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« Some thoughts on future postings | Main | Spring Equinox - 2017: The End of the Beginning of the End »

December 21, 2016


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Don Stewart

Good luck with your new challenges.

I do have one thought for you. I have been reading Dan Siegel's book Mind: A Journey Into the Heart of Being Human. Dan suggests that an individual's Mind is an emergent property of the flow of energy and information between the various components of the brain, the body, the social world, and the larger environment. Everything is interacting and communicating.

Now I am going to add my 'somewhat' tangent to Dan. Each of us forms some relatively stable ways of emoting and thinking and acting. If we begin to get information which is too inconsistent with our stable patterns of Mind, then we have two choices. First, we can modify our Mind....which may be painful. But second, we can invent fantasy worlds to inhabit. The fantasy world may involve religion, denial, delusion, or just the construction of scientific conclusions have little or nothing to do with how I actually live my life.

Gallup reported today that 'Americans have never been more optimistic about the economy'. It's hard not to attribute that optimism to Trump's message that 'I give a damn about you!' Someone is telling the public a message which resonates with their stable pattern of Mind.

I'm not offering solutions. But perhaps the preceding is a fruitful way to think about the challenges.

Don Stewart

George Mobus



I'd be interested in whether Siegel explains how the emergence comes about. I am always a bit hesitant about claims of emergence that don't include explication of the auto-organizing processes that produce the emergence. And it is also important to examine the interactions that the emergent process (e.g. mind) has with its environment to see how such interactions arise from the emergence. I see too many authors claim emergence as an explanation in its own right as if that is a sufficient explanation. My co-author and I covered this in our book - chapters on auto-organization, emergence and on evolution.



George, your political view in this post disapointed me. This election represents something you should have remain above. Both sides are equally disgusting and for you to chose one side over the other demonstates a need for you to review your values in line with what you have so finely crafted in several recent posts here. I only mention this becuase of how important I feel your message is and your grasp of the way forward. You stepped into the swamp for no good reason except maybe hubris. This country is lost and both sides are part of that tradegy. It was and is civil corruption at a systematic level and something you should have avoided except as an objective lesson of the pinnacle of human failure of sapience. This spectacle of decline and decay took a little from all of us becuase we are all responsible as participants in this lost civilization.

Don Stewart

If you really want to know what Siegel thinks, you should read his book yourself…since I am an unreliable intermediary. However, I will venture a few thoughts, which you are expected to pay about what they are probably worth.

In a Q and A session, I sort of challenged Siegel on his rather sunny ideas about self-organization. I suggested that sometimes life deals very difficult hands to play, and people may resort to various ‘mind tricks’ to evade unpleasant conclusions. He said that my questions were ‘profound’, but didn’t really answer them. If you read his book, I think you will agree that he tends to focus on the formation of a ‘mind’ which can reconcile energy and information coming from sources ranging from the various bodily organs and the different areas in the brain to social signals and signals from the larger environment.

When something happens which seems to come from out of left field, the mind will, in my opinion, frequently concoct absurd explanations. I believe we can see that right now with the Hillary Clinton supporters. E.g., it must the the Russians, or the Rednecks, or whatever. Then the Vice-President suggests that maybe the real explanation is that Hillary should have spent more time in the Midwest listening to people and less time in the Hamptons raising money. The Vice-President is evincing some signs of realism, while many disappointed supporters are engaging in ridiculous evasions of the truth.

Another possibility is that ‘Life is Unbearable’, as the Existentialists thought. Bad things really do happen to good people, and there is not much they can do about it.

The professor in the YouTube states that the current cushy situation of Western Elites is unprecedented in the historical record. It’s fairly easy for us to come up with ‘minds’ which integrate the energy and information we are getting. It would be vastly harder for a slave building a pyramid to come up with a similar integration, or a field hand in a Southern ante-bellum plantation. If the world is headed in the direction you anticipate, I think we will be faced with problems much more similar to the slave building a pyramid than to the woman on Park Avenue trying to decide where to get her hair done.

The ‘emergence’ happens because humans are endowed with the ability to construct stories which make sense of the incoming energy and information. Whether this is strictly like the emergence which happens in other situations I will not hazard a guess. Siegel does claim that complex systems tend toward integration of the component energy and information elements. My sidebar comment is that sometimes we invent imaginary factors to ‘help’ us explain things….from Gods on Olympus to Russian Hackers to ‘surely they’ll think of something’.

In summary:
*I believe Siegel is correct that the human mind is formed at the intersection of energy and information flows from sources ranging from the gut to the ecosystem, and from the conscious to the unconscious.
*I think Siegel is too optimistic in assuming (implicitly) that the mind so formed will be an ideal approximation of reality.
*I think the Existentialists were on to something when they described the inherent tragedy of life.
*Nevertheless, the Existentialists were also correct when they said that we have no alternative but to get on with life as it has been dealt to us

Don Stewart
PS Happy holidays


Dear Giovanni Mobius,

Thanks for your great work. Somehow I trust a way can be found to include in "Systems Science and Engineering" a scientific examination of what appears to be the root cause of absolute global human population numbers, inasmuch as the staggering growth of the human population worldwide appears to be simultaneously extirpating mass biodiversity, obliterating original wildlife habitats and old growth forests, warming the climate, dissipating Earth's finite resources and polluting huge land masses, oceans and the air humans breathe. Please allow me to remind you of the outstanding scientific research by Pimentel and Hopfenberg, (2001), "Human Population as a Function of Food Supply". As you are likely already aware, their evidence indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity how human population dynamics are essentially similar to (not different from) the population dynamics of non-human species.

With every good wish for success and happy holidays to you and yours,

Steve Salmony

George Mobus


Got your e-mail. Will follow up via that route.


Good to hear from you again. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the issue of population overshoot comes up rarely among systems scientists, probably owing to the dangerous political territory it enters. At least one wing of SS actually thinks that SS can solve the problem by increasing the carrying capacity of the Earth. I've had a few discussions with several of them (the techno-optimists) and I don't think their world-views are going to be changed easily.

For the last four years I've been part of a four-way meeting with David Pimentel, Jack Alpert, and Ken Smails over the issue of how to convince the world of the magnitude and causes of the problems we face. Every year we look at different strategies and tactics and every year we conclude that given the prevailing delusions (e.g. the American Dream is still feasible) and momentum our efforts are not likely to make a difference in the majority attitudes. I suppose we will meet again as long as we're all alive (we're getting up there in age!)

Part of what we discuss is getting a handle on characterizing the optimal population size given certain assumptions about energy and other resources that could be available for such a population. Even this exercise is problematic.

My own perspective is that, of course, we need to continue to try, hope for the best, but I expect the worst.

In my new role, I do expect to help guide the book series along paths that make systems science understood as the best way for us to fully understand our situation and develop some kind of solution. Wish me luck.



Cliff Mass in a Seattle Times article (Jan. 2/3)reports asking Jared Diamond, “You’re an expert on cultural adaptation. Is there any example in the history of the world where there’s a prediction of a major disaster in the future, but people have to invest — they have to sacrifice something now to invest in the future — and they do?” Diamond, Mass said, shook his head and said: “No, no. I don’t think that’s ever happened.’ ”

While my pessimism was major before, current elections may be a blow from which we cannot recover. Those disappointed will not be able to blame themselves, even in part. They will strike out against the system even more powerfully.

I do think that had the election gone otherwise we would have bought a few more decades of stability.


I agree that the dumbing down of America has been successful. Trump's appeal is/was that he vocalizes what most of the population wants to hear-no matter the validity of Trump's solutions. Anyone can vent. Few "real" solutions are feasible at this point. It will be interesting when the folks that voted for Trump are directly negatively affected by the decisions his administration makes. Wonder who will be blamed then?

Between over population, impending climate change & the refusal of most to accept we live on a planet with finite resources, I do not expect any radical changes to business as usual. I would agree with Jared Diamond's assessment also. Our society is in decline, plain & simple.

Perhaps we should concentrate on living our lives to the fullest NOW. Regardless whether one accepts climate change or not, no one gets off this earth alive. My focus has shifted from sustainability to the renewed appreciation of my loved ones, life & today.

I sincerely hope I am completely wrong.

Don Stewart

I have to say that I am somewhat mystified by the reaction of people on the West Coast to the election of Donald Trump, and especially to his Cabinet appointments.

I recently read a letter to the editor in Denton, Texas. It was written by a woman who had served on a jury with Rex Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson was well dressed and reserved, and attracted little attention, except that people noticed that he had a body guard outside the jury room. When asked about it, he said that his 'bosses' believed that he needed protection. (By deduction, we can infer that the jury duty occurred while he was mashing Exxon and Mobil together and firing quite a lot of people, in the process.)

She also commented that his father had been a regional Boy Scout executive, and that Tillerson has been active in Boy Scouts his entire adult life. In fact, he was instrumental in reversing some of the 'anti-Gay' positions of the Scouts.

The trial was a result of a young woman who alleged rape. The defense attorney was apparently pretty good at sowing disinformation, and the jury was about to report that it could not reach a verdict. The letter writer reports that Tillerson took charge of the discussion, ticking off the known facts and drawing the obvious conclusion. The jury then voted to convict.

The letter writer found that the woman had no personal money, but was represented by a non-profit organization. She got Tillerson's address and wrote him a letter. He sent a 'generous' contribution to the non-profit.

If one is serious about 'draining the swamp' in Washington, then it is necessary to have people like Tillerson working on the project. We can now see all too clearly the folly of putting a community organizer and mild-mannered but vindictive college professor in charge of the swamp.

Appointing people like Tillerson will certainly not solve all our problems, in my opinion. But I am disturbed by the knee-jerk reactions from so many educated people, particularly on the West Coast.

Don Stewart

Bengt Randers

One article about bioenergi från Sweden.

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