QuestionsWeb LinksClass OutlineClass notes

Question for Discussion: What are the major causes of the breakdown of Jurassic Park? Could they have been predicted and avoided?

Readings: Jurassic Park, pp. 181-268; Orr, "Slow Knowledge";

Video: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring;
Jurassic Park: Debate at lunch on the Dinosaur Park Concept


Response Paper: Based on the reading, class discussion, and the web notes, what do you think are the five major design flaws in Jurassic Park? Are some flaws more important than others?
(2 page paper, 40 points, due Friday, Feb. 20th ).



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The Precautionary Principle


Chaos Theory and Complexity


Causes of the Jurassic Park Breakdown


The Study of Engineering Failures

Examples of Engineering Failures


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Expectations for College Classroom not being met

Higher Expectations for College Students: Because this is not a high school class, you cannot earn a high grade without doing the reading, in-class class work, and being engaged and active in class. You cannot individually decide which parts of the class are relevant or irrelevant. You cannot psychologically check out from the class because you think it is boring or the class material challenges your own opinions and perspectives. You cannot engage more with electronic devices than with the class. You cannot eat lunch during class. You cannot read other books or work on other classes during class. You cannot leave class after the first twenty minutes. You cannot leave and come back to class because you don’t think the material or class discussion is relevant or useful. You cannot disrespect the opinions and arguments of the professor or your classmates. You cannot make it difficult for your classmates to pay attention and concentrate. You cannot disrupt the class and undermine the classroom environment in any way

  • Do I need to stop class every time I see someone disrupting class?

  • I will warn the student once for disruptive behavior, and on the second time I will ask the student to leave the class for that day

  • Disruptive Behavior hurts the entire class because it takes time away from real learning

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Understanding the failure of Jurassic Park and other complex systems

 

Climate Science and the risks of Climate Change

  • IPCC 2013 Summary Report for Policy Makers

  • Climate Scientists Issue Their Report. Now It’s Our Turn: (in-class)

    95%. That’s how certain the hundreds of scientists who contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released the first chapter of its fifth assessment on global warming this morning, are that human beings are the “dominant cause of observed warming” that’s been seen since the mid-20th century.

    In science, which almost always speaks in probabilities, that’s about as clear as you get. This is not news—while the certainty around the scientific case for man-made climate change has tightened somewhat, much of the new report reiterates the conclusions reached in the last IPCC assessment,which was released in 2007



  • Hansen on Global Warming Tipping Point:

    The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

  • Global Warming: Beyond the Tipping Point:

    But the earth is not a billiard ball. It is an extraordinarily complex, messy geophysical system with dozens of variables, most of which change in response to one another. Oceans absorb vast amounts of heat, slowing the warm-up of the atmosphere, yet they also absorb excess CO2. Vegetation soaks up CO2 as well but eventually re­releases the gas as plants rot or burn—or, in a much longer-term scenario—drift to the bottom of the ocean to form sedimentary rock such as limestone. Warmer temperatures drive more evaporation from the oceans; the water vapor itself is a heat-trapping gas, whereas the clouds it forms block some of the sun’s warming rays. Volcanoes belch CO2, but they also spew particulates that diffuse the sun’s rays. And that’s just a partial list.

  • Tipping Points: Global Warming and the Balance of Nature

  • Among Climate Scientists, a Dispute Over ‘Tipping Points’

  • Impact of Climate change and Biodiversity-Ecosystems-and-Ecosystem-Services

  • New Map shows the World's most Climate Vulnerable Regions

Recent Examples of Complex Systems Breaking down


What is the Risk of a Global Financial Collapse

The Risks of Genetically Modified Food (GMOs)


Fast Knowledge as one of the Causes of the Breakdown
of Jurassic Park

  • FDA: Statement of Policy - Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties: (1992)

    Summary: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a  
    policy statement on foods derived from new plant varieties,
    including plants developed by recombinant deoxyribonucleic
    acid (DNA) techniques.
    This policy statement is a clarification of
    FDA's interpretation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
    (the act), with respect to new technologies to produce foods, and
    reflects FDA's current judgment based on new plant varieties
    now under development in agricultural research. This
    action is being taken to ensure that relevant scientific, safety,
    and regulatory issues are resolved prior to the introduction of
    such products into the marketplace.
  • Is our tech making the world too complex? - (2014)

    For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.  We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.

  • Orr, "Slow Knowledge": (in-class)

  • For Orr, what is the difference between Fast Knowledge and Slow Knowledge? (in-class)

  • Orr on the dangers of fast knowledge:

    Even were humans able to learn more rapidly, the application of fast knowledge generares complicated problems much faster than we can identify them and respond. We simply cannot foresee all of the ways complex natural systems will react to human-initiated changes at their present scale, scope, and velocity. The organization of knowledge by a minute division of labor further limits our capacity to comprehend whole systems effects, especially when the creation offast knowledge in one area creates problems elsewhere at a later time

    Fast knowledge has played havoc in the world because Homo sapiens is just not smart enough to manage everything that it is possible for the human mind to discover and create. In Wendell Berry's words, there is a kind of idiocy inherent in the belief "that we can first set demons at large, and then, somehow, become smart enough to control them" (Berry I983, 65)·


  • Steffens, "The Anthropocene: Are Humans Overwhelmng the Great Forces of Nature"

  • Malcolm Explains Chaos Theory (in-class)

  • What is the Butterfly Effect?

  • What is the Malcolm Effect? : (in-class)

    The Malcolm Effect at Jurassic Park: The breakdown of the park fundamentally changed the dinosaurs' understanding. This change can't be simply undone by putting them back in
    their cages.


  • What are the Major Design Flaws in Jurassic Park (in-class)

  • Multiple Causes of the Breakdown in Jurassic Park: (in-class)

    Hammond refuses to accept that the park is not a zoo, but a living, evolving environment with intelligent, adaptive animals--dinosaurs. The larger question that Hammond doesn't consider is that the park has fundamentally changed as a result of the breakdown. Once the dinosaurs have got out, discovered that the fences and the security systems have weaknesses, and begin to hunt and eat humans, the park staff can't return the park back to its original state, because it has transformed and changed by this breakdown. This is what Malcolm means by a "Malcolm effect": Small changes in complex systems can create chain reactions that transform that system from one state of balance to a new state of equilibrium. These transformations, these Malcolm effect, can't be easily predicted and controlled.

  • The larger cause of the Breakdown in Jurassic Park (in-class)

Engineering Failures, the Precautionary Principle,
and the Breakdown of Jurassic Park


Chaos Theory, Complex Systems, and Complexity in Moden Science


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Chaos theory and leadership studies

Chaos is not going to go away. The chaos paradigm is replacing the ubiquitous paradigm of linear scientific reductionism that began with Sir Isaac Newton who posited a mechanistic view the physical world. He is the thinker who is credited with developing the ideas and initial linear equations which have helped to lay the foundation for the scientific advances of the past 300 or so years. In a mechanistic Newtonian world, reality is understandable by means of scientific reductionism. Theoretically, the linear universe of Newton can be understood, accurate predictions can be made, and phenomena potentially controlled, as humans apply their reason to break the universe into its most basic parts and then logically put them back together again.

In a mechanistic Newtonian world all of the parts were always supposed to add up to a specific predictable whole. Linear equations were used to predict all kinds of phenomena, even when scientists knew that sometimes the phenomena they were interested in had obvious nonlinear characteristics. Wheatley describes this process: "To avoid messiness and pursue the dream of determinism, nonlinear equations were `linearized.' Once they were warped in this way, they could be handled by simpler mathematics. But this process of linearizing nature's nonlinear character blinded scientists to life's processes" (Wheatley, 1999, p. 120). Even so, Newtonian physical science has indeed had a great deal of empirical success that has fueled unprecedented technological advances for humankind.


Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos

We have seen that life requires a dynamic balance of order and chaos. If life were totally ordered everything would be the same and follow the same rules without any errors. It would leave no room for anything new to occur. If, on the other hand, everything were in total disorder and nothing could be predicted from one moment to the next, everything would be constantly new and nothing could have any sense of permanence.

Life could not exist in a totally ordered world or a totally chaotic world. We live in a world where there is a mix of both. There is enough structure that there is a sense of permanence and continuity in our lives. We can reasonably predict much of what will happen in our lives. We form a generally stable sense of personal identity which enables us to interact with the people around us. The patterns of the seasons and the heavens, the laws of physics, and even our own human laws give our lives enough structure and predictability to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

At the same time there is enough diversity and unpredictability in life so that new and unknown things regularly appear in our world, things we can make use of to improve and grow. That unpredictability is generally not so large that we are overwhelmed by change. Life exists at a balance point between order and chaos.

The Edge of Chaos is more than just a balance point. It is a point of emergence. When the Edge of Chaos is reached, whole new behaviours can emerge that could not have been perviously predicted. There is a chemical example of the Edge of Chaos system called the Belousov - Zhabotinsky reaction where two chemicals are mixed and at the critical point of the Edge of Chaos, the whole mixture changes rhythmically from one colour to another. That change could not have been predicted just by looking at the original chemicals.  Many other complex systems, such as living systems exhibit the quality of emergence. Previously unpredictable levels of complexity suddenly come together that can dramatically improve its ability to operate effectively in its environment.

The Edge of Chaos. also, is found very often in nature; throughout ecosystems, in human dynamics, and in many other places in the world about us. IN an ecosystem there are usually a great number of speciies vying for a share of the resources and the ability to survive into the next generation... Organisms that exist at the Edge of Chaos or near the Edge of Chaos are likely to have an advantage over other creatures with whom they compete which do not extend themselves and take the same level of risk. Being at the Edge of Chaos may be favoured by natural selection, thus driving life forms to becoming increasingly efficent at surviving in their environment.

The Edge of Chaos is also evident in the human world in places like the stock market, organisations,  etc.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether natural systems automatically move towards the Edge of Chaos because of the assumption that is the most efficient place to be. While it is an appealing idea with a logic to it, in practice it has been hard to show. It is likely that in real life staying at the Edge of Chaos is just too stressful or risky for a living organism, and that instead, organisms move to the Edge of Chaos for short periods and receive a boost, but are not able to maintain that state, so then drop back until they have integrated the changes before once again approaching the Edge of Chaos.


What is the Malcolm Effect

"Chaos theory treats the behavior of a whole system like a drop of water moving on a complicated propeller surface. The drop may spiral down, or slip outward toward the edge. It may do many different things, depending. But it will always move along the surface of the propeller....Malcolm's models tend to have a ledge, or a sharp incline, where the drop of water will speed up greatly. [This is also known as the "edge of chaos." Chris Lewis] He modestly calls this speeding-up movement the Malcolm Effect. The whole system could suddenly collapse. And that was what he said about Jurassic Park. That it had inherent instability." (246)

"Living systems are not like mechanical systems. Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they're not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse." (247)

["The assumption Malcolm makes is that after a "Malcolm Effect" a system will once again achieve a new balancing point, or equilibrium, and with new perturbations to the system will once again move to the edge of chaos. Thus systems move from equilibrium to the edge of chaos and then move to a new equilibrium point. However, chaos theory says that these equilibrium points are never stable. Complex systems are always moving toward the edge of chaos and towards new equilibrium points. Change and transformation are an inherent part of complex living systems. The breakdown of Jurassic Park is a great example of this movement toward the edge of chaos and then towards a new equilibrium point." Chris Lewis, Ph.D.]


The Precautionary Principle:

"Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

"The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action." [End of statement.]

Thus, as formulated here, the principle of precautionary action has 4 parts:

1. People have a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm. (As one participant at the Wingspread meeting summarized the essence of the precautionary principle, "If you have a reasonable suspicion that something bad might be going to happen, you have an obligation to try to stop it.")

2.
The burden of proof of harmlessness of a new technology, process, activity, or chemical lies with the proponents, not with the general public.

3.
Before using a new technology, process, or chemical, or starting a new activity, people have an obligation to examine "a full range of alternatives" including the alternative of doing nothing.

4.
Decisions applying the precautionary principle must be "open, informed, and democratic" and "must include affected parties."


RIO Declaration on the Precautionary Approach

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

80. Principle 15 codified for the first time at the global level the precautionary approach, which indicates that lack of scientific certainty is no reason to postpone action to avoid potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment. Central to principle 15 is the element of anticipation, reflecting a requirement that effective environmental measures need to be based upon actions which take a long-term approach and which might anticipate changes on the basis of scientific knowledge.


Examples of the Precautionary Principle Applied:

1. Climate Change. The precautionary principle tells us that in balancing the damage that may result from global warming against the cost of keeping it under control (it is already too late to counter the effects of our actions in the last century), we should take into account the possibility that the increase in temperature may be considerably greater and more rapid than has been estimated, and if so, it will probably be very difficult to bring the temperature down again even by a drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

2. GMOs. Genetic modification may offer the opportunity for improving crops at some future time. The precautionary principle does not rule this out, nor does it exclude properly contained research to develop new varieties.
It does, however, require that we should not press ahead with commercial crops until we have carried out the research necessary to establish that the technology we are using is safe.

3.BST in Milk. In 1997, the European Union banned the import of products from cattle that have been treated with bovine somatotropin (BST), a hormone that, when given to cattle, increases milk yields by about 10%. The USA immediately appealed to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming that the issue was not really one of safety at all. They argued that there was no known example of humans being affected by BST, and that the EU’s action was merely a device to close their markets to imports from the USA.

In its original decision, the WTO gave the EU a year to provide evidence of harm to humans. If they could not do this, the ban would have to be lifted. This is a clear example of how the precautionary principle can make a real difference, because had the principle been invoked, the WTO would have been very unlikely to make such a ruling. In fact, the WTO was applying what we might call the anti-precautionary principle: it is for society to show that something is dangerous, instead of requiring the perpetrator to show it is safe.


Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments Concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) 2000

1.
The scientists are extremely concerned about the hazards of GMOs to biodiversity, food safety, human and animal health, and demand a moratorium on environmental releases in accordance with the precautionary principle.

2.
They are opposed to GMO crops that will intensify corporate monopoly, exacerbate inequality and prevent the essential shift to sustainable agriculture that can provide food security and health around the world.

3.
They call for a ban on patents of life-forms and living processes which threaten food security, sanction biopiracy of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources, and violate basic human rights and dignity.

4. They want more support on research and development of non-corporate, sustainable agriculture that can benefit family farmers all over the world.

Conclusion and Warning about GMOs

We, the undersigned scientists, call for the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of GMO crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least 5 years; for patents on living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned; and for a comprehensive public enquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all.

The hazards of GMOs to biodiversity and human and animal health are now acknowledged by sources within the UK and US Governments. Particularly serious consequences are associated with the potential for horizontal gene transfer. These include the spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes that would render infectious diseases untreatable, the generation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and harmful mutations which may lead to cancer.


James Gleick on the Implications of Chaos Theory

Major Books on Chaos and Complexity Theory

"Where chaos begins, classical science stops. For as long as the world has had physicists inquiring into the laws of nature, it has suffered a special ignorance about disorder in the atmosphere, in the fluctuations of the wildlife populations, in the oscillations of the heart and the brain. The irregular side of nature, the discontinuous and erratic side -- these have been puzzles to science, or worse, monstrosities."

-- Jame Gleick in Chaos: Making A New Science

"Now that science is looking, chaos seems to be everywhere. A rising column of cigarette smoke breaks into wild swirls. A flag snaps back and forth in the wind. A dripping faucet goes from a steady pattern to a random one. Chaos appears in the behavior of the weather, the behavior of an airplane in flight, the behavior of cars clustering on an expressway, the behavior of oil flowing in underground pipes. No matter what the medium, the behavior obeys the same newly discovered laws. That realization has begun to change the way business executives make decisions about insurance, the way astronomers look at the solar system, the way political theorists talk about the stresses leading to armed conflict."

-- Jame Gleick in Chaos: Making A New Science

Chaos breaks across the lines that separate scientific disciplines. Because it is a science of the global nature of systems, it has brought together thinkers from fields that had been widely separated. Chaos poses problems that defy accepted ways of working in science. It makes strong claims about the universal behavior of complexity. The first chaos theorists, the scientists who set the discipline in motion, shared certain sensibilities. They had an eye for pattern, especially pattern that appeared on different scales at the same time. They had a taste for randomness and complexity, for jagged edges and sudden leaps. Believers in chaos--and they sometimes call themselves believers, or converts, or evangelists--speculate about determinism and free will, about evolution, about the nature of conscious intelligence. They feel that they are turning back a trend in science toward reductionism, the analysis of systems in terms of their constituent parts: quarks,chromosomes, or neurons. They believe that they are looking for the whole. "

-- Jame Gleick in Chaos: Making A New Science


Orr, "Slow Knowledge"

Even were humans able to learn more rapidly, the application of fast knowledge generares complicated problems much faster than we can
identify them and respond. We simply cannot foresee all of the ways.
complex natural systems will react to human-initiated changes at their present scale, scope, and velocity. The organization of knowledge by a minute division oflabor further limits our capacity to comprehend whole systems effects, especially when the creation of fast knowledge in one area creates problems elsewhere at a later time.

The result is that the system of fast knowledge creates
social traps in which the benefits occur in the near term while the costs are deferred to others at a later time.

Fast knowledge is focused on solving problems, usually by one technological fix or another; slow knowledge has to do with avoiding problems in the first place. Fast knowledge deals with discrete things, while slow knowledge deals with context, patterns, and connections. Fast knowledge arises from hierarchy and competition; slow knowledge is freely shared within a community. Fast knowledge is about know-how; slow knowledge is about know-how and know-why. Fast knowledge is about"competitive edges" and individual and organizational profit; slow knowledge is about community prosperity. Fast knowledge is mostly linear; slow knowledge is complex and ecological.

Fast knowledge has played havoc in the world because Homo sapiensI is just not smart enough to manage everything that it is possible for the human mind to discover and create. In Wendell Berry's words, there is a kind of idiocy inherent in the belief "that we can first set demons at large, and then, somehow, become smart enough to control them" (Berry I983, 65)·


Steffens, "The Anthropocene: Are Humans Overwhelmng the Great Forces of Nature"

How does the magnitude and rate of human impact compare
with the natural variability of the Earth’s environment? Are
human effects similar to or greater than the great forces of
nature in terms of their influence on Earth System
functioning?

Humankind will remain a major geological force for many
millennia, maybe millions of years, to come. To develop a
universally accepted strategy to ensure the sustainability of
Earth’s life support system against human-induced stresses is
one of the greatest research and policy challenges ever to
confront humanity. Can humanity meet this challenge?

Mitigation. An alternative pathway into the future is based
on the recognition that the threat of further global change is
serious enough that it must be dealt with proactively. The
mitigation pathway attempts to take the human pressure off of
the Earth System by vastly improved technology and management,
wise use of Earth’s resources, control of human and
domestic animal population, and overall careful use and
restoration of the natural environment. The ultimate goal is
to reduce the human modification of the global environment to
avoid dangerous or difficult-to-control levels and rates of
change (47).

The Great Acceleration is reaching criticality (Fig. 4).
Enormous, immediate challenges confront humanity over the
next few decades as it attempts to pass through a bottleneck of
continued population growth, excessive resource use and
environmental deterioration. In most parts of the world the
demand for fossil fuels overwhelms the desire to significantly
reduce greenhouse gas emissions. About 60% of ecosystem
services are already degraded and will continue to degrade
further unless significant societal changes in values and
management occur (37).



The Causes of the Breakdown of the Park

Throughout Jurassic Park, Hammond keeps re-assuring everyone that the park is under control. Even when the park breaks down, he is confident that in no time at all they will regain control of the dinosaurs and the park. Hammond refuses to accept that the park is not a zoo, but a living, evolving environment with intelligent, adaptive animals--dinosaurs. The larger question that Hammond doesn't consider is that the park has fundamentally changed as a result of the breakdown. Once the dinosaurs have got out, discovered that the fences and the security systems have weaknesses, and begin to hunt and eat humans, the park staff can't return the park back to its original state, because it has transformed and changed by this breakdown. This is what Malcolm means by a "Malcolm effect": Small changes in complex systems can create chain reactions that transform that system from one state of balance to a new state of equilibrium. These transformations, these Malcolm effect, can't be easily predicted and controlled.

But Hammond will have none of this talk about chaos theory and Malcolm effects. Like many engineers and corporations when systems break down, Hammond and others blame human error. Often engineers and designers claim that their systems were designed to work but human error and ignorance can ruin even the safest, well-designed systems. In this case, the designers of Jurassic Park would argue that Dennis Nedry is the real cause of the breakdown. If they had hired a better, more honest, and more trustworthy computer programmer, the park would not have broken down. But is this true? Can we really blame the breakdown of the park on Nedry? And if the park was really well designed shouldn't it have been able to continue to operate despite what Nedry did. The larger question engineers and designers need to answer is whether their systems are designed well if human error can cause breakdowns? Shouldn't we be calculating risk and the costs of system failure that include the real possibility of human error. If the system can't be designed to protect from human error, can we really say that it is safe from breakdown?So is Dennis Nedry the real cause of the breakdown of the park? Without his attempt to steal the dinosaurs embryos for Lewis Dodgson and Biosyn, would the park have continued to run smoothly, under the control of the park wardens? One of the larger causes of the environmental crisis is our assumption that there are only single causes, when in fact the complex interaction between human beings, industrialization, and the environment creates multiple, interdependent causes of environmental problems, such as acid rain, the growing hole in the ozone, and global warming. We can understand the complex, multiple causes of environmental problems by examining the larger, interdependent causes of the breakdown of Jurassic Park. See this website for a brief discussion of necessary and sufficient conditions.

1. The Park was already breaking down before Nedry acted. The escape of the dinosaurs to the mainland proved the park wasn't under the complete control of the park staff.

2. The tropical storm that hit the island played a role in the breakdown of the park.

3. The dinosaurs' ability to test, explore, and adapt to the changing environment on the island allowed them to quickly take advantage when the security systems went down.

4. The overdependence on a few computer programmers helped cause the breakdown in the park. After detecting problems, the staff couldn't quickly regain control because they couldn't reprogram the computer without Nedry.

5. Lewis Dodgson and Biosyn's pressing demands for the dinosaur embryos also played a role in the breakdown of the park.

6. Failure to understand the nature of the dinosaurs and the technology and systems needed to fully control them. Dinosaurs were too fast, intelligent, and independent for easy human control.

7. The lack of oversight by government regulators, scientists, and the public allowed Ingen to design the park without vital feedback that might have provided the information needed to avoid a breakdown.

8. The demand by Ingen investors to quickly build the park, open it up for visitors, and get a good return on their investment.

9. The use of amphibian (frog) DNA in the reconstruction of dinosaurs. This allowed the dinosaurs to breed and further escape the control of the park staff.

10. The failure to understand how the various species of dinosaurs would interact with each other in the park. Dinosaurs are part of complex, natural biological communities whose nature cannot be understood simply as the sum of all the animals in the environment.

11. The belief that the park staff could control, and easily regain control, over the dinosaurs and the park played a role in the park's breakdown.

12. The failure to understand that the living systems--environments--are not like mechanical systems; they are never in equilibrium. Instead living systems and complex environments are always on the edge of change and evolution. We can't easily predict when those changes will be minor or major shifts, like Malcolm effects.

13. The inability of the computer system that runs the park to be shut down and easily turned on again. It can only be turned on manually.

14. The failure of park staff to recognize the limited control they have over the park play a major role in the park's breakdown.

The Larger problem that leads to the breakdown of Jurassic Park


The larger problem that the breakdown of Jurassic Park illustrates is the tendency of governments, engineers, designers, politicians, corporations, and the general public to always assume that environmental and technological catastrophes are caused by simple, easily understood causes that once understood can easily be corrected. The cultural assumption that we have more understanding and control over complex systems and environments continually gets us into trouble. Despite past unpredicted catastrophes, we continue to take serious risk that often cause serious human and environmental disasters. Jurassic Park is a warning about the accelerating development of complex technologies, such as genetic engineering, industrial chemicals, and medical treatments, despite our limited understanding and control of complex human and natural environments. The larger danger, of course, is that when complex systems breakdown, as they often do, human health, well-being, and life is at stake.


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© 2000 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/ecology/index.htm