Culture in cycles

By Tom Abel

We want to change the world.  So we speak, we blog, we tweet.  Many academics want to make the world a better place, especially lefty social scientists or earthy ecologists.  So they research and they write.  And the media, the Fifth Estate(!), they make TV News, write articles, they are supposed to protect us from the worst of us.  Your well-meaning Pastor (if you have one) each week does his or her best to paint a picture of a better world.  So why is the world so slow to change?  Why don’t we have more control, we bloggers, reporters, academics?  We’ve said our piece.  Why doesn’t the world change?!  One answer is that culture is about learning.  It’s about evolution.  It’s about self-organization.  We say our piece, it goes into the world.  Now what?  Well, according to the paper that is the subject of this post, unless your ideas get picked up, (probably changed), cycled again, and again, and bumped ‘up’, and maybe ‘up’ again, they are done.  Say what?

Egghead Introduction

HT Odum explored systems of all types and proposed general principles that apply widely.  Earth, sea, land, air, biosphere, universe are all subjects addressed in his process theories of energy self-organization, hierarchy, pulsing, material cycling, and others.  Of these subjects of study, the Earth biosphere possesses an energy form that so far has not been found elsewhere in the universe.  Generically we call it ‘information’.  To be clear, for Odum information was not information theory.  He defined information instrumentally.  Information is a quality of genetics in life and of culture in humans.  Information is that which aids in the persistence of self-organization in time and its sharing in space.  Information allows systems to ride-out the many fluctuations in energy sources, to preserve well-tested designs through time, designs in body, in ecosystems, and, with the evolution of humans, in culture.

In Odum’s language, information is a ‘storage’ or concentration—an extremely valuable one to the process of self-organization.  It must therefore be preserved against Second Law depreciation.  The process by which information is preserved he calls the ‘information cycle’ (sometimes the ‘information circle’).  He has given us a few systems diagrams of the information cycle, this one is my favorite (Odum 1996:223). Continue reading Culture in cycles

A mind like compost?

by Mary Logan

On Top (Gary Snyder, Axe Handles, 1983, p. 11)

All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over       turn it over
wait      and water down
From the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through, sift down,
even.
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.

As our world views begin to shift, there will be much discussion about critical thinking. Shifting world views expose flaws in people’s thinking, from the ways we protect our ideas, to inaccurate assumptions, and to the inferences that result. This is in part because fundamental assumptions of our society are beginning to show cracks. There are many descriptions of critical thinking, but most of them do not go far enough in describing the synthesis necessary in describing our global problems. Ecological, macroscopic, and systems-based critical thinking are necessary to ask the proper questions about our global problems. Continue reading A mind like compost?

Information Storms and the Limits to Information

Information Storms and the Limits to Information

By Mary Logan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File: Sine_wave_amplitude.svg Kraaiennest

My first significant memory of big storms came as a 5 year old, as Hurricane Carla advanced on Port Aransas, Texas, where my father, HT Odum was administrator of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. That day, as we were due to evacuate, HT took me on his final rounds of the Institute before leaving. We walked out on the Port Aransas pier, and I remember that my father had to lift me over the gaps where missing planks had already disappeared from storm waves (my mother was later horrified at my proud retelling of the story). We stood there halfway out on the pier, and I received my first lesson in hurricane science and energy transport in waves. We counted wave troughs, heights, and wavelengths, and he explained the dynamics of wind energy, relating the sizes of the pulses to size and scale of storms. Local weather creates little wavelets, and large distant weather creates bigger, more powerful pulses that have higher impact on beaches. We talked about excess heat in the atmosphere, and how hurricanes act as Nature’s way of dispersing extra heat. It was my first lesson in storm/energy analogies, and I have never looked at storms the same way since.

Odum often drew an analogy between the way meteorological storms such as hurricanes disperse heat and the way that other systems do, including information systems.  After Tom Abel’s excellent post last week on trends in education in a world in transition, it is a good time to share Odum’s analogy linking storms of information and weather storms. But to make that analogy, we first need a meteorology lesson, starting with the second law of thermodynamics. Continue reading Information Storms and the Limits to Information

The Unbearable Lightness of Information

by Kurt Cobb

[This article is reposted with permission from Kurt Cobb’s April 5th, 2009 post on his Resource Insights website. Kurt Cobb is the author of the peak-oil-themed thriller, Prelude, and a columnist for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen. His work has also been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique, EV World, and many other sites.]

This decade was the one that was supposed to usher in the era when bits and bytes would replace tons and barrels as the measure of what an economy does. The information economy would eclipse the economy of blast furnaces and railcars.

The allure of such an economy is that it was said to be less resource intense, less driven by the high-amplitude economic cycles of the industrial economy, and more driven by the need for and efficient use of information, something that is always in demand. It turned out not to be so. The tech bust of the early part of this decade highlighted the vulnerability of the so-called information economy to cyclical forces and also the reliance of that economy on the more substantial physical economy. Continue reading The Unbearable Lightness of Information