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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.

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.

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)?

This blog post tells a good example of my concept of learning. It is the most effective, as people look at the results using their eyes, comparing the results and reflect on the differences. Same input, different interventions, different outcomes. It must be due to the interventions! No cognitive conflict can be stronger than this. By explicitly pointing out this, again and again, people cannot escape but reflect.

If we have two earths (at least two human-hospitable planets), then we can run an experiment – one earth is like now, business as usual; and another earth changes to sustainable course. Wait and see them after Year 2050, we will learn that which one is better choice.

Unfortunately we don’t have another earth to learn. The best we can do is creating virtual earths, or modelling and simulation to test policy interventions. People who don’t like simulation outcome of a model can always complain about its assumptions, since model is never as perfect as the real world. But this is what the best human can do. Study the model as unbiased as possible, learn its usefulness and limitations, examine its assumptions and trace back to understand why the simulation outcome is like that (how the model results that simulation outcome). We can learn a lot even the model is not perfect.

Another way is to learn from history. Of course no history is identical. But similar to modelling and simulation, we can learn its usefulness (insights) and limitations (what may not apply). Understand why the history becomes like that is the most important gain of study history. Generally most of the insights are just repeating. If our civilization is collapsing again, it means we didn’t learn enough history.

… being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.

One interesting idea is the quadrants formed by self-regarding to other-regarding behaviours axis and novelty-seeking to tradition/conservation axis. He argued that our systems systematically encourage one narrow quadrant of self-regarding and novelty-seeking behaviour. Therefore the solution is not about changing human nature, but opening up the breadth of human possibilities.

… the only way to be sure of living in an attractive place is to be committed to the attractiveness of every place.


from this column.

balanced between economic, environmental and social; balanced among regions around the world; balanced between material and spiritual… (P.S. just like how you manage your health)

Imbalance is unsustainable.

This year’s Earth Overshoot Day just past few days ago – August 21.

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