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Monday, June 15, 2009

Part III- The Tragedy of the Commons Part I

We continue where we left... Specifically, I hope to illustrate how The Tragedy of the Commons is really just a special instance of the more general conservation of energy and conservation of risk.

Originally an article by Garret Hardin for Science in 1968, The Tragedy of the Commons describes a classic game theory dilemma in which multiple individuals, acting independently in their own self-interest, ultimately destroy a limited shared resource even when it is clear that destroying the resource is not in any individual's long term interest.

Most typically, as Garret himself intended, The Tragedy of The Commons is evoked as metaphor for ecosystems where common resources like land, air and water are at risk of spoilage by a few. Indeed, in this ecosystem context, the metaphor is commonly used by Doomers to describe the problems societies face near the precipice of collapse. Images of a society following the disastrous footsteps of Easter Island in the South Pacific, or Vietnam's Angkor Wat, or Central America'sMaya are common.

But these notions of the metaphor are both too simple and complex at the same time. For at its very core, the Tragedy of the Commons is all about finite or limited resources and this is really just the same thing as the conservation of energy or the conservation of risk. Energy (or risk) can be transferred from one part of the system to the other, but it cannot be created (or destroyed). If one person uses energy from a common source, or reduces their own risk by transferring their own risk to everyone else in the form of increasing system risk, the common resource has that much less energy for everyone else or takes on that much more risk for everyone to mitigate.

And while most people understand this concept for a limited number of things, they tend to have trouble recognizing it applies to everything as everything is actually a limited resource- and I mean everything. It simply matters what manifold or perspective you want to look at an information pattern from.

Indeed, The Tragedy of the Commons metaphor applies to any closed system that contains at least three relatively independent variables (or information patterns, or building blocks or manifolds or whatever else you want to call the sub elements of the system).

Here are but a few of an infinite number of examples:

a. Two men and one woman (or the reverse)
b. Two cars and one parking space
c. Two people and one marriage
d. Two customers and one cashier
e. Two hungry children and one hot dog
g. Two types of school children and one school budget
h. Two "people" (mother and fetus in mother's womb) and one the lifestyle of one woman to live
i. Two religions and one god
j. etc...

The number of examples is infinite because the number of perspective is infinite. And to remind everyone, perspectives can include far more than just three variables (for example, the needs of every child in a school and one school budget or the needs of every individual in a country vs. the need of that country to compete against other countries, etc...).

Yet for every one of these example, the inherent dilemma posed by The tragedy of the Commons, a special instance of the more general law of the conservation of energy, holds true. And this means that for a closed system that contains three or more variables, each variable must have a relationship to every other variable in the system as well as to the system as a whole. Any change that occurs to one variable must transmit that change to every other variables as they take up a position in opposition to this change.

And perhaps the lesson I most want to convey from this entire post: This relationship must hold true from any perspective one looks at the system from. And I mean ANY.

Next posting we will discuss a few examples of what this all means.

... Be forewarned


Dink said...

"... Be forewarned"

Sweet! The squirrel is poised somewhere between terror and intrigue...

I don't know about c (2 people, 1 marriage). Hmmm.

I suppose it takes a certain amount of education for a human to reset their personal definition of The Commons. Its not immediately obvious that throwing those old antibiotics down the toilet is an act of self-destruction versus convenience. Reassessing the boundaries of the physical commons seems possible. But reassessing the boundaries of the social commons ("kin") seems far more complicated. I'm still in awe of MLK's kindness. Given the circumstances, I imagine the Malcolm X path was much more emotionally gratifying. At least when I was younger.

Ah, still. The population is destroying the physical commons. And the population is controlled by factors in the social commons. How to get all the kin to "Come to Reason"?

Debra said...

You have something against the FISH, or something, dink ?
And besides, squirrels are not supposed to use toilets or take antibiotics...

SS said...

I hope we are going to get to free will, randomness or determinism. It's all about picking the right one, but who makes the pick?


Thai said...

@Dink, you need to realize the term "commons" applies to any information structure you think as having a degree of autonomy/independence.

@SS, sure, but if you have your own thoughts I would love to hear them!?? Otherwise, it may take a little while.

By the way everyone, the ending of my post just didn't seem what I was trying to get across but I rushed to get the thing posted before my trip.

I reworked it and am much happier with the new ending if you are at all interested in read it again.


Debra said...

Thai, I will nitpick once again.
Why the MUST in the last paragraph ?
Doesn't the present indicative do a better job of saying what you mean ?
Like "each variable MUST have a relationship" becomes "each variable has a relationship.
That is the formulation for "physical" law, if I am not mistaken...
AND "take up a position in opposition to this change" ?
Now, that one is really interesting.
What is a position that is "in opposition" ?
Is it the position of a "thinking" element ?
Please explain.

I suspect that this theory, although it looks really good on paper, greatly resembles all those accounting registers that have gotten US into so much collective trouble.
Example :
Two days ago the Independent did a spread on the contents of the stomach of a dead baby osprey (albatros, I can't remember...), washed up onto the beach.
There was :
a toothbrush
several widgets (I don't know this word, y'all MUST...)
various plastic packaging thingeys

In a Leibnizian world on a parr with the neutrality postulats, you COULD say that this is "morally" neutral, and that somewhere along the line there will be repercussions not only for the birdies, but for us too.
Somehow, this "explanation" of things, this theory, manages to obliterate the very human emotion of sadness, terrible sadness that I feel at what we are doing to our fellow world citizens, the animals, and the way that we have managed to muck up the garden so much...
This theory seems like so many +++++ and ----- to be chalked up in the accountant's book.
Now in the "good" old days, people thought that GOD held that accounting book, and the last judgment was designed to take a tally.
But I say : an accounting book is still an accounting book, whether it's God, or... Barack Obama who is holding it...
I'm not crazy about accounting books...

Dink said...

"applies to any information structure you think as having a degree of autonomy/independence."

Processing....hmmm, not uploading. Will keep trying.

*Also, where is the new ending? Repost the entire new version, perhaps?

"Somehow, this "explanation" of things, this theory, manages to obliterate the very human emotion of sadness"

I do understand where you're going with this. Your dad was a coroner, n'est-ce pas? I'm sure some might say its awful to treat a body as an object to be scientifically analyzed. But its really just compartmentalization. The cool clinician now, a saddened human later. But, yes, there is a risk of staying in the most comfortable compartment and becoming unbalanced.

Thai said...

Re: "I suspect that this theory, although it looks really good on paper, greatly resembles all those accounting registers that have gotten US into so much collective trouble."

Perhaps... Though there is a major difference. My theory says predicting the future is impossible (indeed, my theory is just another way of pointing out the problem of inductive reasoning but uses science itself)... we have not discussed this yet as we have not discussed fractals and complex systems (yet).

Again, I am still placing the chess pieces on the board one at a time. Eventually you will see this whole story come back to where it all began and slowly realize you have walked along the surface of a sphere in a kind of great big loop... After that we will discuss how there are an infinite number of spheres above you and below you and you can walk any one you want.

We will see you school of fish, that I promise.

Also re: "morally neutral universe".

Please try to remember there is no need to postulate the existence of a social equivalent to the theory of absolute space... Which is the kind of thinking Dink uses to describe religion/god, etc... and can been looked at as the Newtonian version of society/morality/social structures (e.g. information structures) whereas I am suggesting a quantum version/one that incorporates general relativity.

For Newtonian models break down under certain conditions in a way that quantum/general relativity models do not (And as Debra might point out, each of these models break down under yet different conditions).

We will get here, but it will take time.

Thai said...

Re: "what is a position that is "in opposition"?

I saw this in my email in box just a few messages from your comment and had to chuckle at the coincidence, though you may or may not see the coincidence yet.

Thai said...

Dink re: "Processing....hmmm, not uploading. Will keep trying."

Perhaps the following will help...

Think of a universe full of atoms. This is an image of a universe made of small packets or building blocks.

Now apply this same analogy to information. Think of all information as being made up of yet smaller building blocks like atoms or little "pieces" of information (e.g. every "smaller" piece of information can be thought of as an atom made of yet smaller pieces of information, etc...).

So imagine a universe full of information pieces in a kind of mist.

Then imagine taking a fisherman's net and throwing it into this information universe and capturing a bunch of this "mist" which is really made up of tiny smaller pieces of information.
This three dimensional net full of packets of information is what I would call an information structure.

If you throw the net into this universe a second time, the geometry of the net will be a little different on the second throw but the three dimensional net of lots of tiny pieces of information would form a second information structure.

And you would get a slightly different one on a a third throw, etc...

Do you have the image in your head: "a net of information mist but the mist is really made up of little packets (or building blocks) of information"???

Do you remember what the term "quantum" means in physics?

Now, instead of calling something a"universe" (which is really a closed system), get rid of the term "universe" and use another similar term for another closed system- "information structure".

... So an information structure is a closed system with information inside of it. It is just like a universe of information only smaller. Like a bag full of atoms.

Anything can be an information structure...

Dink's personality is really a kind of "closed" system comprising lots of smaller building blocks so it is an information structure.

But so is a family. A family is really an a information structure. Indeed anything you can think of is an information structure.

- A family's conflict resolution strategy is an information structure
- A family's dinner preferences are an information structure
- Sibling rivalries are an information structure
- Racism is an information structure
- A football team's play book is an information structure
- Friendship is an information structure
- etc...

Everything you can think of is an information structure.

Please let me know if this makes sense as understanding it is really important later on.

Debra said...

LOL, Thai, you are a structuralist who doesn't know what structuralism is...
But, as I have said elsewhere, categories of thought are determined by... CATEGORIES OF LANGUAGE.
If your theory is limited to its content, then you cannot SEE the structure which is structuring the content. Like... stepping back from the mirror and creating ANOTHER mirror.
Careful now.
Categories of language : INFORMATION is a "stuff" noun.
That means that it goes with... "LE GRAND TOUT", and can you guess where we go with "le grand tout" ?
(By the way, if EVERYTHING is an information structure, then... what have we learned, because in order to know something, we have to know WHAT IT IS NOT too.)
Throw God out of the door, and he comes back through the window...
And "information" presupposes meaning. It presupposes a "will" to transmit meaning. It MEANS, information is information FOR, in the eyes of...
And here we go again, lol...
For info, Thai, the structuralist Bible, which I will refer to later, is Ferdinand de Saussure's Elements de Linguistique Général. Elements of General Linguistics.
And you still have not told us how to edit.

Debra said...

Snort, Thai, my lip is curling, is THAT what you call SCIENCE ?
Give me a break...
It looks and sounds more like the Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio show...
The eternal struggle between good and evil, the good Gaia vs the bad Medea ? (Of course, Peter Ward is a NON DUPE, he KNOWS that catastrophism is the name of the game these days.)
Examples of unscientific vocabulary :
WHY put Medea in capital letters while leaving God in small case letters, Thai ? Could that be just a little bit of unscientific intellectual bias, there ?
And... what about "damning to the Gaia hypothesis". What, "damning" ? We're scientists, aren't we ? Unless WE'RE maybe LESS scientists than we thought... HMMM...
"Life seems to be actively pursuing its own demise."
That one is a total crock of shit, and has been since BEFORE Sigmund tentatively advanced it in an alternative form.
Because... every advantage has its disadvantage is NOT the same thing as "life.... It may look like it, but it isn't.
I'm getting a little impatient, Thai.
You are not engaging with me over my critiques.
You keep promising me (us...) pie in the sky, but you are not delivering.

Thai said...

re: editing. Sorry, forgot. Easy, go to the right upper corner of the blog and click on "new post" and then hit the link to "edit posts".

As for your comments: my response is "Yes and No".

"Yes"- I see how I am making what you call a structuralist argument (though I have never heard of structuralism before you mentioned it).

"No" because I do see the structure which is structuring the content. In fact this is one of the main ideas I will trying to get across and why I say EVERYTHING is an information structure.

The structure which structures the structure is simply yet another information structure... FYI, it is also what Cotton often refers to in his posts as Manifolds to allow a better differentiation between these and other types of information structures.

I do see mirror looking at mirrors very clearly (to continue with your analogy).

AND I am saying this is all a fundamental consequence of the conservation of energy... In fact I wonder if we might sometimes be saying similar things, only using very different languages to say them in .

The conservation of energy means always implies zero sum within a closed system.

So I completely agree with your statement "Throw God out of the door, and he comes back through the window..."

And to respond to this comment from another thread: "You are not engaging with me over my critiques.
You keep promising me (us...) pie in the sky, but you are not delivering."

In reverse order:

1. I do not promise a pie in the sky. Indeed, I think I promised nihilism (though I think it may help you understand some of these comments on the econ blogs a little better and that may be a little practical).

2. Have I started to address them adequately now? If not, please be specific but erector set analogies would make it easier for me to understand you and reply?

FWIW, I am sorry I am moving a little too slow for you but I get caught up in the comments and do have to work as well.

Also please remember, this is for all of us, including myself. These posts lets me put my thoughts on these issues in one place in a way I have never had a chance before.
Forgive me (us) that not all of us are as far along these subject matters as you are.

Dink said...

(Dink's response will be under the GAD post for order's sake)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits