A Thousand Years of NonLinear History

A Thousand Years of NonLinear History is a must read for anyone remotely interested in cylical or systems thinking.  To approach the history of mankind with the same model as a scientists approaches a thermodynamics problem could be one of the most ingenious ideas I’ve read to date.  De Landa walks you (through myriads of systems storytelling) into the philosophical world of Lavas and Magmas, Flesh and Genes, and Memes and Norms on a quest, not for optimum efficiency or evolutionary fitness, but for a moment or two of balance between the phase shifts that are our historic eras.     In my opinion, every scientist, designer and thinker should read this book – if only for the priveledge of following the thoughts of such a well-learned man.

Check out some of my favorite quotes, ideas and the loads of references I’ll be reading up on:


“Imperfect knowledge, incomplete assessment of feedback, limited memory and recall, as well as poor problem-solving skills result in a form of rationality that attains not optimal decisions but more or less satisfactory compromises between conflicting constraints. ” (p. 42)

“But [in bureaucracies], too, decision making takes place in a world full of unceratinties.  Any actual system of information processing, planning and control will never be optimal but merely practical, applying rote responses to recurrent problems and employing a variety of contingency tactics to deal with unforeseen events.”

“for an urban ecosystem to work food chains must be shortened and certain organisms must be used to redirect the flow of biomass toward the top of the hierarchy” (p. 153)

“the obligatory acquisition of certain information which counts as part of our ability to use the word” (p. 191) describes a social factor explaining “how labels stick to their referents”

“The very idea of massified advertising meant that large cirulation newpapers were not in the business of selling information to people but rather of selling the attention of their readers to commercial concerns… to tap into the resorvoir of resources constitutred by the growing urban populations.” (p. 243)

“Although many see this computer meshwork principally as a valuable reservoir of information, its main conrtibution may one day be seen as a catalyst for the formation of communities (and hence as a reservoir of emotional, technical, and other types of support). Since communities bound by common interests existed long before computers, it is not as if we have now entered the next stage in the evolution of society (the “information age”). Rather, computer meshworks have created a bridge to a stable state of social life which existed before massification and continues to coexist alongside it.” (p.254)

“That is, not simply to assume that society forms a system, but to account for this systematicity as an emergent property of some dynamical process… we must take into account that the larger-scale structures that emerge from the actions of individual decision makers, such as formal organizations or informal networks, have a life of their own.  They are wholes that are more than the sum of their parts, but wholes that add themselves to an existing population of individual structures, operating at difference scales (individual institutions, individual cities, individual complexes of cities, and so on).” (p. 270)

“Precautions … derive from a recognition that our world is governed not only by nonlinear dynamics, which makes detailed prediction and control impossible, but also by nonlinear combinatorics, which implies that the number of possible mixtures of meshwork and hierarchy, of command and market, of centralization and decentralization, are immense and that we simply cannot predict what the emergent properties of these myriad combinations will be. Thus the call for a more experimental attitude toward reality and for an increased awareness of the potential for self-organization inherent in evenn the humblest forms of matter-energy.” (p. 273)

other researchers and concepts mentioned:

Richard Newbald Adams, The Eighth Day: Social Evolution as the Self-Organization of Energy

Lynn White, Jr. “The Life of the Silent Majorty” – mutually enhancing exploitive innovations for agriculture lead to the birth of Europe

William McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since AD 1000 – the west conquered because of a mix of centralized and decentralized decision making

Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life – dynamic patterns of urban evolution in the West

Howard Odum, Energy Basis for Man and Nature

Douglas North, institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance – neoinstitutionalist economist

Paul Hohenberg & Lynn Hollen Lees The Making of Urban Europe – “Network System” models of recent urban historians

Walter Christaller – 1930’s “Central Place”

Peter Allen, “Self-Organization in the Urban System” – non-linear dynamical models

Dimitros Dendrinos – Urban Evolution

Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial

Stuart Kauffman

Norman Packard, “Dynamics od Development: A Simple Model for Dynamics Away from Attractors”

Jane Jacobs – “symbiotic collections of little enterprises”

Terry M. Moe, The Politics of Structural Choice: Toward a Theory of Public Bureacracy

Joseph Schumpeter

JD Sherman, Nonlinear Dynamics in World Economy: The Economic Long Wave

John Kenneth Galbraith

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousanf Plateaus – capitalism could have arisen anywhere (and did?)

Dennis Mueller – the corporation and the economist

Anne Querrian – the metropolis & the Capital

Paul Kennedy – the rise & fall of great powers

Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding – everything is said by the observer

Arthur Iberall

Zelling Harris, A Theory of Language & Information: A Mathematical Approach

Howard Pattee

Magorah Maruyana, “Symbiotization of Cultural Heterogeneity: Scientific, Epistemological and Aesthetic Bases” – feedback causality, positive feedback is “deviation amplyifying”

Norman Weiner

Stanislav Ulam

Heinz Von Foerster

Michael Radzicki – “Institutional Dynamics: Deterministic Chaos and Self-Organizing Systems

Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man – “fortuitous accumulations of complexity”

Seymoor Melmann

Brian Arthur – network externalities due to positive feedback

George F. Ray

Thomas Newcomen – inventor 1712 steam engine

Eugene Ferguson – Engineering & The Mind’s Edge

Ian Inkster

George Stephenson – “rocket” locomotive inventor

Roger Burlingame

Charles F. O’Conell – military and big business management

Robert C. Davis

Harry Braveman

Merrit Roe Smith

David A Hounshell

Oliver Willamson – replacement of markets with hierarchies

Adolf Berle

William Lazonick – joint stock companies

Roy Lubove – urban planning in Kransberg & Pursell

Peter Drucker – “technological trends of the twentieth century”

Gilbert Ryle – The Concept of Mind

Richard Nelson & Sydney Winter

Annalee Saxenian – lessons from Silicon Valley

James B. Bright – automation

Ian G. Simmons – biographer, “Changing the Face of the Earth”

George Cowan, Complexity: Metaphors, Models & Reality

C.S. Holling, Resilience & Stability of Ecosystems

Thomas F. Glide, Science, Technology and the Urban Environment

Claude Levi Strauss – the raw and the cooked

Richard Dawkins, Selfish Gene – extended phenotype

Elliot Sober – evolutionary theory in philosophical focus

Willam Y Adams, On Migration & Diffusion as Rival Paradigms

Barry Bogin, Rural to Urban Migration

Edith Ennen – the medieval worm

Carter & Dale, Top Soil & Civilization

Pierre Clastres, Society against the State

KW Jean & JF Danielli

John Holland, Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems

Kevin Laland

Peter Richerson

Robert Boyd, “Animal Social Learning towards a New Theoretical Approach”

John T. Bonner, The Evolution of Culture in Animals

Colinvaux, The Fates of Nations: A Biological Theory of History

Donald Brown, Human Universals

William Durham, Coevolution

Alfred Crosby – ecological imperialism

Sidney Mintz, Sweetness & Power

Michael Foucault, Discipline & Punish

Richard Scott, Symbols & Organizations from Barnard to the Institutionalists

Devries, The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age

Gena Corea, The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs

JD Murray, Mathematical Biology

Dorothy Nelkin & Lawrence Tancerdi, Dangerous Diagnostics: the Social Power of Biological Information

ML Samuels, Linguistic Evolution

Peter Burke & Roy Porter, The Uses of Literacy in Early Modern Italy

Gottleb Frege, On Sense and Meaning

Saul A Kripke, Naming & Necessity

Salmon, Reference & Essence

Hilary Putnam, The Meaning of Meaning

Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols

Milroy, Languages & Social Networks

John Nist, A Structural History of English

Ian Hancock, Recovering Pidgin Genesis

Hymes, Pidginization & Creolization of Languages

Parker, The Rise of Vernaculars in Early Modern Europe

Labov, Sociolinguistic Patterns

Ivan Illich, Vernacular Values & Education

Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue

Herzel, Steinecke, Mende, Wernike, Chaos & Bifurcations during Voice & Speech

George Zipf, The Phsycho-biology of Language; An Introduction to Dyanmic Philogy

Mary Douglas, “Introduction to Group/Grid Analysis”

Tony Crowley, Standard English & the Politics of Language

Rubin & Jermudd,  Can Language be Placed?

Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice?

JE Gordan, The Science of Structures and Materials

This review can also be found on my Goodreads.


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