Synergy — more than new-age blather

The Tidings has recently been printing some local debate over whether capitalism or socialism is the best economic framework. Only one individual seems to have observed that what one actually needs is a "corrected" form of capitalism, and his remarks seem to have been totally ignored. I would like to confirm his viewpoint, and moreover to put this on a scientific footing via results from the discipline of nonlinear dynamics (NLD).

"Synergy" is not merely some woo-woo new-age blather. It describes the facts of our physical world. E.G., the water molecule H2O has properties that one could never predict on the basis of those of atoms of O and H alone. The combination creates something entirely new. Similarly, NLD reveals that totally new dynamic behavior can result from combining behaviors that are totally boring in and of themselves, and this resultant behavior is stable: It continues ad infinitum. One can forego the math here and speak descriptively.

However complex the behavior that results, there are always two underlying dynamics that must exist simultaneously for any sort of stable time-dependent behavior to result: competitive and cooperative. One begins to find this in the simplest molecular reactions that permit such new, stable, dynamic structure. One again finds it in much more complex biochemical systems. And at a higher level, in ecological and sociological systems. Whatever fascinating new wrinkles develop, the underlying dynamic is always the same over and over again, without which things can't even get off the ground: competition and cooperation.

If one does not have a cooperative dynamic, the system simply "explodes;" i.e., exhausts all resources. If one does not have a competitive dynamic, the system must "implode;" i.e., it dies, does nothing. All of this can be made very precise, and in the process one finds that competition and cooperation are not in themselves adequate to guarantee a stable dynamic, but rather these factors must be very carefully tuned to each other. This tuning is not necessarily self-evident, and when one works with modeling, very unintuitive adjustments are often needed.

I suggest that this tuning is what is needed now in our world economy, and merely simplistic thinking will be fruitless, and even destructive. The tuning certainly has much precedent. Europe seems to be a bit ahead of us on dickering with this. Partly, I think our moral sensibilities can guide us. Few people would consciously write off the fates of the disenfranchised who get steamrolled by corporate megabusinesses. But perhaps a majority of CEOs do this. It is a bit more subtle of an issue when people are severely circumscribed in their possibilities, individual expression. Both the old Soviet Union and China began "dying" as a result of this circumscription.

Common sense, which can be very uncommon, should be our guide here. It is highly underrated.

Aaron Corbet is a biophysicist who has lived in Ashland for the past 13 years.

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