Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable

NewScientist takes a complexity approach to the rise and fall of civilizations and questions whether our own global society may not itself be heading towards a vulnerable breakdown:

Recent insights from fields such as complexity theory suggest that the very nature of civilization means that ours, like previous civilizations, is destined to collapse sooner or later.

It appears that once a society develops beyond a certain level of complexity it becomes increasingly fragile. Eventually, the tipping point is reached when all the energy and resources available to a society are required just to maintain its existing level of complexity, says archaeologist Joseph Tainter and author of the 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies.

Then when the climate changes or barbarians invade, overstretched institutions break down and civil order collapses, aggravated by tightly coupled networks that create the potential for propagating failure across many critical industries.

What emerges is a less complex society, organized on a smaller scale or that has been taken over by another group, and loss of our hard-earned knowledge. Possible solutions include distributed and decentralized production of vital goods like energy and food and adding redundancy to the electrical grid and other networks.

Read original article - 'Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable' (subscription required)

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