19/01/2020

The critical mass and the catastrophe theory

In the field of sociology is called critical mass the amount of people from which a particular phenomenon occurs and acquires an own dynamic that allows it to hold itself and continue existing, even grow. This concept has its equivalent in physics, which considers the critical mass as the minimum amount of material needed to produce and maintain a nuclear chain reaction.

When a person stands on the street and looks skyward, usually nothing outstanding happens and the rest of the people continues its path, ignoring her. When three people stop and look at the sky, maybe some others look curiously for a moment before continuing with their own. But there is a certain number of people —in this case would depend on several factors such as culture where the scene takes place, weather or width of the street— which can make others stop and look skyward also.

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If a specific number of people look at the sky at the same time, they can get others to do the same —Image Unknown Author

Long time that disciplines such as biology, history, sociology or mathematics have been interested in the phenomenon, mainly because of its enormous capacity to generate lasting or permanent changes, as specified by the catastrophe theory, which shares field with the critical mass and was launched in the late 60s by the French mathematician René Thom and widespread later by the Christopher Zeeman studies, which applied it to the human sciences.

The catastrophe theory is especially useful for the study of dynamic systems that represent natural phenomena —whose characteristics can not be accurately described by the differential calculus— and represents the propensity of structurally stable systems to manifest discontinuity, divergence and hysteresis.

Discontinuity implies that in any system may occur sudden changes in behavior or outcome and then, at a certain point, is no longer possible to maintain the same state and undergoes an abrupt change.

Divergence is the tendency of small changes to produce big changes. If a plane can accommodate 100 passengers, a demand of 101 will motivate the need for a larger plane, and perhaps having to land at a different airport. In other words, very small variations in the starting point can derive to results totally divorced.

Hysteresis is the phenomenon by which the state of a material depends on its previous history. The tendency of a material is to preserve their properties even in the absence of the stimulus that generated them, although it is true that if the behaviors vary can lead to not return to starting position. A very simple example of a process of this type is the length of a metal rod depending on the temperature: if certain degrees are exceeded the metal rod will melt, a piece come off and it will be impossible to return to the initial state.

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Slavery dates back to Antiquity —Aristotle even claimed that it was a natural phenomenon— and was common practice until the late XVIII century —Image Unknown Artist

Although these terms are very technical and relatively recent, in practice for centuries the most intrepid parts of the social mass have been starred acts that have marked the political and social future of the world, affecting the system and in some cases modifying paradigms: from the struggle of the plebeians against the patricians for their rights as citizens of Rome to the French Revolution, passing through the rebellion of African slaves across all America, to name just a few. After that, the world was never already the same.

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array(4) { [0]=> object(WP_Post)#1684 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(5033) ["post_author"]=> string(3) "420" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-07-22 00:01:44" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-07-21 22:01:44" ["post_content"]=> string(7858) "Se denomina 'obsolescencia programada' a la determinación del fin de la vida útil de un producto, de tal forma que, tras un período de tiempo concreto decidido por el fabricante, ese producto se vuelve obsoleto, inútil, inservible. Lo que se persigue con esta práctica es el lucro económico: en algún momento el producto fallará, y obligará —aunque esto es siempre relativo— al consumidor a comprar otro. Y así, sucesivamente. Este sistema de producción genera una ingente cantidad de residuos, lo que provoca un problema medioambiental, debido, en gran parte, a la falta de una gestión adecuada de esos desechos. Cualquier producto es susceptible de quedarse obsoleto prematura, programada y planificadamente: desde un móvil hasta la ropa que 'se pasa de moda'. Aunque todo comenzó con una bombilla.
Esta bombilla californiana lleva encendida desde el año 1901 —Imagen Unknown Author
Antes de que los fabricantes adoptaran la obsolescencia como norma, allá por la década de 1920, se fabricó una bombilla en junio de 1901... que sigue funcionando hoy en día, más de cien años después. Se encuentra en una estación de bomberos de Livermore, California, en Estados Unidos. El artilugio despierta mucha curiosidad, por inusual, hasta el punto de que han instalado una webcam para seguir los años de vida de esta 'anomalía'. ¡Y no es la única! Hay más bombillas centenarias funcionando, aunque no tan longevas. Esta bombilla eterna inspiró al español Benito Muros, presidente de OEP Electrics, para crear una bombilla LED que no se gasta nunca. Muros, además, ha emprendido una encrucijada contra la finitud de los productos de la economía actual. Creó el Movimiento SOP —Sin Obsolescencia Programada— como 'una nueva manera de pensar, de hacer las cosas. De crear un nuevo sistema en que los productos estén diseñados y hechos para durar para siempre y que no nos obligue a gastar innecesariamente, y ser más respetuosos con nuestro planeta', según relata el propio Muros en una entrevista en La Vanguardia en 2012. Como es fácil imaginar, la bombilla de Benito Muros tiene dificultades para entrar en el mercado. Según cuenta en la misma entrevista, 'las distribuidoras nos dicen que viven de las que se funden, y los grandes almacenes nos proponen duplicar su precio, a lo que nos hemos negado. Hemos tenido ofertas millonarias para no sacarla al mercado y amenazas de muerte, que están en manos de la policía'. La idea es sencilla: si los productos no tienen fecha de caducidad, no se generarán residuos. Las voces que apoyan la obsolescencia argumentan que su desaparición colapsaría el sistema, ya que miles de personas perderían su puesto de trabajo. Lo cierto es que en el planeta ya somos más de 7000 millones de personas. La cantidad media de basura que generamos cada uno de nosotros es de más de 1 kilo al día, según la oficina de estadística Eurostat. Es decir, en un día producimos más de 7000 millones de kilos de basura. Muchos de estos residuos no son biodegradables, y otros muchos son, además, contaminantes. La situación se revela insostenible. El documental 'Comprar, tirar, comprar', de Cosima Dannoritzer, analiza el tema en profundidad, y ofrece una singular solución: arreglar en lugar de comprar. Una reflexión interesante.It is called 'planned obsolescence' to the determination of the end of life of a product, so that, after a certain period of time determined by the manufacturer, the product becomes obsolete, useless. The aim of this practice is the economic profit: at some point the product will fail, and force —although this is always relative— the consumer to buy another. And so on. This production system generates a huge amount of waste, causing an environmental problem, due in large part to the lack of proper management of these wastes. Any product is susceptible to planned obsolescence: from a mobile to the clothes 'gets old'. Although it all began with a light bulb.
This Californian light bulb is on since 1901 —Imagen Unknown Author
Before manufacturers adopted obsolescence as a rule, in the 1920s, a light bulb was made in June 1901 ... which is still operating today, over 100 years later. It is located in a fire station in Livermore, California, in the United States. It's so unusual that they have installed a webcam to see how this 'anomaly' still works. And it's not the only one! There are more centenarians bulbs working, although not as long-lived. This eternal bulb inspired spanish Benito Muros, president of OEP Electrics, to create a LED bulb that is never spent. Muros also began a fight against this practice of the current economy. He created No Planned Obsolescence movement as 'a new way of thinking and doing things and creating a new system in which products are designed and made to last forever and they do not make us spend unnecessarily, and be more respectful of our planet', as related by himself in an interview in La Vanguardia Journal in 2012. As you can imagine, this new bulb has difficulty entering the market. In the same interview, Muros told that 'the distributors tell us that it's their way of living, and department stores offer us increase the price, to which we have refused. We have been offered a lot of money to not remove the market and death threats, which are in the hands of the police'. The idea is simple: if the product does not have an expiration date, do not generate waste. The voices that support the obsolescence argue that their disappearance would collapse the system, as thousands of people will lose their job. The truth is that we are more than 7 billion people living on this planet. The average amount of garbage we generate each of us is more than 1 kilo per day, according to the statistical office Eurostat. That is, in one day we produce more than 7 billion kilos of garbage. Many of these wastes are not biodegradable, and many are also contaminants. The situation is unsustainable. The documentary 'Buy, throw away, buy', by Cosima Dannoritzer, discusses the issue in depth, and provides a unique solution: fix instead of buying. An interesting reflection." ["post_title"]=> string(80) "Fabricado para romperseManufactured to break" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(21) "manufactured-to-break" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-03-03 12:20:14" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-03-03 11:20:14" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=5033" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [1]=> object(WP_Post)#1666 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(4932) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-06-24 00:01:29" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-06-23 22:01:29" ["post_content"]=> string(3378) "En 2011 el realizador Adam Curtis creó para la BBC una serie documental de tres capítulos que sostiene que las computadoras no sólo no han conseguido el viejo sueño de mejorar la Humanidad, sino que han 'distorsionado y simplificado nuestra visión sobre el mundo que nos rodea'. El sugerente título de la serie está tomado del poema homónimo escrito en 1967 por Richard Brautigan: 'All watched over by machines of loving grace' —Todo vigilado por máquinas de gracia divina—. Este primer episodio, 'El amor y el poder', analiza los efectos de las ideas de la escritora y filósofa Ayn Rand en los mercados financieros estadounidenses, especialmente a través de la influencia de Alan Greenspan, presidente de la Reserva Federal de Estados Unidos de 1987 a 2006. 'El uso y abuso de los conceptos de vegetación' investiga cómo se aplicaron ideas surgidas del trabajo con máquinas —como la cibernética o la teoría de sistemas— a ecosistemas naturales, para tratar de construir sociedades sin un control central, redes autoorganizadas compuestas por personas, y cómo eso está relacionado con la falsa idea de que existe un equilibrio en la Naturaleza. 'El mono en la máquina y la máquina en el mono' se centra en la teoría del gen egoísta, creada por William D. Hamilton, que sostiene que los seres humanos somos máquinas controladas por nuestros genes.In 2011 the filmmaker Adam Curtis created for the BBC a documentary series of three chapters which holds that computers not only have failed in getting the old dream of improving Mankind, but have 'distorted and simplified our view of the world around us'. The suggestive title of the series is taken from the homonymous poem written in 1967 by Richard Brautigan: 'All watched over by machines of loving grace'. In this first episode, 'Love and power', Curtis tracks the effects of writer and philosopher Ayn Rand's ideas on American financial markets, particularly via the influence on Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. 'The use and abuse of vegetational concepts' investigates how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied to natural ecosystems, and how this relates to the false idea that there is a balance of nature. Cybernetics has been applied to human beings to attempt to build societies without central control, self organising networks built of people, based on a fantasy view of nature. 'The monkey in the machine and the machine in the monkey' looked into The Selfish Gene Theory, which was conceived by William D. Hamilton and holds that we humans are machines controlled by our own genes. " ["post_title"]=> string(110) "Máquinas, monos, amor y vegetaciónMachines, monkeys, love and vegetation" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(36) "machines-monkeys-love-and-vegetation" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-02-19 00:51:02" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-02-18 23:51:02" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=4932" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [2]=> object(WP_Post)#1685 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(4156) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-03-25 00:01:06" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-03-24 23:01:06" ["post_content"]=> string(1607) "'Para sobrevivir, hemos de sustituir la competición por la colaboración'. Ingeniero en informática, ha trabajado durante más de 40 años en distintas áreas dentro del ámbito de las Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones (TIC), los últimos 20 ejerciendo como directivo en diversas entidades financieras y del sector  de los seguros, gestionando direcciones de TI, organización, logística y recursos humanos. Actualmente, decepcionado por el entorno del mundo financiero y por decisión propia, trabaja de taxista con su propia licencia. 'No he estudiado y trabajado tanto para engañar a la gente ni para tener que hacer cosas inaceptables. Buscaba no tener jefes y es lo mejor que me ha pasado'. Practica el budismo y la meditación como herramienta para el crecimiento personal.'To survive, we have to replace competition for collaboration'. A Computer engineer, he has worked for over 40 years in several areas within the field of Technology on Information and Communications (TIC), the last 20 as an executive, playing his trade in different financial entities and in the insurance industry, managing TI, organization, logistics and human resources addresses. Currently, disappointed by the environment of the financial world and by free choice, works as a taxi driver with his own license. 'I did not studied and worked so hard to trick people or to have to do unacceptable things. I wanted to live without a boss and it's the best thing ever happened to me'. He practices Buddhism and meditation as a tool for personal growth." ["post_title"]=> string(132) "WHAT ABOUT: El futuro por Carlos Alberto RoldánWHAT ABOUT: The future by Carlos Alberto Roldán" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(46) "what-about-the-future-by-carlos-alberto-roldan" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 17:52:01" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 15:52:01" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=4156" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [3]=> object(WP_Post)#1847 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(7296) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2019-12-18 21:30:42" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2019-12-18 20:30:42" ["post_content"]=> string(2958) "'El futuro ha de ser, como dicen en Latinoamérica, del buen vivir' —Arcadi Oliveres es economista y profesor universitario de la Universitat Autònoma de Catalunya, participante activo en movimientos sociales desde su juventud y reconocido activista de Justícia i Pau, una organización por la promoción y defensa de los derechos humanos en todo el mundo y de la que desde 2001 es presidente. Conocido por su labor divulgativa en economía política, análisis de las corporaciones y propuestas para el consumir responsable y sostenible, es también especialista en las relaciones económicas norte-sur, deuda externa y precio justo. Gran crítico del sistema capitalista liberal contemporáneo, con su participación activa en el movimiento 15M —en su representación en la acampada de Plaza Catalunya en Barcelona en 2011— sus ideas y discurso se dieron a conocer aún más. Su condición de activista empieza con las luchas estudiantiles contra la dictadura de Franco en los 60 y se consolida con los movimientos antiglobalización y con su defensa de las teorías del decrecimiento. Participó también en la creación del Foro Social Mundial en Porto Alegre y del movimiento de los indignados 15M. Actualmente continúa con su actividad como docente en la UAB y como pensador y divulgador que transforma la economía en política, la política en sociedad y la sociedad en humanidad y justicia.'The future has to be, as they say in Latin America, the good life' —Arcadi Oliveres is a Catalan economist and UAB university professor and an active participant in social movements since his youth. Also is a recognized activist in Justice and Peace, an organization for the promotion and defense of human rights around the world. In this organitzation is the president since 2001. He is known for his divulgative work about political economy, corporate analysis and proposals for responsible and sustainable consumption. Also specializes in North-South relations in international economics, foreign debt and fair price. Great critic of contemporary liberal capitalist system, with its active participation in the 15M movement —in its representation in the camp of Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona 2011— his speech became more known. His activism began in his youth with the student movement against the dictatorship of Franco in the 60s, it was consolidated with the anti-globalization movements and their theoretical conceptualizations and defense theories of degrowth. He also participated in the creation of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre and the Indignados movement (15M). Continues its activities as a teacher at UAB, and activist, thinker and promotor, we hope that his work will not cease, and leave us for many years, this light provided by this economist, where the economy is transformed into politics, politics into society, and society in humanity and justice." 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