May 07 2017

The Maslow Window as a Self-Organized Critical System

Maslow Windows are rhythmic, transformative pulses — featuring great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and Macro Engineering Projects (e.g., Panama Canal) — that occur twice per century. A Maslow Window is often triggered by geopolitical conflict (e.g., Sputnik; Cuban Missile Crisis), but is powered by an exceptional economic and technology boom (e.g., the JFK Boom) which collapses unemployment and increases real wages across society. As a result many individuals experience “ebullience” as they ascend the Maslow hierarchy and their worldviews expand. The most recent Maslow Window culminated in the 1960s Apollo Moon program. And right on schedule, it appears we entered a new Maslow Window in 2016.

The Maslow Window as usually described here is an empirical model based on long-term trends, historical patterns, and scientific analysis that makes specific predictions about space, technology, and related areas. However, the Maslow Window also has an enticing, but still developing, theoretical side that’s featured below.

Punctuated equilibria characteristic of Maslow Windows hints they’re governed by self-organized criticality (SOC). Over the last 30 years SOC has become a popular tool to explain a wide variety of phenomena like solar flares, black holes and accretion disks, earthquakes, lunar craters, financial systems, and even wars. In this brief summary we’ll utilize the SOC model of Aschwanden et. al (2016) in Space Science Reviews (Vol. 198, Issue 1, pp 47–166).

The classic SOC system is the BTW Sand Pile described by physicist Per Bak (1948-2002) and his colleagues in 1987.
Sand is dropped grain by grain on a pile. Eventually the sand forms steep slopes that reach a critical threshold; i.e., one more grain may trigger a system-wide change called an “avalanche”. In our case the “avalanche” analog is the Maslow Window itself.

A SOC system at its critical threshold displays non-linear energy dissipation and scale-free, intermittent avalanches with power-law size-frequency distributions. In a solar flare the avalanche is associated with the explosion of electromagnetic energy emitted by the flare, and for an earthquake it’s the surge of seismic energy released during the event. The Maslow Window critical state is observed in the real world to sequentially dissipate energy in several key avalanches including: financial events (a Panic and later a Boom), major geopolitical conflicts, great human explorations, and macro-engineering projects (MEPs).

Every SOC system needs to achieve a critical threshold so it’s capable of an avalanche. For an earthquake it’s the critical strength of the rocks that’s reached when the local stress field causes a fracture. For a solar flare the threshold may be reached by a critical configuration of the sunspot magnetic fields resulting in a magnetic reconnection process.

Interestingly, all of the above mentioned events during a Maslow Window are believed to be individual SOC systems themselves (although more data on MEPs is needed). They are apparently triggered by several specific thresholds associated with the decade-long Maslow Window critical state. Perhaps the most fundamental Maslow Window threshold is provided by financial prosperity. By analogy with a solar magnetic field, imagine a “GDP field” with spatio-temporal variability across the Earth. As it approaches a threshold value, the increasing GDP field launches many people to elevated levels in Maslow’s hierarchy where they experience “ebullience”. Maslow’s ebullience and Keynes’ animal spirits — substantially different, but still related ideas — combine to trigger potentially system-wide avalanches in the financial, technology, exploration, and geopolitical arenas. When the boom ends, and ebullience declines and animal spirits reverse, the Maslow Window slams shut, usually in response to a major war (e.g., World War I) — also a SOC process.

For a SOC system to experience avalanches in its critical state, it must be continuously driven toward its critical threshold; hence the name, “self-organized criticality.” For a solar flare the magnetic fields are generated and controlled by thermal convection ascending from the Sun’s interior. In the Earth, movement of the tectonic plates continually adjusts the stress field.

Consistent with our GDP field, the international economic system (IES) is the driver for a Maslow Window through the need for profits and income. (Other long-term factors may also influence the IES such as national prestige.) For a typical Maslow Window, separation of time scales is maintained because in the real world it takes several decades for the IES to self-organize to its critical threshold, but less than a decade to dissipate its energy through an avalanche (i.e., the Maslow Window).

Our new Maslow Window is a complex system with many degrees of freedom that has slowly self-organized over decades to a critical threshold which allows short-lived avalanches — both good (e.g., SpaceX) and bad (e.g., North Korea) — to exist. However, the history of JFK’s Cuban Missile Crisis during the 1960s Maslow Window (plus all others over the last 200 years) argues convincingly that major kinetic conflicts will not occur in the next 10 years.

Major human exploration initiatives like Apollo are statistically identical and show similar generic features to other complex systems like solar flares and earthquakes. However, the physics is quite different. The Maslow Window centrally involves fundamental human nature through psychology (e.g., “ebullience”) and the basic laws of economics (e.g., “GDP field”). This and the Maslow Window’s persistence through the worst catastrophes (e.g., two world wars, the Civil War, Great Depression, several financial panics and great recessions) of the last 200+ years, suggest that Maslow Windows are robust and likely to continue into the future.

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