Old versus new is a constant theme of life. It holds us back and at the same time drives us forward; a contradiction that can really screw with you. I alluded to this in a previous blog that referred to generational changes of power - read it here. This also applies to changes in paradigms – old ways of thinking versus new ideas.
There is a saying that “timing is everything and there is a time and place for everything”. Maybe going down the wrong track is just life’s way of buying time thereby allowing time for certain other parts of the puzzle to come together. I’ve experienced this and had to resolve myself to waiting for the right people to be in the right places at the right time so that I could move forward with what I wanted to achieve. However, the simple idea that we are not really in charge of anything is not something easily entertained. Furthermore, there are few among us capable of “living in the moment” as the way to live with uncertainty.
When I consider the world today, I see such things playing themselves out in the world of economics and finance and in the world of science. These two fields are heavily invested in by the general public but when it comes to delivering “real” benefits for the public and the world at large, they appear to have little to show for their efforts. In fact, it seems that life continues to march on in spite of any efforts on the part of the gurus who play in these sandpits.
These fields of endeavour have been built on models that continuously “surprise” the users who then scramble to find appropriate “fudge factors” to resolve discrepancies. This is in the vain hope that the “next time” they will not be so caught out. However, surprise after surprise hasn’t lessened their resolve in persisting with ideas that not only don’t work but also deliver little value.
What amazes me most isn’t the dogged pursuit of such hopeless tasks, but the fact that it never seems to occur to them (with few exceptions) to ditch their favoured models. This leaves the few who have chosen to depart from the norm shaking their heads in frustration often lamenting that we have wasted enormous amounts of time, energy and money on meaningless things. At least this is one perspective.
Another perspective however is that it has allowed humankind to pursue endeavours and create things and explore ideas that we might not have done had we pursued a more down-to -earth model. Sometimes going “off the rails” is a necessary course. Most teenagers do it so why would it be any different for the collective mind of humanity. Perhaps the last 100 years was just a reflection of our collective teenage consciousness playing itself out. If so, I certainly hope that the next 100 years is a bit more adult focused (although I must admit I have days when “adulting” is too much to ask for).
In recent times, however, there is evidence building that suggests a course correction is well underway. The large number of “surprises” has collected its own weight and momentum appears to be shifting away from business as usual. Now you, as the reader of all this gibberish, are probably wondering what the hell I am on about. Well, let’s start with the sciences.
The “Queen” of the sciences is the field of cosmology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), an American publicly funded institution, is at the head of the pack of scientists pursuing this endeavour. Their “standard model” for how the universe works is based on the idea that gravity is the force that powers the universe. This force creates stars, planets and solar systems. Asteroids and comets are leftover debris after planet formation. This process is slow and steady and takes billions of years. There are massive black holes at the centre of galaxies with infinite gravitational force sucking everything in. The speed of light is a constant that nothing in the universe can exceed (except gravity it would seem). All of you reading this know this to be true right? This is the kind of stuff we are taught at schools and universities and various documentaries so it should be very familiar to you.
It is important to have a reasonably sound model as a starting point. Why? Because it has a flow on effect to all the other sciences that rely on such matters being “settled and reliable”. This allows them to pursue their endeavours with greater confidence. For example, geologists and archaeologists rely on the accepted 4.5 billion year age of the Earth (based on the standard model) in order to reliably carbon date their discoveries. If this is wrong, it also means that their dating process cannot be relied upon – so there is a lot at stake.
It’s not only scientists who are at risk with model collapses. Ordinary people like you and me are also affected and I should point out that scientists fall into this category when they are not busy being scientists. Understanding how things work is important as it informs our choices such as whether to head out for a picnic or whether we battle climate change – so, once again, a lot at stake.
In the field of economics and finance, the participants have sought to emulate the “scientific approach” and have models of their own. These are principally based around markets behaving rationally through supply and demand mechanisms in setting the price of goods and services. They also adopt the efficient market hypothesis that suggests that markets incorporate all information of all buyers and sellers at the time of establishing price. There is no room for emotional biases. They play with their models with clinical precision in an endeavour to forecast future events and ascertain appropriate valuations.
Those of us who walked away from all this nonsense just look on either in frustration or incredulity or amusement – usually a combination of the three. These days I’m pretty relaxed about it all as I try to see all this “play” in terms of some bigger picture albeit that it is somewhat fuzzy.
So what is a reasonable model? From my point of view, a model should be based on observable reality and have good predictive qualities. It doesn’t mean that it gets it right all the time but it should generally point you in the right direction most of the time. Cosmologists are constantly surprised by their expectations not being met and one cannot rely on the current economic and financial models to point you in any particular direction.
Okay, so if I was building a model for how things work, where would I start? Direct observation of nature and natural systems (which includes humanity and human biology) is where I would begin. One thing that stands out over and over again is the “fractal” nature of “everything”. I see the same patterns in stock charts I have studied ad infinitum at all timeframes, the spiral forms on shells and flowers to the spiral forms of galaxies, the growth of seedlings to large trees – THE LIST IS LITERALLY ENDLESS.
The amazing characteristic of fractals is that of “self-similarity” – in other words, it does not matter how big or small something is. It is the same at all scales. Ralph Nelson Elliott pointed out the self-similar properties of markets way back in 1939 while Benoit Mandlebrot popularised the term “fractal” with his Mandlebrot set back in 1980.
Fractals also have this amazing “self-organising” characteristic which leads to self-similarity. This is very powerful as it implies that the power behind the small is also the same power behind the large. It is impossible to come to any other conclusion. Nature never does anything the hard way and it would also seem that it does not waste its energies with multiple different methods to power its creations. It appears to have one good solid reliable process to power everything from the small to the large and self-similarity as the proof of this is difficult to refute.
This one small insight leads me to see spirals on shells, flowers and galaxies all powered by the same source – all that has changed is the amount of power. As such, to any reasonable observer, gravity cannot be such a force. On Earth, gravity pulls us down and holds us tight and for that very simple reason, it cannot be a power source that enables growth and self-similarity. For that one simple reason, it cannot be the power that creates life on this planet let alone the stars, planets or galaxies.
Further, for the same reason, human endeavour cannot be measured and forecasted based upon rigid models that are not grounded in reality but hypothetical assumptions. Ceteris Paribus is a Latin term often used in this field and means “all things being equal”. Simple observation of reality informs any sensible observer that all things are definitely not equal.
Human beings are part of the very same system we seek to understand. Our own fractal nature is as plain as the noses on our faces and so implies that our activities follow the same course as the rest of the natural world. Also, from a biological standpoint, it suggests that what powers us is the same power that powers the sun and I find this quite exciting and liberating.
I think that the fractal nature of stuff is the most simple, elegant and beautiful model to build our understanding of the world, the universe and ourselves. It is firmly grounded in observed reality and no complicated math is needed for any of us to relate to it – “a unified theory of everything”. For this one simple reason, I encourage you to explore beyond the realms of our “current normality”.
For those of you brave enough to venture beyond consensus boundaries, I have included some links to some really interesting stuff giving rise to interesting outcomes. There are some amazing people out there doing some amazing stuff by stepping out beyond the norm. They are the pioneers making steady progress towards a paradigm shift that affects all of us.
Paradigm shifts involve replacing old ways of thinking with new ideas. This article explores the paradigm shift taking place in the fields of science and economis and finance.
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