In a series of reports and presentations of January - February, 2012, a geometric pedagogical device was introduced to viewers of the LaRouchePAC site. This illustrated example used a series of nested cones to give a clearer idea of the systemic shifts seen in such events as epochal changes over the time of biological development, and, in human economy, the willful implementation of newly discovered principles into our physical economic practice. (Click here for the first in the series.)

Here, you see a series of three cones of increasing pitch. The first cone, representing the paleozoic era, has a certain pitch, representing a growth of the system as time unfolds to the right. The second cone, whose origin lies within the first system, represents the life system of the mesozoic era, whose growth overtook that of the paleozoic life system at a certain point. This period, known today as the PT Extinction (because it occured at the boundary between the paleozoic and triassic) saw the extinction of the vast majority of all living species on the planet as the previous life system disappeared. Similarly, the development of the third cone during the mesozoic era implied a cross-over point (the KT extinction) when the life systems characteristic of the cenozoic outpaced the less-developed mesozoic life. Mammals and flowering plants came into existence, with increasing independence from the environment.

This general device was elaborated in several reports, which examined these shifts from such standpoints as energy flux density (as measured by rates of photosynthesis), the biogenic migration of atoms (as seen in increasing structural phosphorous utilization), and metabolic rates per unit mass. It became clear that the new, higher system eclipsed and replaced what came before. But, this was not simply a terrestrial process: study of correlations between evolutionary events and cosmic processes indicates that the creation of new life systems is connected to, at the least, galactic processes.

My goal in this report, is to look at the qualitative differences between these systems, as opposed to quantitative ones. For example, comparing the metabolic rates of mammals and reptiles reveals a 10-fold energy requirement per unit of body mass. But in measuring the actual “metabolic rate” of human beings, we must look at more than the energy consumed by our physical bodies themselves. While that accurately measures the metabolism of animals, we must include such things as fuel, electricity, and building and transport construction for human metabolism — all of the energy and other inputs that are required for human life. This isn’t more of what life used; it’s simply different. Or rather, it is more than what life used, without only being more of what life used.

Example: Limits to Growth

The book Limits to Growth was based on forecasting the future state of the world’s human population and the physical environment. It did this through a shockingly simplistic set of parameters and interactions, with such measures as “pollution.” (Whatever that might mean as a single value!) After calculating the year of total destruction of the human species if trends continued as they were, the modelers then tried to introduce nuclear power to their model, by having free electricity with no “pollution.” They adjusted the numbers in the model to account for this new technology. This shifted the date of doom some years into the future, when choking pollution would decimate our species. By then adding in new types of pollution control, by dropping pollution levels to one-fourth, mathematically, the system continued some years more, before food shortages destroyed civilization. Adding in improved agricultural technologies delayed the date of reckoning, until soil erosion and pollution sounded the end of humanity.

You might think that after adding in such a number of shifts in the functioning of their system, these people would recognize that such shifts must come from inside the model itself, rather than having to be added from the outside, if the model is actually supposed to represent human economy. Otherwise, they had created a model in which no new discoveries are made, and no new technologies introduced. This same problem faces anyone attempting to model without having a means of including qualitative shifts. Take, for example, their silly term “pollution,” which Limits to Growth uses as a single, undifferentiated quantity. Substances are considered as polluting when they adversely affect life and other processes that are valuable. For example, copper smelting releases large amounts of sulfur dioxide, which could kill off large amounts of plant and animal life near copper smelting facilities. When one such firm, the Tennessee Copper Company was sued over these effects in the early 1900s, it began to capture the sulfur from the waste gas. This sulfur, far from being sequestered as silly people propose doing with our gently used nuclear fuel rods, was converted into sulfuric acid, and sold at a profit as a beneficial industrial input. This single substance, sulfur, went from being a pollutant, to a resource, by the introduction of a new technology. How might that be incorporated into an economic model?

Image: Brian Stansberry

This example is not a numerical adjustment coming from building a slightly better mousetrap, but from incorporating a new technology that completely changes the context in which the parts of the economy are viewed. It is an example of a small-scale qualitative change.

The subject of this report is the creation of heuristic devices suitable for illustrating systemically qualitative shifts, where the new state is not comparable with the previous one.

Next: What is Quality?