Tag Archives: future thinking

The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Society – Post #2

Over the last two years I became enthusiastic about the possibility to apply knowledge from physics, especially theoretical physics on the social life. In this post I am trying to compress all the knowledge I am familiar with, and expose you to those extremely promising fields of interest. Please note that this is the second introductory post for the topic. In the next posts on this series I will discuss real-life examples related to social deviance (crime) and economy (unemployment, stock prices), and the like.

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My previous post about the topic, dealt with systems thinking and its application on management. On this post, I will dive into a more specific field for knowledge, principally connected to geophysics and information. In the last decade, there is a group of scientist that are interested in applying mathematical models on social phenomena. The basic assumption is that social complex systems may exhibit similar behaviour to natural complex systems; and indeed Miller and Page (2009) found similarities between behaviour of animals, human beings, economy, politics, and physical systems.

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Melanie Mitchell, in her free online course “Introduction to Complexity“, touches many aspects of complex systems and shows stunning similarities between systems of birds, molecules, and other objects. She defines complex system as a system that consists of three elements: (1) components/agents; (2) nonlinear interactions between components; (3) no central control. Additionally, complex systems present an emergent behavior, and featured by: hierarchical organization; information processing – components do not make decisions, it is made collectively; complex dynamics – patterns in space and time – continually changing structure and behaviour; and evolution and learning.  Systems improve themselves to perform better, and computation helps to represent how it works.

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Additional important concept is Entropy. Entropy (firstly discovered by Boltzmann) is a measure of disorder / randomness. This degree of disorder cannot be 100% decreased, even when an intervention is performed to slow down molecules moving. On the contrary, entropy ALMOST always increases, however Newton’s second law of motion says motion is reversible. entropy can also be viewed as  hidden information, because the structure is too small and too numerous to keep track of it, but the info is never lost. You always know where you came from. The most striking element of entropy that cought my attention is its recurrence.  According to Boltzmann, fluctuations, recurrence are general property of a finite system, they will happen over and over again because of the finite number of options, and because of the fact the system cycle itself. Even though we are not living in a “finite system”, we can still keep recurrence in mind, when considering social complex systems. (for Shannonian information theory and more in-depth review – short online free course- please click here).

The last concept I would like to introduce today is Chaos. Chaos is one particular type of the dynamics of a system, and it has sensitive dependence on initial condition. It also holds the attribute of repeating behaviour – which is “universality“, things are repeating in chaotic systems. Additionally, a very helpful view of chaos is done by using bifurcation (the point it gets divided, and again and again) and roughness: The density of self-similarity. How much detail we can see when digging in more and more. Fractal-like dimensions exist everywhere in nature (such as tree. When we cut a small part and then a small prat from it, and repeatedly- we find the same structure). Therefore, iterations of simple rules can explain complex systems.

 

futures thinking

Applying the above into a general thinking about social-human complex systems leads us very fast to a feeling that those physical concepts may be relevant to human behaviour as well.

It is clear that social systems are complex. Hence, we can identify them by the Chaos theory, where we witness seemingly random behaviour. We can think of infinite variations in social life, where people tend to act in an unpredictable way. Is it?! The chaos theory makes some order in the entropy.

As said above, Chaos theory is looking into phenomenon which are dependent on a specific state at the start point. This theory argues that objects in the system will act with sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

In other words, social behaviour start point is when a healthy baby gets born. From this point, this baby interacts with others on the system. We can think about significant others for emotional and immediate needs, but we can also scale up and see other parts of the system. The larger family, the neighborhood, the political and economic situation at that time. We can even scale higher – global warming phase, earth and its relationship with the sun system, and so on.

This person will have a life full of interaction with enormous number of parts in the big system, and also affect and influence others who present some sort of relationship with him or her. However, given that we are trying to explain social behaviour by the Chaos theory, we assume that the initial condition has a life-long effect. Psychological as well as biological, and recently neurobiological theories are dealing with the question of “nature vs. nurture”, and nowadays the assumption is that the nature and nurture are working hand in hand to facilitate a regulated adaptive behavior (Spiegel et al., 2014). Hence, our biological systems cooperate with the social environment to create a dynamic and responsive behaviour.

We can continue thinking in this direction, and find that the above concepts actually make some order and make sense. In the next posts I will review recent scientific developments in respect to physical models on social-human behaviour; and their stunning ability to explain complex relationship between macro socio-economic variables.

 

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Miller, J. H., & Page, S. E. (2009). Complex adaptive systems: An introduction to computational models of social life. Princeton university press.

Spiegel, Ivo, Mardinly, A.R., Gabel, H.W., Bazinet, J.E., Couch, C.H., Tzeng, C.P., Harmin, D.A, Greenberg, M.E. (2014). Npas4 Regulates Excitatory-Inhibitory Balance within Neural Circuits through Cell-Type-Specific Gene Programs.  Cell , 157 (5), 1216 – 1229.

 

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Introduction to systems thinking & social theory and practice – post #1

In the following  series of posts, I will introduce, review, discuss, explain, and examine the wicked topic of systems, by integrating several disciplines of knowledge (such as physics and sociology).

I will talk about actual consequences and implementations related to the social element in our life. By “social” I refer to the knowledge, perception, and practice about the human society. The materials I use are taken from academic books, lectures, YouTube videos, peer reviewed journals and so on.

 

Systems Thinking

 

The basic of systems thinking is that there is interrelationships between everything to everything. In simple words, what goes around comes around. This is not random this expression is using the round shape. It is circular. Think for a moment about earth, rounding around itself, rounding around the sun, other stars rounding around on the same system, the milky way within the galaxy, the galaxy within universe, and so forth. Step back, and see the same pattern for humanity. A child was born, circled by family, circled by broader family, circled by neighborhood, city, country, human beings, etc. now, add more components (let’s call them “agents”) to the system. Wild life, weather, forests, energy. Another frequent example is to imagine cloudy sky. We automatically know it’s going to rain, and then the sky will be blue again.

Russel Ackoff (2000) explains what is a system: “A system is whole which cannot be divided to parts, the system is dependent on how the parts interact, not how parts act alone. An example: life, our body; part of cars”.

We live in a never-ending system. In effect this is an infinite system, which is interrelated, and every agent is affecting other agents, and those relationships cause a dynamic change of the system. In fact, we are part of this complex dynamic system, and what we do is undoubtedly affecting other agents, in so many ways, shapes, and variations, but we tend not to see it, because we are not used to it, we think linearly.  We see straight lines. Cause and effect. A straight arrow from A to B. A led to B. we are having a hard time to internalize the obvious fact that it is a circle.

Systems Thinking

This may sound weird to you, but before getting familiar with Physics (especially quantum theory and information theory), and systems thinking in general, I was doubtful and considered myself a woman of facts and strong reality, with a special affection to multiple linear regression.

Therefore, repeatedly, Peter Senge introduced this topic of systems thinking in his book “the fifth discipline”, and in other lectures on (2014), with the very clear statement that Gut and heart are fundamental for every process of effective learning and action; and leader are the key. We firstly grasp it from the heart, then we translate it to thinking.

Ricardo Valerdi (2011) is convinced that system thinking is not a natural act. He explains that interruptions distract us from what we are doing; our brain is limited to boundaries of complexity and dynamics. As an example, he mentions Dan Ariely – “predictably irrational” book – on how people tend to wrong decisions because of abilities limitations.

In summary, systems thinking is not natural to us, we are not used to it, our school systems educate us to think linearly, however once we start seeing the patterns, interrelationships, grasp the complexity as a life fact, it is a matter of time, until we view the world utterly differently. Moreover, with enough practice, we can leverage our potential to achieve much better results, and avoid repeating problems.

As Senge says in his book “the fifth discipline” (1994): most of the problems we face as a humanity, reflect our inability to grasp and internalize complex problems.

 

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The Future of the Toronto Jewish Community in 2035

Can we predict the future?! Future thinking is essential for every community, especially a dynamic and changing community such as the Jewish community in the GTA.

In this article, I would like to shortly describe the potential reality of Toronto’s Jewish community within 10-30 years from today. I based my analysis on the UN data, Statistics Canada data, UJA data and publications, and futurism methodology for the probable future. This article is focused on critical meta-trends which may affect the Jewish community in the GTA as a group. However, please bear in mind, the probable future methodology has up to 70% reliability, so consider actions and plans carefully.
I summarize the article by pointing out the most relevant and urgent needs and suggest routes to address them.

Ready to think - the future of philantropy

  • Demography and fertility
    There is a wide agreement that the world population is in significant decrease. This trend may continue and affect the balance between young (up to 5 years old) and old (65 years and up). Consequently, humanity will be older, and the shrinking number of young people will need to carry the economy and pay health costs for the increasing number of elderly. Canada and Ontario are not going to experience it differently, and the demographic shift will occur between 2030 and 2050. In addition, even when skilled immigration is taken into account, which artificially increases the labour force, the shift will eventually occur, if delayed a bit. Demographic research done for the Jewish community in GTA about a decade ago shows the demographic shift is close and probably will happen in advance of mainstream Canadian society, i.e. 5-15 years from today, and will increase gradually.
  • Immigration policy
    Canadian immigration policy is rapidly changing, but it is safe to assume that Canada will continue to accept immigrants steadily, at a 20% ratio, more or less. The majority of immigrants choose to live in GTA; so, too, the Jewish immigrants. An independent census done by UJA in 2001 has shown that 19% of the Jewish population are immigrants. Forecasts from 2009 mistakenly predicted an increase in the immigrant numbers in the community due to improper use of extrapolative methods. The facts show that immigrant numbers are steady and even decreased a bit. However, when additional variables enter into the equation – the forecast requires re-thinking. Firstly, the fertility rate among Israeli woman is 2.9 children, yet among Jewish-Canadian – 1.8. Therefore, the next Israeli generation will be larger and more significant than today. Secondly, from 2025-2040 Israeli immigrants will reach their top consumptive and productive age (40-60 years old). Hence, their economic value within the community will be gradually increasing. Thirdly, intermarriage among Israelis is close to zero, whereas among Jewish-Canadians the intermarriage rate is about 20%. As a result, the Israeli section within the community will preserve Jewish identity almost completely within that time.
  • Labour and income
    A province of Ontario publication from 2011 shows beyond a doubt that immigrant income is very low, and in fact there is always an income gap between immigrant and Canadian born individuals. Additional governmental data show that immigrants cost billions of dollars to the Canadian economy even when their tax payments are taken into account. The Jewish-Israeli immigrant’s situation is pretty similar: two-thirds of households earn less than average income; and only 20% have more than $70k yearly income. Therefore, a major part of the Jewish immigrant is in need for economic assistance. The Jewish immigrant families are larger (as shown above), and we may therefore infer that about two-thirds of the Jewish immigrants are close or slightly above the poverty line. A vital additional variable in this equation is philanthropy. In short, the golden era of philanthropy is over, there is more debt and the inequality of distribution of wealth is growing. Therefore we might assume that fundraising will be increasingly difficult with time.
  • Social generations and community giving
    The World Globalization Index is an important tool for comparison between countries, and it is calculated by an aggregation of social, political, technological, economic and other indicators. Canada is ranked lower with time; whereas in 2006 Canada was ranked in 6th place, in 2013 it was ranked 12th (which is still high, but reflects a steady decrease). When taking the index into account with the above trends, it seems that Canada is stable and highly ranked, however it faces socio-economic challenges which will confront the country with emergency needs to address, such as keeping unemployment rate, population growth, and immigration under control, maintaining the benefit for Canada in both the long and short term alike. In addition, we have to bear in mind the social generation issue. In short, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) are holding key positions nowadays, however their influence is about to gradually decrease, and the Millennials (born 1980-2000) will be in charge. The Millennials do not hold the same set of values of Boomers, and their feeling is that the system is in collapse, and that there is an urgent need to fix everything. This generation will take leadership in a very short time, within this foresight timeframe. Therefore, we may assume that Millennials will act in a way of strengthening family and communal values, and less in preserving systems which lost community trust.

Nonprofits consulting - ready to think

  • Food for thought
    This foresight for the Jewish community in the GTA for the next twenty years is complex and complicated. The Jewish community is a small group compared to the general GTA population, as well as to Ontario and Canada as a whole. Yet, this analysis is essential and vital for the future of the community, and we may infer some practical steps and take some action:

There is a need for collective community thinking regarding the demographic shift, with more focus on the increasing number of elderly as opposed to the decreasing number of children. We may assume that the country will not be ready to face this challenge on time, and assist the Jewish community. Moreover, the burden will grow with time.

For the next 20-30 years, the Israeli population in Canada will stay more or less the same size as today, however their purchasing power as well as income will increase. In addition, the Jewish immigrants will hold a key role in preserving Jewish identity as a whole.

There is a need to understand that the economic starting point for Jewish immigrants is much lower than Jewish-Canadian born individuals. Therefore, there is a need to assist them by all means, in order to enable them to establish in Canada, and assist communal needs within one generation ahead.

There is a need to take into account that fundraising is going to be complicated, and it will be difficult to increase the amount of donations. There is a need to rethink and innovate about fundraising (higher payment for services instead of donations by those who are established, using volunteers for communal bodies, etc.).

The Millennials will hold the next leadership positions within this foresight time frame, and will deal with strengthening the community’s values and systems. Therefore there is a need to revise and revisit the traditional way of thinking of how to recruit and engage the community around these values, so it will be supported among as many as possible

In summary, the Jewish community of Toronto needs to revisit and revise its investments as well as its manner of outreach and engagement, in order to enable Millennials to take true leadership positions and integrate the Israelis into the community. The key components to influence our community’s future are in our hands; however the desired change will probably not occur without real actions taken. Hence, involving more groups in planning and implementing alike is essential.

* The article was published in “Shalom Toronto” newspaper in Hebrew as well as in English on March 2015.

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