ADAPT or COLLAPSE, Transform or Emerge

Reading the comments in this post/thread depressed me more than anything I have read in months. I am forced to get this out of my head, NOW [ 4/29/2016 ], as I am about to write about a chapter of a book read a few days ago – that was the MOST encouraging thing I have read in many months.  I am writing this before reading the thread again – and I may have mis-read.

[ 5/6/2016 ] In the week since I composed the following there have been many more comments added to the thread, including an interesting diversion into folk music. Yet, there was a return to the initial theme about collapse/emergence and CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems).

WE ARE NOT COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS. We are much more. CAS is one of many conceptual models we can apply in our attempts to comprehend “reality” in ways to be useful. Ontology is confused with Epistemology. CAS ignores creative intervention and doesn’t distinguish between transformation and emergence. Humans, in our yet very early stage of evolution/emergence shouldn’t be making claims about objective reality. Such claims, unfortunately embedded in many human languages, is one source of the dysfunction of humankind. CAS may be a very useful tool, to be used in conjunction with other tools.

That all human social/societal activity is materially rooted in the behavior of individual human bodies/brains/minds doesn’t locate a “causal origin” at the level of local human behavior. Information effecting the development of each human individual, from birth to death, contributes strongly to who that person grows up to be and how they will behave (adapt) to their momentary environments. The primary “free-will” agency of humans is not adaptation, but spontaneous, creative insights that modify adaptation/behavior patterns. There are “causal flows” up and down the nested/networked living system holarchy, from organelle to humankind.

What I concluded (on my first reading of this thread) was many persons proposing that the often expressed concern about “collapse” was probably overblown and somehow wrong. I agree that we should avoid hysteria or panic about potential collapse, and that for 5 decades I have championed thinking that humankind can survive/thrive. Indeed, my life mission is to catalyze a process that will ensure multi-millennial survival/thrival of humanity/Gaia. My overall approach is positive and hopeful; but I don’t suppress information about relevant dangers. We are not destined to succeed; we might fail. I felt that the advice was to “relax”, life always adapts, births follow deaths, “all will be well, eventually”. I recognize that contributors view themselves a change agents, and who will continue to be active for positive causes.

I will avoid attempting to define “collapse”. Species do go extinct – after collapse. More species are extinct than now live. Civilizations and societal organizations have collapsed, or ceased to exist. Most didn’t recover, although descendants of some persons did, eventually, reorganize. In that it is scientifically invalid to objectively rank “things” except one dimension at a time, we cannot objectively say that humankind today has “overall” progressed in relation to past eras. We have a lot that is new, both good and bad.

I claim no knowledge about what WILL happen about our Human/Gaian Crisis-of-Crises. All I know comes from the analysis of reports, from often conflicting sources. There are many hypothesized endgames.  The worst is a shift to a Venus-like global heating that wipes out all life, except possibly those that today already live at high temps. At a somewhat  “lesser” level, most multi-celled life could be wiped out – and by “adaptive” processes, multi-celled life might emerge, again, a billion years later.

These extremes cannot be calculated as improbable, as we lack the requisite data to make the calculations. Today I saw a map of the Earth with different climate zones if we increased 4 degrees C above “normal”. We could adapt to grow food on the Antarctic peninsula and in the Arctic. Winds are increasing in force, and doing great damage, and the floods, fires, landslides! What do we know about the distribution of winds and floods (“weather”) during different climate eras? Today, the fact, that most regions devastated by natural disasters are not recovering, is not reported. We are only beginning to experience the local effects of climate change. Our globalized supply chains render us highly fragile. If we weren’t facing severe Earth Changes (beyond Climate Change), a collapse of global civilizations would eventually “adapt” (but lacking the easily available natural resources we had for our first emergence).

Our sun may be entering a cooling phase, which would provide a bit more time to do what we need to do. We avoided prior forecast collapses by technological innovations in food production to counter population increases. Will we be able to do it again? Do you want to gamble? The 1972 Limits of Growth forecast is actually on track. Do you witness exponential growth of positive developments within human systems? All positive improvements plateau. “Exemplars never enter mainstream on their own merits.” Technology fixes some things, but causes other problems. I have recently concluded that the sci/tech of systems with humans as components  is many orders of magnitude behind the sci/tech of non-human systems. Human systems have become more dangerous as they use hitech with outmoded models about human nature and human change. We don’t know who we are, but believe we do.

The systems that emerge from adaptation are not necessarily good. One billion humans living “well” in hi tech domes with wastelands between, which I speculate is a goal for some psychopathic leaders, is not an adaptation I look forward to. I have not explicitly studied CAS theory, but what I read from its adherents, they minimize the role of creative intervention.  We are in this mess because of misguided human intervention, and it may take more intervention to turn things around – so we might relax in a future time when adaptation can again be the OK rule. The metaphor I use for “these times” is attempting to create a wagon train to cross high mountains in the winter, seeking “California” on the other side. With foresight, our expedition can be reeee (relevant, effective, efficient, enjoyable, elegant).

It was the next-to-last chapter in Peers INC by Robin Chase that recently moved me with positive HOPE.  Robin presents a workable model for a new means of living (I want to avoid the term, “economy”), that has the potential to rapidly scale – globally, and possibly moderate the Climate Crisis (of which she is very well informed). I am continually being excited by new discoveries leading to new insights of how dysfunctional humankind can transit (not morph) into a sustainable humanity. However, Robin’s proposed model is the first I have learned of that can be applied by both the dying societal caterpillar (civilization) and by the creatively emergent societal butterfly (NU Humanity).

Actually, in my model, it is only the human systems that undergo societal metamorphosis. The material, infrastructure systems are transformed. Peers INC (or P4P – Platforms for Participation) is the first, workable model for rapid, global infrastructure transformation I have encountered. I have reasons to doubt that contemporary social/societal systems can transform to possess requisite competencies to guide the infrastructure transformation – which is why I promote Human System Metamorphosis.

Yet, Peers INC will not be sufficient. Indeed, Robin’s position in 2007 was basically the same as in her 2015 book. The P4P, Peers INC movement may also plateau. The benefits of Peers INC may not be recognized or valued.

I read another significant book between writing and editing this post.  Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.