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The “Seneca Cliff”, how the concept evolved

The “Seneca Cliff”, how the concept evolved thumbnail


An image taken at a recent meeting in Barcelona. You can see the evolution of the concept of “collapse”, from Malthus to Forrester. The latter can be seen as the true originator of the concept that I call the “Seneca Cliff” or the “Seneca Effect” 

Malthus (1766 – 1834) is supposed to be the catastrophist in chief, the prophet of doom whose prophecies never came to pass. And yet, if you read what he wrote (not everyone does), you see that he never mentioned the concept, familiar to us, of “civilization collapse”. Malthus was perfectly able to imagine pestilences, wars, and famines; all common occurrences at his time. But he wasn’t aware of the idea that population could grow well above the “Malthusian limit” and then crash.

The idea of a cyclical pattern of growth and decline came much after Malthus, you find its origins in biological studies, with Lotka and Volterra being perhaps the first to propose it in the form of a mathematical model in the 1920s and 1930s. Later on, in the 1950s, Marion King Hubbert proposed his “bell-shaped” curve for the cycle of production of crude oil in a specific region. For us, it is a relatively well known story even though most people seem to remain convinced that – somehow – growth can go on forever.

Finally, the idea that the bell shaped curve is asymmetric was explicitly expressed in terms of a mathematical model by Jay Forrester, in the 1960s, Even though Lucius Annaeus Seneca had already proposed it in qualitative terms long before, Forrester can be seen as the true originator of the concept of “Seneca Cliff.”

Over more than a century of work, humankind has developed tools that make us able to face the future. We only have a little problem: we are not using them; our current leaders don’t even know that such tools exist. And so, our destiny is to slide down, blindfolded, along the Seneca Cliff.

 Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi  

11 Comments on "The “Seneca Cliff”, how the concept evolved"

  1. MASTERMIND on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 2:23 pm 

    Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria
    whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.

    -Gore Vidal

  2. ALCIADA-MOLE on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 2:39 pm 

    @mast women have powerful reproductive insinct and only them can control it. we need to empower them. For now the toxic males start fights so they gain advantage in reproductive evolution.

    Everything is designed that way. But now there’s the media, the law, money, and the hand gun. No biology entity can withstand these assaults.

    This is why the new masculitity is Alex Jones. In other words, they’re dying but we need to do more. Trust meI’m a Paultard so I know.

  3. Apneaman on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 3:08 pm 

    To be human is to deny.

    These heat waves are global warming connected

    “It really is true that global warming has made heat waves more common and more severe. The heat wave last month that affected the American southwest was one of these. Yet, of the 433 local broadcast events in local TV affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas to mention the heatwave (which was current news at the time) only one event mentioned a climate change connection, and that was to downplay it.

    Similarly, governments are ignoring the connection.”

    Disgust & hating are human too, that’s why I LMAO every time these fucking retards get hammered by another AGW jacked event.

    Burn bitches burn – Burn that Muther down

  4. deadlykillerbeaz on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 5:59 pm 

    Boil that cabbage down.

    Heat waves are not an unusual phenomenon in an arid geograhical region.

    Omaha, Nebraska temperature records published July 2017 has 16 records set during the 1930s. 16 days out of 31 set during the 1930s will be tough to beat.

    The facts do say that it was hotter in the decade of the 1930s than any other time in the last century. Record temps for Omaha in July set during the Dust Bowl years. That is how it is in the real world.

    Can’t deny the actual fact.

    Not that it isn’t hot today, it just has to be hotter to beat all time records, the 1930s win the trophy, so far.

    1988 was another dry, hot year.

    2017 has had a cool spring with an early summer heat wave with too little precipitation.

    I’m going to go on out and drink beer, can’t beat the heat today. Might fall down go boom.

  5. Hubert on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 6:50 pm 

    Human Extinction By 2030 -The Crisis of Civilization!

  6. Makati1 on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 7:01 pm 

    Hubert, you could be correct. If the nukes fly, Human extinction will surely be by 2030. The radiation caused cancers will have done their work by then.

  7. DMyers on Wed, 5th Jul 2017 7:18 pm 

    Isn’t the Seneca phenomenon named for the one who first described it? Seneca? We might give Forrester honorable mention, but I don’t get the rationale for his usurping the title.

    The Seneca Cliff has strong intuitive and experiential validity. Little kids were probably doodling Seneca Cliffs before Seneca saw light.

    The phrase, “what goes up must come down,…” is a related cultural acknowledgment of the downward ultimatum; and in that phrase, the “down” has always signified something more rapid and severe than the “up”.

    Let it rest. Seneca is still good. The rule applies, and you can rely on it. So grease up that ass, and tip your hat to gravity. You’re going down fast.

  8. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Jul 2017 2:20 am 

    For people who like to trace things back into history:

    There were two Seneca’s: the Elder and the Younger. The Elder was the father of the Younger, which makes sense.

    The Younger committed suicide, but he didn’t jump of a cliff:

    As for Seneca himself, his age and diet were blamed for slow loss of blood and extended pain rather than a quick death; he also took poison, which was also not fatal. After dictating his last words to a scribe, and with a circle of friends attending him in his home, he immersed himself in a warm bath, which was expected to speed blood flow and ease his pain. Tacitus wrote, “He was then carried into a bath, with the steam of which he was suffocated, and he was burnt without any of the usual funeral rites.

    One thing is clear Seneca (the Younger) sucked at suicide. Not as much as Apneaman, but it comes close.

    No, this cliffy things comes from Seneca the Elder:

    It was Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Elder) who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.

    There you go, the Seneca Cliff.

    It could be the motto of the RAF, as it takes centuries to build a city, but only a few minutes to bomb it into oblivion.

  9. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Jul 2017 2:33 am 

    Post-collapse holiday: walking around the world for $5/day:
    (Chrome browser > rightclick > English)

    American woman has seen it all: Mongolia, Australian Outback, US and now in Britain.

  10. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Jul 2017 7:15 am 

    Multi-polar world latest: EU parliament says that EU-accession talks with Turkey should be abolished:

  11. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Jul 2017 11:55 am 

    End of globalism, really?

    TTIP is dead but a new trade pact EU-Japan became active:

    Trade to be expected to increase with 1/3.

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