The collapse of complex societies of the past can inform the present on the risks of collapse. Dr. Joseph Tainter, author of the book The Collapse of Complex societies, and featured in Leonardo Dicaprio’s film The Eleventh Hour, details the factors that led to the collapse of past civilizations including the Roman Empire.
2010 International Conference on Sustainability: Energy, Economy, and Environment organized by Local Future nonprofit and directed by Aaron Wissner. http://localfuture.org
the problem is there are to many, my life boat is being polluted with to
very informative video, thanks for the upload !
Basic income is the aswer and solution for all troubles.
Good grief, some of those students asking questions at the end are examples
of why we are screwed. They ‘listened’ to the presentation but still have
no grasp of what Dr Tainter is saying.
Would have made more sense if this was cast as “Collapse of Complex Systems”
Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter
In terms of “choosing to fail or succeed” an example I believe Jared
Diamond uses in his book is the Hopi Indians as a successful society. Also,
the sea faring peoples of northern greenland vs the greenland norse. The
choice was adopting some of the food practices of the sea hunting indians
vs attacking them and recording that they bleed. This was a choice that the
greenland norse made. They consciously choose to have these locals as their
enemies instead of learning from them.
“Are all societies doomed to collapse” That *would* explain the Fermi
Isn’t it just delightful to see a good lecture followed up by crackpot
Tell me the reason that Energy and Complexity are functionally intertwined.
Please use your understanding of the Laws of Classical Physics in your
answer. Please present your answer in an Aristotelian Logical Format with
Two Premises and the Conclusion.. Do you have a grasp of what Dr. Tainter
is saying? You listened to the presentation. Do you think broadly? Those
people have a better grasp than most. The answer to my question deals with
Thermodynamics. Specifically it deals with Entropy.
An excellent lecture.
Great presentation – very thought provoking, raises serious long term questions about the future for human civilisation even setting aside the apparent inevitability of collapse for the current one (ie there will be more civilisations later). How can one predicate a civilisation on a long term sustainable basis without collapse becoming an inevitable outcome – not a simple question apparently.
The key difference is that while Jared Diamond believes environmental
problems caused the collapse of societies Tainter has made the case that
the cause was economic, rooted in the structure of society itself.
Honestly, Diamond’s work looks like more enviro fear mongering. The
environmental problems he talks about had happened previously, yet the
societies discussed didn’t collapse. Primitivism is tempting, but it’s a
road to nowhere.
No mention of entropy? Hmm. The w.roman empire failed completely within two
hundred years and it had an energy consumption of about one hundreth of
ours? “Sustainability” is another human myth, as is “environmental
protection” and “environmental remediation” by industry. Ecosystem
sustainability has been subverted by human industry over and over again as
a claim of man’s dominion over all living things. The time is near when
humans reconnect with the program of ecosystem morality.
get your balls out
its about control
The problem: the system was/ is not set-up for efficiency or
sustainability. In fact, the system was created by governments to be
unstable and inefficient long-term in order to gain short term rewards. The
politicians engage in vote buying through unsustainable government
programs, regulation, restrictions, taxation, etc. that needlessly
increases complexity within the economy and society. Meanwhile, governments
also fail to fulfill its basic duties, because more complexity brings more
While there are other alternative energy sources there is not one that is
simple, portable and as varied in useage as oil…………..we don’t have
a substitute for that is more of what he is implying…………wind and
solar where just examples stated, not the be all to end all……
I find that MOST people don’t really grasp what Tainter is talking about,
because in the end they are always looking for an “out” to this situation.
There IS no “out,” it is like the frog who fell into the buttermilk pail…
keep kicking, or die. Human civilization, and possibly life itself, is too
complex to survive in a steady state. There have been and will be further
collapses, and no amount of R&D will prevent the next collapse.
Most important video on youtube!
What I can say about the social complexity is that it bears no benefits. In
the end it is an act of sidestepping problems on one side to face it later
on the other side.
Power and complexity is actually the same thing
Yes, it can be.
see : Red queen’s race
check out “Sustainability 101: Exponential Growth – Arithmetic, Population
and Energy (Full – Updated)”
They are people who benefit from a complex system and who in fact try to
make the system more complex, just because they can hide themselves into
this system. More complex is the system, more hidden they are, they think.
Internet is a simplification of our mutual information exchanges, which
allow us to see those who are hidden.
instructive. Thank you
This should be taught in school for the future of our society
I cannot stress how important this video and this guys work is. Anyone who
is interested in society and the future will find this video very
This was a really insightful presentation, thank you.
This was a very good presentation by Dr. Tainter after having read his book
and that of Jared Diamond. However, he failed to mention the role of the
immutable law of entropy in the collapse or mutation of complex systems. I
cannot go into detail on this forum, but there was a book written by Jeremy
Rifikin in 1980 by the name “Entropy – A New World View.” Simply, it
answers a lot of the questions of why complex systems eventually collapse
and new systems emerge.
starts out pretty good. problems. steady state is a myth. growth isn’t
required. change is required. isn’t that clear? when we change our energy
efficiency – America and cut its fossil fuel consumption by 80% – or 800
billion dollars or more a year.
that’ll save a trillion dollars a year, get rid of pollution and the
illness that is causing globally. That’s *change* in human behavior.
Rideshare, better cars, electric cars, LED lights. That’s happening.
America is using less fossil fuel than ever. Growth in China’s standard of
living doesn’t mean growth in consumption. It means better clothing, better
transportation, better. not more.
Collapse isn’t likely unless economic leaders continue to dream that more
consumption is better. Sustainability is a contextual thing. Not converting
the Earth into crap that is useless is how you address sustainable use of
We convert uranium into the worst pollution on the planet, but weight. We
convert fossil oil/gas into substances we can’t re-capture and re-use. That
kind of insanity leads to collapse. However, we convert plants into energy
we use to walk and talk and find ways to convert the output of humans or
living things, into stuff that is re-useable.
Productivity in innovation is all wrong in those slides. patent output does
not equal improvement in efficiency, recovery and re-use of resources. And
the last 2 years of innovation in alternative energy in those charts showed
a massive uptick. Since GOP Congress cut funding, it may have returned
Patents are not very useful in highly innovative fields. They could be
entirely useless in 2 years where innovation is high-speed. His chart on
innovations in communications systems is entirely wrong. Communications
speed, quality and lower price, lower energy consumption are exploding.
Not a very good appraisal of innovation. Complexity? Nature is the most
complex thing out there, our ability to create complex symbols to
communicate what we know about it, to predict disasters and avoid them, is
Humans overall, need to *change* patterns of behavior, not *grow*consumption.
The second last question after the talk is where our solutions may lie in:
the facilitation of more long-term temporal ideas in the education system
to begin a new generation of long-term thinkers, those that are curious
enough to explore these kind of problems and apply their temporal
knowledge. These problems that lead to societal collapse may be due to the
way the educational system is designed and the fruit of that system isn’t
geared towards thinking in more collectivistic manner that progresses
through time and space. Tainter said that humans are generally not evolved
to think on such a long-term scale. Maybe we need a conscious evolution, we
have the right hardware (our brains) but we need to change and update the
software (our ideas).
The growth in complexity seems to be a problem of Governments – having no
direct cost benefit feedback.
Unfortunately not only Governments grow in complexity, they also happen to
prevent Business Cycle from occurring, keeping ‘too big to fail’ businesses
shielded by interest rate manipulation or direct subsidies, in order to
maintain status quo – employment etc.
Maybe the solution is to shrink the Government and allow recessions in
Business Cycle to clear the dead wood – companies which grow too complex
for their own benefit.
In centralized society the collapse is inevitable. But in diversified
society the collapses can be just local, concerning few companies or
regions and therefore mild.
▶ Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter – YouTube
Steady state economy is the only version of economy that can be sustained
for the lifetime of the human race. Growth can not be maintained in a
finite environment. Like it or not.
I agree with much of what he says, except for the idea that innovation
cannot save us, and that the cost of innovation increases exponentially.
One of the main reasons our innovation is stagnant is the fact that
copyrights were only supposed to last no more than 4 years to keep the free
flow of new ideas to innovate society. Disney came in and spent lots of
money when its first cartoon steamboat willie came out, to extend
copyrights for years, and even years more since that time. Innovation
doesn’t cost us, corruption does. One of the saddest inflictions on the
people of America, and the people of the world, are our strict copyright
laws that hinder progress and slow innovation and free thought. If these
were never in place we could likely be a hundred years more advanced than
we are today.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Charles H. Duell – Commissioner of US patent office in 1899
In a lecture on complexity, how could he have missed the Internet?
Although it scares a lot of people to having to accept it, everything can
be explained in and by physics theory.
More complexity is the same as more disorder. I’ll explain.
More and more scientists today start to realize this and there have also
been scientific reports published on it. Biology is chemistry, chemistry
is physics, and society and culture and personal behaviour are heavily
determined by genetic structures and the natural environment.
Everything in culture, technology and biology together = The distribution
of energy, meaning ‘processes describable in physics’ (wave patterns).
As the ‘pressure’ on local energy effiency rises from the failures of the
society and invention drive of the technology, the technology and
organizational knowledge rise bit by bit. But with setbacks from time to
Higher disorder is the default of the universe’s energy situation from the
Big bang ,as every cubic inch of space has in average a ‘finite energy
amount’, but scattered across a larger and larger area of space. For
example this is explained in the laws of thermodynamics.
The reason is probably that each cubic meter of space inflates from the
expansion force of the dark energy.
If you envision a growing tree from a seed (‘tree of life’ is btw a classic
metaphor of the universe) : The seed has lower complexity than the tree
but more order of matter. When the level of disorder reaches a certain
point of development, death occurs. This will happen both with the universe
and it happens with all organic structures. They cannot preserve energy
for free as the dark energy scatters energy from within.
As a result of the matter’s ‘automatic’ attempt to hold itself together
(achieve equilibrium) the increasing complexity will be a result of higher
In biology we see this effect not only as diversity of evolution but also
Transferred to economy it shows how centralized models of distribution
(state or corp) have no chance in the long run to organize and distribute
The only way to solve it is technology together with an extreme way of
using or preserving energy. Of course as tech gets more complex, the
randomness of it also increases, as we know from theory of the challenges
for developing quantum computers.