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The Global Economy that sustains the civilized world is destroying the biosphere.  As a result, civilization, like the Titanic, it is on a collision course with disaster.  But changing course via the body politic appears to be well nigh impossible, given that much of the populace lives in denial.  Why is that?  And how did we get into such a fix?  
In this essay, biologists James Coffman and Donald Mikulecky argue that the reductionist model of the world developed by Western civilization misrepresents life, undermining our ability to regulate and adapt to the accelerating anthropogenic transformation of the world entrained by that very model.  An alternative worldview is presented that better accounts for both the relational nature of living systems and the developmental phenomenology that constrains their evolution. Development of any complex system reinforces specific dependencies while eliminating alternatives, reducing the diversity that affords adaptive degrees of freedom: the more developed a system is, the less potential it has to change its way of being.  Hence, in the evolution of life most species become extinct.  
This perspective reveals the limits that complexity places on knowledge and technology, bringing to light our hubristically dysfunctional relationship with the world and increasingly tenuous connection to reality.  The inescapable conclusion is that, barring a cultural metamorphosis that breaks free of deeply entrenched mental frames that made us what we are, continued development of the Global Economy will lead inexorably to the collapse of civilization.  
 Some more below the break.

An overview of the proposed book: “GLOBAL INSANITY: How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World”

About the authors: James A. Coffman is an Associate Professor at  Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine.and Donald C. Mikulecky is a Senior Fellow in the Virginia commonwealth University Center for the Study of Biological Complexity.  He earned a Ph D in Physiology in 1963 at the University of Chicago and then did postdoctoral training with the late Aaron (Katzir) Katchalsky in Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics and Membrane Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.  He is the author of the book The Application of Network Thermodynamics to Problems in Biomedical engineering and scores of refereed journal articles.  In the last twenty or thirty years he has been exploring the complexity theory started by the late Robert Rosen who has published a number of seminal books in this new field.

A summary of the books content:
The Global Economy that sustains the civilized world is destroying the biosphere.  Like the Titanic, it is on a collision course with disaster.  But changing course via the body politic appears to be well nigh impossible, given that much of the populace lives in denial of reality.  Why is that?  And how did we get into such a fix?  That question has two answers, one historical, the other phenomenological.  First, Western science conceived nature as a machine, a legacy of the empiricism of Bacon, the dualism of Descartes, and the determinism of Newton.  But that metaphor is fundamentally flawed, as Robert Rosen has rigorously demonstrated.  Second, the Global Economy, like any complex system, developed into existence.  Development is a growth- and feedback-driven trajectory of systemic change that reinforces specific dependencies while eliminating alternatives, reducing the diversity that affords degrees of freedom.  The more developed a system is, the less potential it has to change its way of being.  That is why, in the evolution of life, most species become extinct (overspecialization), and ecological collapse is a common occurrence.  But we humans have taken it to a new level.  On a global scale, we built an industrial “metabolism” based on nonrenewable high energy resources, which fueled our exponential growth and socioeconomic development.  As a result, we are now deeply dependent on that system, and are forced to keep repairing it in order to survive.  Unfortunately, not only does the system lack the resources it needs for long-term survival, it is based on the misconception that life is a mechanism, with its implicit assumption that technology has an unlimited capacity to fix all our problems.  Now that we are trapped, people don't want to hear that those ideas are wrong, because that brings to light just how dire our predicament really is.
I.    System earth in the Anthropocene....................................................................................2
II.    Of metaphors, metaphysics, and math: a mythology of mechanisms...............................6
III.    Robert Rosen’s insight into life itself – the Modeling Relation.................................. ....14
IV.    The logic of development – reflexive reinforcement of dependency...............................24
V.    Metabolism and repair in the Global Economy................................................................31
VI.    Running on empty.............................................................................................................37
VII.    What can be done?............................................................................................................45

What we  do with this book is to make a decidedly new paradigm open to the reader in order that the reader can use it to evaluate the crisis we are in.  The new paradigm counters the damage done to our world view through the complete adoption of Cartesian Reductionism, Cartesian mind/body duality and Cartesian machine metaphors for the entire natural world, in particular the living world.

We make the case that this world view has limited our ability to respond adequately to what we have done and are doing to the Earth System that sustains us.  We will show that an alternative world view that is antithetical to reductionist thinking, that is has a holistic quality that recognizes the inter relationships in complex systems,   can be adopted and used to understand where we are, how we got here, and give insight into where we might be going.

We  also argue that the systems way of thinking is the key to understanding the self imposed and other limits to what we are able to do.  What we have learned about the nature of self organizing complex systems will be applied to the Earth System as a whole and the role of the biosphere, the human component of the biosphere, the economy and technology of the human component and their nested self organizing character.  

We  build, in part on a recent paper by one of us [(2011). Even More Than Life Itself: Beyond Complexity. Axiomathes 21 (3):455-471.  that frames the discussion in the context of a continuation of the “dialog” started by Robert Maynard Hutchins when he was President of the University of Chicago almost a century ago.  In that paper a surrogate dialog is created between many modern authors all of whom have addressed one or more facets of these topics.

Our thesis leads to the firm conclusion that unless we break out of the world view that got us to where we are, solutions are really not available to us.  

 We have a well documented story here.  I'll be happy to answer questions.  Often times in life one comes to conclusions one desperately hopes are wrong.  Clearly that is true here!  I still believe that we do not need a weatherman to tell us which way the ill wind is blowing.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 04:37 PM PST.

Also republished by Virginia Kos, Systems Thinking, Readers and Book Lovers, Anti-Capitalist Chat, Postcapitalism, and Extraterrestrial Anthropologists.


"Global Insanity"

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 04:37:30 PM PST

  •  Best of luck with the book don. (5+ / 0-)

    Sounds fascinating. Can't wait to read it.

  •  It's the economic system that's insane, (5+ / 0-)

    rewarding greed rather than largesse.

    Kind of a semantic quibble, I know.  I'll look into the book.  Good for you!

    "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

    by Bob Love on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 05:14:59 PM PST

  •  I'm very poor at the moment (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    If not for that, I'd get a copy forthwith. Sounds like a perspective I would have a lot in common with.

    "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

    by ZhenRen on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 05:41:10 PM PST

  •  Looking forward to reading it n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, Eric Nelson
  •  sudden catastrophes expose our shortcomings (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    George3, don mikulecky

    If life continues day by day with slow degradation of the planet then it's impossible to get people out of their closed mode of thinking. However five events in the US have clearly exposed out vulnerabilities because of lack of global thinking. I'm referring to Katrina, severe drought in parts of the US, severe heat waves, the BP oil spill in the gulf and Superstorm Sandy. Katrina exposed the continual degradation of the wetlands in the Mississippi Delta and the lack of infrastructure to protect a large population area. Drought and heat waves are symptoms of Global Warming and our myopic lifestyles that are fueled by excess and unnecessary use of fossil fuels. We are still commuting to work in 4500 lb SUVs with only a driver on board. The BP oil spill demonstrated a serious disregard of environmental consequences of pushing for deeper and deeper drilling to feed deeper and deeper dependence on oil. Hurricane Sandy exposed the NJ and NYC continuing vulnerability to more intense storms and sea level rise. We have rolled the dice by placing our homes and cities in harms way to be near the ocean.

    It will be interesting to see if the logical consequences of proven vulnerabilities produce any real change, or does our self-delusion quickly reform. We know, for instance, that one way to cope with sea level rise and storm surge is to identify those areas that should be protected and those that should not be protected. In the first case, large civil engineering projects need to be funded to protect those areas, in the second case we need to carry out abandonment of those areas and move people and their infrastructure to higher ground. Will we actually stop people from rebuilding on their own lots????

    •  we already have (0+ / 0-)
      Will we actually stop people from rebuilding on their own lots????
      that's not new

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 06:41:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, we'll give the better swimmers seats (0+ / 0-)

        at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

        And watch Breezy Point get rebuilt in a tenth the delay of World Trade Center.

        Speaking of which, things do look somewhat different from the Jersey side....

        Might as well move Target Stores in there, Day One.

        This is a "not if, but when" situation. And you know there's going to be no guns on top of that building to defend it from incoming airplanes -- the top item on any sensible Threat List.

        They'll leave WTC # 1 as wide open as the Marine BLT Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23rd, 1983. And WTC 1 & 2 back in 2001.

        Ka-boom !

        And yes, there's enough crazy to go around.

    •  this is the latest but it has happened here (0+ / 0-)

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 07:07:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Don't know, don't care" is different from (0+ / 0-)


    Ignorance + apathy.

    Seems like concentration of wealth and power make for the worst of bad decision making. Paranoids get to the top all too often, largely because they scheme at this and that 24/7. Then they set about fighting each other rather than doing long range social planning.

    Obvious problems are ignored:

    -- Population expansion. There are countries like India and Mexico that were a delight when they had half the population they have today. Now they are destroying their own farm land -- using urine for fertilizer, for example -- and the economics of their agriculture shows nothing good ahead.

    -- and it's whole raft of arguments against converting the rest of our carbon fuels to air pollution. Amazing how little intersection exists between and day to day corporate planning.

    -- Nuclear power. Standard design plants with post-1980 control systems -- not the incompetent Chernobyl outlier -- have proved to be quite safe. Apart from handling medical samples and painting the outer structures and such as drowning in the tsunami, no one has been killed at nuclear power plants in America, Japan, EU, or any other modern facility. No one. Yet the vast sums tossed in by Big Coal have succeeded in vilifying the nukes. We could buy ourselves 200 years by converting coal fired plants to nuclear. $50 of fully-processed uranium fuel produces electricity to run a family car for a year/12,000 miles.  (There's also 100,000,000 years of uranium available; it's as plentiful as tin. Big Coal propagandists lie about that, too.)

    -- Militarization vs. education. That is the basic high-dollar trade-off in the national budgets of 50 countries. Look at Pakistan for the extreme case.

    -- The missing girls/women. Sex selection is rampant in Northeast India, China, Korea. Spreading, not contracting. One estimate has it at 60,000,000 missing females -- which reverses the story of Moses and the Passover miracle where Egypt lost it's first born sons. Aborting unborn girls because they show up on ultrasounds as girls -- the very worst application of technology.

    It's ignorance. Denial. Selfishness, which can only be carried out 24/7 by turning self-destructive.

    Insanity ??? Maybe mental disorder. Combos of paranoia and narcissism in the people at the top. But ignorance of how these processes affect daily life -- that's at the core.

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