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The most important insight I have learned so far in my life is balance.


The idea came from my study of the nature of change (dynamics). Dynamics is the outcome of positive feedback loops (reinforcing loops) and negative feedback loops’ (counteracting loops, or balancing loops) interaction. Sometimes reinforcing loop is the strongest, producing growth or drop behaviour. But the growth or drop would not continue forever. It would slow down, indicating that counteracting loop becomes dominant. When there is reinforcing loop, there is counteracting loop; when there is larger reinforcing loop, there is larger counteracting loop; when there is strong reinforcing behaviour, there will be stronger balancing behaviour. That seems to be nature of change.


This reminds me of the traditional Chinese philosophy. Traditional Chinese philosophy contained primitive ideas of dynamics(易), positive and negative forces’ interaction (陰陽), balance/moderation(中道、中庸), relationship between extremity and regime shift (物極必反).

Balance is not only about engineering control theory or Socio-Ecological system dynamics. Think about homeostasis in personal health.

It is not only Chinese who notice it, i.e. there is idiom called “Feast or Famine”(時飽時餓,不是太多就是太少,不是極好就是極差,好壞不定的).

From the perspective of society, neither feast nor famine is desired. We usually prefer no more, no less—just—enough, and keeps it forever.


Naturally, while counteracting loop will balance back diverging(偏離) condition of reinforcing loop, due to the inherent delays, the correction may produce big swing as illustrated in Figure (a), or even regime shift (environment changes permanently, old way not works anymore). This may not be desired.
Figure (a) and (b)
Ideally, we might like to find equilibrium level and stick with it. There are three issues with this ideal: First, it is very hard, if not impossible, to ascertain(確定) equilibrium level accurately; Second, when there is shock, environment changes, equilibrium level changes again; Third, and the most fatal, inherent delays (stocks) can only be reduced but not eliminated completely. Therefore, the best we can do is to minimise the amplitude of oscillation like in Figure (b), so that rise and fall will be in relative peaceful (smooth) way.

In other words, being moderate does not mean we must find the exact middle point(中間點). It would be more like balance the condition back when we detect current condition becomes extreme. There will always be fluctuations—no worry about boring.


This is an era loss of ideology. Communism? Gone. Capitalism? Failing… What else can we refer to?

The problem of ideology/faith is people. People have tendency to like to take a principle to extreme. “Drink water is good for health.” Okay, so to keep healthy, I drink water as much as I can, but then I get sick. Why? “Too much water, water intoxication!” My goodness!

If people must have one single principle to simplify thinking (reasoning), I would recommend moderation.

It is the safest principle, because even if it is taken to the extreme, moderationism is still “moderate in moderation”. Still moderate!

“It can also be recursive in that one should moderate how much they moderate (i.e. to not be too worried about moderating everything or not to try too hard in finding a middle [point]).” from Wikipedia.


And “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues”—unknown source.

In the zero-centered multi-dimensional space, moderation can be understood as moving around 0, not too positive (+ve) and not too negative (-ve).


Caveat:
There are many advices like “balance between A and B”, not every A and B is the balance/moderation of what I mean. Moderation is a general principle inducted (not deducted) from many cases of A and B but by no means exhaustive, some may only valid in their particular context while some are really universal and timeless. All inductions are wrong, but some are useful.

Also, moderation does not mean compromise, take middle ground between two opposite positions on fact (e.g. global warming). This is a logical fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation).


Moderation is likely the principle for sustainability.

It is becoming clear that current level of social security is too high for some countries to sustain.
Besides increasing taxes for social security (as well as narrowing down rich-poor gap, strengthen society and democracy), social security level will need to be “de-leveraged” to society’s “debt/economic fundamental level” for some “over-leveraged” societies.
The question is how to do it?

People need time to adapt. And this is a new “social security contract”, people did not prepare for this new state beforehand. It would be not fair to carry out it drastically – prepare for political revolutions or even wars.
So what can we do?

My idea: “de-leverage” retirement pension scheme in gradually increasing manner based on age.
For example, assuming the society’s “debt/economic fundamental level” can support 40% of the original amount of retirement pension and the statutory retirement age is 60 years:
People aged 60 years or above will still get 100% of the original amount of retirement pension.
People aged 59 years (1 more year to retire) will get 98%.
People aged 58 years (1 more year to retire) will get 96%.

People aged 30 years (1 more year to retire) will get 40%.
People aged below 30 years can stick to 40% of the original amount or devise new “social security contract” based on society’s new vision of future.

What do you think? Any unintended consequence? Inputs welcomed.

When you have economic contraction you also have a substantial contraction of the trust horizon. This deprives political institutions at the national and international level of the trust that would give them political legitimacy. They become stranded assets from a trust perspective. People no longer internalize the rules that those institutions are attempting to impose. The response is typically surveillance, coercion, and repression. This picture basically suggests that it is pointless to look for solutions from the top down. It is not solutions that will come from the top down but more problems.

So politicians typically make a bad situation worse as expensively as possible.


from a quote of this article.


My idea:
How about promote a culture that president who failed to be re-elected will still be welcomed to contend in the presidental election in the future?
This should encourage those in top position make the “worse before better” tough decision. If his/her decision is wise, he/she will be more likely to get re-elected when the effects manifest.

Policy makers need to be allowed to try.

The motivation of writing this post comes from the discussion of religion in the comments section (at the end) of this post. Actually I have a plan to write it as a paper, but consider myself is still a beginner of Taoism philosophy and my English is not good enough to express Taoism terms, I have only drafted it in Chinese. In that book-style blog I also posted my view on reality, which I think is the only thing we have to believe and then the rest (including moral) can be derived from science and reasoning (Tao). This forms a complete philosophy of life that can replace religious dogma.

Key ideas:


  1. Yi (易) means “change” or “dynamics”. There is a classic text called I Ching (易经 in Simplified Chinese, 易經 in Traditional Chinese), also known as “Book of Changes”. It is a compilation of ancient Chinese wisdom when they tried to make sense of the change keep running around them. Unfortunately it is very old and so very obscure. It may be a divination book but contain ancient Chinese understanding of dynamics. In System Dynamics context, it can be interpreted as “behaviour”, as in Behaviour Over Time (BOT) graph.
  2. Tao (道), literally means “way” or “principle”, but I think it is better be understood as “principle of how nature works” or just simply “nature” or “science”. In System Dynamics context, it can be interpreted as “structure”, or more accurately, “building blocks of System Dynamics”, “principles of System Dynamics (science of change)”. It also includes evolution, science of change on organisms. The classic text of Tao is Tao Te Ching (道德经 in Simplified Chinese, 道德經 in Traditional Chinese).
  3. Note the word Te (德) in Tao Te Ching, which means “virtue” or “moral”. Chinese usually use compound word dàodé (道德) to mean “morality”, “principles of ethics”), showing close relationship of science and morality. Modern research on evolution of morality also tries to explain morality from evolutionary perspective.

Therefore, these three key ideas become the basis of a comprehensive philosophy of life that might be essential for achieving global vision. The philosophy requires critical thinking, which demand wisdom. To improve wisdom, need to tackle nurture as well as nature.

What do you think? I would like to hear your comment.

One of the reason people are not motivated to cooperate is lack of global vision. Avoidance of something worse is not enough. People would rather grip what they have right now even though they know it becomes worse tomorrow. To motivate, there have to be something more attractive than present if they act. And actually it is exactly what will happen if we change – we would be better off, happier, our civilization will be far more advanced, and we will be able to go out of the Earth.

Yes, out of the Earth, you hear it correctly. We (The Earth’s Biosphere) need not be constrained by the limits of Earth forever. We will be better diversifying ourselves to multiple planets/outer space’s living spaces if anything happens to the Earth, Sun, or even Galaxy. We will be better prepared to meet extraterrestrial beings. This is the dream of humanity, popular in 1960s but fading afterwards. We waste precious time by dealing with symptoms of our own problems so that they keep dragging us from progress.

Thus to realise this vision we have to really resolve our problems, unite, to release our full potentials so that we can get full ingenuity apply to this challenge. It is so much waste for so many population but under-develop; genetic or cultural diversity becomes source of conflicts instead of source of ingenuity; precious slow-renewable resources and time wasted on conflicts rather than for going out of the Earth. If we collapse now, then the Biosphere have to wait for a long time for slow-renewable resources to recover and then the next emergent (and hopefully wiser) life can utilize them to make the breakthrough.

One important point: even if we have succeeded to go out of the Earth, never damage the Earth. The Earth is still the best place for us. It is where we come into being and evolve, therefore the environment is the most suitable living condition to us. It is our base for diversify, so we should sustain it as long as possible. Not to mention we are not ready to go out of the Earth yet. I don’t see any reason why we should not act to sustain our base, exploit our full potentials to maximize our (life’s) chance of existence. It is how the world works (dynamics, evolution).

P.S. When writing this post I discover the debates of terraforming and its ethical concerns. It led me to think that what should we act if we encounter extraterrestrial beings. Life is reconcilable if we can find something in common, for example, we are actually from the same origin because both of us are the product of terraforming by other extraterrestrial beings in different planets a long time ago. Then it immediately appears to me that by enlarging our scope, shared prosperity is always possible.

Human beings face crisis of collapse because lack of wisdom. We are smart/intelligent (小聪明), but not wise enough (大智慧).

So to address the root cause we need to improve our wisdom. Where does our wisdom come from? Nature or nurture?

Now we know that


This question was once considered to be an appropriate division of developmental influences, but since both types of factors are known to play such interacting roles in development, most modern psychologists and anthropologists consider the question naive—representing an outdated state of knowledge.

Thus, to improve our wisdom we need to improve both – tackle the nurture (heavy invest in education), as well as tackle the nature (such as rich pay poor for not to give birth) to halve the effort. Only then we have higher chance of success.

Please consider.

Growth->overshoot->collapse is natural mechanism of evolution to select quality by quantity growth. Because of delays, organism tends to overshoot and so collapse eventually. Due to the love of human beings, we should not wait for natural feedback loops to improve ourselves in suffering manner but to consciously develop quality improvement mechanism ourselves by creating quick feedback loops:


  • Rich pay poor for not to give birth
  • Currently education is under investment, for developing human potential to care about others and critical thinking. More investment needs to be diverted from health care and national security investment.
  • democracy – example of quick feedback loop to keep policy makers in check, already widely available. There is still room for improvement, especially in the global level.
  • encourage mixed marriage, relax migration, let all people learn from each others.
  • quick signals and responses – collect and publish information about environment, society and economy conditions regularly. Plan in advance what to do if signal runs out of desirable range.

If successful, this will be a great leap of humanity.

This is the focus question I am researching. Unless we can find out the root cause and so solution, we can only rely on luck.

One side effect of stabilizing population by restraining birth rate is slower change of people’s mindsets, because reduced flows of young people who are catalyze of change. In other words, society becomes more conservative. This can be good or bad, depends on how useful the dominant people’s mindset is in coping with environmental change.

Suddenly realise that the high leverage point of sustainability is actually people’s childhood life. A happy childhood with love and care promotes care about others, willingness to share, trust, compassion and ethics. Compare a child in Norway and a child in Somalia.

Of course, more researches are needed to establish the link. For example, what kind of childhood experience promotes / hinders sustainability? How it works (the mechanism)?

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