Sometimes I wander the Dark Forest of Twitter like Kipling’s Elephant’s Child and pester the twitterati with my bothersome ‘satiable curtiousity…Sometimes I just drift in the datastream, soaking up information.
But this week I had an especially annoying question–
Why would you play a game that you can never win? An expensive game?
One answer I got was “survival”– another answer was “have to do something”. The reason I ask is because America played this game before– in VietNam. And there is no “winning” for America in this. The only way to win is not to play.
In VietNam US understood fairly early that it was playing a game it could never win (for example, the “crossover point” is Xeno’s paradox: US could never kill enough VietCong to make them give up, even by dropping 640 Hiroshimas on them). But US continued playing exactly the same way until the electorate of the US realized VietNam was a CAT game and withdrew support. This occurred partly because of Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers, and partly because of television and the draft. The war became non-costviable. The current war on the Islamic State will end the same way– once the electorate realizes the war is unwinnable they will withdraw support…or possibly Econopalypse 2.0 arrives first. And the gamespace is even more biased towards the Islamic State than it was towards the Cong– regional population demographics for Sunni youth will provide an endless resupply of recruits for the State until well past midcentury. Also social media connectivity continuously frags the US narrative that “we are winning, honest we are.”
The core problem with the ceaseless US attempt to impose secular capitalist democracy and western moral values on indigenous populations in third world countries is it can never work. Because the coarsest scale of homo sapiens sapiens is ALWAYS strictly greater than 1. We are not all one. There are no universal human rights. There are no universal moral values. There are only organism level rights and values. And that is what we call in mathematics an impossible problem. And in reality it is called an unwinnable war.
Which brings us to the study of non-elephants.
“…On the other hand, no general theory for large non-equilibrium systems exists. The legendary Hungarian mathematician John Von Neuman once referred to the theory of non-equilibrium systems as the “theory of non-elephants” meaning there could be no unique theory of such a vast area of science.” Per Bak, How Nature Works
Now in the 21st century, a sizable chunk of the math/science community is doing just that– devoting itself to the study of non-elephants in order to advance science and mathematics. We stand on the shoulders of giants– Benoit Mandelbrot, Per Bak, Yaneer Bar Yam, Von Neuman and Feynman. And Michael Baranger.
The paradigms of sandpile collapse, avalanches, complexity, emergence and self-organizing criticality likely extend from subatomics to galaxies and metaverses…but the places where humanity could most benefit are the studies of climatology and conflict. We simply have to stop poisoning ourselves and killing each other. And for US in MENA, that means leaving the Game.
Chaos is a very big subject. There are many technical papers. Many theorems have been proved. But complexity is much, much bigger. It contains lots of ideas which have nothing to do with chaos. Chaos is basically pure mathematics, and by now it is fairly well-known. Complexity is almost totally unknown still. It is not really math. It is more like theoretical physics, or theoretical anything. Of course, once it is in good shape, it will use a lot of math, perhaps a lot of new math. So the field of chaos is a very small subfield of the field of complexity. Perhaps the most striking difference between the two is the following. A complex system always has several scales. While chaos may reign on scale n, the coarser scale above it (scale n−1) may be self-organizing, which in a sense is the opposite of chaos.
Perhaps complex systems, such as biological systems, manage to modify their environment so as to operate as much as possible at this edge-of-chaos place, which would also be the place where self-organization is most likely to occur. It makes sense to expect self-organization to happen when there are strong long-range correlations.
We think we live in an equilibrium world– even the stock market and US wars could be modelled as periodic equilibria–but thats because our lives are so short. What if the Non-elephants are really examples of what Dr Sean Carroll calls slow life? What if their “hearts” beat only once every millenia or two? Interesting times indeed.