Category Archives: Natural systems

scientific methods & principles for natural systems research

Survival and creative learning, that Darwin left out

Comment on Dot Earth2/14/09 regarding Darwin, “On the origin and fate of species

One of the more curious omissions in the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution, still, is to account for learning.     Every kind of ‘foraging’ and ‘risk avoidance’ behavior is clear evidence of an individual complex system engaged in learning essential to its wellbeing.

It’s already part of our understanding of how things survive and thrive around us, but not considered as having a role in evolution.

That humans don’t appreciate how crutial that process of local environmental discovery is, seems to be one of those mysterious omissions we call “hidden in sight”.

It would greatly advance our knowledge of evolution and the world around us to realize just how very many kinds of natural complex systems:

  • a) are individual animated things that behave as a whole,
  • b) engage in active learning about their surroundings and
  • c) foil the universal tendency of decay to thrive instead by doing learning creatively

(even systems doing so by some means other than pre-cognition)
Continue reading Survival and creative learning, that Darwin left out

Unheard dissent – the “real world” problem

letter to NY Times 2/14/09

There’s a lot of important dissent on the economic “recovery” plan, and you’re not doing it justice at all.

From the “physical world” community, the scientists who study the economics of the environment and physical economy, the flaw in the plan is believing the phrase “lasting economic growth”.  Those who study how popular views are misguided seem always to be mostly unpaid or underpaid, for failing to support what is popular of course.

Spokespeople for the real world are treated as an annoyance.

As a community we also don’t really ‘do’ political speech well, tend to speak with original scientific thought, don’t have a “down pat” story line to offer, and have no particular soap box to get your attention from.     We do ‘thinking’ and ‘observing’ instead. Continue reading Unheard dissent – the “real world” problem

Science yearning for rules in a world of change…

re: Feb 14 2009 Science News – editor’s comment

Editor Tom Siegfried’s comment emphasizes that the main subject of science is understanding a world of change, but one might not know that from asking scientists.

Scientists have built their whole culture around finding fixed rules for things.    We call it “determinism” and the whole community is so set in its ways it still only adjusts the standard fixed rules by adding a little random variation to explain why things of the past keep changing the rules they work by.

Even after half a century of all fields intensely studying how complex systems evolve, we are still not publicly acknowledging that they do.

Complex systems frequently have independently changing individual parts, that express new behavior in new situations, and we keep following our rules of the past for them. That seems just disgraceful! Continue reading Science yearning for rules in a world of change…

Ever multiplying obligations – the “Gold” rule

Responding to Steve Kurtz 2/14/09

Phil, What evidence do you have to claim that my well-being is dependent upon
me “multiplying other peoples obligations” to me? Steve

It’s mainly a kind of “generosity” and show of “trust” that becomes an onerous multiplying obligartion.

We typically all act to multiply the obligations others have to us for performing financial and resource exploitation around the world in two ways.    You and I and everyone else buys products that are made by businesses that are given financing only if they return a profit.

It has to be a level of profit that assures their investors a rate of compounding returns, too, better than or equal to what is generally available.     Secondly You and I and nearly everyone else, have money in the bank or in the markets earning compound interest, acting in to be the enforcer of the first process from the investor side of it.

It has no limit but for those so obligated breaking their trust and failing to be able to do so, as when the economy as a whole ceases to provide net returns.

We choose to receive compounding returns better than or equal to what is generally available, or we move our money elsewhere to get a better compounding return.     With each choice we opt for using the surpluses of business to create real multiplying obligations for others to fulfill.   Continue reading Ever multiplying obligations – the “Gold” rule

In the Spirit of Reason, A coded message

CCG post 2/11/2009 – responding to Malcolm and RML

Malcolm – “How can we express the climate risk in way the public can understand?”
RML – That is probably the entire point right now. An infinite supply af “facts,” expecting people’s reasoning ability to take over, doesn’t seem to work.

In that spirit, we might show our own ability to reason with simple arithmetic.    If you consider a growth system as always starting with a non-renewable seed resource, that is finite, then as the system grows what can you say about the rate of % changes in the balance of the seed resources available?

(meht gnissorc erofeb sdlohserht ees ot elba eb ot doog eb ti dluow .e.i)

Assuming you get the first part of that right, it’s not so hard, how valuable would it then be to have a way to tell?

Phil Henshaw


Getting peeks at the the coming peaks

CCGroup post 2/12/09

responding to Alex:
Phil, I liked your coded message. You mean a threshold like ‘peak oil’? Or the peak carrying capacity of the earth in terms of population? The question is, how do you propose to reduce demand? Right now, governments are doing their damnedest to stimulate demand to save the global economy from implosion. You’re saying let’s reduce demand. How? How is this going to work? Asking a question for which there’s no answer is probably a good way to get no answer. :)

Thanks very much.  My usual worry is not leaving people with questions, but getting none in return. Whether any answer about the future is more than half an answer, after all, depends on what question you ask.   The best available answer to what “people want to know” is often only speculation.

Yes, “being able to see thresholds before crossing them” would apply to “peak oil” and to the carrying capacities of things.    For example, the rate at which a scalar peak like “peak oil” is approaching is visible in the derivative rate long before.    Continue reading Getting peeks at the the coming peaks

Missing from the scientific message

Dot Earth comment 2/12/09 regarding misreading short term trends:

Too Much Hot and Cool Hype? – A leading British climate expert berates climate campaigners of all stripes for overstatements.”

There’s an interesting add-on to how people are often confused by statistics and trends being interepreted without any actual causal mechanism identified. I’ve seen that in lots of “whacko conspiracy theory” kind of science discussion that is all over the blogs these days.

The confusion seems to be between scientific answers and questions.

How often the error is clearly visible in the work of rather distiniguished scientists too, points to how we are all rather inept at “public science” discussion.   If science is to lead the world it can’t be done in a closet where sloppy reasoning gets sorted out in private. Continue reading Missing from the scientific message

So fortunate the economy collapsed!

To GreenLeap 2/10/09, edited response to Glenn Albrecht saying “I am genuinely surprised that the global financial system has failed before ecological systems.” in his blog post:

Yes indeed.   If surprising, yes, but it’s also quite fortunate that the global financial system failed BEFORE the ecological systems…  That gives us a little time to think, before the calmity occurs that we couldn’t recover from.

Now, let me think…  What happens if we restore the global financial growth system to its former glory…?     Hmmm…. Continue reading So fortunate the economy collapsed!

The big contradiction in our Climate values.

response to Carbon Equity newsletter 1/20/09


Your list of current climate change media sources is amazing, thanks, but troubling too, showing our deep confusion.

It’s amazing what an outpouring of warnings and commitments to act on solutions there is… The trouble is that all the warnings are responding to impacts caused by the profit making solutions of the past, and the present solutions are all intended to work by stimulating multiplying profit too. For a very simple reason that is bound to have the same sort of multiplying impacts. Multiplying money is not “inherently” bad, just inherently bad when the earth is already suffering from our multiplying impacts. Continue reading The big contradiction in our Climate values.

The Anatomy of Entropy


You asked:
> Actually is entropy the right word for you? In a way you are asking
> about anti entropy, about the ability to construct structure, how that
> increases, plateaus then decreases. THat might make it clearer ??
> Charlie

I think the energy consumed by an energy flow process (entropy) can generally be divided into three main parts. Because it takes a system serving as the channel to do it, there’s the part of the energy used in collecting the resource from the environment, the part used in changing and channeling it into an output, and then the part used in distributing the products. Continue reading The Anatomy of Entropy