Planetary Society

Have you ever thought about the number of rules required to keep a large flock of wheeling birds together, not crashing into each other and moving at high speed to go somewhere? For many years it was thought to be a complex process dependent on one or more birds assuming a leadership role either permanently or temporarily. Recently, however, research suggests that 4 or 5 simple rules that everyone knows and obeys keeps the flock synchronized without a leader. Simple rules like “Don’t bump into the other guys”, “Keep moving forward”, and so on. Each bird also knows that some rules trump other rules. So you veer slightly if somebody is in the way of moving forward.

Photo by John Holmes

I began to wonder if people in a society are also governed by only a few relatively simple rules. The concept of rules however, didn’t seem to fit very well with humans because it is hard to imagine everyone obeying the rules even if they knew what they were. So instead, I thought one could imagine society responding along dimensions. When one considers how many dimensions this would need to be it is quite a small number. My first guess is four.

In a multidimensional model, no dimension is first or last, they just all interact. The four that seem reasonable each have extremes and can be considered continuous within the dimension. And they are simple.

In no particular order, here they are:

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Human Behaviour: Of any type that emphasizes self or others or the group, from selfish, greedy,avaricious to sharing, altruistic, empathetic.
Governance: Of any type but ranging in emphasis from preserving the nation at all costs to preserving the citizenry at all costs.
Economy: Of any type or level from subsistence to world-wide, but the variable in this dimension is the degree to which the economy is governed by internally imposed rules or externally imposed rules as well as how well or badly those rules are imposed and followed.

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