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Crashes, Crises, and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs

Book Description

Why do certain civilizations, societies, and ecosystems collapse? How does the domino effect relate to the credit crunch? When can mathematics help explain marriage? And how on earth do toads predict earthquakes? The future is uncertain. But science can help foretell what lies ahead. Drawing on ecology and biology, math and physics, Crashes, Crises, and Calamities offers four fundamental tools that scientists and engineers use to forecast the likelihood of sudden change: stability, catastrophe, complexity, and game theories. In accessible prose, Len Fisher demonstrates how we can foresee and manage events that might otherwise catch us by surprise. At the cutting edge of science, Fisher helps us find ways to act before a full-fledged catastrophe is upon us. Crashes, Crises, and Calamities is a witty and informative exploration of the chaos, complexity, and patterns of our daily lives.

Table of Contents

  1. Also by LEN FISHER
  2. Title Page
  3. Dedication
  4. Acknowledgements
  5. A USER’S GUIDE TO THIS BOOK
  6. Introduction
  7. PART 1 - A POTTED PRE-HISTORY OF PROGNOSTICATION
    1. 1 - Do Animals Have Crystal Balls?
      1. COULD HUMAN “PRECOGNITION” HELP US PREDICT THE FUTURE?
      2. SCIENTIFIC TESTS OF PRECOGNITION
      3. THE COLLIDER, THE PARTICLE, AND A THEORY ABOUT FATE
    2. 2 - The Future Eclipsed
      1. THE FUTURE IN THE STARS
      2. CONNECTING THE PAST WITH THE FUTURE: CURIOUS CORRELATIONS AND FALLACIOUS FORECASTING
    3. 3 - Galileo’s Hell
      1. A QUESTION OF SCALE
  8. PART 2 - HOW DISASTERS HAPPEN
    1. 4 - The Stress of It All
      1. ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT STRESS
      2. GALILEO’S STRESS
      3. ON BEING UNDER STRESS
      4. A FRAGILE WORLD
    2. 5 - Runaway Disaster
      1. INSANE ACCELERATION
      2. 1. RUNNING, JUMPING, AND STANDING STILL: ACCELERATION PAST THE POINT OF NO RETURN
      3. 2. THE DOMINO EFFECT
      4. 3. CHAIN REACTION
      5. POSITIVE FEEDBACK
    3. 6 - The Balance of Nature and the Nature of Balance
      1. NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: FROM BALL COCKS TO BALANCING TRICKS
      2. STABLE OR UNSTABLE: A TALE OF CHAIRS, TORTOISES, AND THE GÖMBÖC
      3. RIGID BELIEFS
      4. UPSIDE-DOWN GRAVITY
      5. MAINTAINING THE BALANCE
      6. MICROCOSM
  9. PART 3 - IMMINENT CATASTROPHES: READING THE SIGNS
    1. 7 - The Chaotic Ecology of Dragons
      1. ORGANIZED CHAOS
    2. 8 - Teetering on the Brink of Catastrophe
      1. RETURNING TO THE FOLD
    3. 9 - Models and Supermodels
      1. PHYSICAL MODELS
      2. MATHEMATICAL MODELS
    4. 10 - Beware of Mathematicians
      1. TEST 1: ARE THE DATA RELIABLE?
      2. TEST 2: IS THE MODEL RELIABLE? IS IT BELIEVABLE?
      3. TEST 3: ARE THE CALCULATIONS RELIABLE?
      4. TEST 4: ARE THE PEOPLE RELIABLE?
    5. 11 - Weak Signals as Major Early-Warning Signs
      1. SKIRTING AROUND THE PROBLEM
      2. RESILIENCE
  10. Summary: The Future of Forecasting
  11. NOTES
  12. INDEX
  13. Copyright Page