CYCLES, PURPOSE, AND BALANCE
By Roland Watson
To continue the discussion of the organization of the universe, and of life, I want to go back to the final point in the talk about the Fundamental Rule of Life. This is the fact that this rule - that actions have consequences - has led the world - the universe - to be full of cyclical systems.
Cycles, cycles, cycles
Many, many systems, and both physical systems and the systems of life, exhibit cyclical patterns. For instance, for life, there are cycles for individuals, from birth through to death. There are cycles for human societies, as they rise and fall. Indeed, there are also cycles for the different institutions within a society. For example, for politics and government, historically, one dictatorship would be replaced by another. Now, dictatorship is being replaced by democracy. And finally, there are cycles for habitats, ecologies and species; for the entire planet; and perhaps even for the universe itself.
So, what is a cycle? A cycle is simply a system that is undergoing a regular process of change. Normally, this follows a specific pattern.
First, the system is initiated, or born, after which it develops and grows to maturity. Then, it may achieve a stasis: a period of stability. However, this is inevitably temporary. At some point, and for whatever reasons, the system will decline and either die or regenerate into something new.
It is worth noting that if a system becomes inflexible, if it is unwilling or unable to change, if it loses its ability to adapt, then it will die.
Why are there cycles?
All systems have goals. The organization exists to fulfill some purpose. The systems strive to achieve their goals, and through this to establish an equilibrium. But, for a variety of reasons, such an equilibrium - if it even can be achieved - is impossible to maintain.
One aspect of the universe is that it is in flux. It never stops changing. This means that the environment of which any system forms a part constantly is changing as well, so the system itself must change continually to adapt.
Also, it is worth mentioning that any given system may have multiple equilibria, with chance or some other factor determining which is achieved. For instance, water can be stable as vapor, liquid or ice, depending on the temperature and pressure in its environment.
More generally, a system may be at rest or in an energetic state, with the latter, in equilibrium, having a regular cycle or periodicity.
In some cases - a few - energetic systems do achieve a true harmony, and they can stay in such an equilibrium for a very long time, adapting and evolving and changing very slowly as the environmental conditions change and evolve around them. But, at some point an unexpected shock will occur and disrupt the environment. This is called a "stochastic" shock. It will upset the equilibrium and force a major re-adaptation. The system will be compelled to seek a new balance.
For people and society, examples of this type of system development include tribal rainforest cultures, which lived in peace for ages until contacted by, and then confronted with commercial and military pressures, and diseases, from the modern world. Such environmental changes disrupted these cultures and forced them to adapt, although it is arguable that they have yet to achieve a new equilibrium.
Some equilibria are established which are not truly in harmony. They are not so much "maintained" as "contained," by a force of a magnitude sufficient to accomplish this given the size of the system in question. However, such equilibria are in a sense false equilibria, and they are also much more subject to severe realignments, which can lead the systems to be even more out of balance.
For instance, a dictatorship is a false equilibrium. The people are controlled by force, and they are not in balance. Their needs are not being met.
Dictators are overthrown through revolutions and coup d'etats. But, these actions do not guarantee democracy - witness what has been happening in Egypt. It is possible that the overthrow of one dictatorship will lead to another that is even worse.
For example, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia ended feudalism, which was a brutal system of exploitation of landless serfs by local lords. However, the revolution also led to the rise of the Soviet Union, the despotism of Stalin, and the deaths of tens of millions of people.
As a pro-democracy activist, I'm not saying that dictators shouldn't be overthrown - merely that this is only the first step in establishing a society with real equality.
As another example, I believe that modern society, and the corporate system on which it is based, is also a false equilibrium. And here, I am not only disputing the idea that markets should be completely free of regulation, and that we should strive for never-ending economic growth.
More fundamentally, our present social system is based on competition, rather than cooperation and sharing. It enhances the positions of some, through the subjugation of others. It does not achieve, or even strive for, a true equality, and therefore, I believe, it is doomed to fail.
It may be restructured, and evolve into something truly harmonious, or it will collapse, to be replaced by what, nobody knows. Such changes are - or they would appear to be - the subject of chance. Unfortunately, though, the highest probability is that it will be replaced by some new and perhaps even more authoritarian social system. Human history will simply repeat itself once again.
In the next article, I will consider human cycles in more detail.
© Roland Watson 2013