Trends and Equilibrium

There are a number of interesting trends going on right now. Some of them have been noticeable for years, others are just growing enough that they will (probably) become statistically likely at some point in the future.

There are a number of common trends which the world is tracking:

  1. Economic trends, including government spending, average wages, employment data, debt
  2. Educational trends, including literacy rates, college graduation rates, high school graduation rates
  3. Ecological/Climatological trends, including species population data, carbon output, ocean acidity, ice concentration, rainfall averages, temperatures
  4. Health trends, including death, birth, fertility, infant mortality, obesity, and cancer rates

There are some other trends, like planetary discovery and the search for the Higgs boson. The former may be a proxy for estimating the discovery of extraterrestrial life and then of discovery of intelligent aliens. The latter signals an approaching greater understanding of the universe, which will bring further advancements over time.

These last trends are of a different sort than the former, because they involve an accumulation of data which doesn’t represent an equilibrium-based system. The educational trends also fit in this category of accumulations. The literacy rate can’t be too high.

But they still represent equilibrium events. At first, the literacy rate was very low, and over time the amount of resources spent teaching people to read has increased. But at some point, it reached a peak. It costs less to teach more people to read today than it used to.

The amount of effort to find the Higgs boson is at (or near on either side of) its peak. As soon as it’s found, there will be efforts to understand the data, possibly to repeat the experiments, but nobody will be searching for its existence.

But the economic, ecological/climatological, and negative health trends represent equilibrium-based systems. The current economic trends can only exist for so long before the whole economic system breaks down (eg, 2008 financial crisis), after which the system finds a new equilibrium.

The same is true for the climate. You can boil a pot of tap water at 100 degrees Celsius, or if you add salt, you can raise that boiling point a bit. The same volume of water can now hold in more heat.

Your own body can only be deprived of sleep for so long before it will force you to sleep in most circumstances. Another equilibrium system.

Breath, blood pressure, hydration, heat regulation, and other bodily functions are all equilibrium-based.

Equilibrium is one of those neat concepts that, once you start looking at it, you see it everywhere.