A guide to nature’s growth crisis Thrutopia!

I really like the idea of “Thrutopias: clear, engaging routes through to a world we’d all be proud to bequeath to future generations.” I thought some might benefit from a natural systems view of nature’s primary “thrutopia” (how growth makes it through to life) for the crises that all kinds of growth systems face. Perhaps check my recent research and writing and get in touch if you have questions. I generally don’t charge if I can fit it in.

Nature has one primary strategy for carrying emerging new systems through a whole system growth crisis such as our civilization faces at present. A growth crisis comes naturally for every growth system, as growth starts as a fixed design for multiplying the new system’s power and runs into trouble. Whether it is more or less severe depends on whether there is a good response. The crisis develops as its initial period of free exponential expansion begins to multiply internal and external pressures and conflicts instead. That threatens the system and its environment. Think of a personal relationship as a model. It develops freely and marvelously until some conflict appears, and the response to it determines the fate of the relationship and its environment.

It is quite surprising that this simple and obvious feature of how natural systems develop did not attract the attention of the leading sciences, apparently just believing some other story.

Telling it a story of nature managing the birth of new lives would fit a story arc of nature first promising new lives a gift much too good to be true, but that is true for a while. That confusing signal is part of the trouble. Nature knows all along that the initial gift is one to be taken away and for it to be unexpected for inattentive new lives. Then to select some for the gift of lasting life, nature gives ever new life a warning. Then she rewards those that change their fixed designs for maximum growth to adaptive growth and engagement with the world around them. That then stands as “the door to life,” an act of a new system choosing live, nature having gotten things started and leaving it up to new entities to switch to becoming internally adaptive and externally engaging.  

You notice that I shifting back and forth between scientific and familiar discussion. It comes from my starting as a scientist and studying how language developed from people coining words and expressions to convey their experience with natural systems… ! So we have a natural systems language too.

It’s fairly easy to begin to study these transformations from familiar examples. Any of the many things we do or that happen in a day combine those startup and transformation stages. For example, the startup phase of tasks, projects, businesses, or relationships is always some natural or personal “urge to create.” If all goes well, that expansive growth follows for a bit, then at the right time, a turn toward making it a success by the system becoming adaptive to internal and external needs so it can live in its world.

The levels of growth activity in an emerging system’s life

Technically that first follows a design principle of maximizing power (called MPP) and then one for maximizing resilience (called MRP). The growth of the new system then climaxes at its peak of capability, resilience, and endurance. That change comes from the system changing its internal rule for how it invests its resources, going from multiplying its power to making it work by serving needs, including the needs of the system and the parts.

As one studies how these startup and resolution stages proceed in personally familiar cases you will find new ways of describing how it happens. That makes it easier to imagine how we could tell stories about the challenge before our world civilization, and people thrilled with it and lost and confused by it. The pattern to study and anchor other observations is that initial urge to create then accelerating activity followed by an urge to make it work and a climax with perfecting touches.

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Recent research –

2021 Henshaw, J. Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth: New Science for Individual System

jlh

Behavioral ironies for our moral values

It’s wonderful to have so much movement in the movement now, the passion and connections making such awakening waves around facing our global crisis of growing crises.  Capitalism isn’t amenable to the kinds of change mostly offered, moral suasion, that I hear voiced by the great host of determined voices rising in response. 

The people actually most responsible are the class of highly educated successful professionals from good families ruling the world.  We need to study ironies like that, looked at as non-verbal cues from nature to look more deeply at the problem.  Another irony is that the educated professional class running the world, who like everyone else, exhibits highly successful survival instincts in their personal environments, evidently also seems to think nothing of destroying the home of nature and humanity at ever-accelerating rates; another irony. 

The many ironies surrounding our escalating world crisis all suggest some kind of profound blindness, on the part of nature’s most intelligent species. There is one that the ironies can help us pick out. One of the other ironies that have been talked about for decades now, is that it seems our solutions are the source of our problems. That is particularly clear in how you just can’t talk to people offering great temporary solutions for growing long-term problems. They’re not motivated to look for the flaws in their proud designs. That disappointing truth is pervasive throughout the world sustainability movement. For the biggest example, even the climate change effort amounts to an enormous effort to find a temporary fix that absolutely can’t last. Its aim is to phase out one ever-multiplying energy source for another, taking no (0) account of the ever-multiplying impacts of generating and using the new source for multiplying our control of nature.  What we’re using the energy for is probably a bigger actual environmental problem than how we obtain it!

In short, we’re behaving like confused 2-year-olds with respect to some of our most important tasks, as we also act like grownups with respect to some others. For some reason, I started noticing these kinds of ironies a long time ago. They would just pop out at me.  I noticed in first-year physics almost 60 years ago, for example, that physics does not study the parts of nature that can’t be turned into a formula!  Of course, no one would listen then or ever since, though recently I may be making little bits of progress.  The insight that triggered that observation came while being taught about the parts of simple behaviors that fit formulas, like a ball thrown in the air. We were not taught about the little non-linear energizing and de-energizing transients that begin and end every case of similar events. 

Conceptual thinking, the identification of simple patterns in complex contexts, is I think, at the heart of our problem. We spend so much time with our concepts, observed patterns simplified and detached from our contexts. that we lose track of their contexts, that is, except for the contexts we are deeply immersed in.  The one you can’t feel and the other you can, and that has EVERYTHING to do with behavior.

Thus our good survival instincts are in familiar places and we tend to lose them if all we have is abstract data. That divide also means that we naturally think our social concepts and values rule the world because they touch our emotions so directly. It tends to make the behavior of the natural and institutional systems that really run the world go largely unnoticed. The worst part… is that the simple rules of science and finance for profitably (and blindly) growing our control over our nature and each other (rules we see as detached from their contexts), then also multiply ever-faster. So, naturally, they take over the world those “powers of our minds” (for multiplying our power) are unleashed. Looking at the long history shows the scope of the dilemma. We’ve been doing that for thousands of years, over and over, blowing things up and suffering the disaster. And we are still at it today.  Of course, if this like of questions helps us see the problem, maybe we can do something this time.

So what do we do?  Well, I can’t say what path to take, as that will be determined by first looking for then finding the openings in our blind convictions, to breathe fresh air into them. Then the need appears to be to at least start a cure for the very heart of the problem, how our powerful concepts blind us to the world we take power over.  If we could feel what’s going on around their use we would be able to read the non-verbal cues to the state of our relationships, and not be helpless. Where we don’t feel the state of our relationships we’re blind to the effects of our choices and helpless. The main example is of course our pension for multiplying money, not having any feeling for the extensive evidence that what we do with money is rapidly destroying the earth, for example, the Top 100 World Crises Growing With Growth. 

The list is too much to absorb all at once, but it’s one of the healthiest things to try. https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf The solution is – conceptually – simple too. Learn from the examples of how both we and nature so often steer the growth of new systems to become lasting good homes for their builders!

So we need to somehow bring feeling to the environments our conceptual thinking has isolated us from and prevented us from feeling at home.  Sound good? Do you perhaps wee any openings to explore? Lots of the ones I hear about people looking into seem to me to be just the right type. It’s a diagnosis connecting the emotional and moral openings with a practical behavioral understanding of the problem that is really needed.  I think that coupling is what’s missing.

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An edited version of a comment on Jeremy Lent’s “Patterns of Meaning?

JLH

Betrayed by the power of our minds

The radical separation of humans from nature, our being so self-absorbed and seeing nature as defined in our heads rather than the other way around, has been a deep mystery for a long time.

My interest in it came from noticing how mathematics became our standard for representing nature but cannot describe or help us study what makes life so lively, the abounding creative processes of nature.

I’m not against math, a fabulous art, that does help us identify certainties, however, our desperate search for certainty is what seems to have betrayed us, splitting our minds between attentiveness and total blindness to our environments, having defined in our minds nature as our rules for how to control nature…

A general systems theory and demonstration of the problem and solutions are to be presented on Jul 9 at 3:30 at the 2022 ISSS world systems science conference. See the preprint Holistic Natural Systems – Design & Steering – Guiding New Science for Transformation.

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First Openings

The search for answers in mathematics, the language of determinate relationships that science uses, has proved extraordinarily profitable, leading to growing human comforts that have also taken us to the point of our increasingly destroying the natural world. Our mysterious detachment from nature seems very directly at fault. The animation of life, its rich relationships, and creativity are all left out of the formula when people are guided by determinate rules. It’s something I’ve long studied as a physicist, having first noticed that every event begins and ends with some little dynamic transient of change.

I think part of the problem is that language was actually reflected our first highly useful systems thinking, with all its words and grammar arranged to communicate important experiences, designs, and relationships IN THE NATURAL CONTEXT. Math makes rules abstracted from a natural context, that are most profitable when offering easy ways to control nature without concern for the context. So they work great but pass on no information on when they are being overused. That is as clear in the simple cases and most extreme cases, such as the world consensus plan to maximize our economic growth rate, for regularly doubling the wealth we extract from nature while ignoring its rapidly degrading impacts on nature, called “externalities.”

But who is it that is blind to what, and how in the world do we face an existential dilemma evidently buried so deep in human consciousness?

Finding the right path forward

We see humanity’s deeply split personality, generous and playful as well as obsessed with expanding our control of the world but need to find its source. Then we will finally begin to make progress, to slowly dig our way out of the terror our powerful minds seem to have created for us. Somehow we allowed our truly wondrous designs to create a new world of enormous cruelty, following their promise of relieving nature’s cruelty. That’s definitely happening, and definitely not good.

One of the paths to a cure could come from studying the differences between how people behave in one or the other way. We might then cure the blind way of abusing our powers by restoring the principles of staying in touch with environmental contexts. The direct approach, helping others immerse themselves in the natural environments they are in trouble with, works great using an experienced teacher. The living systems scientist like Ostrom or Midgley do it by lead communities through a process of exposure to how their worlds work, leading to their making much better choices.

As parents we also talk to our kids that way too, helping them to understand problems of insensitivity to others. Every good family does that, but the children still grow up to follow the rules of maximizing growing profits and ignoring the economy’s ever-growing impacts. That very clearly defines the split between how people behave in familiar contexts, where they can feel the strains on relationships, and in the public sphere where they don’t. In the public sphere rules for profit give people only feelings of self-interest and blind them entirely to the enormous building strains in the wider world’s relationships.

I’m not saying that is the only strong force causing humanity’s spiritual separation from life, but one we can see plainly enough to realize we very much need to act on it, despite the difficulty of communication that recognizing errors in our plans naturally creates.

Modern society presents other special problems of communication too, confronting us with thousands of self-serving silos of narrow beliefs, personal, social, religious, national, and professional. I look at them all as “cultures,” the “cells of knowledge” we build to guide us on how to think, work, live, and talk to give us some local sense of security in a confusing world. Cultures are also a saving grace as well as a way to divide us, given how most are deeply rooted in what worked in the past, with authentic copies passed on from generation to generation.

Of course, individual people have individual saving graces too, to use in helping us climb out of the trap we find ourselves in. Some have vision, steady hands, charisma, moral clarity, persistence, or wonderful person-to-person good hearts. Those don’t come from theories of control, that betray our powerful minds. They come from the opposite, from our loves and cares largely cut out of the public sphere by the rules we blindly follow. Saving graces in our institutions seem harder to find. We mostly built them around ideas of expanding control or being funded by it, not on learning how to make free associations work well.

What it seems we need to rely on is family culture and their central one for all and all for one life agreement. I’d include in that both the home and work families we center our lives on, which generally make us acutely aware of the non-verbal as well as verbal cues indicating openings and strains on our relationships. That is the very kind of environmental awareness that enables our personal and family survival instincts.

That is what seems most missing from the public sphere institutions, seemingly blinded by following abstract rules rather than navigating relationships with the world. It’s not even that the world doesn’t act as a whole. It certainly can and does, as you see in the effect of managing a global economy to work as a whole. To feel where the world is going, and change our collective steering, we’d need to count all the global strains we have not been counting.

An Experimental Partial List of the mostly uncounted growing strains on our relationship with life.
The Top 100+ World Crises Growing With Growth
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(note on the home science of Hestian proto-Greek culture now the new post: Bronze Age Roles of Hestia and Hermes

JLH

How we can know for sure

The imbalance of information about the costs and rewards of money; the intensely felt rewards and zero information on the environmental costs, has fooled humanity for ages. Even in our effort to stop climate change today, we aim to pay for reorganizing all our energy uses to continue the compound growth of using them that has now become so destructive.

It’s the irony that provides traceable links to the causes.

ALL our impacts on the earth are from using energy to mine, disrupt, and degrade the natural world we so depend on. When the effect was very small it was of course not significant. Now that the damage is truly threatening our future most people, and the professions leading it, are still quite blind to the ever-faster rising threats. So our “prime societal directive” is still to keep using our power to multiply our power.

The proof is relatively simple. The major impacts of the economy on the earth are all growing in constant proportion to world GDP! That means they are directly connected.

Oh boy, should we ever pay attention now!

The question is just how long have we been deceived by the imbalance between our information on the costs and benefits of money and its powers?

I trace it back to all the boom and bust civilizations of the ancient Middle East, then Greece and then Rome, perfecting the delusion of financial power being cost-free with every grand failure. This time we’re caught, though, having seemingly exhausted the quick fixes for delaying the final loss of the earth as a good home, that so far we have not earned.

The rewards of money are keenly felt and the costs are quite invisible. So everyone who truly cares about civilization surviving in some healthy form has a role in shifting our consciousness. We should all start improving our sources of information on what the economy really does to life on earth. Here’s a rough guide, called:

The Top 100+ World Crises Growing with Growth

It’s an experimental but well-informed list of the many kinds so systemic crises for the world’s ecological and social systems, like how ever-increasing congestion pushes everyone and everything into more and more conflict!

We see that all over, right? Now study how growth regardless of limits causes it.

Think of who most needs to develop a feeling for what we’re all doing to ourselves?

Well, it’s all of us of course.

  1. Those in most direct control of it are the investors, businesspeople, financiers, and governments actively working to maximize the growth rate of our power as it corrupts all of life on earth!
  2. People with talents for reaching out to others are then especially needed, to reach out to the blind finance and governing communities, in effect now aggressively committing suicide for all of us.

Showered with rewards and blind to the costs it is very hard for them to feel emotionally threatened by destroying the earth.

Feeling the costs, though, as we do in overreaching personal relationships, is the cognitive steering that seems to give all of life its survival instincts, and so needed now to trigger our change culture.

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JLH

How Sustainability became BAU

An article was posted to the DeepTransformation.network on “Marketing the planet: The financialization of nature”

I added to the comments: The article certainly lives up to its promise, detailing how more and more exceptions are being made to the Brundtland Report’s holistic definition of sustainability.  Few people noticed where the perversion of the original meaning all started, though. It was with the VERY FIRST RULES FOR IMPLEMENTING SUSTAINABILITY; HOLDING FINANCE HARMLESS FOR ITS IMPACTS

As a result, 30 years of policies, and efforts to reverse climate change, among other things, were designed around sustaining maximum economic growth, the most direct and fastest-accelerating cause of climate change. How in the world did we do that, with no one seeming to notice?

In a nutshell,

Allowing finance to hold itself harmless for our dramatic overshoot
of the Earth, which it guided, paid for developing, and profiting from, misdefining all of sustainability as BAU from the start.

As a natural systems research scientist with long involvement in the UN’s development of its SDGs, I observed how it repeatedly happens. Financial advisors, such as from the OECD, have oversight of the regulation writing processes. The Brundtland definition of sustainability was then changed in the regulations, converted to reducing the impacts of businesses that they *seemed* to control. However,  finance actually selects and pays for developing and promoting consumptive and polluting business operations, following a rule to maximize profits. What then does the greatest harm is the use of the profits to maximize the growth of more businesses based only on maximizing profits too. It is a case of power adding to its power, holding itself harmless, for the ever faster mounting harm being done.

Then of course, once everyone seemed fooled by that perverse ruse, it opened the door to do it everywhere else too. The next big one was how maximizing growth was promoted by defining sustainability around improving efficiency! Networks of scientists saw the gross error in that, but officialdom everywhere was fooled by that too. Why? Apparently fooled by it being so profitable. 

Efficiency is indeed good for lots of things, at least till it undermines resilience; HOWEVER, when it is used to grow profits to satisfy investors, it grows business consumption and pollution too, another way to negate sustainability and redefine it as BAU!

More important seems to be understanding part of the cure.  It is learning to feel the great changes going on around us as if they were personal relationships, that really have been but we often didn’t notice. My research success it is the key to our survival instincts, feeling how one’s relationships are changing. It works great for guiding us in personal relationships, and now the global changes have intruded and have become personal. Why finance is so blind to the threats to itself and us can then be understood as being so detached from its environment that it feels the profits but not the destruction, and sp seems to have quite lost its own survival instinct, having nothing but remote control profits, leading them and us all astray!

a leading edge of the research

Paul Maidowski @_ppmv offered to respond to some of the tough questions about Climate change. On Jan 16 I posted the following image of how climate change has only accelerated parallel to economic growth, with no recent bumps or bends in the curve, starting the short discussion below (w/ minor edits for clarity).

Paul, Why don’t climate scientists take into account the main accelerator of climate change, investors using the economy’s profits to continually multiply the scale of business? Don’t they see the trap? https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf…

Paul’s response

Hi JL, amazing document, thanks! I believe the training of climate scientists keeps them from speaking with authority on other fields – or even engaging non-mainstream analyses. they’ve been burned with the hack in 2009 before COP15 at U of East Anglia, and never recovered. Structurally I link this to whatever causes allowed Nordhaus and the economists to sideline Forrester and system dynamics in the 1970s / 80s.

They may see it as individuals, but in their functions, as scientists or in their institutions, they feel they cannot speak to these questions. I think this is changing now, slowly. But of course, it’s very late. What do you think? It greatly puzzles me too.Image

Jessie’s response

Paul, Good points. I think another major factor is the backroom control of public interest organizations by financial advisors. I’ve seen that at the UNEP and the WRI, two premier research centers, much adding to hesitation to explore outside the rails. There are systemic sources too, like data representing reality to formal research, and money exchange erasing all negative information, the reality of the growing impacts seems to vanish. So, nearly all decision-making is blinded to the growing threats.

Along with every field operating within its own boundaries and the systems sciences failing to make physics methods work (omitting the myriad autonomous systems) about the only honest voices are of protestors who don’t quite see that the problem is really that the financial system is flying blind, IMHO. FYI

My own approach has been to focus on how most people become experts in starting, resourcing, and perfecting their complex home and work designs. Those are like making dinners, doing office projects, and developing lasting relationships, all of which also follow nature’s plan for making new things that last.

So, if we study how people make systems that work well and it is written about, it could give professionals and protesters both a good idea of what we need to do. The critical point in every complex system design is reading the signals to turn from starting to finishing when perfecting the work becomes the key to making its value last. The recent paper on it is: https://synapse9.com/ISSS-21/ISSSJul11NewSci-IndividSys-MS.pdf

What A-R-E we doing?

From a natural systems science view, every culture change is a growth process.

As with all growth processes, the start is small exploratory steps that if successful settle on some main direction, or directions of new development.

That development then either switches to refining its internal design and maturing its environmental fit, to establish a lasting way of working in its new world, or it starts breaking up for not establishing a home.

In a world like ours, changing ever more rapidly, as a rule, our cultures like our economies driven to redesign and reorganize ever more rapidly, we now see them also tend to split up and follow divergent paths, too, unable to predict or control their own growth as the old ways holding them together are torn apart. In the past we called it creative destruction. Now it’s become destructive creation and multiplying technology and investment disrupt social contracts and our ways of working multiple times in a work-life and driving growing angry discontent in every direction.

The problem isn’t growth per se, but not even intending to finish it, not heading for the steps needed to make the culture change of the modern world something of lasting value, to both our many societies and its environment.

My friend Linda, among many others, said “the problem is we leave out Nature, the true ruler of our destiny. This is the big correction taking place. But because we have left out Nature, we do not understand it. No system can override Nature.”

I told her “Yes, and though everyone is feeling the strain, not understanding how we left out nature we also don’t see what to do.”

What I’ve come to is one possible way to close the gap. There’s a key level of all our cultures that displays how everyone does indeed nature’s method of building lasting complex systems. It is in our familiar methods of doing work projects at home or the office. We start and finish them to give them lasting value. We don’t leave our work half-finished to get ourselves fired or divorced.

The normal way is to start efforts with some small intent and look for how to build on it, then discover that it needs to fit a range of intentions and fit with the world around it, making adjustments and adding details to finish it off for delivering a lasting service to family or clients.

In other words, it’s not starting but finishing things that give them lasting value, placing the key in the arch that lets it stand up, furnishing a home that makes it liveable, coming to an agreement that is the purpose of negotiation.

However, … the internet is designed to endlessly multiply information and exponentially change how we live ever faster, like the economy too, making ever-bigger changes in how we live, sure to keep becoming ever-more unmanageable and to derail sometime, making nothing to last.

Who’d think the host of “experts” the world relies on would all make the same fatal blunder that everyone at home or work knows how to solve??

We need to pass it on I think. There must be a way that the people who care to make things work in their own lives can have a say in our common lives. Every system begins with growth and our ancient cultures seem to have all learned from nature about how to make things that last, making nature part of our design!

JLH

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https://synapse9.com/signals

Why natural growth is our natural and likely only way out of our world growth crisis

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“Natural growth” is nature’s way of creating long-lasting new lives, of all kinds.

Intro: How system responsiveness is expressed in natural growth is as anticipation of the opportunity to end growth by perfecting the emerging system. To do that, the system’s steering needs to switch from multiplying to harmonizing (i.e. maturing) its design and place in the world.

The figure below is something of a list of what to look for in any particular case. All systems emerge with compound growth and then variably navigate their futures. A talk on the core natural science for an ISSS forum on Oct 2, 2021, is on YouTube!; the research paper (1) below.

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Throughout nature, living systems of all kinds develop by a growth process with three main stages. The first stage is an explosion of innovations in extracting and capturing resources from the new life’s environment, furiously building the new entity with what’s available. Varied examples include a seed sprouting, humans sprouting in the womb, the compound growth period of businesses, economies, and cultures. It also includes the take-off periods of new relationships and all other emerging organizational systems with lives of their own. The second stage follows the first, exploratory and adaptive maturation of a new life as it finds its place and purpose in life, creating its first niche in the world by a slowing process that perfects the emerging design, to be released to forage the greater world starting its longer third stage of life, building wider environmental relationships to last a lifetime.

Genuine “thriving through transition”* can be achieved throughout, from extractive innovation to adaptive maturation, and then finding and holding a niche in the future, even lasting into graceful decline. This storyline for how new lives develop is also found at every scale of macroscopic life of every kind, making it quite a wonder that it seems not yet studied in the sciences, nor part of our general cultural understanding … It’s so much a part of all our experiences our blindness to it is almost as if we’ve been looking the other away, not seeing how living systems work by themselves distracted by looking for something else. Perhaps we are always looking at nature only for how we can control things rather than for how nature works by itself.

A scientific research paper on the subject (1) was presented at the July 2021 meeting of the ISSS. What contributed to its success was focusing on how people already know a great deal about nurturing and guiding new lives of many kinds, initiating and supporting their growth and maturation up to their release. But, unfortunately, we do not talk about it much because it’s quite complex and is naturally intuitive for familiar creative work we mostly do non-verbally. So our discussion of it has lagged far behind. Just think about the difference between the start-up and finish-up stages of any kind of work, and how the work switches from multiplying the early patterns and then harmonizing them to achieve a truly lasting result.

For example, we follow much the same natural creative growth stages in making dinner. We start making dinner by first exploring what might be put together, at first taking small steps, then building up to large steps, and then back down to small steps again to climax with finishing touches as we sit down to eat. Raising a child or starting a business are far more complicated but follow the same creative, exploratory starting than perfecting stages to finish. Growth also faces numerous challenges along the way. If fortunate and skillful overcoming the challenges can be a thriving process all the way, taking a living system through its immature then maturing stages to serve its mature life.

The figure below is from the research paper, the composite diagram of the general growth stages of new lives, illustrating the A, B, Cs of new lives. Individual new lives will diverge from the simplest common thread of development for all new lives. Instead, each will build its own life, displaying considerable variation on the paths taken as it builds its own chain of developments, confronting its individual challenges along the way. Every new life will first build up from small to larger steps, though, and then build down from large to small steps again to finish. So the two sweeping curves are just for typifying the normal course of the progression, also called an ‘S’ curve. So the shape might as well be shown as an uneven staircase of minor and major challenges if that were not hard to draw and too specific to represent the general pattern.

The best way of reading the figure might then be to imagine what thriving would be like for particular new lives making their way through the long series of challenges of ascending levels. Then to cement the generality of the pattern in your mind, think through the periods of struggle, thriving, approaching, and receding challenges for the largest scale, the new life of humanity we are building now! So far, its first stage of growth for modern civilization has been around 300 years long and is now facing an existential crisis for not knowing how to transition to maturity. That challenge is one of the things learning to verbalize the steps of growth can help with.

The most important growth challenge of any new life is the big one in the middle. That is the great challenge world society and the economy are having the most difficulty with. Having designed our world around making the first stage of growth endless is both the big barrier and the main cause of all of our multiplying world crises growing with growth (2), pushing growth too far and too accelerate too fast to coherently adapt to the most conclusive sign that growth is at its natural limits.

The natural path of escape is labeled “Turn Forward.” It’s the shift from focusing available resources on multiplying the initial concept to using them for perfecting our designs and finding ways to thrive in our new environment. That shift from thinking about the past to the future is what turns a new life away from multiplying its past to finding its future, discovering its greater purposes and roles in the wider environment. That is a very good kind of work, one that the whole world is abuzz with today, even though our institutional systems are totally unprepared for and dead set against. That’s why we most need to learn how to discuss the problem. Our institutional world is more built on talk than intuition.

The natural pace of change can also shift faster than it seems possible. Look at the figure and see how the “Turn Forward” corresponds to a “Baseline Inversion.” That is a whole-system shift in the direction of its change that can occur with almost no actual system change, an “inflection point.” Before that point, expansion of the system was in proportional steps of divergence from Baseline1. After the inflection point, expansion of the system develops by proportional steps of convergence toward Baseline2, to arrive at the end of physical growth at its new home where the new life becomes freed to be itself.

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Please do add comments to this article or email questions and comments to me at sy–at-synapse9-dot–com.

*Note: The phrase “thriving through transition” is from Trae Ashlie-Garen, expanded on here to apply to the full set of any of life’s transitions.

  1. Research Paper https://synapse9.com/drafts/2021-NewSci-IndividSys-MS.pdf
  2. Our growth crises https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf

JLH

How our world can Escape its long DEATH SPIRAL

To make our escape there’s not just one requirement, but the main path is to join the emerging understanding that our new age of growing environmental chaos is a natural result of overextended compound economic growth. In nature, growth is a tricky two-edged sword, the greatest of gifts to begin with then the greatest of threats if not converted to things more lasting (1).

Living systems invariably begin with a period of multiplying the parts that capture more resources than they use. Starting things with an explosion of new life is part of nature’s beautiful complex process, so we should be glad for it, but only to a point. The catch is that for our world to survive its period of rapid growth we need its growth to climax in time. Otherwise, growth will generate huge surpluses of false profits as it undermines its own foundations and spreads chaos throughout its environment.

We see that in every corner of the world today, enormous creativity going into generating false surpluses disrupting the environments the economy is supposed to serve, but now attacks instead, spreading chaos rather than healing. For example, COVID seems to be causing chaos around the world, a natural virus not immediately our fault. However the chaos is enabled by our extreme overpopulation, our strings of inadequate responses, growing mistrust, and belief in conspiracy theories, led by magical thinking that the earth can be profitably exploited to infinity, Our world consensus plan is actually TO MAXIMIZE OUR RATE OF GROWING EXPLOITATION OF THE EARTH AND HUMANITY FOREVER, as if we didn’t see what that does. All those compounding factors generate more virus variants and more chaos. Lookout. Here it comes.

So what we need to do is “get the big picture” and start using our collective profits for better purposes than terrorizing our home planet. The best way forward is to use your own life as leverage for guiding your world. There are lots of good things to do and lots of better business models too, though almost no one seems to understand the right way to address their global impacts.

OUR TRUE SHARE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENVIRONMENTAL CHAOS WE ARE CAUSING COLLECTIVELY IS EQUAL TO OUR SHARE OF THE ECONOMY. In a global economy, one’s share of the economy’s impacts is also what we pay for. For example, a business pays for every impact of its entire supply chain. That is by requesting, paying for it and profiting from it. Yes, it is a shared responsibility with its supply chain, of course, not exclusive, and a business has no direct control over much of what its supply chain does too. However, the impacts would not occur if they were not paid for too. So the UNIVERSAL RULE OF THUMB IS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, IN PROPORTION TO YOUR SHARE OF THE PROBLEMS THE WHOLE ECONOMY CAUSES, BY USING YOUR LIFE AS LEVERAGE TO CARE FOR AND STEER OUR WORLD TO SAFETY.

I made a very well-received talk on the subject, called “Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth.” That was on 11 July 21 to the International Society of Systems Sciences (ISSS) meeting, in the Special Track on “Future Society”. It was a wonderful group of a dozen presentations, all focusing on the heart of our global problem. As systems science, each is a bit difficult, but the consensus was that each one was also converging on much the same great truth, that like all great truths, could potentially set us free. I’m not sure when the others will be posted, but my talk is on YouTube and it and the paper are linked from my one-page Abstract for the paper.

Let’s clean up our act and get going. We have lots to do. It’s not a straight path but once you get your sense of direction it will be extremely satisfying.

JLH

1) Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth; Well received systems ecology research for ISSS 2021

Transformation pathways

A. STRUGGLE AND BREAKTHROUGH

After inception originates a desire, a long struggle for change follows and then a fast breakout and establishment 

– To understand these best, think of examples in different circumstances from your experience, personal, business, world, or in nature. 

For the transformation to an Ecological-Civilization there’s the barrier of needing to introduce people to something very new.  If we study examples of how transformations happen in our memory we can find ways to convince people to explore what’s possible.

 

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B. FORMING NEW LIVES

the universal stages of growth and adaptation that create new systems with lives of their own, small, medium, large, in a permissive environment.

Studied carefully, it’s possible to use nature’s own method of building new systems to guide our long-term path, showing us how to move forward from growth.  Stage One of new lives is the germination of a seed pattern followed by a start-up burst of development when the new life defines itself as an individual. For enterprises it’s the handshake that sets things in motion and its period of rapid growth. Stage Two is for a new life to find its lasting place, maturing as it adapts to both internal and external limitst, Arriving at it peak of vitality ready for Stage Three, its long creative life. The curves tracing this story line are highly generalized, as are the terms used, but any startup faces these challenges.

Once you get the idea it’s astounding how many kinds of familiar transformations, on all scales, follow this natural system-building process for new lives.  For projects large and small we execute our plans first starting with a concept, then working it till it is ready for its climax environment, — individuation followed by maturation and fulfillment  

  1. The start of new life is a “germ,” “spark,” or “seed” pattern, a vision or a fertilized egg, that soon starts to multiply on its internal resource and organize its internal parts, usually in a very protected and forgiving environment.  For a human embryo that’s its womb, for an Eco-civilization it’s the virgin earth, giving us whatever we wanted for a long long time.
  2. Then along with a dramatic change of environment at the limit to growth, there’s a change of life — a “turn forward” to maturing to make new relationships.  Like birth, the end of compound growth is a perilous change requiring a great change in relations, resources, and expectations, a big test of survival a system’s will-to-live. It’s called the “turn forward” because attention turns from extrapolating from the seed to making a mature life in the future, in a more challenging environment.
  3. For our newborn Eco-Civilization, hitting the limits to growth comes as a complete surprise, and will take the emergence of a great will-to-live, and lots of work to pass nature’s universal test of survival for new lives. Most of the human population is still blind to the profound change at hand and thinks growth is life, and that overcoming our troubles will be like returning to the past.  It won’t BE THAT AT ALL!  We’re heading for mature life, which given nature’s ways could be far better.

As humans, we have distinct advantages for charting our course. We have loads of experience in giving birth to all kinds of systems and giving them lives of their own. Personal relationships are one, requiring that we follow each step in the process and making good choices about going too slow or too fast, among other things. Making dinner is another, needing to be lovingly imagined, assembled, and perfected to serve its purpose. Both home and office projects fit the model too, starting with a seed that grows and is made to fit into the world around it.

So the fact that large systems go through much the same birthing process as small systems is a new discovery. To manage the end of growth for our Eco-civilization will call for all our personal wisdom for what’s right to help us understand what’s too slow and too fast, among other things, for the transition to an Eco-Civilization.

It will also have to do with money, so tied up in driving what seems like a growth imperative for civilization to operate, but is really just a choice of what to invest in. And now we need to invest in better things, like #FAIR_Money.

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C. Three Horizons:

Allows different people to think of working on different paths, which all work out together naturally. Small steps needed for bigger ones, big strategies that make room smaller ones,  things to wind down, things to build up, temporary measures for both.

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D. Panarchy Adaptive Cycle

Based on forest of cultural succession.  A very loose model, much of it misleading for transforming our growth system.  Might be applicable to the progress of humanity through its long series of failed civilizations, making cultural progress all along.  Might be applicable to the ebb and flow of the ‘forests’ of political and intellectual fashion as some of us stumble around trying to imagine the future and others find ever more dastardly ways to say NO.

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D. Doughnut Economics:

A wonderfully intuitive model, starting with local innovation in designing for internal human needs and external responsibilities builds familiarity with the natural system model of cells in the environment, envisioned to extend to our whole world to take better care of ourselves and the planet. Join the movement.

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E. Ever-growing systemic crises.

The only way to address our global limits is with global coordination, and for many things global coordination is absent. The nine planetary bounds referred to in Doughnut Economics are certainly critical, but there are a great many others going unmentioned, equally critical. These include:

  1. escalating disaster risks due to overdevelopment and climate change
  2. the growing long-term economic damage to capital resources,
  3. government problem-solving failures
  4. growing governmental lust for power
  5. aging & inflexibility of ever more interdependent and complex systems
  6. growing social polarization, ….. and other great systemic world crises.

Here’s my long list of planetary boundaries we are rapidly crossing, my Top 100+ Global Crises Growing with Growth.   It is based on collecting lists from high-level reports, the major crises getting brief notice in the news, and my own description of flashpoints of unsustainable systemic change. Here’s a link to the 2021 Global Risks Report.

It is my belief that these kinds of growing systemic threats can only be reversed by a movement of global business and investors choosing to shift resources from pushing the harmful limits of wealth to fitting in with a healthy world society and environment.

New systems science, how to care for natural uncontrolled systems in context