Living on the Precipice: Interdisciplinary Conference on Resilience in Complex Natural and Human Systems

The University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario
May 16-17, 2017

Hosted by the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, with support from the Field’s Institute for Mathematical Sciences

The resilience of complex systems to disturbances is a topic of longstanding and continuing interest in academic communities including applied mathematics, ecology, environmental sciences, and the social sciences and humanities. Over the past few decades, research in this field has led to scientific insights into real-world systems as well as policy improvements. However, significant challenges remain, especially for environmental systems where human influence is pervasive and often destructive. This conference will bring together participants from diverse academic backgrounds that are interested in addressing these challenges, using toolkits such as mathematical modelling and other quantitative methods as well as allied methodologies from the humanities and social sciences. The emphasis will be on natural, human, and coupled natural-and-human systems. The conference will include a plenary talk (Alan Hastings, University of California, Davis), invited talks, parallel contributed talk sessions, a poster session, and a graduate student workshop.

Important Dates:

* April 21: abstract submission deadline for contributed oral and poster presentations

* April 26: notification of acceptance for contributed oral or poster presentations

* May 3: early-bird registration deadline

* May 16-17: conference dates

For further information, please visit

Organizing Committee: Chris Bauch (Waterloo), Madhur Anand (Guelph), Vanessa Schweizer (Waterloo), Mark Crowley (Waterloo), Kathryn Fair (Waterloo), Perin Ruttonsha (Waterloo), Dou Yue (Michigan State), and Andjela Tatarovic (Waterloo)

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"Biamonte, an FQXi awardee who leads a theory group currently hosted at the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Torino in Italy, describes the importance of network theory with a simple example that explains why the rich find it easy to get richer: "If you have a million dollars, you are a million times more likely to get an extra dollar than someone who only has one dollar, according to this model." That is because when you have a network in which one node has many connections, if another node enters the network, it is highly likely that this new node will also connect to a highly connected node.

The challenge is to now think about quantum physics in such a framework. "It’s already enlightening to think-up quantum generalizations of even this simplistic idea," Biamonte says."

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"“€œIn Laci Babai, you have one of the most legendary and fearsome theoretical computer scientists there ever was, and in graph isomorphism, one of the most legendary and fearsome problems,”€ wrote Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, in an email. “A year ago, Laci threw an unbelievable knockout punch at [graph isomorphism], and now the problem itself seems to have gotten off the mat and thrown a counterpunch.”

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"On January 4, László Babai, a professor at the University of Chicago, sent shock waves through the community by retracting a claim which, back in November 2015, researchers had hailed as the theoretical computer science advance of the decade. Then on January 9, Babai announced that he had fixed the flaw in his proof. "

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It is extremely dangerous if losers become leaders. There is a good reason why not everybody is allowed to steer a large ship or a passenger plane. It requires knowledge and experience. Really bad things can happen when losers, criminals or other shady figures become leaders.

Because they can not tolerate criticism, these kind of leaders establish a dictatorship soon and drag the world into darkness. They are totally unsuitable to do the job, but they would never admit it. Demagogues like them are elected because they successfully appealed to people's emotions - but emotions like hate and anger are a bad guide when it comes to international politics.

Think of

Fascism in Italy
Mussolini - failed journalist

Communism in Russia
Lenin - failed revolutionary
Stalin - failed part-time clerk

Nazism in Nazi Germany
Hitler - failed postcard painter and wannabe artist
Himmler - failed chicken farmer
Goebbels - failed writer
Göring - fat drug addict

And now:
Trumpism in Trumpistan (formerly known as US)
Trump - failed business man and cancelled tv host
Bannon - failed publisher
Conway - failed pollster

Notice there is always a small inner circle. And there is always someone who does the propaganda - a journalist or writer.

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Very interesting article in +The Guardian​​​​​​​​. I like a good burger and a hot cup of coffee, but don't go to McDonald's or Starbucks anymore. Do you? Because they don't really offer food. They offer fake products which look like food and taste like food, but which are in fact very expensive food imitations accompanied by heavy marketing that tells the consumer it is good for him if he buys all he can eat (hint: it isn't).

International corporations like McDonald's and Starbucks rule the world. Countries and their parliaments still exist, although they pass more and more power to big international corporations. "The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it".

Who of us is really following the discussions in our parliaments? Nobody. Vivid discussions on the parliament have been replaced by talkshows in TV, and even the talkshows have less viewers. The real power lies in the hand of big international corporations, who produce their goods where work is cheapest, in China or India, and pay their taxes where rates are lowest, in Luxembourg or Cayman Islands.

As Mr. Monbiot says "the political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action." Corporations have become stronger than nation states, or they have merged with them into state owned entities.

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From a complexity science viewpoint the development in the US is interesting, whether it will be a step back into an oligarchy or autocracy, or even some kind of cronyism, nepotism, nationalism, imperialism or fascism, because all these *-isms are like a cancer for society. There are all sorts of fascisms, similar to the many different forms of cancer. Let us hope it will be a benign form, not a malignant one.

From a psychological perspective Mr. Trump is interesting too because he is obviously not a normal politician. Narcissism is mentioned frequently as a character trait. It is in fact a psychological disorder.

Will a disordered society elect a disordered leader? Erich Fromm was among the first to relate the two, the personality disorder of the leader and the character of a society.

As a European from a continent with a troubled past I'm worried that the next 4 years will not turn out well. There will be an unpleasant wakeup when people recognize they have been betrayed and there is no peaceful way back into a glorified past in a globalized world. I bet there will be some kind of staged event which will lead to the next war or a totalitarian state. 

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The apocalypse is coming, the question is will it be a climate armageddon or a nuclear apocalypse ? If we have burnt all fossile fuels successfully into CO2 will there even be enough O2 to breathe?

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Robert Gatenby, +David Basanta​, +Alexander Anderson​​​​​​ and others from +Moffitt Cancer Center​​ in Florida believe that evolution is the key to understand and beat cancer. Is a slow, adaptive treatment better than an aggressive chemotherapy? The basic idea is that aggressive chemotherapy with highest dose may kill every cell except the most resistant ones, which results in a selection of the most aggressive cells that are resistant to any therapy. A softer therapy may help to keep a higher diversity so that cells of the tumor can keep each other in check. 

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Here is an article from a German newspaper that sheds some light on the life of Mohammed Atta. He was an Egyptian who had studied architecture in Egypt. Then he continued his studies in Hamburg, Germany, at the Technical University of Hamburg, and studied urban planning. His diploma thesis was finally about city planning in Aleppo, the Aleppo that now no longer exists.

How did the student became a terrorist? In the beginning he wanted to make the world a better place. He wanted to go back to Egypt to plan and build great cities, cities worth living in. Wikipedia says: "Atta was concerned about modern development and the construction of high-rise buildings in Cairo and other ancient cities in the Middle East. He believed that the large, impersonal, and often ugly apartment blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s had ruined old neighborhoods, and took away privacy and dignity from people. Atta's own family moved into such an apartment block in 1990".

This German newspaper article reports about his former employer "Plankontor" who hired the student in 1995 as a nonskilled worker to draw city plans. He worked indeed well. But eventually they had to fire him in 1997 because there was not enough work, and computers began to replace humans in map drawing. So Mohammed Atta lost his job as a student although he worked well. This is were it started to go downhill. Despite having good grades and a degree in the near future, he wasn't able to keep his job or to find a job in Egypt, because Egypt doesn't reallly have jobs for city planers.

As we saw earlier, bad things can happen if the tension between the desired and the perceived sense of self becomes too large. Take away home, job, loved ones, hope and pride from a person, and he will probably fall down and possibly try to get rid of his pain by giving it to others

Apparently Mohammed Atta was in a miserable situation, no money, no job, no perspective. Exactly at that time he came in contact with radical people at the mosque, in the al-Quds Mosque in Hamburg. We know the rest, he was the pilot who flew the first plane into the World Trade Center at 9/11. A tragic life. 
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