Ping: Ed

In case you might have missed it, I think this one is important...
Predicting tipping points before they occur
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By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Say you're in a canoe on a lake, dry and firmly seated. A fish swims by and you
lean over to take a look. You lean a little further, and a little further still,
until, with a surge of panic you realize you're starting to fall over. You being
to flail your arms, causing the canoe and you to rock wildly back and forth, but
it's no good: Over the side you go.
Now you're in a new stable state ? treading water next to an upside down canoe.
And getting back to your former state ? un-waterlogged in an upright canoe ?
will take a lot more work than falling out did.
You've just experienced a tipping point.
However, if you've been following work over the past 30 years in systems theory,
you'll recognize this scenario as what scientists call a bifurcation point ? the
moment when a stable system flips over into a new stable state, after a period
of rapid change.
Now some of the most prominent scientists in that field have published a new
paper on detecting early warning signals before a system changes. Titled
"Early-warning signals for critical transitions," the review paper is in this
week's issue of the journal Nature.
Though exceedingly complex, the gist of their work is simple: detecting patterns
that tend to emerge in systems just before they hit a tipping point, hopefully
in time to stop the process.
"This is a very important paper," says Brian Walker, a fellow at the Stockholm
Resilience Center at the University of Stockholm in Sweden.
"The big question they're trying to answer is, how the hell do you know when
it's coming? Is there any way you can get an inkling of a looming threshold,
something that might be a warning signal that you're getting to one of the
crucial transition points?"
"The fascinating thing is that we found that very different systems react the
same way and appear to obey the same universal laws as they are getting close to
a tipping point," says Marten Scheffer, lead author on the paper and an
ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Work on these theories began in the 1970s. At a meeting of researchers looking
at these signals convened by Scheffer in Holland in 2007, scientists began to
see examples in all sorts of places.
"We began to realize that there was really pretty cool and fundamental thing
going on here," says Stephen Carpenter, one of the paper's authors and a lake
ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Discerning these tipping points before they happen would be huge, says Carpenter.
"Managing the environment is like driving a car in the dark in the fog on the
edge of a cliff. You know the edge is out there, but it's dark and foggy," he
says. "We're really great at knowing where thresholds are after we fall off the
cliff, but that's not very helpful."
What's fascinating about this concept of bifurcation points is that like
fractals (shapes and patterns that reoccur at different sizes throughout systems
and in nature), once you know about it, you realize that it's everywhere, you
just hadn't realized it before.
Examples of systems that these critical transitions have been found in include:
?algae blooms in lakes
?asthma attacks
?climate change
?epileptic seizures
?fisheries collapse
?financial systems
Not yet predictive
While their work can't predict all transition points, they've begun to tease out
universal principles, says Scheffer.
What the researches have shown is that these early warning signals seem to occur
differently in different kinds of systems, but there's some regularity to them
within a set of systems.
Systems can also being to "flicker," rapidly oscillating between to states
before finally settling into a stable one.
There's also an interesting finding that as a system gets close to tipping, it
becomes more like systems around it. This is seen often in financial markets and
in social settings where the attitudes of individuals towards certain issues are
affected by what their peers think.
Another warning signal is variability ? a lot of change back and forth.
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That's very interesting stuff, Richard. I read the rest of the article and I'll try to make some time for the paper -- at the library. _Nature_ wants my money .
(Not for a while, though. I finally got down to reading _The Trouble With Physics_ by Lee Smolin and I'm in for a slog...)
-- Ed Huntress
Reply to
Ed Huntress
LOL! - Light weight!
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String theory for we hoi polloi. I don't expect to understand string theory but I do expect to learn where the controversies lie, because Smolin is probably the best there is at describing them.
-- Ed Huntress
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Ed Huntress
It's like Quantum Physics, Ed.
If you think you understand it, you haven't read enough!
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For the rest of the crew...
Subject(s): SCIENCE: Science - Physics
Description: In this groundbreaking book, the renowned theoretical physicist Lee Smolin argues that physics ? the basis for all other sciences ? has lost its way. For more than two centuries, our understanding of the laws of nature expanded rapidly. But today, despite our best efforts, we know nothing more about these laws than we knew in the 1970s. Why is physics suddenly in trouble? And what can we do about it?
One of the major problems, according to Smolin, is string theory: an ambitious attempt to formulate a ?theory of everything? that explains all the particles and forces of nature and how the universe came to be. With its exotic new particles and parallel universes, string theory has captured the public?s imagination and seduced many physicists.
But as Smolin reveals, there?s a deep flaw in the theory: no part of it has been tested, and no one knows how to test it. In fact, the theory appears to come in an infinite number of versions, meaning that no experiment will ever be able to prove it false. As a scientific theory, it fails. And because it has soaked up the lion?s share of funding, attracted some of the best minds, and effectively penalized young physicists for pursuing other avenues, it is dragging the rest of physics down with it.
With clarity, passion, and authority, Smolin charts the rise and fall of string theory and takes a fascinating look at what will replace it. A group of young theorists has begun to develop exciting ideas that, unlike string theory, are testable. Smolin not only tells us who and what to watch for in the coming years, he offers novel solutions for seeking out and nurturing the best new talent?giving us a chance, at long last, of finding the next Einstein.
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Reminds me of an article I read in some scientific publication long time ago calling the point of no return between one state and the next the catastrophe point.
cheers T.Alan
Reply to
T.Alan Kraus
Thanks a lot for mentioning this, I just bought The Tipping Point Book, the subject is interesting, although, I am afraid, its relevance to financial events is less than the article author believes.
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========= FWIW Financial events don't occur in a vacuum. Generally these are the result of socio-economic/geo-political trends.
For example, the US is in the midst of massive de industrialization, apparently based on the delusion we can convert to a knowledge and service based economy, rather than realizing that industrial based and service/knowledge based economies are mutually supporting, i.e. no domestic industrial based economy equals no need for a domestic service/knowledge based economy.
Unka' George [George McDuffee] ------------------------------------------- He that will not apply new remedies, must expect new evils: for Time is the greatest innovator: and if Time, of course, alter things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end?
Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, essayist, statesman. Essays, "Of Innovations" (1597-1625).
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F. George McDuffee

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