Why has the world become chaotic?
The world has become chaotic or turbulent for essentially three reasons: increase in the number of people, speed, and connectivity.
Number of people
How many of us were on earth 150 years ago? 1 billion. How many are we today? 7 billion. During the last years, within hardly a few generations, the population grew incredibly. We have gone from 3 to 7 billion in just one or two generations. We could then say that while our parents lived in a world that was quite empty, we now live in one that is very full.
Our world is also moving faster and faster. The lithosphere (mineral) evolved over billions of years. The biosphere (life) evolved over millions of years. The noosphere (information) is now measured in nanoseconds! At the scale of human history, it took man 3 million years to go from the hunter & gathering era to agriculturist & breeding era; then 30,000 years to enter the era of industry & commerce; and only 300 years to pass into the age of creation & communication which itself is only 30 years old.
Another example of speeding changes: our grandparents came into the world, worked and died close to the same geographical place, but for us today this seems highly unlikely (you can see Kevin’s life for more on that)! Similarly, the 1000 words of common conversation that our parents learned were, with very few exceptions, the same 1000 words they would use at the end of their life. The 1000 words that you use most commonly now are already quite different from the ones you learned as a young person.
The world of commerce and especially finance, a historical human activity, has also accelerated in an unbelievable way. Trades that took weeks or even months on foot or on horseback or by ship just a few hundred years ago, happen today, in the world of finance, in High Frequency Trading. Now, stock market orders take place in 150 millionth of a second.
Time is speeding up!
Technological, social and economic revolutions happen today over two generations or even a single one. Neither human beings nor cultures have time for gradual adaptation. During previous transition the “human world system” had time to change and adapt in a “near to equilibrium” way and traditional Newtonian mechanical could be used to understand the transitions. But at the unprecedented speed of change we are seeing now, the system is put out of equilibrium, even very far from equilibrium and classical rules and views don’t apply anymore. We may then have to look at Chaos Theory to help us to understand this new world.
If the human civilization is facing an unseen increase in the numbers of people and speed of change, it is also facing an incredible increase (and again at an amazing speed) of number of connections between these people.
On 4th August 1938, an exploratory expedition of the American Museum of Natural History looking for new species of birds in New Guinea, changed human history. Entering the Great Valley of the Balim River, which was thought to be uninhabited, Richard Archbold and his colleagues were surprised to find a culture with a population of over 50,000 people. They experienced what was to be the last first encounter. For one of the last time in human history, men and women who were completely ignorant of each other’s existence in a part of the planet met. Indeed, 500 years ago, a human being had little chance of meeting over 1000 people in his or her lifetime. But in 1900, 11 cities had over 1 million inhabitants. And today 414 cities have more than 1 million inhabitants. More than 50% of the world population is living in cities. We are living closer to each other. But not only that, at every moment, 1 million people are flying above our heads. Over 100,000 flights land and take off each day in the world and make it possible for millions of people to meet across countries.
People are meeting each other more and more. And even more important, they also communicate more and more. We are even more connected in the virtual world than in the real one. As I write this, over 3 billion people have access to the Internet. And since 2014, they are more mobile phones than people on this planet. There is actually more people who have a mobile phone than who have a bank account… or access to drinking water or toilets!
A chaotic world
More and more agents (people) being more and more connected. All that happening at a speed that takes the whole system (human world) far from equilibrium, that’s exactly what we need to have a chaotic system.
As David Ruelle, one of the first scientists to speak about the theories of chaos, writes: “The more oscillators there are and the more interconnection there is between them, the readier we should be to see chaos.”
So again, it may be a good idea to see what chaos theories can tell us about our new chaotic world, understand how a chaotic system can evolve and even be able to see a fractal world…