Sunday, February 28, 2016

Remembering dancing

volatile storm clouds
volatile storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday was 59F, today, at midday, we were driving through a brief snow squall. That fits my definition of volatility. If you look at the distribution of humans on the earth, it's clear that we are a highly adaptable species. It's not clear that we can successfully adapt to weather that's extremely variable over short periods of time. Remember those Minnesota Springs when "late frosts" largely wiped out local apple crops some years? Have you read about "just in time deliveries" and thought about how that's supposed to work in a world affected by Superstorm Sandys? These, and related topics, remind me again of Donella Meadows beginning to her wonderful paper Dancing with Systems. She starts out:
"People who are raised in the industrial world and who get enthused about systems thinking are likely to make a terrible mistake. They are likely to assume that here, in systems analysis, in interconnection and complication, in the power of the computer, here at last, is the key to prediction and control. This mistake is likely because the mindset of the industrial world assumes that there is a key to prediction and control.

"I assumed that at first too. We all assumed it, as eager systems students at the great institution called MIT. More or less innocently, enchanted by what we could see through our new lens, we did what many discoverers do. We exaggerated our own ability to change the world. We did so not with any intent to deceive others, but in the expression of our own expectations and hopes. Systems thinking for us was more than subtle, complicated mindplay. It was going to Make Systems Work.

"But self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable. The idea of making a complex system do just what you want it to do can be achieved only temporarily, at best. We can never fully understand our world, not in the way our reductionistic science has led us to expect. Our science itself, from quantum theory to the mathematics of chaos, leads us into irreducible uncertainty. For any objective other than the most trivial, we can’t optimize; we don’t even know what to optimize. We can’t keep track of everything. We can’t find a proper, sustainable relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from the role of omniscient conqueror."
If you read nothing else in this posting, please (re)read the last sentence in preceding the quotation. Then think about how we are approaching climate change, or the upcoming election in the US, or the global economy. We know how to do better. It's harder than the way we usually behave, but it may become an essential adaptation for surviving climate change's effects. At least the local weather looks to be somewhat seasonably stable this week upcoming.

Wet-weather Talk

By James Whitcomb Riley
It hain't no use to grumble and complane;
            It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice.—
When God sorts out the weather and sends rain,
            W'y rain's my choice.

Men ginerly, to all intents—
            Although they're apt to grumble some—
Puts most theyr trust in Providence,
            And takes things as they come—
                        That is, the commonality
                        Of men that's lived as long as me
                        Has watched the world enugh to learn
                        They're not the boss of this concern.

With some, of course, it's different—
            I've saw young men that knowed it all,
And didn't like the way things went
            On this terrestchul ball;—
                        But all the same, the rain, some way,
                        Rained jest as hard on picnic day;
                        Er, when they railly wanted it,
                        It mayby wouldn't rain a bit!

In this existunce, dry and wet
            Will overtake the best of men—
Some little skift o' clouds'll shet
            The sun off now and then.—
                        And mayby, whilse you're wundern who
                        You've fool-like lent your umbrell' to,
                        And want it—out'll pop the sun,
                        And you'll be glad you hain't got none!

It aggervates the farmers, too—
            They's too much wet, er too much sun,
Er work, er waitin' round to do
            Before the plowin' 's done:
                        And mayby, like as not, the wheat,
                        Jest as it's lookin' hard to beat,
                        Will ketch the storm—and jest about
                        The time the corn's a-jintin' out.

These-here cy-clones a-foolin' round—
            And back'ard crops!—and wind and rain!—
And yit the corn that's wallerd down
            May elbow up again!—
                        They hain't no sense, as I can see,
                        Fer mortuls, sech as us, to be
                        A-faultin' Natchur's wise intents,
                        And lockin' horns with Providence!

It hain't no use to grumble and complane;
            It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice.—
When God sorts out the weather and sends rain,
            W'y, rain's my choice.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.