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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.

Characteristic of ‘directional’ change: steadily accumulating underneath (invisible), until it meets threshold (crisis), then a minor tip is enough to shift abruptly to a new regime.

There are several good points about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in this paper:


  • the notion of linking knowledge, values, perspectives, and skills/bahaviour (the head, the heart, the hands)… It [ESD] must connect the head to the heart to the hands [I would rephrase it as “connect the heart (value) to the head (reasoning, knowledge) to the hands (action)”].
  • Ultimately the benefit [effectiveness] of ESD must be measured in terms of change behaviour.
  • Education is not sufficient, but it is certainly necessary… reject the notion that either we educate or we use regulation and economic policy instruments.
  • [Some discussions about funding and political setback. It seems to me that the top-down approach of UN Decade for ESD failed to create sustainable commitment to ESD in individual nation or local level. Some things to do.]
  • It would be serious error to ignore the profound shifts in culture and social structure that are already underway in all parts of the globe. [People tends to overlook culture/paradigm shift because it is invisible / less salient, although the accumulation is ongoing and will create surprise when it is large enough to create visible shift to new state. So actually what we educators do is to keep accumulation, speed up the accumulation.]


His presentation is also inspiring:


ESD must:

  • be experiential, inquiry-based, place based, and action-oriented
  • teach students to think in systems terms
  • explain inter-relationships between ecosystems and social systems (including the economy, culture etc)
  • inspire concern for fellow humans and for the biosphere (which makes all life possible)
  • strengthen capacity to think and act for the future and not only for the present


These should be should familiar to System Dynamics/Systems Thinking educators.



Technologies for sustainability leadership

  • facilitation (leader as facilitator)
  • collaborative decision making
  • vision-based strategic action thinking and planning
  • scenario planning (including computer modeling of future scenarios)


I like the idea leader as facilitator, while facilitation for envisioning, scenario planning and collaborative decision making are basic elements of group modelling building.

from an Ecology Letters paper.

Regime shift is a scientific jargon to describe phenomena where direction of the change abruptly change (surprise!), shifting from one state to another, after passing tipping point. For example, an elastic rubber ring can be stretched longer and longer, but once the stretching passing its limit, it will snap suddenly. The rubber ring change from one state (a complete ring) to another state (broken ring), and cannot recover anymore.

Now the question is, is this finding applicable to other complex dynamic structures, like economy, climate, sustainability?

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