Epochs in time

Keynes and Whitehead think of activity taking place in different epochs, covering different zones of theme-space-time-scale, such as the British economy between Versailles and the Great Crash. Here is my attempt to illustrate this:

An epoch may end in a transition, leading to a new epoch.

The horizontal axis is time. The vertical axis is some indicator of merit. The subjective merit may not be ‘true’ to any actual merit, and so the axis is shown skewed. The period from A to B is where one has an established epoch, with ‘rules of the game’ that one may expect to last forever. Knowing the (current) rules, one is able to extract ‘value’. The circles represent bubbles. If only you had realised that the epoch was vulnerable you might have acted more sustainably, sacrificing some performance. The bubbles show the short-term benefit over the potential long-term benefit, which in practicde may not be known.

At B the rules of the game change. Perhaps some resource runs out, or the exploiters of the old game become so common, that they are exploited in turn. Effectiveness crashes. Actions may no longer be effective. What was once valued may have much less value, or may be a liability. Actors are trying to cope with the chaos, to understand the new rules, and perhaps to impose their own or influence those which emerge. At the point of inflection, C, the situation is showing the first signs of stabilising. By A’ a new epoch, with new rules, is becoming established. The same or new actors may become effective in this new epoch.

What is shown is a relatively simple case. In practice:

  • The period of transition between epochs may be so chaotic that no-one can make any sense of it and one appears to have one epoch followed by another, with no perceptible in-between.
  • Epochs are embedded in other epochs, (like games within games) so that a transition between low-level epochs may be driven by or influenced by higher epochs, thought of as games.
  • A new epoch may start to get established but fail. One may then have an indefinite succession of not-quite epochs with rules not quite established.
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About Dave Marsay
Mathematician with an interest in 'good' reasoning.

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