, represent the parts of economic systems as having no individual choices…

scientific models, confusingly, represent the parts of economic systems as having no individual choices Continue reading Climate Science & Our Gaps in Learning