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.

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.

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(2) { [0]=> int(899) [1]=> int(25) }
array(4) { [0]=> object(WP_Post)#1633 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(6783) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2014-07-07 00:01:50" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2014-07-06 22:01:50" ["post_content"]=> string(1130) "'Para cambiar algo a nivel social, lo primero es cambiar a nivel personal'. Co-fundador de OuiShare —comunidad global que anima a ciudadanos, instituciones públicas y empresas a construir una sociedad más colaborativa—, investiga, escribe, habla y enseña sobre el poder de la colaboración y el compartir. También trabaja como estratega de innovación para empresas, gobiernos y organismos públicos con el objetivo de ayudarles a adaptarse al cambio causado por el poder de compartir y la colaboración a través de las tecnologías en red.'To change something on a social level, the first thing is to change on a personal level'. Co-founder of OuiShare —a global community empowering citizens, public institutions and companies to build a collaborative society—, he researches, writes, speaks and teaches on the power of collaboration and sharing. He also works as an innovation strategist for companies, governments and public agencies aiming to embrace the disruption caused by the power of sharing and collaboration through network technologies." ["post_title"]=> string(120) "WHAT ABOUT: El futuro por Antonin LéonardWHAT ABOUT: The future by Antonin Léonard" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(40) "what-about-the-future-by-antonin-leonard" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 14:57:20" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 12:57:20" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=6783" ["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)#1615 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(4613) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-04-15 00:01:01" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-04-14 22:01:01" ["post_content"]=> string(2684) "'La libertad como la conocemos hoy, sin límites, no va a existir en 30 ó 50 años'. Economista jefe y líder del equipo regional de Desarrollo Humano y Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio en la Dirección Regional para América Latina y el Caribe del PNUD —Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo— en Nueva York, George viene del Instituto Alternativo, donde condujo investigaciones sobre desarrollo económico, sostenibilidad ambiental, pobreza e inequidad en América Latina. Previamente fue miembro de la sociedad de Líderes Globales de la Escuela de Asuntos Públicos e Internacionales Woodrow Wilson, en las Universidades de Princeton y Oxford, donde su investigación estaba enfocada en nichos de crecimiento económico dentro de economías de bajo crecimiento. Fue también investigador asociado del Centro de Investigación sobre Desigualdad, Etnicidad y Seguridad Humana —CRISE— de Oxford y miembro del Centro Diálogo Interamericano en Washington. Entre 2004 y 2008 fue coordinador del Informe de Desarrollo Humano PNUD en Bolivia, y contribuyó al Informe de Desarrollo Humano Global durante 2008 y 2009. Fue director de la Unidad de Análisis de Política Económica del Gobierno Boliviano —UDAPE— y director del Programa de Maestría en Política Pública de la Universidad Católica de ese país. George tiene además un doctorado en Filosofía y Política de la Universidad de Oxford, un máster en Política Pública de la Kennedy School of Government de la Universidad de Harvard y un pregrado en Economía y Antropología de la Universidad de Cornell.'Freedom as we know it, without limits, will not exist in 30 or 50 years'. Chief Economist in the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at UNDP —United Nations Development Programme— in New York, he is currently working on poverty and inequality research in the region, middle income challenges and measurement of subjective well-being. In his home country, Bolivia, he was the coordinator of the Bolivian Human Development Report Office and the lead author for four National Human Development reports, between 2004 and 2008. From 2002 to 2004, he was director of the Bolivian Ministry of the Presidency’s social and economic think-tank, UDAPE —Unidad de Análisis de Políticas Sociales y Económicas—, and Coordinator of the Catholic University’s Public Policy Master’s Programme, MpD from 2000 to 2002. George holds a BA in Anthropology and Economics from Cornell University, an MPP in Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and a DPhil in Politics from Nuffield College, University of Oxford." ["post_title"]=> string(124) "WHAT ABOUT: El futuro por George Gray MolinaWHAT ABOUT: The future by George Gray Molina" ["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(43) "what-about-the-future-by-george-gray-molina" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 15:07:49" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 13:07:49" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=4613" ["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)#1634 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(4687) ["post_author"]=> string(4) "2049" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-04-29 00:01:44" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-04-28 22:01:44" ["post_content"]=> string(3706) "'El futuro es una vuelta al feudalismo'. Doctor en sociología, está especializado en etnografía urbana. Con más de 15 años de experiencia en investigación cualitativa tanto en Nueva York como internacionalmente, es autor y coautor de de numerosos artículos y estudios. Su tesis doctoral consistió en un estudio comparativo titulado 'Sobreviviendo a la educación secundaria: explorando el impacto de la violencia y el crimen en la experiencia académica de inmigrantes y americanos'. En el Vera Institute of Justice, con el doctor Mercer Sullivan como mentor y una beca de Instituto Nacional de Justicia de Estados Unidos, investigó sobre la relación de las razas con la violencia adolescente, las bandas y la inmigración. En colaboración con el el criminólogo Rob Davis exploró la relación entre la policía y la comunidad y sus efectos en las denuncias civiles. En 2000 entró en el NDRI —National Disease Research Interchange— como investigador asociado en dos proyectos del NIH —National Institutes of Health— liderados por el Dr Samuel R. Friedman: 'Redes, normas y riesgo de SIDA en la juventud' y 'Factores sociales y riesgo de SIDA'. Ambos proyectos exploran las relaciones entre adictos, distribuidores, policía y otros actores de la comunidad, y cómo estas afectan a los resultados sobre salud y crimen. También ha sido investigador en un proyecto del NIDA —National Institute on Drug Abuse— cuyo objetivo es ayudar a los adictos a establecer estrategias para mantenerse alejados del SIDA y la hepatitis C; el proyecto contó además con una red de colaboradores en Londres, Sydney, Valencia y Vancouver. Actualmente, Pedro es investigador principal en un proyecto del NIDA que analiza el riesgo de SIDA y hepatitis C asociado al uso sin prescripción médica de opioides.'The future is a return to feudalism'. PhD in sociology, specialized in urban ethnography. With over 15 years experience in qualitative research both in New York City and internationally, he is first author and co-author of numerous peer reviewed publications and reports. His doctoral dissertation was a comparative study titled 'Street ethos: surviving High School that explored the impact of violence and crime on the academic experience of immigrants and American-born students'. At the Vera Institute of Justice, mentored by Dr Mercer Sullivan, he was the principal investigator of a National Institute of Justice grant that focused on race theory as it relates to adolescent violence, gangs and immigration. In collaboration with criminologist Rob Davis he explored the relationship between police and the community and its effect on civilian complaints. In 2000, he joined NDRI —National Disease Research Interchange— as a principal research associate for two NIH —National Institutes of Health— projects led by Samuel R. Friedman, PhD: 'Networks, norms and HIV risk among youth' and 'Social factors and HIV risk'. Both projects explored interactions among drug users, dealers, police and other community actors and how they relate to various health and crime outcomes. He was also principal investigator on a NIDA —National Institute on Drug Abuse— developmental project aimed at training injector drug users in strategies to avoid HIV and HCV infections, 'Staying safe: training IDUs in strategies to avoid HIV and HCV'. A consortium of researchers in London, Sydney, Valencia, and Vancouver collaborated in parallel 'Staying safe' studies. He is currently principal investigator on an NIDA funded R01 that explores HIV, HCV and STI risk associated with nonmedical use of prescription opioids." ["post_title"]=> string(128) "WHAT ABOUT: El futuro por Pedro Mateu-GelabertWHAT ABOUT: The future by Pedro Mateu-Gelabert" ["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(45) "what-about-the-future-by-pedro-mateu-gelabert" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 15:02:58" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2021-05-05 13:02:58" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(29) "http://whatonline.org/?p=4687" ["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)#1806 (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. 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