User:Evarenon/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge/Seminar Group 3/Superconcept essay

Topics edit

Possible Essays Topics
Superconcept Discipline Associated Research Question
Entropy Economics, Politics and Social Sciences To what extent did political and social entropy contribute to the rise of Hitler in post-World War I Germany?
Complexity History of Arts How does the abstract representation of objects in Miro's painting The Harlequin's Carnival makes this piece of art complex?
Entropy Evolution How does creationism negate the idea of entropic evolution in Darwinism Theory?
Systems Ecology To what extent do changes in a complex environmental system lead to variation in ecological dynamics?
Complexity Economics, Politics and Social Sciences How does the management of aid in Haiti represent the importance of consistency in an economic system?
Evolution Architecture, Construction and Planning How far can the concept of evolution apply to urban planning and development in today’s world?
Fiction Economics To what extent did the soviet government used Stakhanovism fiction to fulfill an economic agenda?

Mini-essays edit

To what extent did social entropy contribute to the rise of Hitler in post-World War I Germany? (Laura, Lily + Emilie) edit

Entropy is a commonly used concept which originates from the field of physics where it is associated with the level of disorder in the system, or also the availability of the energy in a system to do work.[1]In this context we will be examining entropy through a sociological and political lens, in order to discuss the effects of entropy in Weimar Germany. In a political setting, the concept of entropy “dictates that systems consisting of a large number of actors tend toward greater randomness and disorder in the absence of external intervention”.[2]

Unquestionably, the rise of the NSDAP cannot be summarised in such a brief discussion, there are many complex factors leading to the Nazi’s rise to power that cannot be distilled into one point. We can however, for the purpose of this text, examine the socio-political situation in the context of entropy. In 1920 the now infamous Treaty of Versailles was signed leaving “poverty, unemployment, desperation, and decay”[3] in its wake. This social situation leading to increased violence, crime and general discontent amongst the electorate can only be described as a high entropy state, based purely on a qualitative measure of entropy we can see retrospectively that German politics was descending into disorder. These “high entropy levels also contributed greatly to governmental instability and ineffectiveness in dealing with the problems…. The parliamentary government became increasingly ineffective”.[4] As a result of the increase in entropy, the legitimacy of Germany's democratic institutions were destroyed, causing public support to shift to more extremist parties, such as the Nazi party.[5]

Given these circumstances it is unsurprising that the German people felt emotions of “dislocation, regret and the certainty of cultural deterioration”[6] which prompted them to vote for what was seen as strong leadership, in the words of Dee R. Wernette “Economic distress gives initial impetus to the growth of a fascist movement”.[7] This phenomenon is not uncommon, also exhibited in 1990s America, disenfranchised by a political system that was so deeply rooted in historical processes that it alienated voters towards the federal government and created a profound sense of political malaise.[8] This malaise is no doubt what pushes voters towards extremist parties. Thus, it can be suggested that the apparent and sudden increase in local entropy for German voters compelled them to vote for a party that promised them stability as an intrinsic attribute of life is the act or attempted act of entropy reduction.[9]

Indeed, Erich Fromm argues that the mass support for the Nazi party should also be viewed, in part, as being a consequence of peoples' intrinsic, irrational, and unconscious need and struggle to avoid "aloneness". He argues that increasing freedom brings with it not only "critical and responsible self", but also the burden of being more isolated and feel more insignificant. For instance, according to Fromm, the breakdown of feudalism produced modern individualism, as well as set the scene for extreme nationalism due to man's need to avoid loneliness. This phenomenon could be viewed as people's response to the loss of order, or the increase of entropy over time, as they gain more freedoms, which eventually causes them to seek an escape from it through, for example, nationalism. This is particularly true when outside factors, such as Germany's unemployment and inflation in the 1930s, as well as the loss of legitimacy of its democratic government, which significantly increase entropy, cause further doubts and feelings of aloneness and insignificance in people. Thus, according to Fromm, the rise of Nazism was caused by people's need to reduce the entropy caused by the political and economic crises Germany faced, as well as, arguably, its sudden change from a monarchy to a democracy (giving people greater freedom).[10]

This is certainly a gross over-simplification of the sequence of events and factors which led to the rise of the NSDAP and their eventual victory in 1933. Wernette himself does not reach a strong conclusion to explain the Nazi vote in view of there being a multitude of variables at work in galvanising people to vote, characterised by a complex web of causal relationships. However, it can nevertheless confirm that the social entropy occurring in Germany during the late 1920s and 30s was exploited by Adolf Hitler to secure votes he may otherwise never have received and did play a significant role in the rise of the NSDAP to the largest political party in Germany. Understanding people’s reaction to social discord and disorder is vital for the future of political systems globally which are in a constant state of entropy [8] and to make sense of recent controversial events including the US general elections and the EU referendum in the UK.

How does the abstract representation of objects in Miró's painting The Harlequin's Carnival makes this piece of art complex ? (Tancrede, Hadrien) edit

In his masterpiece The Harlequin's Carnival (1924-1925)[11], Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miró offers an abstract depiction of miscellaneous objects and figures[12]. According to the Oxford online Dictionary, abstract in art is an adjective meaning “Relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colors, and textures”[13]. Complexity is a concept used to designate a system in which the whole is more than adding the different elements and where the multiple interactions of its elements makes it irreducible. In The Harlequin's Carnival, Miró creates a complex poetic language throughout abstract images a and in so doing; he was able to transfigure visually poetry.

The abstract representation of objects enabled Miró to create a complex poetic language. As depicting the object in itself isn’t the aim of abstract art, the image must imply some sort of symbolism and, consequently, the need of an interpretation. Abstract portrayal creates interactions between the artist with his stylistic choices, and the observer throughout a symbolic language while remaining independent from any rules [14]. Therefore, every detail has a particular relevance. In Miró’s masterpiece, for instance, every aspect from every figure is to be analyzed and associated with others, so that the observer can interpret it properly, especially since they aren’t depicted realistically [15]. Harlequin, for example, who stands in the center, has a guitar as a body intermingled with geometric shapes and other intriguing details. Only a few metonymic elements enable the observer to recognize him given his abstract, oneiric and surrealist shape. So, Miró creates a complex poetic language where every figure is relevant according to its structural position in the piece and its interactions with other details. This is quite similar to poetry where every word has to be analyzed according to its correlation with the other sounds, and its place in the poem's structure.

After painting his The Harlequin's Carnival, Miró explained that it was an essential piece of art considering its human perspective. He saw it as a something of a hallucination stimulated by natural phenomena[16]. Throughout the way that the objects and figures of this piece interact, from the elevating and evasive ladder to the feminine presence elicited by the insects[17], poetry manages to physically come out of his imagination. In fact, the complexity of this piece, brought up by the interdependence and the display of his figures, enabled him to transfigure poetry into something physical and materialistic. Miró himself said he understood, thanks to his association with poets, that he felt the need to surpass nature to try to reach poetry[18]. The mystical and lyrical poet therefore created one of his very first “poem-picture” and underlined that the most significant thing an artist has to do his to reveal his soul: “painting, just like writing poetry, it’s like lovemaking: a total embracement, without precaution” [19].

In conclusion, the abstract representation of objects in Miro's painting The Harlequin's Carnival leads to a visual complex poetic language conducing towards complex interpretations and allowing Miró to surpass nature and reach poetry, thus making this painting a complex one.

To what extent do changes in a complex environmental system lead to variation in ecological dynamics? Ryan and Maeve edit

The environment and the life inhabiting it interact together to form a system that is undeniably complex. Physical processes and life itself drive changes on Earth which leads to variation in ecological dynamics. Dynamics is defined as the behavior and responses of an ecological community  (Malmstrom, C. (2010))and the Cambridge Dictionary defines complexity as "the state of having many parts and being difficult to understand or find an answer to”. There is no doubt that changes in a complex environmental system leads to variation in ecological dynamics, but the question really is to what extent. A varied gamut of changes have been documented: be it specie introduction, wildfires or environmental changes.

Within communities, changes to the environment lead to complex variation in ecological dynamics. For example, slight increases in temperature can considerably boost the aggressiveness of some coral reef fish. These behavioral changes may increase fish exposure to risks like predation, which could have a devastating effect on their survival (Biro et al. 2010). Furthermore, organisms have the power to alter the environment, for example by changing stocks and flows of water, energy, and elements at both small and large scales (Beerling 2007; Morton 2008). Paleoecology documents how as photosynthetic organisms evolved, they released oxygen in iron oxides. The accumulation of oxygen changed the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and generated Earth’s ozone layer (Cowan 1990).

Not so long ago, a video went viral demonstrating the impact of the reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone park, explaining the various benefits of the restoration of a natural predator. Before the wolves were introduced, the park’s environmental system had become imbalanced - the lack of natural predators for elk had led to a burgeon in their population, leading to a greater demand for aspen. Over time, this led to aspen dying out. However, after the wolves were introduced, there were two significant changes. The elk population decreased as a result of the reintroduction of a natural predator and elk habitat selection shifted (Fortin et al., 2005). Fortin et al concluded, through monitoring different elk, that in low wolf population area elk tend to select aspen stands, whereas in high wolf population areas they sought cover as a main priority and thus selected conifer forests. This change within Yellowstone’s complex environmental system lead to significant variation in ecological dynamics. Wolf introduction decreased the elk population, which facilitated a resurgence of riparian aspen. Combining this with fires in 1988 burning 22% of the northern ungulate range in the park, aspen was able to recover significantly, leading to a greater feeding ground for all ungulates, a more diverse micro-habitat along the riverbanks and in the rivers and even changing flow of water as a result of increased aspen water absorption (Romme et al., 1995).

Christopher N. Johnson argues that in Australia, “across the whole continental fauna, species with distributions that overlap the current range of the dingo have persisted better than species from areas were dingoes have been eliminated”. This supports the claim that domination of one species by another (here, dingo by the fox and domestic house cat) can lead to reduced biodiversity. Within Yellowstone, this theory of trophic cascades tries to explain how domination of riparian aspen by elk reduced biodiversity within the park and merely perpetuated an "imbalanced" food chain (Ritchie and Johnson, 2009).

To conclude, the examples show us that changes in a complex environmental system do lead to significant variation in ecological dynamics. However, it remains unclear whether changes destabilize or stabilize the system. It might be postulated that changes that restore a system to a more natural state lead to greater stabilization.


Beerling, D. The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Biro, P. A., Beckmann, C. et al. Small within-day increases in temperature affects boldness and alters personality in coral reef fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277, 71-77 (2010).

Cowen, R. History of Life. Boston, MA: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1990.

Fortin, D., Beyer, H., Boyce, M., Smith, D., Duchesne, T. and Mao, J. (2005). WOLVES INFLUENCE ELK MOVEMENTS: BEHAVIOR SHAPES A TROPHIC CASCADE IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. Ecology, 86(5), pp.1320-1330.

Malmstrom, C. (2010) Ecologists Study the Interactions of Organisms and Their Environment. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):88

Morton, O. Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

Ritchie, E. and Johnson, C. (2009). Predator interactions, mesopredator release and biodiversity conservation. Ecology Letters, 12(9), pp.982-998.

Romme, W., Turner, M., Wallace, L. and Walker, J. (1995). Aspen, Elk, and Fire in Northern Yellowstone Park. Ecology, 76(7), pp.2097-2106.

How does creationism negate the idea of entropic evolution in Darwinism Theory? (Camille and Camilla) edit

Creationism is the religious belief that every form of life was the act of “divine creation”, going against the idea of evolution, and common ancestors [20]. Creationist literature is based on the Bible, and denies any form of creation or evolution that strays from God’s will. However, the Darwinism Theory of Evolution [21] completely opposes Creationism as it is based upon the scientific notion of evolution occurring through the fusion of alleles from two parent organisms to create offspring with a mix of their traits. This theory was observed by Charles Darwin, which he then wrote about in the book On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of a closed system can never decrease over time. That all natural processes generate entropy. This concept has been studied within evolution and the important role it plays and has played, in particular with the evolution of human beings. Particularly due to the developments it has encouraged such as humans’ ability to harness energy outside the body, extra-somatically, through our reliance on fossil fuels, fire etc. This extrasomatic use first appeared through Homo erectus, which learnt to use fire to cook meat, and use as light etc.

Throughout evolution, entropy has played a crucial role in the combination of alleles at a molecular level, to the more literal sense of providing human beings with energy that fuels our current civilisation. For any sort of evolution to occur within a species, imperfect replications of the parent organisms’ DNA needs to take place. This implies the introduction of disorder which ties in to the principle of entropy. In Darwinism, this is known as speciation which allows a species to adapt further and better to the environment around it. This, however, takes place over generations since it occurs within the DNA of an organism for the physical attributes to be transmitted from organism to organism. Hence, the process of evolution results from the combined effect of increases in the entropy of information, which determines the microstructure of the organism, and the entropy of cohesion. (The entropy of cohesion depends upon the degree to which members of a species’ genetic material is mixed in reproduction, and thus the more cohesive a species is the higher its entropic cohesion.) When the entropy of cohesion decreases it allows greater variation in the species, and thus provides a higher entropy of information.

Creationism is the religious belief that everything in the universe was created by God or by a divine figure. The controversy between creationism and evolution has lasted a very long time, and the debate still goes on, even in our scientifically based societies.

The best argument against evolution is the entropy principle. From a creationist standpoint, the second law of thermodynamics prohibits biological evolution. [22]. In fact, creationist literature states that there is a “serious problem to the evolution model” because “every system left to its own device always tends to move from order to disorder” or from low entropy to high entropy [23]. This goes against the idea that evolution creates more complex and organised beings, with lower entropy, as time goes by.

But this argument based on the second law of thermodynamics has misconceptions about entropy, and about evolution. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy cannot decrease in a closed system, but Earth in itself is not a closed system, and exchanges energy with its environment, so the law cannot apply itself to evolution. A misconception of evolution is also used, the one that states that evolution creates more complexity with time, so lower entropy, but evolution is first and foremost the creation of beings better adapted to the environment than their ancestors. Additionally, the process of evolution and reproduction does not occur in a more structured way the further along in speciation, hence the entropic value at a molecular level does not decrease. Similarly, throughout reproduction the entropy of information will increase over time as more and more genetic information and traits are being shared.

Life is driven by energy and entropy is required for evolution, even if it is denied by the creationists. Evolution results from the joint effect of entropy of information and entropy of cohesion. The decrease of cohesion creates higher entropy of information and vice versa. Hence, the fundamental concept of creationism opposes the principle upon which Darwinism is founded upon, as species do not “evolve in God’s will”.

How does the management of aid in Haiti represent the importance of consistency in an economic system? (Jordan, Amber and Li) edit

According to Miller and Page[24], complexity is produced from the dependencies and interactions of dissimilar elements. Such systems cannot be decomposed since removing one component may result in the destruction of the entity. Complex systems driven by behavior of individuals, which coordinates or collide with each other, bring out shared outcomes. Consistency embodied in the coherent procedure of conducting a specific action, failure in any segment could cause the undesirable outcome. Defined by Wikipedia, consistency refers to the process without any contradiction. The current situation of Haiti under UN aid is not optimistic; joint efforts of many countries and areas seem not to be keeping Haiti from extreme poverty. The fragility arises in the process of addressing urgent logistical problems, ending up with Haiti’s institutions deteriorating[25]. Any contradiction with reaching the common goal of solving the poverty problem, including corruption, chaos in administration or shortage of labor to carry out post-disaster reconstruction, could break the consistency, resulting in the failure in the overall outcome.

As complexity deals with the system as a whole rather than in parts, it must be understood how the economic system of Haiti can be affected when aid is mis-managed, and therefore does not achieve the expected, or needed outcome. Between 2004 and 2011, The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) delivered aid in the form of helping to stabilise the Haitian government, combating social disorder and crime; such as gang culture and drug trafficking, as well as aiding with the impacts of natural disasters. If we were to look at this aid as only one part of the system, we may warrant it a success and of economic benefit for Haiti, as the stability of a country correlates with a stronger economy. However, despite these efforts to create a stronger economic system, the MINUSTAH also negatively impacted these efforts by contributing to the largest cholera outbreak in the world which was responsible for many fatalities and created the need for more aid to combat the cholera epidemic. In addition to multiple sexual abuse allegations that created a anti-MINUSTAH sentiment; creating political uproar within a country they had just helped to stabilise[26]. Therefore, it is important for the distribution of aid; both monetary or otherwise, to be managed effectively in order for a country to benefit, and in turn for its economic status to strengthen.

In contrast, successful aid has been achieved in some cases, through financially independent organisations operating on a community level, with an understanding of long-term requirements. This was demonstrated in the cases of PIH and Fonkoze organisations, which targeted the origins of problems within communities and involved locals in the management of said problems[27]. This approach lent itself to permanent solutions, as it allowed for aid work to be continued after the extraction of external forces. Furthermore, the approaches used systems with minimised component parts, avoiding coordination and implementation complications that can be seen in complex systems such as the UN, which rely on many interdependent contributors.

Thus, it can be seen how consistency in aid management and distribution is important as it impacts on the effectiveness of the outcome. The existence of policies for giving or receiving aid is essential to maintain consistency in results, so that all aid missions are able to achieve their reported targets and contribute to strengthening the economic system.

How far can the concept of evolution apply to urban planning and development in today’s world? (Guan and Eesha) edit

From The Nolli Map in 1748 to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City to the Megaregion in 1961[28], the field of urban planning has seen various milestone changes in what constitutes a city. With people living at the heart of these sprawling urban areas, it is no wonder that the phenomenon described by Charles Darwin - “evolution” - can be found in urban planning. This concept is seemingly well-reflected in the development in urban planning. Two of the main arguments highlighted by Darwin’s theory are adaptation and competition[29]; with regards to the modern world today, the evolution of the built environment can be evaluated according to Darwin’s ideas.

One of the key ideas that Darwin raises is the adaptation by living things to the changes in the environment. Whilst cities may not be considered a living thing, it houses and is built for many living beings. In fact, these changing urban landscapes reflect the very issues faced by the masses during specific time periods[30]. The Garden City and Radiant City plans saw attempts to resolve overcrowding and pollution issues, while Gottamn’s Megaregion captured issues regarding transportation and the economy. These underlying problems still live within the metropoleis of today, but the focus of urban development has seen the influence of modern technology. With the wealth of information and data at large, urban planning now calls for the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT). This shift in urban development brings the observation of a city to the micro-level, where the smallest of issues in a city can be properly identified and tackled[31].

The data provided by modern technology has also raised a different issue in how man lives - the designs of the past do not resolve the lack of sustainability in the cities. Hence, the governments of the world have adapted and incorporated sustainable measures to help tackle this issue[32]. This signals that urban planning is now more multi-faceted; it is no longer simply focused on physical design of places, but has adapted and become more responsive to the intricate issues the population faces[33].

Another of the key ideas inherent to the theory of evolution is that of competition, which argues that competition is essential to natural selection[34]. Within the context of urban environments, this concept of competition leading to (arguably) improved characteristics is mirrored by the necessity of innovation in order to generate economic growth[35], which in turn results in technological advancement and ultimately an improvement in the urban environment - thus this process of new ideas replacing old ones in pursuit of economic growth has strong parallels with its more “natural” counterpart in evolutionary theory, where two bodies competing for limited resources can lead to evolution[36]. Driven by innovation, technological advancements can consequently be seen in our surroundings, primarily in the concept of the “smart city”, implementing technology to drive change and improve urban life[37]: the competition which drives technological advancement results ultimately in the evolution of urban spaces in order to match modern change.

To conclude, evolutionary theory can be applied to urban planning and development to demonstrate how ultimately both traditional evolutionary systems and evolution as applied to urban environments undoubtedly share characteristics. Whilst perhaps this provides an incomplete view of how urban environments developed into what they are today, evolutionary theory is applicable and arguably therefore useful in explaining how these environments change over time.

To what extent did the soviet government used Stakhanovism fiction to fulfill an economic agenda? (Hadrien, Tancrede) edit

Stakhanovism was a Soviet propaganda campaign and a method carried out in the country’s production process between the 1930’s and the 1950’s, which consisted in reaching outstanding outputs throughout technical innovations and the emulation of the working class. The latter was influenced by fiction created by the government: an amazing worker named Stakhanov who would achieve a crazy amount of work in only a few hours while obtain promotions and Stalin’s respect as a reward. According to the Oxford dictionary, fiction is something invented and untrue. This broad concept also suggests that people can believe in it under some sort of influence.

A fiction usually refers to something invented, but Alexey Stakhanov really existed. He was born in USSR in 1906 and died there in 1977. Nonetheless, his known story was certainly invented and, according to the Oxford dictionary, a fiction can also be ' A belief or statement which is false, but is often held to be true", a definition that suits well Stakhanov's story. Officially, Stakhanov fulfilled 14 times the quota he was supposed to do in 8 hours in just 6 hours. This exploit, spread by the USSR government, galvanized workers all over USSR and led to the creation of rewards for "Stakhanovistes" (especially efficient workers). However, according to the French historian Jean-Louis Van Regemorter, this exploit was decided by Stalin's government to stimulate the industrial economy in order to reach the goals of Stalin's second 5-year plan. Moreover, if there are maybe some true elements in Stakhanov story, the explanations behind them (like the help he received from at least two other workers) were hidden. It is thus a fictional myth of the Soviet propaganda created to fulfil economic goals.

As of 1936, Stakhanovism spread in the entire Soviet Union and was extolled by the government throughout massive propaganda campaigning. It resulted in significant microeconomic mutations. Workers were subjected to an excessive workload and asked to achieve 200% of the daily required quotas with the two-hundred movement. The repercussions on the working class were undoubtedly severe. “inefficient” workers were penalized, absenteeism or a daily-basis late arrival induced economic sanctions and recalcitrant Soviets were sent to prison. More generally Stakhanovism generated the deterioration of the workers’ standards of living. This alienation of workers was metaphorically explicated in George Orwell’s Animal Farm trough the character of Boxer the Horse whose motto is “I will work harder!”. During the first and second five-year plan, Stakhanovism increased the country’s production reportedly of respectively 41% and 82%. Nevertheless, factories were affected by the accelerated degradation of the machines and the lowering of the production’s overall quality.

In conclusion, through fiction, USSR's creation of a fictional exploit made by a real miner boosted its economic productivity. On a political level that we haven't mention, it also permitted to promote Stalin's economic model in the World. However, the truth about the Soviet working class and the Soviet economy was very different than what was conveyed by Stakhanov's myth.

Sources: ↑ Jean-Louis Van Regemorter, Le Stalinisme, La Documentation française, juin 1998, p. 48

References edit

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  2. Haass, Richard N. 2008. The age of nonpolarity: what will follow US dominance. Foreign Affairs, 87(3): 44–56.
  3. Goebbels, Joseph.  “Rassenfrage und Weltpropaganda,” Reichstagung in Nürnberg 1933 (Berlin: Vaterländischer Verlag C. A. Weller, 1933), pp. 131-142
  4. Stephen Coleman, Measurement and Analysis of Political Systems: A Science of Social Behavior.
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  11. Albright-Knox Art Gallery
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