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"Bifurcations in history"

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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: "Bifurcations in history"
    Posted: 30-Jul-2005 at 16:08

In a discussion group elsewhere (not a particularly historical one) someone posted this:

From http://www.gaianxaos.com/xaos_millennium.htm


Bifurcations in history.

At one time people thought that history was continuous and gradually changing, that nothing ever happened suddenly. This was the opinion of Leibniz, who contributed ideas of evolution and linear progression to history. Leibniz is the coinventor with Newton of the calculus, and was also a futurist and historian.

Applying the new mathematical ideas of his time to history, he came up with his principle of continuity. He was a gradualist.

The idea of bifurcation (or catastrophe) is a different idea; an
idea of discontinuity, of punctuated or saltatory change, sudden or miraculous transformation.

Laszlo concludes his preface: The issues are burning, the stakes enormous, the options impressive. These truly are interesting times. This stands to reason. We stand in humankind's greatest age of bifurcation.

For him, bifurcation as an important new word and mathematical concept. He uses it in place of the equivalent general terms, major social transformation, or Great Divide. He sees history as consisting of flat spots punctuated by major social transformations or bifurcations. This is like the evolution of species in the Darwinian sense where long flat spots are followed by the sudden emergence of new species, which may be triggered by collisions with comets. Laszlo is a bifurcationist. Even more: he says that this current transformation, our own bifurcation, is the biggest one in human history. Quite an idea!

Frankly I disagree. Largely because "bifurcation" implies splitting one of two ways and I can't think of any historical turning point where there were only two possible outcomes.

Mind you, that I can't think of any offhand doesn't mean there aren't any. Are there?

And wouldn't the standard historical position be that both gradual and sudden change occur?

(I also think he confuses catastrophe theory with chaos theory, but that's probably not one for this board.)

PS. Why didn't the

...
work at the start, but does here?


 

 


 



Edited by Imperator Invictus
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  Quote Imperator Invictus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Jul-2005 at 20:28
Mind you, that I can't think of any offhand doesn't mean there aren't any. Are there?


Good Topic! I guess there's no way to say that there's purely two possibilities, but you could generalize it into something binary. Such as, winning or losing the war. (but of course, each of those two have many variations of its own)

And wouldn't the standard historical position be that both gradual and sudden change occur?


Yes, and I also think that's usually a good way to scientifically look at it as well. For example, in evolution of eukaryotes (bacteria, for example), the organism evolves continuously, but many of these changes are not significant, but some changes in the DNA are signifianct enough to make a drastic impact (like drug resistance).

In geology, the tectonic plates are always moving, building up stress over time. When there is too much stress on a particuarly area, it "breaks" and an earthquake occurs. Similarly, revolutions and rebellions in history often occur because of a buildup of some sort.

So I think gradual and sudden changes influence each other in history. Sudden changes certainly cannot exist without gradual changes, so seeing history as a set of turning points would not be very complete, IMO.

BTW, I fixed your quote problem. I think you need to have no space between the tag and the words around it.


Edited by Imperator Invictus
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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Aug-2005 at 21:14

While there may be several possible paths, only one will be taken in the end. The thing is that if things don't happen a certain way, there may be several ways in which observers might predict that they will happen, but in the end one way only will happen. Second, third order effects, etc. may confuse the would-be historian/predicter, but the combination of the individual outcome and its n'th order effects will be only one outcome in the end. So we have history as we know it, and for every such event, one and only one outcome (out of several possibilities): thus bifurcation.

I certainly think that the appearance of founders of major religion founders such as Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, etc. do constitute such a bifurcation. What would the world be like without Christianity, Islam or Buddhism?

Secular figures can have a major impact too. What would have happened if Columbus had been shipwrecked? What would have happened if Napoleon hadn't lost at Waterloo (I think it was a matter of 15 minutes difference in reinforcements). What would have happened had Alexandere not died of the plague? What if Temujin had died during his period hiding from his enemies and would have never become Genghis Khan? What if Cortes had been killed during the Aztec counterattack in Tenochtitlan in 1521?

My point is that there are some historical figures and events which can completely alter the course of human history. If things would have gone slightly differently, history would have taken a completely different path (very difficult to predict which, but it would have certainly been one and only one out the possible outcomes).

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2005 at 06:09

Without getting into multiple universes, yes, of course only one outcome follows. The point though was not that a bifurcation resulted in two outcomes, but that it resulted in one out of only two possible outcomes (otherwise why the prefix 'bi-'?)

The closest one can get to such a situation is indeed something like Waterloo, but even there there were more than two possible outcomes: Wellington wins and the French army is destroyed, Wellington wins but Napoleon's army gets away relatively unscathed, Napoleon wins with the corresponding two versions,.... Or aren't there?

I also agree that single events, like say the death of Alexander,  may have a considerable effect. But it's not difficult to think of several scenarios that might have happened both after the death of Alexander and after his survival.

 

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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2005 at 10:49

When it comes to possibilites. I think we're simply arguing about semantics here. Can you thnk of a better word, which implies the path of history forking into an indeterminate number of possibilities? I think that we're simply dealing with the limitations of language, and not that of the theory.

Also, as I stated before, any given change in an event will result in one and only one other possible outcome. Every historical situation has several determinant factors. While the combination of varying the factors are very numerous, thus giving rise to many outcomes, if we only change one factor at a time by a given amount, or a combination of factors by a given amount each, the outcome will be invariably the same. Historically, you cannot have a varying amount of a factor actually happening.

For example, at Waterloo it rained the day before, which had an impact on troop movements. If we pretend we were God for a second, we cannot say that we can make it rain between 1-20 mm of rain, it's going to be either 1, 1.5, 15.16789, etc. Every discrete amount of rain is going to have a different impact on troop movements. Eventually every factor is still going to be varying a set amount from the actual historical factor parameters.

So anyway, while there's an infinite number of possibilities, only one will be chosen after varying the parameters. So we have the actual historical event, and then we have the alternate version of the event, after varying the parameters. That's 2 versions of history, hence bifurcation.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
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Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

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  Quote Imperator Invictus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2005 at 12:05
When it comes to possibilites. I think we're simply arguing about semantics here. Can you thnk of a better word, which implies the path of history forking into an indeterminate number of possibilities? I think that we're simply dealing with the limitations of language, and not that of the theory.


I agree with that. I took it from the original quote that bifurbication was a generalize way of looking at history, rather than having literally two possible outcomes.
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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2005 at 13:53
Originally posted by Decebal

When it comes to possibilites. I think we're simply arguing about semantics here. Can you thnk of a better word, which implies the path of history forking into an indeterminate number of possibilities?

Fork. Node. Juncture?

 I think that we're simply dealing with the limitations of language, and not that of the theory.

Also, as I stated before, any given change in an event will result in one and only one other possible outcome. Every historical situation has several determinant factors. While the combination of varying the factors are very numerous, thus giving rise to many outcomes, if we only change one factor at a time by a given amount, or a combination of factors by a given amount each, the outcome will be invariably the same. Historically, you cannot have a varying amount of a factor actually happening.

For example, at Waterloo it rained the day before, which had an impact on troop movements. If we pretend we were God for a second, we cannot say that we can make it rain between 1-20 mm of rain, it's going to be either 1, 1.5, 15.16789, etc. Every discrete amount of rain is going to have a different impact on troop movements. Eventually every factor is still going to be varying a set amount from the actual historical factor parameters.

So anyway, while there's an infinite number of possibilities, only one will be chosen after varying the parameters. So we have the actual historical event, and then we have the alternate version of the event, after varying the parameters. That's 2 versions of history, hence bifurcation.

But that's several versions of history, not two. I agree that the issue of 'bifurcation' is a semantic one, but I do think it is (a) pretentious and (b) misleading.

The separate part of the query is whether history - I suppose I mean societies - mostly change gradually, or mostly change, say, cataclysmically or at least suddnly.

That's not a semantic issue. It's pretty clear what the meanings are.

 



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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Aug-2005 at 09:36
gcle2003: Laszlo, whom I read in the 80s having great impact in the way I see the world (great thinker!) does not mean just 2 options but many... maybe he used two to illustrate his thought or failed tofind a better word than bifurcation but for what I've read he means that, like in natural evolution, relatively large periods of linear slow change (stability) are broken by indeterminations (crisis) when certainty becomes nothing (or almost) and the possibility for change is open... in many (maybe infinite) ways, naturally. 

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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Aug-2005 at 16:33

Originally posted by Maju

gcle2003: Laszlo, whom I read in the 80s having great impact in the way I see the world (great thinker!) does not mean just 2 options but many... maybe he used two to illustrate his thought or failed tofind a better word than bifurcation but for what I've read he means that, like in natural evolution, relatively large periods of linear slow change (stability) are broken by indeterminations (crisis) when certainty becomes nothing (or almost) and the possibility for change is open... in many (maybe infinite) ways, naturally. 

I can live with that.

The trouble is not only with the word bifurcation, which in that case is evidently a misnomer, but with the way some people are led (maybe not by Laszlo) to start reducing it to concepts of chaos theory which don't fit. It also isn't helped by people confusing chaos theory with catastrophe theory, which fits better, but, as I said. this may not be the place for that discussion.

I posted it here just to see if anyone could come up with an example where there really were only two possible outcomes of an historical event. It doesn't seem to be actually impossible.

 

 

 

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  Quote Romesh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2013 at 09:46
There is an interesting theory in the book by Mykola Nechitailo "Ukrainian Story".  It has a bifurcation theory.  Below is a quote from the book:

 "Bifurcation as a no-return point is a part of life of an individual, family and a larger group of humans.  Every person (or a family, or a large group of people) has one or more bifurcation points in his or her life.  Bifurcation can be illustrated as a fork on the road of life.  It offers two paths to choose with no return.  People make their choice based on their (1) material interests, (2) religious beliefs and cultural foundation, a code of conduct and (3) intellectual level. 

Sometimes, bifurcations occur due to unexpected, random and distant events.  Oftentimes, the search for the best choice is accompanied by emotional irrational moves and high-frequency interactions with other parties involved in this process and the conditions limiting the given choice.

The concept of “no return” is related to the permanent, irreversible changes in the individual and his or her environment: “you can’t go home again”.  According to Heraclitus, “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” 

Related methods are being used during elections, when a large number of your supporters push a candidate up through the “fork” his political career followed by a quick and financially comfortable retirement.  The same is applicable to the mass media manipulation technology to move the crowds in your direction.  You have to address their (1) material interests, (2) religious beliefs and cultural foundation and (3) intellectual level.  " End of the quote.



Edited by Romesh - 29-Dec-2013 at 09:48
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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2013 at 10:04
In my opinion bifurcation is too simplistic a concept generally when considering timelines...etc..., lacking somewhat in imagination.
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  Quote opuslola Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Jan-2014 at 21:27
Possibly Fomenko, et.al. created a new kind of "bifurcation theory"?

That is there is recordable fact due to the creation of the printing press, and all that precedes it?

True or not?

Ron
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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Jan-2014 at 21:43
Originally posted by opuslola

Possibly Fomenko, et.al. created a new kind of "bifurcation theory"?

That is there is recordable fact due to the creation of the printing press, and all that precedes it?

True or not?

Ron
Why would the creation of the printing press necessarily mean that what is printed is true? If you were to have printed out those things you perceive to be happening right now, could you, without a shadow of a doubt, prove that any of it was? Can you prove that you are not just a thought process on an electronic device, or a brain in a vat being fed information to measure reactions?
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  Quote opuslola Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Jan-2014 at 22:00
Why, ADR would you even question one of my fine posts? Smile!

But, mass production of news or even fake news becomes fact if indeed it is not questioned. The USSR, Red China and Hitler's Germany tried it for years and it failed. It is, of course, a free press that leads to truth! But in the more ancient world it kept things straight! Free printing presses kept the truth going even in Germany in WW-II!

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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Jan-2014 at 22:43
Originally posted by opuslola

But, mass production of news or even fake news becomes fact if indeed it is not questioned. The USSR, Red China and Hitler's Germany tried it for years and it failed. It is, of course, a free press that leads to truth! But in the more ancient world it kept things straight! Free printing presses kept the truth going even in Germany in WW-II!

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Ron
An interesting opinion, opuslola. It is up to you of course to surmise if that is said with a questioning thought brought about by a comma in its possible absence, or not.   
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  Quote opuslola Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Jan-2014 at 23:11
I do not oft miss commas! I have in other forums been vilified by my use of them!

The written language has changed and I seem to have missed the orders! smile! Commas and question marks seem to make me look old! LOL

Ron

Edited by opuslola - 03-Jan-2014 at 23:14
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  Quote opuslola Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jan-2014 at 19:08
Originally posted by gcle2003

Without getting into multiple universes, yes, of course only one outcome follows. The point though was not that a bifurcation resulted in two outcomes, but that it resulted in one out of only two possible outcomes (otherwise why the prefix 'bi-'?)


The closest one can get to such a situation is indeed something like Waterloo, but even there there were more than two possible outcomes: Wellington wins and the French army is destroyed, Wellington wins but Napoleon's army gets away relatively unscathed, Napoleon wins with the corresponding two versions,.... Or aren't there?


I also agree that single events, like say the death of Alexander,  may have a considerable effect. But it's not difficult to think of several scenarios that might have happened both after the death of Alexander and after his survival.


 



And, based upon the reports, can anyone even verify his life or death based upon certain facts? Is not most information concerning Alexander second or third hand?

Ron
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