03 May, 2013

The Parable of the Flood

Addendum to Explanation via Chaos (see below or click here to read it)

This paper on High Anxieties: The Mathematics of Chaos, most certainly took the reactionary position of the programme makers on the current crisis, and indeed crises in general, and revealed it as a one sided view on such major systemic overturns which are generally termed Emergences.

There is no doubt that all the revelations were of this one-way nature, and hung everything on the “unavoidable tendency of complex systems to descend into Chaos” in these sorts of circumstances. What was concentrated on as a basis was, as you might expect, the seemingly stable and predictable situations, which suddenly and inexplicably dissolved into totally inexplicable Chaos.

Surprisingly, it seems, the culprit was nature itself, which was insisted on as being subject to such calamities whatever anyone did to avoid them.

Now, the theme of my criticism was to contrast this lop-sided analysis with the correct explanation of such cataclysms in general. Such “Emergences” are never wholly negative, and indeed display a revolutionary and progressive side when the destruction and replacement of the Old Level has been completed.

You would never guess that our commentators were talking about the same sort of Event, so I countered this miserable and pessimistic journey into the inexplicable, by briefly mentioning real Emergences, but it has become clear that most people, and our mathematicians in particular, do not even know what they are. For, I suppose, you cannot expect those who think the World is driven by mathematics to consider anything so intrinsically contradictory.

My previous paper was perhaps too determined by the actual narrative and intentions of David Malone – the main designer, director and presenter of the programme. Because of this, my counter arguments did not do justice to the real story that was so evidently mis-told by this group of mathematicians and their associates.

This addendum should perhaps redress the balance, and at some stage be woven into the main paper, with a more co-ordinated attempt to deflect it from Malone’s whirlpool agenda, and instead redirect it in a much more positive direction, by revealing the general nature of real development, and its more revolutionary interludes which we call Emergences.

The basis of all the turning point Events in development has to be the maturing of an included, if hidden, instability in any evolving holistic system. In such processes many contending things are changing and growing or declining, but, in the main, the system tends to be self-correcting or self-maintaining, and stays within what we might call a Stable Interlude. Because of this various regularities are maintained and are even termed Laws because of their persistence.

BUT, these interludes do NOT last forever, and such systems, due entirely to their own inner processes can, and do, approach “turning points” in which the seemingly permanent dominances are successively undermined by fast-growing forces, until the complete breakdown occurs. Yet, such are NOT the end of the World, but are certainly the end of the Old Regime. The turnover is because what were normally suppressed forces of dissolution (The Second Law of Thermodynamics) begin to grow at an increasing rate, the old stabilities haltingly, and then more swiftly, dissolve, and via a very turbulent and creative following period, a new Higher Level finally emerges.

A new stability is established, with much greater potential than the Old Level, and things become stable once more at a much higher Level.

There are myriads of these Emergences, but almost everyone is unaware of them. The understandability of the World is always seen as residing in the currently Stable Level, and its relations and Laws are assumed to be eternal. With this view the peculiar characteristic of Malone and company is basically in opposition to the maturing Event. To them it is solely a great calamity, with NO way out, and he and his co-thinkers can only see it from their standpoint of the “working and dependable past”.

Ideally then, they judge the impending chaos as a wholly bad thing, which should not be allowed to succeed. The Stable Past should be strengthened and maintained at all costs, because the alternative cannot be predicted and seems worryingly like the End of Everything. They would want a continuation of the prior stable circumstances, and its predictable outcomes. When what replaces this is the inexplicable and destructive it must be opposed! They are hence a mixture of despairing doom mongers and reactionary defenders of the past “Golden Age”. They must be compared to the political reactionaries in a Social Revolution, who will do anything to save the economy, the Czar or even the country, by any means possible. They see nothing but bad in the completion of the Emergent Event, and ONLY think in terms of, if possible, restoring the old regime, by all measures aimed at countering the headlong rush to what they see as complete dissolution.

I hope that, in the above, I did bring up the correct arguments at all the appropriate places in the positions of our Defenders of the Faith, but what is really needed is one (or more) sound analogues of a real Emergence, in contrast to such a one-sided description of a catastrophe. And, it is important, because the forces attempting to retain the increasingly bankrupt past may indeed win. They have done so many times before, with disastrous consequences. The aftermath of the 1929 crash not only lasted for many years but also produced aberrant growths to maintain the status quo such as Fascism and World War. A failed Emergence always produces a major breakdown – a “Dark Age”. History is packed with examples of this.

Now, if I were to use a Social Revolution or the Origin of Life on Earth as my defining example, it would not be accepted by the general mass of the population. They cannot be explained by any other means, but they would rather be considered by most as Catastrophes or Miracles rather than the usual “transition mode” for turn-around development. So, though I am tempted, and these would definitely suffice technically, I am sure that they would not be the best vehicles for “selling” Emergences for what they really are.

I therefore looked around for a parable of an Emergence: a story of development and change, which made abundantly clear sense and could be easily taken on. This meant that I could not position the story in the present, with all its political overtones and allegiances.

I decided to position my tale in Ancient Egypt.

The Flood

Towards the end of the Stone Age the once lush plains of North Africa were being consumed by the ever-encroaching sand of the hostile desert. The thinly-spread, hunter-gatherer family groups had to find a better place in which to survive, and throughout the whole once-fertile area the hopeful treks began. They had to find sufficient game and edible wild plants to feed their small family groups, so they travelled ever eastwards, towards the rising of the sun.

Yet everything continued to remain the same, or got even worse.

There seemed not a hint of improvement, so they had no choice but to carry on. Every day they moved on and east, surely the desert could not continue forever.

Then, one morning through a surprising and obscuring mist, they saw a distant line of green tall shapes.

They looked like trees, but how could that be, they were still in the midst of the unremitting desert. They hurried forwards with gathering speed. They really were trees – big, green healthy trees, packed with many fruit.

But there were thousands of them, as far as the eyes could see, in both directions. Then beyond the trees was another miracle. An enormous slow-flowing river lay across their path, welcoming them in.

As they got closer the desert beneath their dry and cracked feet began to vanish. The ground became covered in soft, green plants of all kinds, and at the river’s edge were tall swaying reeds, and hundreds of wild-fowl swam about, or fluttered into the trees. This indeed was a land of milk and honey. They were saved!

As the months passed, more and more small groups arrived at the river. They spread out along its banks. Built their homes from the trees and reeds, gathered the fruit, hunted the abundant game and wildfowl, made boats out of the reeds, caught fish and as much as hunter-gatherers could, they prospered!

But, the same climatic changes that were still continuing to enlarge the pitiless desert were also changing things on a global scale. The rains, that thousands of kilometres to the south produced this magnificent river, were changing their patterns too. The massive continents were heating-up and were causing the rains to be concentrated into a much shorter period, which came to be called the monsoon. Vast amounts of rain fell in a short period in the mountains of Ethiopia, and poured down every slope in myriads of growing streams. These quickly merged into raging torrents, carving their way through the soft earth, until they finally came together into a single flow, expanding the now mighty river to a prodigious size.

In the lush and peaceful valley of the Nile the new inhabitants of the land went about their daily tasks.

They were used to the river changing as the seasons passed, but whatever the time of year the generous river always remained.

But things had now changed dramatically, the seasonal rise in level was markedly different. The flow continued to increase beyond its usual limits, and the water began to spread outwards, threatening the new communities. The people sensed that their River might become dangerous. They gathered what they could and moved towards the nearby hills.

The river not only continued to increase in rate of flow, but also everywhere began to overflow its banks and consumed the each and every small settlement. The land of milk and honey had been drowned. 

It vanished beneath the waters.

The people watched from the high ground, and prayed that the waters would subside and return their paradise to them once again.

And then, it began to happen. The levels began to subside. The waters receded and a whole new land was revealed. For some distance on either side of the now quietening river, the flooding had severely soaked the land, AND covered it with a fine, rich mud – a mud that had been carried all the way from the mountains of Ethiopia.

As the people picked their way back towards their River, they noticed that already thousands of new plants were peaking through the mud. The returning people had not lost their paradise, but delivered of yet another miracle. The land was clearly even more fertile than before. The calamitous events, had turned out to be a blessing - a present from the Gods.

It did not take long for the people to intervene by planting their meagre collections of seeds into the ready earth. Instead of hard won handfuls of edible seeds, they could now produce sacks full of such bounty. Their yields were increased twenty-fold. And their lives were changed forever.

On these banks flowered one of the first and best civilisations of Antiquity. The populations soared and the assured plenty gave time for many new activities. Along this blessed River Mankind reached new heights, as had never before existed anywhere on the Earth.

BUT, let us consider a quite different story in exactly the same circumstances.

Let us rewind back to before the flood and consider a different course of events.

After the establishments of the first settlements, groups still coming in from the desert found the narrow fertile strips on either side of the river were already occupied.

There was no room for them. The people already there not only had fertile, well watered land, but had an abundance of fish and waterfowl in the fiver. Such unavailable plenty seemed unfair. Some decided that they had as much right to this wonderful place as anybody else and they would fight for it if necessary.

So that is what began to happen. Now, as new incomers found that they could defeat the incumbents, they also discovered that they couldn’t get as much out of the new opportunities as those they had defeated. It became obvious that a better way would be to reign over the established populations without “dirtying their hands” so to speak. The thing was not to supplant the existing population but to rule them and extract tribute. They could even set up a sort of protection racket, ensuring the “safety” of settlements for a reasonable fee. Of course, such “protection” would involve bodies of armed men, and would very soon become “those in charge”! As things developed these new rulers realised that they could maximise their cut by being masters of the river. So by war and boats they extended their control. Their mobility enabled them to travel up and down the river landing where necessary and quickly establishing their threat/protection relationship.

These masters of the Nile soon “owned” the whole New Land.

Now we must remember that we are still in the early quiescent stage of the settlement of the Nile.

We have to consider what effects the Flood would bring to these arrangements.

As the waters rose, the people would, as they did in our simpler version, move away from the river’s edge to higher ground. They had done this in the past whenever the river rose. But the rulers depended on their mastery of the river to maintain their realm. They did NOT abandon their means. They stayed on the river. The rising waters soon became a swift flowing torrent and the boat masters were swept out to sea and perished. The ordinary people however were unscathed, and in time came back to Their River, now restored to them as before, but greatly enhanced. The flood had not only removed their oppressors, but also delivered to them the miracle of vastly increased fertility and plenty. They now had in their hands a situation, which ensured their growth and progress as a people. In this land civilisation would flourish.


Now, how can such a story help us with the calamities of High Anxieties: the Mathematics of Chaos?

It can do it in the following way.

The Flood was an Emergence but was seen very differently by the two groups involved. The boat masters saw it ONLY as a mounting threat to their means of rule and tribute. They knew their power lay in their boats and weapons and stuck to them both like glue. They did not understand the mounting flood, and dearly hoped that they could survive if it subsided soon. But their clinging to such things led to their demise in the sea. Their view would have been throughout that the Event had released Chaos on their well-ordered World. They knew nothing of farming, they were a ruling class. Everything they saw could only be seen from that point of view.

NO positives were in evidence at all to them. If any survived, they would remember how it had destroyed their lives. They would be aware that Reality could inexplicably release uncontrollable Chaos upon them at any time.

But, in contrast, how would the farmers see the Flood?

They would remember it as the beginning of plenty. It was the reward from a generous deity for their hard work and invention. It had delivered the possibility of living much better and even having enough produce to trade with others. A civilisation was brought to them via the fabled Flood of Plenty. And it happened every year without fail.

Yet this was the exact same Flood that had brought Chaos and death.

Yes, it WAS an Emergence, wherein some balance of forces, which had shown itself in a form of stability, grew quickly towards an overturn beyond all its previous states. It had destroyed the Old, and created the New, at a higher, richer and better Level.

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