Monday, March 26, 2018

The Seneca Effect: A Review

Writing from Berlin, where the presentation of "The Seneca Effect" is going to start in a few hours.  And here is another review by Ronny Wagner, in German, which I translated the best I could with the help of Google.

The Seneca effect

Seneca effect
"It would be a comfort to our weak souls and our works, if all things would pass away as they arise; but as it is, growth is progressing slowly, while the road to ruin is fast. "Lucius Anneau's Seneca"
The "Seneca Effect" describes many phenomena that grow slowly and quickly decline. As it turns out, collapses can occur in many different forms and everywhere. They have many different causes and develop in different ways. However, all breakdowns have certain consistent characteristics. They are always collective phenomena, that is, they occur only in so-called complex systems. Complex systems have the property that they are linked by many links. The collapse of a complex system is the rapid reorganization of a large number of such links.  

These nodes are in our case humans and their interactions with their environment. This is the research field of the social sciences, economics and history. All of these systems have a lot in common: a nonlinear behavior. In a complex system, there is no simple relationship between cause and effect. Rather, a complex system can multiply the effects of a small perturbation. Conversely, a disturbance can also be damped so that the system is barely affected. These facts mean that predictions in complex systems are impossible. Predictions by experts about the future development of a complex system are simply fantasy. You should not pay attention to them.

But how can a person adjust to the Seneca effect?
"Growth is progressing slowly, while the road to ruin is fast. "Seneca
In fact, the Seneca effect is the result of trying to resist change instead of accepting it. The more resistance you make to change, the more that change will bounce back. It is no coincidence that philosophers often advise not to cling to material things that are part of this difficult and volatile world. That's good advice.
"The hard and the rigid accompany death. The soft and weak accompanies life. "Laotse
In dealing with a collapse, we should therefore adhere to the advice of Epictetus: "We must set up the things in our power as well as possible, but take everything else as it comes."
It follows that one can mitigate the "Seneca cliff", if one accepts the change, instead of resisting it. It means that you should never try to force the system into something it does not want to do.
Jay Forrester: "Everyone is trying to 'steer the system' in the wrong direction."
Politics seems to have given up any attempt to adapt to change. Instead, it resorts to simplified but powerful slogans that try to prospect the return to aimpossible prosperous past. People often make tremendous efforts to keep relationships together that should be closed. Also, we stubbornly cling to our workplace, though we may hate it and realize that we should seek a new one. Whole civilizations experienced a decline and disappeared because they did not adapt to change, a fate thatwe could experience, too, if we don't learn how to accept changes.
It should not be forgotten that you can fix a problem, but not a change. You can only adapt to a change.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)