Archive for October 11, 2011

The Dodo, Closed Loops and the Nature of Change

October 11, 2011 4 comments

One of the favorite delusions of CONservatives is based on the belief that things can only change so much and systems regress to some historical “natural” mean. This is often used to justify CONservative wet dreams such as extreme income inequality, de facto slavery, genocide and other popular CONservative memes.

I have previously mentioned that complex systems are not linearizable or reversible and that evolution is based on attrition- not optimization. CONservatives cannot however grasp concepts such as probability, randomness, dumb luck and unpredictable consequences.

I shall now explain my views on complex system stability with a case study of the now extinct ‘dodo‘ bird.

We have all heard phrases such as ‘dead as a dodo’ or ‘gone the way of the dodo’. But have you ever wondered why the dodo was able to survive as a species for over a million years- albeit on an isolated island (Mauritius) in the Indian ocean? Can you consider the dodo an evolutionary failure if it survived for that long, especially considering that we (H.sapiens) has been around for a fraction of that time?

Some of you might say that evolving on a relatively predator-free island was asking for trouble. But look at it another way: How many animal/bird species which evolved on large continents under ‘competitive’ conditions went extinct during the same time-span? Since evolution is written by those who survive, we must conclude that the ‘dodo’ was more successful than all Australopithecines, H. erectus and H. neanderthalensis. Furthermore, it might have still been alive if humans had not started to sail across oceans.

In my opinion- the evolution, survival and extinction of the ‘dodo’ is a good example of how things work in a closed loop system. The terrestrial part of Mauritius was a partially closed ecosystem from its creation about 10 million years ago until 1507-1511. While it had been occasionally visited by Arabs and probably other seafaring people before that, the frequency of their visits and extent of activity was not sufficient to cause any ecological disruption on that island.

The dodo birds were well adapted to conditions on that island and therefore just kept going on like a well designed piece of background software on a stable operating system. There was simply no real threat to their existence as a species until the early 1500s.

Ask yourself the following questions-

1. Would Japan, also a closed island society- albeit human, have partially modernized until they were forced to? If things were left up to the ‘natural’ course of events, they would still full of meek rice farmers and a few people wielding katanas. Any real change requires the destruction of the old ways and its ardent supporters.

2. Could Feudalism, Divine Rights of Monarchy, Slavery etc have ended in a system that kept looping itself? While we can now say that they were really bad ideas, most people who lived during times believed that was the normal. Similarly most people who crapped and pissed in the open thereby causing epidemics, constant infection and ill-health would have kept doing it till eternity if the industrial revolution had not intervened.

Change requires breaking established loops and getting rid of those who benefit from the old status quo.

You cannot preserve the old ways or reform them. Now this does not mean that you have to burn down the whole world to change it. However significant partial destruction is inevitable. It is also worthwhile to remember that in the large scheme of things, nothing is special- Everything Burns.

PS: Agents of change are more like the Joker than Batman.