Sunday, June 18, 2017

Comedy of the Commons

Balinese rice patties

Fractal patterns

Fractal planting patterns yield optimal harvests, without central control
Jun 2017,

Balinese rice farmers make some crazy patterns with their rice fields, but they don't do this on purpose. The rice fields plant themselves in this pattern, using the rice farmers. Just kidding, or not.

These farmers are all part of the same group, using the same resources, that being their rice patties. They plant their rice based on a whole bunch of variables, including the planting patterns of the other farmers who share the patties, and the amount of water flowing down the river. All of these variables are interdependent, such that the farmers in one area may change the amount of water in the river depending on when they plant, which in turn changes when other farmers will plant.

All of this decision-making, however, does not go through a centralized process, and although the farmers are making their own decisions, the final pattern of planted rice fields was not decided by them alone, but by the interaction and feedback of the system as a whole.

from the article:

"What is exciting scientifically is that this is in contrast to the tragedy of the commons, where the global optimum is not reached because everyone is maximizing his individual profit. This is what we are experiencing typically when egoistic people are using a limited resource on the planet, everyone optimizes the individual payoff and never reach an optimum for all," he says.

The scientists find that under these assumptions, the planting patterns become fractal, which is indeed the case as they confirm with satellite imagery. "Fractal patterns are abundant in natural systems but are relatively rare in man-made systems," explains Thurner. These fractal patterns make the system more resilient than it would otherwise be. "The system becomes remarkably stable, again without any planning—stability is the outcome of a remarkably simple but efficient self-organized process. And it happens extremely fast. In reality, it does not even take ten years for the system to reach this state," Thurner says.

The Tragedy of the Commons

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