Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was perhaps the first in history to identify and discuss collapse and to note that "the way to ruin is rapid." From Seneca's idea, Ugo Bardi coined the term "Seneca Effect" to describe all cases where things go bad fast and used the modern science of complex systems to understand why and how collapses occur. Above: the Egyptian pyramid of Meidum, perhaps the first large edifice in history to experience collapse. 

1. Collapse is rapid. Already some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca noted that when things start going bad, they go bad fast. It takes a lot of time to put together a building, a company, a government, a whole society, a piece of machinery. And it takes very little time for the whole structure to unravel at the seams. Think of the collapse of a house of cards, or that of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks, or even of apparently slow collapses such as that of the Roman Empire. Collapses are fast, it is their characteristic.

2. Collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe. Collapses occur all the time, in all fields, everywhere. Over your lifetime, you are likely to experience at least a few relatively large collapses: natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods - major financial collapses - such as the one that took place in 2008 - and you may also see wars and social violence. And you may well see small-scale personal disasters such as losing your job or divorcing. Nobody at school taught you how to deal with collapse, but to cope with it you'd better learn at least something of the "science of complex systems."

3. No collapse is ever completely unexpected. The science of complex systems tells us that collapses can never be exactly predicted, but that's not a justification for being caught by surprise. You may not know when an earthquake will strike but, if you live in a seismic zone, you have no justification for not take precautions against one - such as having emergency tools and provisions. The same holds for defending yourself and your family against thieves, robbers, and all sorts of bad people. And make plans for political unrest or financial troubles. You cannot avoid some collapses, but you can surely be prepared for them.

4. Resisting collapses is usually a bad idea. Collapse is the way the universe uses to get rid of the old to make space for the new. Resisting collapse means to strive to keep something old alive when it could be a better idea to let it rest in peace. And, if you succeed for a while, you are likely to create an even worse collapse - it is typical. The science of complex systems tells us that the main reason for the steep "Seneca Collapse" is the attempt to stave it off. So, let nature follow its course and know that there some problems may be unsolvable but can be surely worsened.

5. Collapse may not be a problem but an opportunity. Collapse is nothing but a "tipping point" from one condition to another. What looks to you like a disaster may be nothing but a passage to a new condition which could be better than the old. So, if you lose your job, that may give you the opportunity to seek a better one. And if your company goes belly up, you may start another one without making the same mistakes you did with the first. Even disasters such as earthquakes or floods may be an opportunity to understand what's your role in life, as well as give you a chance to help your family and your neighbors. The Stoic philosophers (and Seneca was one) understood this point and told us how to maintain one's balance and happiness even in the midst of difficulties.

To learn more about collapse, see Ugo Bardi's main blog "Cassandra's Legacy," Ugo's blog specifically dedicated to the Seneca Effect, and Ugo Bardi's book "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)


  1. Thank you. Well said.


  2. I totally agree with all 1,2,3 points.

    I also agree that collapse is an endemic factor of the complex systems, and sooner or later it's a fact to face off.

    I don't agree for 4 and 5 points because during the collapse the consequences are very different if you are a Firm, an economic district, a sector, a State, or Continent involved into a fall down.

    Resisting collapses is always a god idea, because:

    This is the primary mission of a manager and his team: to avoid the death of the firm where they work for. I agree that at this microeconomic level, a collapse of a firm could mean a big opportunity for another enterprise. There is no firms who lives forever even they adapt theirself of the changing of the economic environment

    If you are a politic, for sure you should have to help and to support the economic districts in your country, for avoiding their collapse, because when collapse happens it usually means fusions and/or trasformations or the taking over form other firms, simply for avoiding the bankruptcy and in any case it will be lots of brush off with high social costs. I agree that at this level, inside the micro-economic dimension a collapse of a district could mean new opportunity for another firm/new value chain, but it's always important to remember that it could not be a good thing. Innovations always destroy jobs and this is an endemic dynamic of the Market Economy because it tends to do even more with less.

    If you are the prime minister of a State, for sure you have to avoid the collapse of your economic sectors: if your primary sector collapse, so you will have to import all your food from foregin firms, and sometimes it's not a good thing if you don't have any other products/resources to export, so at the end of the day the primary sector collapsing will mean no food and people will die for famine. A full collapse of an economic sector is never ever a good thing for a Nation, may be it could be an opportunuty for getting richer for other Nations but in any case, it's a big, huge, massive problem to face off for the economy of a nation.

    Politics sometimes take care of a Nations, for sure all italian politics are stupid and thiefs but this is not always true for all the politics in the world, for sure history shows lots of good politics (just think what Churchill did for Great Britain during WWII avoiding the nazy invasion and helping the Europe to free itself from nazy power). Avoiding collapse for a Nation is always a good thing, because for a State its collapse means a World Without The Rule of Law, or as preppers say: The End Of The World As We Know It.

    Nobody takes care of a Continent, ONU is a child play, because there are many people and futile Veto rights avoiding to solve important issues in the World. If someone takes care of a Continent, for sure he will avoid a collapse, because collapse will mean wars, deaths and so on, and for sure avoiding wars with pro-active actions are always a good thing.

  3. With regret I must admit that Seneca was absolutely right. Recently my good old father died at 86. He was healthy and strong for 85 years, in fact I almost did not believe him when he started to complain about chest pain. I was accustomed to his health. But X-ray and blood chemistry showed that he is in really bad condition. In three or four months his health quickly deteriorated, the last several days was disaster. It was tragedy for me because he was so good and gentle human being.

    Indeed, Seneca was right that "the growth is slow but the way to ruin is rapid." And that's true for civilizations just as much as for the individuals.

  4. Nope, this particular collapse is a BUG that wouldn't have been possible without nuclear waste, Fukushima, Hanford, and all the 100-180 plus nuclear reactors all over this planet. Are you even aware how many are dumping nuclear waste on the oceans, and of the amount of nuclear reactors leaking OFF THE RECORD?
    Microplastics and other pollutants in the sea also destroys a huge food source for many people all over this world (Seaweed, seamoss, sea salt, and fish). Fukushima supercharges hurricanes and all other "natural" disasters.

    Oil cartels could've been rendered obsolete decades ago when a human rediscovered that gas is completely unneccesary and that cars can in fact be fueled on hydrogen/water. Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned human which had made that rediscovery was ofcourse murdered. Things should've and could have been done differently this time around. But they (fake elites) have suppressed free energy tech and kept the mass populace the least informed out of everyone else. I guess that's why they've been entrusted with so much loaned authority and power by the true unseen rulers of this world. They keep their promises to the Devil, and have proven their loyalty to them hence their position in this shitshow.

    1. If you see a comment published in this section, it means it is not offensive, not aimed to sell you something, and (reasonably) understandable. It doesn't mean that it is correct, scientific, or rational. The above, I decided to publish to give some idea of how the ongoing collapse can adversely affect the human mind.

  5. 'The worst speaks something good; if all want sense, God takes a text and preaches Patience'. George Herbert

    Right about the plastics, at least!

  6. Thanks for the wise reminders!

    Somewhat related, his might be of interest to you :

    "Greenland ice cores track Roman lead pollution in year-by-year detail
    Studying the ice cores may help reconstruct fluctuations in the ancient economy [and its collapse?]."

    1. I know about that paper. Preparing a comment - it is super-interesting

  7. This even includes the biggest collapse of all, the "Great Dying" 251.9 Million BC, opening the way for dinosaurs and early mammals.

  8. Like @Ivan Lukic I, too, recently lost a parent, my mother, to cancer. Her condition had been stable for years, then it was all over within 2 days.

    Also, I often hear of cancer patients who improve after surgery, only to worsen unexpectedly and pass away shortly afterwards. Definitely Seneca collapses.

    I am particularly thrilled by #4 Resisting collapses is usually a bad idea.

    Franz Joseph went to war as a last-ditch attempt to unite his crumbling Empire - which then collapsed sooner.

    Gorbatchev tried last-minute reforms to save the USSR.

    The Dutch "policing actions" in 1947 hastened the demise of their possessions in Indonesia.

    And we have been resisting a financial collapse since 2008 (2001? 1998? 1992? 1987?)...



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)