Crashes, Crises, and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to by Len Fisher

By Len Fisher

Why do definite civilizations, societies, and ecosystems cave in? How does the domino influence relate to the credits crunch? while can arithmetic aid clarify marriage? and the way on the earth do toads are expecting earthquakes? the longer term is doubtful. yet technological know-how will help foretell what lies ahead.Drawing on ecology and biology, math and physics, Crashes, Crises, and Calamities deals 4 primary instruments that scientists and engineers use to forecast the chance of unexpected switch: balance, disaster, complexity, and video game theories. In obtainable prose, Len Fisher demonstrates how we will foresee and deal with occasions that may in a different way seize us via surprise.At the leading edge of technological know-how, Fisher is helping us locate how you can act earlier than a full-fledged disaster is upon us. Crashes, Crises, and Calamities is a witty and informative exploration of the chaos, complexity, and styles of our day-by-day lives.

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It is not to deny the experience of those who have had “premonitions” to point out that, statistically speaking, most of these are likely to be no more than coincidence. Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic’s Dictionary, explains premonitions in terms of “the Law of Truly Large Numbers”: Say the odds are a million to one that when a person has a dream of an airplane crash, there is an airplane crash the next day. 5 million people a day who have dreams that seem clairvoyant. True believers, though, will always hang on to their belief that premonitions must have “something in them,” even though Aristotle dismissed precognition, Freud himself ridiculed the idea that dreams could reveal the future, and modern “clairvoyants” have repeatedly failed scientific tests of their supposed abilities and often been exposed as frauds.

One of the most spectacular collapses was that of the choir vault in Beauvais Cathedral, just twelve years after the building had been completed in 1272. It was the tallest Gothic cathedral ever built, and in their anxiety to beat the competition, its French builders had made the buttresses thinner as well as taller! Various reasons have been suggested for the cause of the ultimate collapse, but the best guess seems to be that the buttresses were so thin that the resulting structure was simply able to flex and either broke directly or vibrated itself to pieces in a high wind.

The prior knowledge just isn’t there. Others, though, are caused by critical transitions, where the seeds of sudden change are built into a system and a complicated balance between positive and negative feedback processes slowly takes the system to a tipping point where a further small change initiates an abrupt and dramatic shift. As many of the examples in this book will show, the point at which this happens is often predictable in principle, and sometimes in practice, although we are still at an early (and exciting) stage when it comes to understanding these processes in real life.

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