Category Archives: Popular

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Self-organization as “niche making”

Marinella posted regarding research on self-organization at NECSI (the New England Complex System’s Institute LinkedIn forum):

“I’ve found this research really interesting, as it goes (finally!) against our deepest beliefs in human (in) ability to collaborate and be socially engaged without specific behavioral rules. People behave socially and ‘well’ even without rules Fundamentally people behave in a social and rather compassionate and ‘good’ way rather than aggressively, even without specified rules.”

I think the more useful relationship is that “rules” for how to behave quite often just affirm how things work best naturally.   So *rules follow people rather than people follow rules*.  Every sort of “system” is recognized as embodying an emergent sets of rules that work.  So, social rules that describe what’s been found to work in the world assure that people are free to behave the way they’d mostly want to anyway.

They’re also remarks about the whole self-organizing system of relationships displaying them, whether you call it a community, culture, nation, niche, commons, world, language, or movement, etc.   Those rules, of course, may also need to change as the world around them does.   It means that rules inherently also represent stages of learning for a system, not end points. That’s often the real source of friction, as old rules clash with the need to find new ways of making things work.  My comments below expand on the way we find rules that work, as “niche making”.



Simple examples of self-organization like those really help.   The common habit of explaining everything with deterministic rules needs to be shaken gently, it seems.     I tend to not find cooperation as deterministically caused, for example, but opportunistically discovered.    One easy way to pick it out is with seeing how niches for innovation form in the gaps between and to connect other things.

Diverse individual niches work to connect resilient cultural networks

After years of working with simple examples to help me separate those two paths to causation, I think the deterministic and self-organizing aspects of nature fit together just fine.

Seen as a difference between “imposed” and “discovered” causation can also then be understood as between “remotely determined” and “locally developed” causation.   Examples of the latter might range from the opportunistic formation of a rust pit, on what had been a smooth shiny metal surface, or of social subcultures taking off in some whole new way. Continue reading Self-organization as “niche making”

Approaching 30 days from the 40th Anniversary

There seems to be no news yet.   The recent 40th anniversary meeting at the Smithsonian on the publication of “The Limits to Growth” and the clearly most urgent of our many dire environmental dilemmas of our time, with little exception, has gotten almost no attention in the mainstream popular or environmental press.  So you’ll have to hear it from a real scientist as to why.

The reason is that the mainstream press is limited to discussing social issues.  That our means of sustaining our prosperity is rapidly exhausting the earth just isn’t one of them, as the resource scientists who study “the blue ball” actually “have no social standing”.   There’s a fascinating history to that, that reveals some eye opening new science.

A nice place to visit,
Was a wonderful place to live,
with tremendous open spaces, and overflowing with natural wealth

Continue reading Approaching 30 days from the 40th Anniversary

All time Top 22

Top page Requests for:

 Reading  Nature’s  Signals   &

All time Top:    1. 22 of May/11,    2. 30 of Aug/11,    3. 39 of Jan/12


Top 85 Jun 2013 Top Blog PostsTop Archive Pages
Top 67 Dec 2012 Top Blog Posts & Top Archive Pages




# Reads                   Page/Post Title

3. Top 39  in Jan 2012

557           2007/08/18    Whether successfully averted for the moment or not/

328           2011/07/18    My most disturbing finding/

322                                 Phpub.htm (publications list)

302                                 Systems Energy Assessment (SEA)/

186           2011/07/27    Urges arousal and keynes animal spirits/

162                                 Design/dollarshadow.htm ($’s = btu’s)

118                                 Cartoons/ (mostly New Yorker’s)

115           2011/08/05    Its the leeches that make us strong/

101                                 Pub/EffMultiplies.htm (natural effects of efficiency)

100                                 Chapters.htm (“S” curve reading templates) Continue reading All time Top 22

Kin and Kind – Some learning in progress?

“Kin and Kind” is an article in the Mar 5 New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer, on the remarkable career of E.O. Wilson and his quest to explain apparent “altruism” in animal behavior.  The reigning explanation for evolution is pure competition, and he’s beginning to think there must be more to it, asking “…is goodness an adaptive trait?”   I note that the very first ecologist to study complex ecological behavior, S.A. Forbes, had much the same way of raising the question, in 1887.

The question, possibly, is not how mutations affect behavior, but our having not looked squarely at what is common to the behaviors of life that are so successful.


for The Mail,

E.O. Wilson is remarkable among scientists for being willing to question his own dogma.  Where the article ends is with his next seeming breach of scientific etiquette, his now beginning to ask if “goodness is an adaptive trait”.

Very surprisingly, that is where the very first scientist to study complex organization in ecologies, S.A. Forbes actually began.    In 1887, in “The Lake as a Microcosm”, Forbes observed that somehow networks of many species evolved to respect each other enough to not make food chains highly unstable, as they would be if their competition had winners. Continue reading Kin and Kind – Some learning in progress?

Is “Sustainable Capitalism” a half step too few?

In “Beyond Firm-Level Sustainable Capitalism” John Fullerton reviews “Sustainable Capitalism” by Generation Investment Management LLP, as still not respecting our finite world.   Maximizing long term gain doesn’t make it sustainable, for example, given the difficulty people have had identifying future liabilities for currently profitable plans.   I add a graphic example, of how defining the world as what we know about it is deceiving, and results in:

simply enormous omissions from the information set we usually think of as needed for making good decisions


It’s great to see such a solid critique of Generation’s “Sustainable Capitalism”, that on the surface seems like remarkably responsive to environmental issues as an investment strategy, far more than than ANY sustainable investment plan of ten years ago.   The whole attitude toward avoiding environmental conflict, as a business strategy, may be applied inconstantly today but seems to have really swept the corporate world too.

It’s nice to see you’re thinking is still a few steps ahead, too, and seeing their approach as somewhat of a half-way measure. Continue reading Is “Sustainable Capitalism” a half step too few?

Coping with every culture having a different reality! (& what’s multiplying them)

With more and more information, and noticing that much of it travels in circles,  there’s both “information overload” and “separate information worlds”, causing the communication of ideas to lose resilience.   They’re barriers to communication, and can easily turn into “worlds of miss-information” leading everyone in them astray.

there’s both “information overload”
“separate information worlds”

CLAY JOHNSON has good links and discussion on the problem , relating to his interesting “Information Diet” book and “Information Diet Pledge“.   By self-selecting our information sources we can create a world of miss-information for ourselves, so he suggests some rules for a healthy information diet.   I wrote him the following comment on the “next steps” his “Information diet remainders“.  Below that is my comment on  his radio program on WNYC on 2/9/12.


Clay, There’s an easy step beyond noticing that no one is really the author of information that travels in circles. It’s seeing that the author is really the social network it develops in, using the information as part of a social story of one kind or another.

People speaking different languages have different realities.

The next step is noticing that such authoring social networks and cultures invent rather strongly held circles of storytelling, which are very different from each other’s. They become the “reality” the culture creates and form “silos” of thinking that people in them are then structurally separated from others by. Continue reading Coping with every culture having a different reality! (& what’s multiplying them)

Growth is Prosperity

Prosperity is Growth

… It has meant that for centuries,
but why is it now causing environmental impacts?

Why would growing prosperity also now risk our
using up everything useable on earth, as investors seek the fastest growing profits achievable?

These threats are not because of politics, except for neglecting how little time we have left to act on them.

The need to save the earth is very popular, all over
the earth. Continue reading Growth is Prosperity

Could “reality math” help the AAAS??

The theme of the AAAS meetings next week in Vancouver is “Flattening the World: Building the Global Knowledge Society”.

Reality math combines the information we do have, with what definably remains missing from our view.

There’s a method of “reality math” that allows “whole system accounting“, to combine both what we know and what we can know is missing. That’s possible for systems defined by energy conservation.  Failing to include what’s visibly missing from our data, often how energy is being used by systems that act as wholes, seems responsible for much of why our global solutions are not working, but create even more problems.

With all our information, “new math” is still needed for
what goes on within natural systems still remaining in the dark.

The following is a comment on society president Nina Fedoroff’s editoral in Science about it: The Global Knowledge Society.   I certainly agree that global networking potentially allows global problem solving, but… There are “very large holes” in our information.  The general “Natural Systems Theory” behind this view is a versatile scientific method, based on using the implications of the conservation of energy to locate and help study the wealth of complex natural organization hidden within the eventful systems by which our world works.

Continue reading Could “reality math” help the AAAS??

Are the holes in your map helping you read the territory?

This is an exchange with Frits Smeets on Azimuth, John Baez’s wide ranging mathematical physics blog.   The original topic is the 12/13/11 “What’s up with the solar transition“, and why isn’t it happening when seeming so “logical” to so many.

See Also:

SEA Energy Accounting: far more holes than cheese 3/9/12

– Self-organization as “niche making” 3/25/12

Principles for detecting and responding to system overload 9/4/12

How mismeasures steer us wrong 10/26/12

The basic problem is that systems that are highly organized as cells of complex relationships and work by themselves, like the great proliferation of systems that develop by growth, the working relationships between their internal parts is untraceable.  So other parts of the universe “out of the loop”.


In a world of systems leaving us “out of the loop”
an observer’s view is riddled with holes,
like Swiss Cheese!

The exchange starts on that topic, and in the last two entries turns to the deeper problem of why the natural holes in our information about nature are missing from the physicists notion of a world describable by equations, or “phase space”.     fyi, you might browse at the start and read carefully toward the end.

Holes in our information for things built from the inside. (Oh gee, never thought of organization as something different from enumeration.... )

Continue reading Are the holes in your map helping you read the territory?

“Organizational Rigidity” as a natural limit of growth

From a Pharaoh hardening his heart to confused children refusing to budge… complexly organized systems pushed to their limits often display emergent rigidity.

Things that develop their organization by new parts being added  to existing ones, develop accumulative designs that become harder to change over time.   It leads to organizational rigidity, that can either be seen as inhibiting change or enabling structure.   These are aspects of the systems physics of self-organization.

Accumulative designs become harder to change over time

Crystallization works by replicating a pattern from a starting pattern, that remains the origin of the pattern throughout the process, like the process that creates snow flakes of a single design.   It’s similar with road systems, that as you add connecting roads it becomes both unnecessary to add more and harder to change the established network.

Even with advanced computers the world financial system gets built around trusted expectations, leaving a rigid imprint of past thinking in our models for the future. If it becomes unmanageable and overwhelmed by floods of new kinds of information the models don’t contain, the system is not designed to make any response.

At the limits of Lucy’s organizational abilities, confusion reigned

Organizational rigidity is natural, and develops in any system built by accumulation.   A bureaucracy may be built to be very efficient and resourceful, for example, in responding to the original scale and kinds of demands.  It’s initial designs may have been highly versatile for the variety of problems it started with.  It naturally becomes mired in inefficiency at some natural point of piling on ever increasing demands of new kinds.

Continue reading “Organizational Rigidity” as a natural limit of growth