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The Longest Now

failure modes
Saturday June 26th 2004, 11:15 am
Filed under: indescribable

I’d like to spare a few words to address failure modes in nature, life, and society. Occasions when great potential vanishes, powerful forces cancel eachother out, or metastable situations shift suddenly, with speed and force. Suggest a few of your own…

It’s interesting to note the difference between a ‘positive’ dramatic shift, and a philosophical ‘failure mode’ — from the perspective of a cool-headed system of dynamic equations, they are mirror images of one another; run time backwards and you get the other kind of shift. On the other hand, in all but the most fundamental natural shifts, these two look very different… flash-freezing of a waterfall, or the spontaneous creation of order — the conversion of a mass of identical slime mold cells into a large, functional, three-dimensional sporophyte over the course of hours — feels very different to me than an avalanche, the cataclysmic collapse of land above a fault line, or the eruption of a volcano.

But not all failure modes are bad; they are merely modes which produce the “failure” of an equilibrium, despite — perhaps too quickly for — normal equilibrium forces that would counteract such change.

  • Nature – cascade effects (minor tipping points, hundredth monks), strongly polarized equilibria (tectonic shifts [ice ages?], atmospheric shifts), chaotic ‘equilibria’ (many-body states, multiple-attractors, Earth’s magnetic field)
  • Life – sudden zeal; sudden repulsion; suicide (outside of society, as opposed to say hari-kari; by the talented and powerful), death by shock, primogenesis
  • Society – quick meme transmission (witch hunts, the children’s crusade & other youth brigades, modern Japan clothes trends), collapse of good ‘sustainable’ organizations (Greco-Roman theology), traditions, species (var.; ‘need for change’?)

Should I be worried that something bad happened?

Comment by j 06.26.04 @ 11:37 pm

Many bad things have happened. Do you worry about the ones you know of?

Comment by sj 06.28.04 @ 1:21 am

Here’s one: allogenic responses, immunological rejection of skin grafts and organ transplantation.

But they aren’t all bad, are they? What are paradigm shifts in thought? A change in the way our assumptions are composed, if you follow my train of thought.

Comment by Tuyen 06.28.04 @ 6:14 pm

Friends are *concerned* about bad things that *have* happened to people they care about, and *worry* about bad things they *fear* have happened to those people. And then, naturally, they want to know more in order that they might help. Ca va toi?

Comment by Patricia 06.28.04 @ 11:53 pm

… but friends also *ignore* bad things that have happened to *large numbers* of people they care about, because what are you going to do about bad things of that magnitude? am I right? likewise for worrying about bad things you fear have or will or might happen to large numbers of people? Does it make you worry more or less when you are one of the people in that large number?

t – there are neutral and positive paradigm shifts in thought; one hopes that they are not consistently and energetically opposed. there are also negative paradigm shifts — renunciation of what was known to be true and valid, in favor of what was known to be false and invalid… is there no difference between these shifts?

Comment by sj 06.29.04 @ 9:00 pm

i’m not so sure there are good and bad directions; that realization may come after, the ole history/time will tell argument. to assume there was/is might be to assume a teleologic perspective.

now, i’m not so sure your equations are right either, but you’re in the physicist and i defer. in nature, there is a tendency towards chaos, not order; entropy increases? which might be why a crystalline structure can be so beautiful, or a frozen waterful. in a group of people too, order requires effort and may not be a natural equilibria. articificial structures (philosophies, trends) that are easily reinforced (i.e., simplification) may have and easier time being propagated.

but this is different from immunology. away from the metaphysics, back to failure modes and autoimmune diseases…

Comment by Tuyen 06.29.04 @ 10:07 pm

SJ- It’s difficult to discuss such a topic succinctly at this level of abstraction, but I do think Stalin’s view that “one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic” grossly underestimates our moral numeracy.

Ceteris paribus, I think that more people being hurt results in more concern and action. Now, there’s a lot of ceteris that has to be paribus, including:
– Degree of caring. Influenced by kinship, friendship, similarity, reciprocity rules, etc.
– Ability to change the bad things
– Cost of intervention. In the extreme this could be physical danger, or as little as some opportunity cost

But perhaps I am too optimistic. And certainly waaaay off on a tangent to your original topic.

Comment by Patricia 06.30.04 @ 12:43 pm

Re: “more people being hurt results in more concern…” — people shun disasters and possibilities they don’t know how to cope with, or how to comprehend. There is a social effect here also; the less people around you cope with or comprehend a disaster, the more difficult it is for you (even if you don’t need them to act with you). A small-scale example, if you will forgive me, is a thousand unfettered people being herded to death by twenty.

On larger scales, it is enough for a disaster to affect everyone equally, for most to be resigned to it. If it gets bad enough, someone will stop it. Or maybe it can’t be stopped. *I* don’t have time to deal with it… I’m so tired when I get home at the end of the day! And I really need to find more time to read. I used to love mystery novels, but recently I’ve been so busy… maybe this summer, when I have a few spare weeks, I’ll catch up on my reading.
Oh, and there’s that SPCA meeting I have to go to this weekend — thanks for reminding me.

Comment by sj 07.01.04 @ 10:54 am

Appreciation to my father.

Comment by Ute Ujano 04.11.14 @ 6:02 pm

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