Society as a Mandelbrot Set: Governing Dynamics of Generational Repetitiveness

As Laura has discussed in a past post, the logo symbol we have chosen for our blog is the Mandelbrot set.  Dr. Mandelbrot discovered that given a starting value and a quite simple equation combined with the aspects of complexity and time, one can observe the emergence of patterned fractal behavior.  The pattern reproduces itself (ad infinatum) in miniature at its edge of boundedness:  the border between system stability and instability.  The very essence of the pattern (the shape of the set) is determined by the definition of the equation governing the process: the environment in which the set exists.  The set, therefore, is a direct result of the equation set in motion over time.  It is this environmental determinism that is the subject of this discussion.

The human animal culturally has evolved over time in many seemingly different directions.  While our inherent capabilities seem consistent across habitats, the infrastructure of human interaction does not.  This underlying infrastructure appears to depend on the attributes of the environment inhabited by those humans.  In other words, societal structures differ across the planet due to the influence of natural resource endowment, environmental climate, and regional cultural and political entrenchment.  These environmental attributes determine the extent to which a society develops in terms of its economic viability, technological innovation; its consumerism; and its social awareness.  These aspects of geography and historical experience culminate into the array of regional cultural conditions seen across the planet to date.  It could be assumed that these regionalized cultural conditions set the underlying governing dynamics determining the shape and patterns emerging within the respective societies.  For example, the abundance of natural resources, the scope of land mass, the institutions of private ownership and personal freedom (the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness), and the concept of representative governance have defined the historical and social identity of the United States in terms of economic innovation, prosperity, and distribution; as well as defined the rules of social engagement within American culture.  Contrasting the American identity with that of say…Peru; one would assume that the societal patterns emerging from these two entities would be vastly different given the variance in the respective governing dynamics.  However, when examining very basic patterns within societal environments, no significant variation emerges. 

It is my contention that this inter-cultural and inter-locational variance in human interaction has little to no impact on the true status of the human condition on this planet.  This contention necessitates the existence of an underlying tendency (or tendencies) that all humans have in common which surpasses cultural behavior that determines the true dynamics governing societal evolution.   Humanity is a subset of the natural world as it resides within the confines of this finite planet.  The governing characteristics of this subset, therefore, are “inherited” from the dynamics driving the greater planetary environment.  Primary case in point is at the very core of human (or any other species for that matter) survival; how life on this planet has dealt with the fundamental economic problem (scarcity) is perhaps the most integral commonality determining the dynamics of inter-human relations.  Therefore, patterns emerging from the human subset (i.e. power law models of distribution and dispersion) are identical across cultural and political institutional change.  So, my question is, can we transcend these patterns? Or will we as a species be forever locked into the distributional injustices and power struggles that have stunted the emergence of peace throughout human history?


  1. Will Kulp says:

    Lots of food for thought here. Wish I had more time to chew on it.
    One quick thought, though: the human race will not ever be free of ‘power struggles that have stunted the emergence of peace throughout human history’ until human nature changes. It doesn’t seem to have changed throughout history so the outlook for peace is pretty dim.

    • Will,
      Thank you for still reading our blog even when our submissions are sporatic. You are correct that a change in human nature is needed. I would like to think that if “reason” and “ability to think outside ourselves” separates us from other species, we can improve our social structure and cultural behaviors. Whether we have the will to change is another issue…Outlook does indeed seem dim.