"Chaos is a book that deserves to be read, for it chronicles the birth of a new scientific technique Viking Penguin Inc. Published in Penguin Books PDF | 2 hours read | On Jan 1, , Peter I. Kattan and others published Chaos Theory Simply Most books on chaos theory start with. chaos. James Gleick's book, Chaos: making a new science and a Most books on chaos, while praiseworthy in many respects, use a high level of.
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This book is a result of collaborative labors of many people over a span of several decades. Coauthors of a chapter or a section are indicated in the byline to the. Chaos, symbolic dynamics and periodic orbits . This book is a result of collaborative labors of many people over a span of several decades. caite.info, This book is a result of collaborative labors of many people over a span of several decades. ner and G. Vattay, Chaos: Classical and Quantum (Niels Bohr Institute,. Copenhagen .. In the hyperlinked caite.info these destinations are.
Positive feedback loops, adding effect to effect, can spiral counterproductively in a negative direction, but can also work to get you ahead. Serotonin and octopamine also regulate the tail-flick reflex, which serves to propel a lobster rapidly backwards when it needs to escape. Because of this, they are more likely to attract high- quality mates, and to hatch chicks who survive and thrive. The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. This means that dominance hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted. Being, for the Taoists—reality itself—is composed of two opposing principles, often translated as feminine and masculine, or even more narrowly as female and male.
Physics Complexity. Understanding Complex Systems Free Preview. Buy eBook. Buy Hardcover. Buy Softcover. FAQ Policy. About this book This book is a collection of contributions on various aspects of active frontier research in the field of dynamical systems and chaos.
Show all. Soon after, I answered another question: The Quora readers appeared pleased with this list. They commented on and shared it. Only a few hundred of the roughly six hundred thousand questions on Quora have cracked the two- thousand-upvote barrier.
My procrastination-induced musings hit a nerve. I had written a It was not obvious to me when I wrote the list of rules for living that it was going to perform so well. I had put a fair bit of care into all the sixty or so answers I submitted in the few months surrounding that post. Nonetheless, Quora provides market research at its finest. The respondents are anonymous. Their opinions are spontaneous and unbiased.
Perhaps I struck the right balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar while formulating the rules. Perhaps people were drawn to the structure that such rules imply. Perhaps people just like lists. A few months earlier, in March of , I had received an email from a literary agent. She had heard me speak on CBC radio during a show entitled Just Say No to Happiness, where I had criticized the idea that happiness was the proper goal for life.
Over the previous decades I had read more than my share of dark books about the twentieth century, focusing particularly on Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. On the radio show, I suggested, instead, that a deeper meaning was required. I noted that the nature of such meaning was constantly re-presented in the great stories of the past, and that it had more to do with developing character in the face of suffering than with happiness.
This is part of the long history of the present work. From until I worked for about three hours a day on the only other book I have ever published: Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. During that time, and in the years since, I also taught a course on the material in that book, first at Harvard, and now at the University of Toronto. In , observing the rise of YouTube, and because of the popularity of some work I had done with TVO, a Canadian public TV station, I decided to film my university and public lectures and place them online.
The number of views has risen very dramatically since then up to eighteen million as I write this , but that is in part because I became embroiled in a political controversy that drew an inordinate amount of attention. Maybe even another book. I proposed in Maps of Meaning that the great myths and religious stories of the past, particularly those derived from an earlier, oral tradition, were moral in their intent, rather than descriptive.
Thus, they did not concern themselves with what the world was, as a scientist might have it, but with how a human being should act. I suggested that our ancestors portrayed the world as a stage—a drama—instead of a place of objects.
I described how I had come to believe that the constituent elements of the world as drama were order and chaos, and not material things. Order is where the people around you act according to well-understood social norms, and remain predictable and cooperative. The state of Order is typically portrayed, symbolically—imaginatively—as masculine.
Chaos, by contrast, is where—or when—something unexpected happens. Chaos emerges, in trivial form, when you tell a joke at a party with people you think you know and a silent and embarrassing chill falls over the gathering. Chaos is what emerges more catastrophically when you suddenly find yourself without employment, or are betrayed by a lover. Order and chaos are the yang and yin of the famous Taoist symbol: Order is the white, masculine serpent; Chaos, its black, fn1 feminine counterpart.
The black dot in the white—and the white in the black— indicate the possibility of transformation: Conversely, just when everything seems lost, new order can emerge from catastrophe and chaos. For the Taoists, meaning is to be found on the border between the ever- entwined pair. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life, the divine Way.
It left her asking herself deeper questions. I had previously attempted to produce a more accessible version of Maps of Meaning, which is a very dense book.
But I found that the spirit was neither in me during that attempt nor in the resultant manuscript. I think this was because I was imitating my former self, and my previous book, instead of occupying the place between order and chaos and producing something new. I thought if she did that we could have a more informed and thorough discussion about what kind of topics I might address in a more publicly accessible book.
She contacted me a few weeks later, after watching all four lectures and discussing them with a colleague. Her interest had been further heightened, as had her commitment to the project. That was promising—and unexpected. You can decide for yourself what truth there might be in that concern after reading this book. I thought immediately about my Quora list. I had in the meantime written some further thoughts about of the rules I had posted.
People had responded positively toward those new ideas, as well. So, I sent her the list. She liked it. At about the same time, a friend and former student of mine—the novelist and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz—was considering a new book, which would become the bestselling thriller Orphan X.
He liked the rules, too. That was another piece of evidence supporting my supposition of their attractiveness. I suggested to my agent that I write a brief chapter on each of the rules.
She agreed, so I wrote a book proposal suggesting as much. I had much more to say about each rule than I originally envisioned. This was partly because I had spent a very long time researching my first book: I integrated all of that, for better or worse, trying to address a perplexing problem: People who live by the same code are rendered mutually predictable to one another.
They can cooperate. They can even compete peacefully, because everyone knows what to expect from everyone else. A shared belief system, partly psychological, partly acted out, simplifies everyone—in their own eyes, and in the eyes of others.
Shared beliefs simplify the world, as well, because people who know what to expect from one another can act together to tame the world. There is perhaps nothing more important than the maintenance of this organization—this simplification. They will fight, instead, to maintain the match between what they believe, what they expect, and what they desire.
They will fight to maintain the match between what they expect and how everyone is acting. It is precisely the maintenance of that match that enables everyone to live together peacefully, predictably and productively.
It reduces uncertainty and the chaotic mix of intolerable emotions that uncertainty inevitably produces. Imagine someone betrayed by a trusted lover. The sacred social contract obtaining between the two has been violated. Actions speak louder than words, and an act of betrayal disrupts the fragile and carefully negotiated peace of an intimate relationship. In the aftermath of disloyalty, people are seized by terrible emotions: Conflict is inevitable, sometimes with deadly results.
Shared belief systems— shared systems of agreed-upon conduct and expectation—regulate and control all those powerful forces. A shared cultural system stabilizes human interaction, but is also a system of value—a hierarchy of value, where some things are given priority and importance and others are not. In the absence of such a system of value, people simply cannot act.
We experience much of our positive emotion in relation to goals. Worse yet is the fact that the meaning of life without positive value is not simply neutral.
Because we are vulnerable and mortal, pain and anxiety are an integral part of human existence. We must have something to set against the suffering that is intrinsic to Being. We must have fn2 the meaning inherent in a profound system of value or the horror of existence rapidly becomes paramount. Then, nihilism beckons, with its hopelessness and despair.
Between value systems, however, there is the possibility of conflict. We are thus eternally caught between the most diamantine rock and the hardest of places: In the West, we have been withdrawing from our tradition-, religion- and even nation-centred cultures, partly to decrease the danger of group conflict.
But we are increasingly falling prey to the desperation of meaninglessness, and that is no improvement at all. While writing Maps of Meaning, I was also driven by the realization that we can no longer afford conflict—certainly not on the scale of the world conflagrations of the twentieth century. Our technologies of destruction have become too powerful.
The potential consequences of war are literally apocalyptic. But we cannot simply abandon our systems of value, our beliefs, our cultures, either. I agonized over this apparently intractable problem for months. Was there a third way, invisible to me?
I dreamt one night during this period that I was suspended in mid-air, clinging to a chandelier, many stories above the ground, directly under the dome of a massive cathedral. The people on the floor below were distant and tiny. There was a great expanse between me and any wall—and even the peak of the dome itself. I have learned to pay attention to dreams, not least because of my training as a clinical psychologist. Dreams shed light on the dim places where reason itself has yet to voyage.
I have studied Christianity a fair bit, too more than other religious traditions, although I am always trying to redress this lack. Like others, therefore, I must and do draw more from what I do know than from what I do not.
I knew that cathedrals were constructed in the shape of a cross, and that the point under the dome was the centre of the cross. I knew that the cross was simultaneously, the point of greatest suffering, the point of death and transformation, and the symbolic centre of the world. That was not somewhere I wanted to be.
I managed to get down, out of the heights—out of the symbolic sky—back to safe, familiar, anonymous ground. Then, still in my dream, I returned to my bedroom and my bed and tried to return to sleep and the peace of unconsciousness.
A great wind was dissolving me, preparing to propel me back to the cathedral, to place me once again at that central point. There was no escape. It was a true nightmare. I forced myself awake. The curtains behind me were blowing in over my pillows. Half asleep, I looked at the foot of the bed. I saw the great cathedral doors.
I shook myself completely awake and they disappeared. My dream placed me at the centre of Being itself, and there was no escape. It took me months to understand what this meant.
During this time, I came to a more complete, personal realization of what the great stories of the past continually insist upon: The centre is marked by the cross, as X marks the spot. Existence at that cross is suffering and transformation—and that fact, above all, needs to be voluntarily accepted. It is possible to transcend slavish adherence to the group and its doctrines and, simultaneously, to avoid the pitfalls of its opposite extreme, nihilism.
It is possible, instead, to find sufficient meaning in individual consciousness and experience. How could the world be freed from the terrible dilemma of conflict, on the one hand, and psychological and social dissolution, on the other? The answer was this: We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.
We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. But the alternative—the horror of authoritarian belief, the chaos of the collapsed state, the tragic catastrophe of the unbridled natural world, the existential angst and weakness of the purposeless individual—is clearly worse.
I have been thinking and lecturing about such ideas for decades. I have built up a large corpus of stories and concepts pertaining to them. I am not for a moment claiming, however, that I am entirely correct or complete in my thinking.
In any case, the consequence of all that previous research and thinking was the new essays which eventually became this book. My initial idea was to write a short essay on all forty of the answers I had provided to Quora. That proposal was accepted by Penguin Random House Canada. While writing, however, I cut the essay number to twenty-five and then to sixteen and then finally, to the current twelve.
It took a long time to settle on a title: An Antidote to Chaos. Why did that one rise up above all others? First and foremost, because of its simplicity. It indicates clearly that people need ordering principles, and that chaos otherwise beckons. We require rules, standards, values—alone and together. We must bear a load, to justify our miserable existence. We require routine and tradition.
We need to stay on the straight and narrow path. Each of the twelve rules of this book—and their accompanying essays— therefore provide a guide to being there.
Perhaps, if we lived properly, we would be able to tolerate the weight of our own self- consciousness. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we could withstand the knowledge of our own fragility and mortality, without the sense of aggrieved victimhood that produces, first, resentment, then envy, and then the desire for vengeance and destruction.
Perhaps we could come to avoid those pathways to Hell—and we have seen in the terrible twentieth century just how real Hell can be. I hope that these rules and their accompanying essays will help people understand what they already know: If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish. Best wishes to you all, as you proceed through these pages.
However, these interesting and delicious crustaceans are very much worth considering. Their nervous systems are comparatively simple, with large, easily observable neurons, the magic cells of the brain. Because of this, scientists have been able to map the neural circuitry of lobsters very accurately. This has helped us understand the structure and function of the brain and behaviour of more complex animals, including human beings.
Lobsters have more in common with you than you might think particularly when you are feeling crabby—ha ha. Lobsters live on the ocean floor.
They need a home base down there, a range within which they hunt for prey and scavenge around for stray edible bits and pieces of whatever rains down from the continual chaos of carnage and death far above. They want somewhere secure, where the hunting and the gathering is good. They want a home. This can present a problem, since there are many lobsters. What if two of them occupy the same territory, at the bottom of the ocean, at the same time, and both want to live there?
What if there are hundreds of lobsters, all trying to make a living and raise a family, in the same crowded patch of sand and refuse? Other creatures have this problem, too. When songbirds come north in the spring, for example, they engage in ferocious territorial disputes. The songs they sing, so peaceful and beautiful to human ears, are siren calls and cries of domination. A brilliantly musical bird is a small warrior proclaiming his sovereignty.
Take the wren, for example, a small, feisty, insect-eating songbird common in North America. A newly arrived wren wants a sheltered place to build a nest, away from the wind and rain. He wants it close to food, and attractive to potential mates. He also wants to convince competitors for that space to keep their distance.
Birds—and Territory My dad and I designed a house for a wren family when I was ten years old. It looked like a Conestoga wagon, and had a front entrance about the size of a quarter.
My elderly neighbour had a birdhouse, too, which we built for her at the same time, from an old rubber boot. It had an opening large enough for a bird the size of a robin. She was looking forward to the day it was occupied. A wren soon discovered our birdhouse, and made himself at home there. We could hear his lengthy, trilling song, repeated over and over, during the early spring. He packed it so full that no other bird, large or small, could possibly get in.
Our neighbour was not pleased by this pre-emptive strike, but there was nothing to be done about it. I had broken my leg skiing the previous winter—first time down the hill—and had received some money from a school insurance policy designed to reward unfortunate, clumsy children. I purchased a cassette recorder a high-tech novelty at the time with the proceeds. So, I went out into the bright spring sunlight and taped a few minutes of the wren laying furious claim to his territory with song.
Then I let him hear his own voice. That little bird, one-third the size of a sparrow, began to dive-bomb me and my cassette recorder, swooping back and forth, inches from the speaker. We saw a lot of that sort of behaviour, even in the absence of the tape recorder. Now, wrens and lobsters are very different. Lobsters do not fly, sing or perch in trees. Wrens have feathers, not hard shells. However, they are also similar in important ways. Both are obsessed with status and position, for example, like a great many creatures.
The birds that always have priority access to whatever food is sprinkled out in the yard in the morning are the celebrity chickens. After them come the second- stringers, the hangers-on and wannabes. Then the third-rate chickens have their turn, and so on, down to the bedraggled, partially-feathered and badly-pecked wretches who occupy the lowest, untouchable stratum of the chicken hierarchy.
Chickens, like suburbanites, live communally. Songbirds, such as wrens, do not, but they still inhabit a dominance hierarchy. The wiliest, strongest, healthiest and most fortunate birds occupy prime territory, and defend it.
Because of this, they are more likely to attract high- quality mates, and to hatch chicks who survive and thrive. Protection from wind, rain and predators, as well as easy access to superior food, makes for a much less stressed existence. Territory matters, and there is little difference between territorial rights and social status. It is often a matter of life and death. If a contagious avian disease sweeps through a neighbourhood of well- stratified songbirds, it is the least dominant and most stressed birds, occupying the lowest rungs of the bird world, who are most likely to sicken and die.
The poor and stressed always die first, and in greater numbers. They are also much more susceptible to non-infectious diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. When the aristocracy catches a cold, as it is said, the working class dies of pneumonia. Because territory matters, and because the best locales are always in short supply, territory-seeking among animals produces conflict.
Conflict, in turn, produces another problem: This latter point is particularly important. Imagine that two birds engage in a squabble about a desirable nesting area. The interaction can easily degenerate into outright physical combat. That means a third bird, an undamaged, canny bystander, can move in, opportunistically, and defeat the now-crippled victor. That is not at all a good deal for the first two birds.
Conflict—and Territory Over the millennia, animals who must co-habit with others in the same territories have in consequence learned many tricks to establish dominance, while risking the least amount of possible damage. A defeated wolf, for example, will roll over on its back, exposing its throat to the victor, who will not then deign to tear it out. The now-dominant wolf may still require a future hunting partner, after all, even one as pathetic as his now-defeated foe.
Bearded dragons, remarkable social lizards, wave their front legs peaceably at one another to indicate their wish for continued social harmony. Dolphins produce specialized sound pulses while hunting and during other times of high excitement to reduce potential conflict among dominant and subordinate group members.
Such behavior is endemic in the community of living things. Lobsters, scuttling around on the ocean floor, are no exception. Each lobster will first begin to explore the new territory, partly to map its details, and partly to find a good place for shelter.
Lobsters learn a lot about where they live, and they remember what they learn. If you startle one near its nest, it will quickly zip back and hide there. If you startle it some distance away, however, it will immediately dart towards the nearest suitable shelter, previously identified and now remembered.
A lobster needs a safe hiding place to rest, free from predators and the forces of nature. Furthermore, as lobsters grow, they moult, or shed their shells, which leaves them soft and vulnerable for extended periods of time. A burrow under a rock makes a good lobster home, particularly if it is located where shells and other detritus can be dragged into place to cover the entrance, once the lobster is snugly ensconced inside.
However, there may be only a small number of high- quality shelters or hiding places in each new territory. They are scarce and valuable. Other lobsters continually seek them out. This means that lobsters often encounter one another when out exploring. Researchers have demonstrated that even a lobster raised in isolation knows what to do when such a thing happens. At the same time, it employs special jets under its eyes to direct streams of liquid at its opponent.
The liquid spray contains a mix of chemicals that tell the other lobster about its size, sex, health, and mood. Sometimes one lobster can tell immediately from the display of claw size that it is much smaller than its opponent, and will back down without a fight. The chemical information exchanged in the spray can have the same effect, convincing a less healthy or less aggressive lobster to retreat.
With antennae whipping madly and claws folded downward, one will advance, and the other retreat. Then the defender will advance, and the aggressor retreat.
After a couple of rounds of this behaviour, the more nervous of the lobsters may feel that continuing is not in his best interest. He will flick his tail reflexively, dart backwards, and vanish, to try his luck elsewhere. If neither blinks, however, the lobsters move to Level 3, which involves genuine combat. This time, the now enraged lobsters come at each other viciously, with their claws extended, to grapple.
Each tries to flip the other on its back. A successfully flipped lobster will conclude that its opponent is capable of inflicting serious damage.
It generally gives up and leaves although it harbours intense resentment and gossips endlessly about the victor behind its back. If neither can overturn the other—or if one will not quit despite being flipped—the lobsters move to Level 4. Doing so involves extreme risk, and is not something to be engaged in without forethought: The animals advance on each other, with increasing speed. Their claws are open, so they can grab a leg, or antenna, or an eye-stalk, or anything else exposed and vulnerable.
Once a body part has been successfully grabbed, the grabber will tail-flick backwards, sharply, with claw clamped firmly shut, and try to tear it off.
Disputes that have escalated to this point typically create a clear winner and loser. The loser is unlikely to survive, particularly if he or she remains in the territory occupied by the winner, now a mortal enemy.
In the aftermath of a losing battle, regardless of how aggressively a lobster has behaved, it becomes unwilling to fight further, even against another, previously defeated opponent. A vanquished competitor loses confidence, sometimes for days. Sometimes the defeat can have even more severe consequences. If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves.
Anyone who has experienced a painful transformation after a serious defeat in romance or career may feel some sense of kinship with the once successful crustacean. This is reflected in their relative postures. Whether a lobster is confident or cringing depends on the ratio of two chemicals that modulate communication between lobster neurons: Winning increases the ratio of the former to the latter. A lobster with high levels of serotonin and low levels of octopamine is a cocky, strutting sort of shellfish, much less likely to back down when challenged.
This is because serotonin helps regulate postural flexion. A flexed lobster extends its appendages so that it can look tall and dangerous, like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western. When a lobster that has just lost a battle is exposed to serotonin, it will stretch itself out, advance even on former victors, and fight longer and harder. In one of the more staggering demonstrations of the evolutionary continuity of life on Earth, Prozac even cheers up lobsters. The opposite neurochemical configuration, a high ratio of octopamine to serotonin, produces a defeated-looking, scrunched-up, inhibited, drooping, skulking sort of lobster, very likely to hang around street corners, and to vanish at the first hint of trouble.
Serotonin and octopamine also regulate the tail-flick reflex, which serves to propel a lobster rapidly backwards when it needs to escape. Less provocation is necessary to trigger that reflex in a defeated lobster. You can see an echo of that in the heightened startle reflex characteristic of the soldier or battered child with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Principle of Unequal Distribution When a defeated lobster regains its courage and dares to fight again it is more likely to lose again than you would predict, statistically, from a tally of its previous fights. Its victorious opponent, on the other hand, is more likely to win.
That same brutal principle of unequal distribution applies outside the financial domain—indeed, anywhere that creative production is required. The majority of scientific papers are published by a very small group of scientists.
A tiny proportion of musicians produces almost all the recorded commercial music. Just a handful of authors sell all the books. A million and a half separately titled books! However, only five hundred of these sell more than a hundred thousand copies.
Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed. The same thing applies to the output of the other three members of this group of hyper-dominant composers: Thus, a small fraction of the music composed by a small fraction of all the classical composers who have ever composed makes up almost all the classical music that the world knows and loves.
It can be modelled using an approximately L-shaped graph, with number of people on the vertical axis, and productivity or resources on the horizontal. The basic principle had been discovered much earlier. Vilfredo Pareto — , an Italian polymath, noticed its applicability to wealth distribution in the early twentieth century, and it appears true for every society ever studied, regardless of governmental form.
It also applies to the population of cities a very small number have almost all the people , the mass of heavenly bodies a very small number hoard all the matter , and the frequency of words in a language 90 percent of communication occurs using just words , among many other things. Sometimes it is known as the Matthew Principle Matthew Back to the fractious shellfish: All a victor needs to do, once he has won, is to wiggle his antennae in a threatening manner, and a previous opponent will vanish in a puff of sand before him.
A weaker lobster will quit trying, accept his lowly status, and keep his legs attached to his body. All the Girls The female lobsters who also fight hard for territory during the explicitly maternal stages of their existence14 identify the top guy quickly, and become irresistibly attracted to him. This is brilliant strategy, in my estimation. Instead of undertaking the computationally difficult task of identifying the best man, the females outsource the problem to the machine-like calculations of the dominance hierarchy.
They let the males fight it out and peel their paramours from the top. This is very much what happens with stock-market pricing, where the value of any particular enterprise is determined through the competition of all.
When the females are ready to shed their shells and soften up a bit, they become interested in mating. If properly charmed, however, he will change his behaviour towards the female.
This is the lobster equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey, the fastest-selling paperback of all time, and the eternal Beauty-and-the-Beast plot of archetypal romance.
This is the pattern of behaviour continually represented in the sexually explicit literary fantasies that are as popular among women as provocative images of naked women are among men. It should be pointed out, however, that sheer physical power is an unstable basis on which to found lasting dominance, as the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal15 has taken pains to demonstrate. Among the chimp troupes he studied, males who were successful in the longer term had to buttress their physical prowess with more sophisticated attributes.
Even the most brutal chimp despot can be taken down, after all, by two opponents, each three-quarters as mean. The political ploy of baby-kissing is literally millions of years old. But lobsters are still comparatively primitive, so the bare plot elements of Beast and Beauty suffice for them. Once the Beast has been successfully charmed, the successful female lobster will disrobe, shedding her shell, making herself dangerously soft, vulnerable, and ready to mate.
At the right moment, the male, now converted into a careful lover, deposits a packet of sperm into the appropriate receptacle. Afterward, the female hangs around, and hardens up for a couple of weeks another phenomenon not entirely unknown among human beings. At her leisure, she returns to her own domicile, laden with fertilized eggs.
At this point another female will attempt the same thing—and so on. The dominant male, with his upright and confident posture, not only gets the prime real estate and easiest access to the best hunting grounds. He also gets all the girls. It is exponentially more worthwhile to be successful, if you are a lobster, and male.
Why is all this relevant? For an amazing number of reasons, apart from those that are comically obvious. First, we know that lobsters have been around, in one form or another, for more than million years. Sixty-five million years ago, there were still dinosaurs. That is the unimaginably distant past to us.
To the lobsters, however, dinosaurs were the nouveau riche, who appeared and disappeared in the flow of near-eternal time. This means that dominance hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted. A third of a billion years ago, brains and nervous systems were comparatively simple. Nonetheless, they already had the structure and neurochemistry necessary to process information about status and society. The importance of this fact can hardly be overstated.
The Nature of Nature It is a truism of biology that evolution is conservative. When something evolves, it must build upon what nature has already produced. New features may be added, and old features may undergo some alteration, but most things remain the same. It is for this reason that the wings of bats, the hands of human beings, and the fins of whales look astonishingly alike in their skeletal form. They even have the same number of bones.
Evolution laid down the cornerstones for basic physiology long ago. Now evolution works, in large part, through variation and natural selection. Variation exists for many reasons, including gene-shuffling to put it simply and random mutation. Individuals vary within a species for such reasons. Nature chooses from among them, across time. We make many assumptions about nature—about the environment—and these have consequences. The environment—the nature that selects—itself transforms.
The famous yin and yang symbols of the Taoists capture this beautifully. Being, for the Taoists—reality itself—is composed of two opposing principles, often translated as feminine and masculine, or even more narrowly as female and male.
However, yin and yang are more accurately understood as chaos and order. The Taoist symbol is a circle enclosing twin serpents, head to tail. The black serpent, chaos, has a white dot in its head. The white serpent, order, has a black dot in its head. This is because chaos and order are interchangeable, as well as eternally juxtaposed.
There is nothing so certain that it cannot vary. Even the sun itself has its cycles of instability. Likewise, there is nothing so mutable that it cannot be fixed. Every revolution produces a new order. Every death is, simultaneously, a metamorphosis. Considering nature as purely static produces serious errors of apprehension.
If that demand is conceptualized as static—if nature is conceptualized as eternal and unchanging—then evolution is a never- ending series of linear improvements, and fitness is something that can be ever more closely approximated across time. The still-powerful Victorian idea of evolutionary progress, with man at the pinnacle, is a partial consequence of this model of nature.
It produces the erroneous notion that there is a destination of natural selection increasing fitness to the environment , and that it can be conceptualized as a fixed point. But nature, the selecting agent, is not a static selector—not in any simple sense.
Nature dresses differently for each occasion. Nature varies like a musical score—and that, in part, explains why music produces its deep intimations of meaning.
As the environment supporting a species transforms and changes, the features that make a given individual successful in surviving and reproducing also transform and change.
It is more that creatures are in a dance with nature, albeit one that is deadly. Nature is not simply dynamic, either. Some things change quickly, but they are nested within other things that change less quickly music frequently models this, too. Leaves change more quickly than trees, and trees more quickly than forests.
Weather changes faster than climate. The order that is most real is the order that is most unchanging—and that is not necessarily the order that is most easily seen. The leaf, when perceived, might blind the observer to the tree.
The tree can blind him to the forest. It is also a mistake to conceptualize nature romantically. Rich, modern city- dwellers, surrounded by hot, baking concrete, imagine the environment as something pristine and paradisal, like a French impressionist landscape. Eco- activists, even more idealistic in their viewpoint, envision nature as harmoniously balanced and perfect, absent the disruptions and depredations of mankind. It is because of the existence of such things, of course, that we attempt to modify our surroundings, protecting our children, building cities and transportation systems and growing food and generating power.
And this brings us to a third erroneous concept: It does not matter whether that feature is physical and biological, or social and cultural. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It is instead a near-eternal aspect of the environment, and much of what is blamed on these more ephemeral manifestations is a consequence of its unchanging existence.
We the sovereign we, the we that has been around since the beginning of life have lived in a dominance hierarchy for a long, long time. We were struggling for position before we had skin, or hands, or lungs, or bones. There is little more natural than culture. Dominance hierarchies are older than trees. The part of our brain that keeps track of our position in the dominance hierarchy is therefore exceptionally ancient and fundamental.
It powerfully affects every aspect of our Being, conscious and unconscious alike. This is why, when we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight. Our posture droops. We face the ground.
We feel threatened, hurt, anxious and weak. If things do not improve, we become chronically depressed. And it is not only the behavioural and experiential similarities that are striking.
Much of the basic neurochemistry is the same. Consider serotonin, the chemical that governs posture and escape in the lobster. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. This is also true of low-ranking human beings and those low levels decrease more with each defeat. Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency—as anything whatsoever may happen, at any time, at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy and rarely something good.
Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans. Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps—are held constant.
The importance of this can hardly be overstated. It monitors exactly where you are positioned in society—on a scale of one to ten, for the sake of argument. People compete to do you favours. You have limitless opportunity for romantic and sexual contact. You are a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention. And, like your dominant male counterpart, you will compete ferociously, even pitilessly, to maintain or improve your position in the equally competitive female mating hierarchy.
Although you are less likely to use physical aggression to do so, there are many effective verbal tricks and strategies at your disposal, including the disparaging of opponents, and you may well be expert at their use. If you are a low-status ten, by contrast, male or female, you have nowhere to live or nowhere good. You are more likely to fall ill, age rapidly, and die young, with few, if any, to mourn you.
Money will make you liable to the dangerous temptations of drugs and alcohol, which are much more rewarding if you have been deprived of pleasure for a long period. Money will also make you a target for predators and psychopaths, who thrive on exploiting those who exist on the lower rungs of society.
The bottom of the dominance hierarchy is a terrible, dangerous place to be. The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. On that evidence, it renders a determination of your value and assigns you a status. If you are judged by your peers as of little worth, the counter restricts serotonin availability. That makes you much more physically and psychologically reactive to any circumstance or event that might produce emotion, particularly if it is negative.
You need that reactivity. Emergencies are common at the bottom, and you must be ready to survive. Unfortunately, that physical hyper-response, that constant alertness, burns up a lot of precious energy and physical resources.
This response is really what everyone calls stress, and it is by no means only or even primarily psychological. You will therefore continually sacrifice what you could otherwise physically store for the future, using it up on heightened readiness and the possibility of immediate panicked action in the present.
Too much of that and everything falls apart.
The ancient counter will even shut down your immune system, expending the energy and resources required for future health now, during the crises of the present.
It will render you impulsive,20 so that you will jump, for example, at any short-term mating opportunities, or any possibilities of pleasure, no matter how sub-par, disgraceful or illegal. It will leave you far more likely to live, or die, carelessly, for a rare opportunity at pleasure, when it manifests itself.
The physical demands of emergency preparedness will wear you down in every way. It thinks the chance that something will damage you is low and can be safely discounted. Change might be opportunity, instead of disaster. The serotonin flows plentifully. This renders you confident and calm, standing tall and straight, and much less on constant alert. Because your position is secure, the future is likely to be good for you.
You can delay gratification, without forgoing it forever. You can afford to be a reliable and thoughtful citizen. Malfunction Sometimes, however, the counter mechanism can go wrong. Erratic habits of sleeping and eating can interfere with its function. Uncertainty can throw it for a loop. The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra.
Every system must play its role properly, and at exactly the right time, or noise and chaos ensue. It is for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automatized. They must be turned into stable and reliable habits, so they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity.
It is for such reasons that I always ask my clinical clients first about sleep. Do they wake up in the morning at approximately the time the typical person wakes up, and at the same time every day?
If the answer is no, fixing that is the first thing I recommend. Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines. The systems that mediate negative emotion are tightly tied to the properly cyclical circadian rhythms. The next thing I ask about is breakfast. I counsel my clients to eat a fat and protein-heavy breakfast as soon as possible after they awaken no simple carbohydrates, no sugars, as they are digested too rapidly, and produce a blood- sugar spike and rapid dip.
This is because anxious and depressed people are already stressed, particularly if their lives have not been under control for a good while. Their bodies are therefore primed to hypersecrete insulin, if they engage in any complex or demanding activity.
If they do so after fasting all night and before eating, the excess insulin in their bloodstream will mop up all their blood sugar. Then they become hypoglycemic and psycho-physiologically unstable.
Their systems cannot be reset until after more sleep. I have had many clients whose anxiety was reduced to subclinical levels merely because they started to sleep on a predictable schedule and eat breakfast. Sometimes this happens directly, for poorly understood biological reasons, and sometimes it happens because those habits initiate a complex positive feedback loop.
A positive feedback loop requires an input detector, an amplifier, and some form of output. Imagine a signal picked up by the input detector, amplified, and then emitted, in amplified form. So far, so good. The trouble starts when the input detector detects that output, and runs it through the system again, amplifying and emitting it again. A few rounds of intensification and things get dangerously out of control.
Most people have been subject to the deafening howling of feedback at a concert, when the sound system squeals painfully. The microphone sends a signal to the speakers. The speakers emit the signal. The sound rapidly amplifies to unbearable levels, sufficient to destroy the speakers, if it continues. Addiction to alcohol or another mood- altering drug is a common positive-feedback process. Imagine a person who enjoys alcohol, perhaps a bit too much. He has a quick three or four drinks.
His blood alcohol level spikes sharply. This can be extremely exhilarating, particularly for someone who has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. When he stops, not only does his blood alcohol level plateau and then start to sink, but his body begins to produce a variety of toxins, as it metabolizes the ethanol already consumed. He also starts to experience alcohol withdrawal, as the anxiety systems that were suppressed during intoxication start to hyper-respond.
A hangover is alcohol withdrawal which quite frequently kills withdrawing alcoholics , and it starts all too soon after drinking ceases. To continue the warm glow, and stave off the unpleasant aftermath, the drinker may just continue to drink, until all the liquor in his house is consumed, the bars are closed and his money is spent. The next day, the drinker wakes up, badly hungover. So far, this is just unfortunate. Such a cure is, of course, temporary.
It merely pushes the withdrawal symptoms a bit further into the future. But that might be what is required, in the short term, if the misery is sufficiently acute. So now he has learned to drink to cure his hangover. When the medication causes the disease, a positive feedback loop has been established. Alcoholism can quickly emerge under such conditions. Something similar often happens to people who develop an anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia.
People with agoraphobia can become so overwhelmed with fear that they will no longer leave their homes. Agoraphobia is the consequence of a positive feedback loop. The first event that precipitates the disorder is often a panic attack. The sufferer is typically a middle-aged woman who has been too dependent on other people.
Perhaps she went immediately from over-reliance on her father to a relationship with an older and comparatively dominant boyfriend or husband, with little or no break for independent existence. In the weeks leading up to the emergence of her agoraphobia, such a woman typically experiences something unexpected and anomalous.
Some real event typically precipitates the initial increase in fear of mortality and social judgment. This makes her even more stressed.
The thoughts of vulnerability occupying her mind since her recent unpleasant experience rise close to the surface. They trigger anxiety. Her heart rate rises.
She begins to breathe shallowly and quickly. She feels her heart racing and begins to wonder if she is suffering a heart attack. This thought triggers more anxiety. She breathes even more shallowly, increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in her blood.
Her heart rate increases again, because of her additional fear. She detects that, and her heart rate rises again. Positive feedback loop. Soon the anxiety transforms into panic, regulated by a different brain system, designed for the severest of threats, which can be triggered by too much fear. She is overwhelmed by her symptoms, and heads for the emergency room, where after an anxious wait her heart function is checked. There is nothing wrong. But she is not reassured.