The World Is Non-Linear and Therefore Chaotic

I follow a blog, Smirkpretty, that I find interesting and well written.  Most of what appears is far from my normal playing field and that helps me with perspective.  This one for example.  Border Guard.

The important point in it is that people are feeling faint concerns and they cannot put a handle on the reason.  Others deny those concerns and try to make the uneasy person back away.

“We’ll rethink history and wonder if perhaps complex forces beyond our control actually got us here. It will start to seem more true than our limited experience, more bearable than our uncomfortable insight. We might let that reasoning turn our focus away from what sits heavy on us.”

We all have that sense from time to time.  Should we care? Yes!  Because, we think linear and the world is non-linear.  We have the feeling but cannot explain it.

Years ago, during speaking engagements, I proposed this problem.

Assume a one-gallon jar with a single bacterium at the bottom. Each second the bacterium and every one of its successors divides in two. None die. First 1, then 2, then 4, then 8, and so on. In exactly one hour, the jar is completely full.

How long until the jar is half full?

If you try this on a large group, more than one-third will initially say 30 minutes. At 30 minutes the fullness of the jar is a fraction with 1 on the top and a number with more than 73,000 zeroes on the bottom. A smallish portion of the jar, indeed.

The right answer is that it is half full at 59:59. One more double and full.

In the jar, around 59:40, a few of the bacteria start to say things like, “Seems a little crowded in here.” “Traffic is worse than it used to be.”  The bacterial politicians reassure them with, “We have used less than a one millionth of our space. There is no problem.”

At 59:50 the politicians continue, “There is more than a thousand time as much space remaining as we have used in our entire existence, but because there is some concern among our citizens, we have begun to study the problem.”

Ten seconds later the jar is full and the problem gets immensely worse.  At 60:01, the bacteria need another complete jar, also full. Given their previous experience with building jars and emigrating, I don’t like their chances.  Ten seconds later, there will be 1,024 jars, all full.  A construction boom.

Exponential growth is an aspect of non-linearity.  It affects many parts of our life.  Saving and investing among the more common.  The effects are hard to see until late on.

The exponential perception problem works like this.  In 10 seconds from 59:50 to 60:00, 1/360 of the total time, the bacteria consumed 1023/1024 of the entire space.  Time and space are not linearly connected. 0.27% of the total time used up 99.9% of the total space.

You can do this with a calculator and you will get the numbers. But, you won’t feel it and that matters.  People must begin to hear the perceptive bacterium crying out, “Hey, something strange is happening. What does it mean? What should I do?”

Read the blog above.  She is one of those who feel the problems earlier.  They are real problems that need attention.

We all see problems.  Apathy is does not explain the lack of action.  Denial of access to the change process is an important variable.  Watch Dave Meslin  at TedX Toronto.

Voice your own concerns and listen to others.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.


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