Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Feedback is an important concept in many systems.  Paraphrasing Wikipedia's definition, it's when past occurrence in a closed system will affect future occurences.  The example people are most familiar with is what happens when a speaker is placed too close to a microphone and there's an indescribable, ear-shattering noise.  Another less familiar example is the management of wildlife in an area.  If there are plentiful food resources available one year, then it's likely that animals that use those resouces will increase.  Unfortunately, what happens next is that the past events -- available food and an increase of animals -- puts a strain on the system, resulting in starvation and a reduction of population until the number of animals is roughly in line again with what the ecosystem can support.  In drastic cases, feedback can result in the destruction of a system, as the system becomes unsustainable.

Likewise, the global economy has become a closed system, subject to feedback as well.  Key to most discussions about the collapse is the availability of oil or other resources which power an energy-dependent economy.  Part of the root of the current economic crisis, in addition to the hollow housing bubble, was oil being nearly $150 a barrel, with an increase of gas prices to four or five dollars a gallon in many places.  At this price, economic activity drastically slows, as businesses find it more expensive to ship, more people have to spend a greater proportion of their income on fuel (especially people who live in rural areas which are already often poor), and people simply shop less because they're less willing to go fill up their car to shop.  On top of this is all the cost which is past on due to higher delivery and production fees because of increased fuel prices.

The global economy has shown a few signs of stabilizing, if not recovering.  Now, oil is nearly a hundred dollars a barrel again, because there is increased demand.  So, what we now have is a feedback loop setting itself up -- oil price and consumption is a closed system, so therefore, when the economy is bad, oil prices are low because consumption is down.  After a time, because prices are down, people will be able to use cheaper oil to stimulate economy activity.  After a time, consumption will rise, the price of oil will go up, and we'll be back where we began.  So, in other words, the feedback loop of oil price is going to be another factor which limits any kind of rebound the global economy, showing that the "recovery" is going to be nothing but a figment in the minds of people who desperately want to reassure the public.  What this means is that the predictions made by "doomsayers" in years past are coming true and that we need to be mindful of the need to get ready for steadily worsening conditions.


  1. Feedback implies that there is more than one person. The giver and the receiver. Humans are bad receivers when they do not like the feedback.

    Is it a flaw in nature's perfect design?

    Humans (attempting to?) disprove many of natures "laws". The laws of physics, the laws that once established the theory of the survival of the fittest. We seem to act as if we think we are in "gods" image or something.

    And so continues the network of self-deception until we are one day awakened. Personally, I believe this does not require our own wide-spread destruction but only for one to understand the positive nature of "feedback".

  2. A couple of things come to mind for me here after reading your response. One is that while you are correct that humanity has spent the last century or so trying to pretend like certain aspects of reality don't exist (oil is finite, regardless of whether one subscribes to the biotic or abiotic theories; our other resources are limited; our ability to survive decreases as population increases begin to drive down the overall fitness of "the herd"), it's also possible to look back at technological progress and realize that humanity is capable of making great leaps beyond what we thought was possible. The key is that we really don't know what is possible until it happens...flight, especially into space, was not known to be possible until someone actually did it. So, I don't see why we couldn't develop a new model of energy production and distribution (fusion, solar satellites, whatever), but that we don't necessarily see it as doable because we're unaware of certain ways to make it work that have yet to be discovered. Obviously, given that our nation (America) and our global culture has put a priority on personal comfort and excess displays of wealth, the resources which might have once gone into such an endeavor have been wasted and this makes much more technological process unlikely for a long time, if ever.

    As for your description feedback between persons, my impression is that it is something along the lines of game theory as people try to achieve a personally beneficial outcome while needing to consider the actions of the other person in that formula, without necessarily knowing what the other person has in mind. The problem that seems to crop up is an unwillingness for most people and parties to concede an ideal but insecure position for themselves for a less ideal but more secure position. Call it greed, I suppose, but it seems to be self-defeating in the end. Ultimately, I think it is probably due to people putting excess emphasis on Maslow's hierarchy of needs as opposed to trying to step up to a higher level of consciousness and understanding of the world.

  3. I agree with you completely in your response.

    Your comment here resonates with me: "we don't necessarily see it as doable because we're unaware of certain ways to make it work that have yet to be discovered"

    I see people get defensive of new ideas because the other ones "work" so well. Humans really lack adventure and vision don't they?

    I'm excited to do my part regarding this topic very soon. My neighbor has had an all electric RAV4 -- one of only 500 built -- since they were first put on the market 10 years ago. He powers it by his solar panels and the batteries in these cars are still going strong.

    I've been waiting for him to schedule our in-depth interview. I'm very excited to get this article out. Many people are already down on these "coal-powered" cars because they are influenced by old wealth, lack vision and have not met my neighbor -- yet!