Collapse Dynamics: Phase Transitions in Complex Social Systems




Here are the original slides and video from my first lecture at the LSE complexity programme, exploring the underlying mechanisms of phase transition and non-linear change in social systems.

This talk focused heavily on the underlying mechanisms of collapse and non-linear transitions.  The evidence suggests that systems become vulnerable to phase transition (i.e., collapse) when they experience exponential growth, increased connectivity, decreased reserves, and increased imitative behaviour.  Put simply, too much connectivity, too much interactivity and too little resilience means even a tiny change can lead to massive fluctuation and collapse.

I introduce and explore the work of Charles Perrow (Normal Accident Theory), Didier Sornette (Why Stock Markets Crash), Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Civilisations) and Gunderson and Holling (The Adaptive Change Cycle), showing how each contributes to a greater understanding of how, when and why collapse occurs.

Take home message?  Collapse is endemic to many classes of complex adaptive systems, they tend to occur in certain regular ways, and we can use this knowledge to understand and prepare for radical change.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Noah,
    Have you read Per Bak’s work on complex systems? In “How Nature Works” he discusses how avoiding some kinds of collapses leads inevitable to other kinds of collapses, some bigger, some smaller.

    We should connect anyway. Happy to tell you more. :-)

6 Trackbacks

  1. […] (summarized well here), but is given a long treatment in an academic lecture I recently gave at the London School of Economics.  The point for risk managers is that change, when it occurs, is often more severe and rapid than […]

  2. […] continue to happen, not because of any incompetence by Amazon, but because: large + complex make cascading failure an inherent characteristic of the system. At some level of complexity any cloud/region/datacenter […]

  3. […] is not unimaginable that a phase transition, from the present unsustainable critical point to a more stable social equilibrium, could take […]

  4. By Healing The Metabolic Rift on January 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    […] on the same phenomena that Kelly celebrates, complex systems researcher Noah Raford draws a different conclusion: Too much inter-connectivity makes systems vulnerable to ‘phase […]

  5. By Trust Is Not An Algorithm on June 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    […] What most worries climate change scientists, for example, is the possibility of an ‘ecological surprise‘. These are unexpected, catastrophic, system-scale transformations that  brewing for ages below the measurable surface of events. Being non-linear, such collapse dynamics are impossible to predict. […]

  6. By The Limits of Resilience | The Harbinger on July 1, 2013 at 12:18 am

    […] its way to a ‘post-productive’ mode. Reflecting on the same phenomena that Kelly celebrates, complex systems researcher Noah Raford draws a different conclusion: Too much inter-connectivity makes systems vulnerable to ‘phase […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*