[FOUNTAIN]Edging close to our social critical massIn 1987, three physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York conducted a seemingly boring experiment. Per Bak, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld sprinkled grains of sand on the table and observed the behavior. They began with actual sand but soon took the experiment to a computer.
The computer calculated the slope of the cyber sand pile; a low incline was colored green and a steep slope was colored red. As the green turned into red, the pile collapsed. But two red slopes with the same height did not behave in the same way. After numerous trials, the researchers concluded that only the piles that reached the extremely sensitive state, or “critical state” would collapse. The critical state is an accumulated result of different weights of grains, the angle and direction of each grain’s drop, and the impact on other grains.
Each pile had a unique story that determined a unique critical state, and two seemingly identical piles would have different point where an avalanche was triggered.
Many scientists applied the theory to explain earthquakes, forest fires and the destruction of food chains. Many phenomena could be better understood with self-organized criticality than with a “first cause” argument.
The physicist and editor of Nature magazine, Mark Buchanan, is famous for network science, one of the revolutionary scientific theories of the 21st century. He claimed that all changes were caused by critical states. Scholars see that changes happen when the accumulated stress crosses a line of patience. If we knew the history of stress accumulation, we could understand what triggers the critical state.
Mr. Buchanan said that social upheavals were earthquakes in a network made up of countless, heterogeneous social members. The American historian Conyers Read agrees and said that if we do not resolve maladjustments by making adjustments, an upheaval would follow.
In today’s society, there are many signs of such stress. More than 100,000 conservatives gathered at City Hall Plaza and raised their voices to oppose the abolition of the National Security Law. Politicians are attacking each other. Statistics say that the pain index is the worst in three years.
If there were a clock of criticality, what time would it be now?
by Ahn Sung-kyoo
The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.