Note — Aug 30, 2020

Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning

Pace layering (and shearing layers) is not a new concept but I always seem to happen on short takes, two-three phase summaries, or that image. So I was happy to find this piece by Stewart Brand where he explains how he sees the layers working at different speeds, the frictions, the interactions, how they apply to some examples, and gives some of the history behind that line of thinking. You should have a read for the forest example (pine needle through to biome), and for the interactions between the commerce, infrastructure, and governance layers.

The order of a healthy civilization. The fast layers innovate; the slow layers stabilize. The whole combines learning with continuity. […]

If commerce, for example, is allowed by governance and culture to push nature at a commercial pace, then all-supporting natural forests, fisheries, and aquifers will be lost. If governance is changed suddenly instead of gradually, you get the catastrophic French and Russian revolutions. […]

If commerce is completely unfettered and unsupported by watchful governance and culture, it easily becomes crime, as in some nations after Communism fell. Likewise, commerce may instruct but must not control the levels below it, because it’s too short-sighted. One of the stresses of our time is the way commerce is being accelerated by global markets and the digital and network revolutions. […]

Governance and culture have to be willing to take on the huge costs and prolonged disruption of constructing sewer systems, roads, and communication systems, all the while bearing in mind the health of even slower “natural” infrastructure—water, climate, etc. […]

When we disturb nature at its own scale, such as with our “extinction engine” and greenhouse gases, we risk triggering apocalyptic forces. Like it or not, we have to comprehend and engage the longest now of nature.