Scientists Seek Warning Signs for Catastrophic Tipping Points


In case anyone is reading my blog for the first time – shame on you – or you have read bits and pieces without ever really thinking too much about complexity or systems, THIS may be the article that changes all that! Because, what the scientists have been trying to figure out, is what Ontonix are able to achieve by measuring system complexity:

Tipping points are found in ecosystems, economies and even bodies. But they’re usually recognized in retrospect, when it’s too late for anything but regret.

Now a growing body of research suggests there are telltale mathematical signals. If scientists can figure out how to detect them, they may be able to forecast tipping points ahead of time.

“We are repeatedly blindsided by disasters that come out of the blue. If we had better tools for anticipating those events, we could avoid some of them,” said Steve Carpenter, a University of Washington ecologist and co-author of a review Wednesday in Nature.

In 1982, physicist Kenneth Wilson won a Nobel Prize for developing equations to describe transitions that don’t happen in a linear, easily predictable way, but are sudden and massive, such as fluids becoming turbulent and metals becoming magnetized.

Since then, scientists have noticed similar shifts elsewhere. The theory provides the only models that make sense of the Sahara’s sudden flip from fertile grassland to sandy wastes some 5,500 years ago. Exploited fish populations fluctuate wildly. Futures prices on the S&P 500 displayed telltale skewing in the year preceding the 1987 stock market crash.

The proposition is by no means certain, but the possibility of being able to predict these sorts of events is tantalizing.

via Scientists Seek Warning Signs for Catastrophic Tipping Points | Wired Science | Wired.com.

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