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Six Sources of Collapse

Six Sources of Collapse: A Mathematician’s Perspective on How Things Can Fall Apart in the Blink of an Eye

Charles R. Hadlock
Series: Spectrum
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Six Sources of Collapse
    Book Description:

    Beginning with one of the most remarkable ecological collapses of recent time, that of the passenger pigeon, Hadlock goes on to survey collapse processes across the entire spectrum of the natural and man-made world. He takes us through extreme weather events, technological disasters, evolutionary processes, crashing markets and companies, the chaotic nature of Earth's orbit, revolutionary political change, the spread and elimination of disease, and many other fascinating cases. His key thesis is that one or more of six fundamental dynamics consistently show up across this wide range. These six sources of collapse can all be best described and investigated using fundamental mathematical concepts. They include low probability events, group dynamics, evolutionary games, instability, nonlinearity, and network effects, all of which are explained in readily understandable terms. Almost the entirety of the book can be understood by readers with a minimal mathematical background, but even professional mathematicians are likely to get rich insights from the range of examples. The author tells his story with a warmly personal tone and weaves in many of his own experiences, whether from his consulting career of racing around the world trying to head off industrial disasters to his story of watching collapse after collapse in the evolution of an ecosystem on his New Hampshire farm.

    eISBN: 978-1-61444-514-2
    Subjects: Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Charles R. Hadlock
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Can you name ten occurrences that you would regard as “collapses”? Just think about this for a moment before reading on.

    In case you’re having any trouble getting to ten, let’s think about categories: civilizations, empires, governments, economies, technologies, industries, companies, species, fads, styles, banks, buildings, bridges, cranes, just to name a few. No problem getting to ten now, right? And if you’re getting up in years like me, you can probably recall seeing or hearing about at least ten in almost every single one of these categories, as well as others.

    Can you think of any good, i.e., beneficial,...

  6. 2 Predicting Unpredictable Events
    (pp. 15-40)

    If your house has ever been burglarized, as has mine, I’m sure you share with me the recollection of surprise and shock, along with other emotions like anger or sadness. But if you read in the newspaper about a burglary in another town, you’re likely to shrug your shoulders and think, well, there are lots of burglaries all the time. So here we have this occurrence, a burglary, which is quite common, but the trigger that raises our eyebrows is when it occurs to us. The dynamics that control whether it occurs to us in particular may be sufficiently vague...

  7. 3 Group Behavior: Crowds, Herds, and Video Games
    (pp. 41-60)

    A famous Supreme Court opinion by Oliver Wendell Holmes once cited the example of falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater as unprotected free speech, given the wellrecognized danger of an unnecessary stampede to the exits [156]. Numerous human stampedes have been documented over the years, some for false alarms, as in his example, and others for a wide variety of causes. Indeed, we’ve all seen headlines like these:

    Death toll reaches 100 in Station Nightclub fire

    Iroquois Theater fire claims 602 victims

    251 trampled to death in Hajj crush

    Sixty-three injured in Dutch Remembrance Day event

    Deadly stampede at...

  8. 4 Evolution and Collapse: Game Playing in a Changing World
    (pp. 61-84)

    The only wildlife I encountered regularly in my Brooklyn youth were pigeons, squirrels, and rats. I quickly learned not to look up when walking close to apartment buildings with fancy cornices where pigeons would roost, and we never knew if we would be greeted by beady eyes and whiskers when opening the dumbwaiter door. Thus you can probably well imagine the interest I brought to a fairly large tract of New Hampshire woodland that my family and I bought many years ago as a summer getaway and, as it turns out, an endless source of projects. Here was rich nature...

  9. 5 Instability, Oscillation, and Feedback
    (pp. 85-120)

    I happen to have a lot of experience with electric blankets. It comes from owning that old unheated New Hampshire summer getaway I’ve mentioned earlier, and from making an occasional winter foray into it on snowshoes to see if it’s still standing and to retrieve one or another forgotten item. The best way to survive the night there in freezing conditions (both inside and out) is to turn on an electric blanket several hours before getting into the bed and letting things warm up a bit. But invariably, when you get into the bed and lie there for a while,...

  10. 6 Nonlinearity: Invitation to Chaos and Catastrophe
    (pp. 121-144)

    I remember a silly gimmick of one of my high school teachers back in Brooklyn, and the fact that I remember it so vividly after about fifty years makes me think it’s worth retelling. I’m finally beginning to really appreciate it.

    He showed us a huge blown-up dirty white picture of something that had no strong distinguishing features, a bit of nondescript texture, and that extended right to the boundary of the photo frame. Then he asked us to guess what it was that we were looking at. The whole class really got into this exercise with an impressive degree...

  11. 7 It’s All About Networks
    (pp. 145-172)

    Working as a college professor, I spend lots of time talking with students about their future — what they might like to do and how to find the right path to get into it. Hardly anyone emerges from one of these conversations without the word “network” reverberating in their minds. Who do you know that works in this field and who might tell you what it’s like? Who do you know who might know someone else in the field who could help identify an internship? What connection might I have through alums or business acquaintances? Who else on campus might...

  12. 8 Putting It All Together: Looking at Collapse Phenomena in “6-D”
    (pp. 173-188)

    We started in Chapter 1 with a broad survey of types of phenomena subject to collapse, surely not all inclusive but certainly representing a wide range of subject areas, time frames, spatial dimensions, and dynamics. You may recall from Table 1.1 in that chapter that these ranged from empires to fads, galaxies to tumors, companies to civil order. There are certainly many ways to study and learn about these phenomena and about their vulnerability to collapse. These may variously include, depending on the particular subject matter: historical analysis, scientific data collection or experiments, logical or theoretical argument, expert opinion, or...

  13. References
    (pp. 189-200)
  14. Index
    (pp. 201-206)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 207-207)