Dynamic Systems: Spiralling out of and into control

Continuing on from my last post which included: spirals, nature and representations.

There is a run that I take at the weekend which travels along a local canal.

Last week I paused on one of the bridges and at the side of the canal there was another small waterway which looked to be part of a drainage system and culminated in a circular body of water approximately 2–3 metres wide.

It had recently been raining and this had caused a tiny whirlpool to form with a slender funnel visible through the reasonably clear water.

I, being about 8 years old obviously, wondered how easy it would be to stop and went off to find a few rocks I could apply to the game (science experiment) at hand.

I thought that a well-aimed shot right where the funnel was formed might do the trick.

I didn’t have a very good aim but I also didn’t have a chance either.

As I marvelled at the mild force of nature in front of me, I observed that the whirlpool and the funnel were not acting in isolation.

The entire body of water was rotating in lockstep. I don’t know what forces were involved but the weight of the water alone could have been up to 3,000 kg!

I actually think it would have taken a small explosion to have any effect and due to the constant flow of water into the pool it would return to exactly the same conditions before too long.

I paused again at the same spot this weekend after it had been raining for a couple of days.

The whirlpool was no tiny thing anymore.

It was something that would concern you if you were in the vicinity of its effects.

It was dark with energy and audible.

A whirlpool is a type of ‘vortex’.

The vortex I observed on the first occasion was acting like a rigid-body vortex where it appears to rotate as a solid object would.

The second vortex was an irrotational-vortex where the effect is greater towards the centre.

“Vortices also hold energy in its rotation of the fluid. If the energy is never removed, it would consist of circular motion forever.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex

An Unnatural System

I think of our world has become involved in a similar effect.

The narrow focus on GDP, profit making, and efficiency combined with financial markets and globalisation have resulted in the entire system falling into lockstep around a singular goal.

It isn’t just an economic disaster.

The modern world’s systems are all interconnected; the political, cultural, social, economic and environmental. They are inseparable and should not be considered entirely in isolation. They, as one, are a body of water which is beginning to move into a dangerous condition.

What prevents us from seeing this is that everything is currently in lockstep, driven by the same forces and rotating around the same centre.

We share an ‘appearance’ of the same ‘normal’ whilst moving inexorably towards ‘danger’.

If you think you’re not out of control, then ask yourself this.

Are you able to stop and move to safety?

If you think you’re out of danger, then ask yourself this.

Is it possible to stop the system now that it is in lockstep?

Navigating the High Seas

The earth is full of dynamic systems. Luckily, there isn’t one big out of control dynamic system that is destined to gobble everything up and destroy civilisation… oh wait.

Anyway, I’d like to bring your attention to one particular example.

There is what’s called the ‘Equatorial Counter Current’.

I’m no expert in these matters so my explanation will be poor but here goes…

In times gone by when the world was being plundered by colonial powers and slavers. Sailing vessels would make use of the trade winds which would assist them in their journeys.

But it wasn’t just the winds that the sailors used for their benefit.

They also took advantage of ocean currents.

The ‘Equatorial Counter Current’ exists at the equator and you can see it marked quite clearly on the map above.

This current is created by a combination of forces 1) The North Equatorial Wind blows West north of the equator 2) The South Equatorial Wind also blows West but south of the equator 3) and the world spins from West to East which causes water to ‘pile up’ to the West.

It is this ‘pile up’ (quite literally a height difference) of water and the channel created by the winds which creates the conditions for the eastward current to form.

It is water behaving absolutely normally by flowing downhill!

As always with my writing, do your own homework.

Use of Force

I present the whirlpool, the currents and the winds in this post to illustrate that there can be ways to use them for your advantage. The nature of forces is that they can bring about the conditions for alternative flows or forces of effect to occur.

The whirlpool (or vortex) acts as a store of energy and maybe this can be harnessed to achieve something positive and less destructive.

The direction of travel of the planet (rotation) and the flow of trade (trade winds) creates an accumulation of potential energy and a path of least resistance.

There may be ways of thinking about The Economy, Globalisation and the Climate Crisis (and the rest) where we look to capture or take advantage of prevailing and destructive conditions to build towards an alternative system.

I include it here for you to ponder upon.

The Magnetic Gear System

If I told you that a gearbox didn’t need gears you might look at me twice.

But gearboxes are a key component on Wind Turbines and you know what? Some of them make use of magnetic gearboxes where physical parts don’t touch and this therefore reduces wear and tear and increases efficiency.

Instead of mechanical gears it makes use of magnetic forces to achieve the same effect.

If you’re interested here’s how it works.

In the UK this principle has been improved upon and commercialised by Magnomatics.


A Different Kind of Engine

Here’s the connection of all of this to Socially Enterprising.


When I was learning about the way the world works (it’s systems, economies, development etc) and researching all of the things that were involved (globalisation, international trade, treaties) as well as all the things that were going wrong (climate change, pollution, exploitation) it became apparent to me that there was just no way that the system was going to stop.

It’s like the whirlpool, it’s all connected and no matter what we do it’s just going to keep reverting back to the same state. It’s because of money and the economy and trade and the systems that we have in place. Everything else is subservient to this greater system and revolves within its effect. It only revolves in one direction.

So, my question became how do we take advantage of that effect and the forces it is creating.

How do we harness all of that economic energy to tackle the negative externalities and build an alternative system?


Some of the serious reports I had read were presenting the huge potential of Civil Society, The State and Business working together to benefit society and the planet. Between them much was possible.

Other reports referred to the community level, that there could be hugely effective and beneficial social, economic and environmental outcomes if local action, organising and activity became the norm.

6 billion people and the resources of the world working together could, quite unsurprisingly, dramatically change things.

If you’ve been following my work then you should be able to recognise these things being brought together into a different kind of system.

It works a lot like an engine.

I’m suggesting connecting Civil Society, The State and Business into a collaborative resource which is made available for communities to access and work with.

At the same time, it connects communities together and allows them to work towards positive local, social, environmental and economic outcomes.

The platform and the arrangement form the base structure of the conceptual engine.

The needs, ambitions and possibilities of communities connected to the resources of society creates the link to the existing economy and the flow of energies that it is producing (strengths, asset and resources) and allows a small part of that energy to be diverted towards communities.

You could think of these elements mixing like a fuel which communities can then put to use for something good and undamaging.

What exists between the communities, civil society, the state and businesses is a type of gearing system which connects to each of them and allows them to work together.

This gearbox does not contain mechanical gears and teeth.

Instead a similar effect is brought about through incentives (intrinsic/extrinsic) which encourage and reward engagement and participation by each actor.

I’ve called this a transition engine.

It isn’t entirely meant to be taken seriously.

It isn’t entirely not meant to be taken seriously either.

Anyway, it acts as a nice way to convey some otherwise quite complicated detail, actions and effects.


I’ve used hemispheres before as a way of illustrating the two systems.

I had hoped when setting out on this post that I could place a negative vortex on one side having all these negative effects and a positive vortex on the other side producing all these wonderful counter effects.

It’s not quite how vortices seem to work in the real world though. I wonder if anyone has tried an experiment in zero g?

What I did find though was this video which demonstrates opposing vortices being created and connected and I think there’s something quite interesting there.

The vortices don’t combine or connect at the funnel ends.

Instead, they form a kind of embrace whilst still maintaining their separation and opposing spin.


Just one final thing!

Once upon a time an economist created an actual model of the economy which used water and hydraulics to get across the ideas which students/politicians needed to know.

I’ve always found that story really interesting.

On the website the Science Museum notes that the models didn’t entirely match with reality.

What it doesn’t state however is that models never entirely match with reality. Which is something most people other than economists and politicians can grasp quite easily.

“taking a model literally is not taking a model seriously” — Peter Diamond

Still the Science Museum can’t be expected to get everything right as evidenced by their corporate sponsorships and relationships.

I’m not sure exactly the reasoning behind their choices but I do know that the Science Museum exists within this larger system where economic and political realities (models and ideologies) have become entwined.

The decisions that the Science Museum makes as a publicly funded organisation are affected by this system.

Reductions in funding from government and calls for ‘value for money’ for the public purse can place public organisations in a bind and creates the space for corporate sponsorship to enter the public realm.

You can see how it all begins spiralling and reinforcing can't you. It isn’t a butterfly flapping it’s wings that’s the cause of the hurricane, the flood or the drought.

It’s seemingly inconsequential and unrelated decisions and choices aligning with the dominant systems logic and direction of travel.

I think that there is another direction that we can take and I feel that prioritising multiple forms of ‘social value’ vs a singular form of ‘monetary value’ is key.

One being a system which places society (culture, wellbeing, environment) at the centre of things and the other being a system that ultimately flushes them all down the plughole.

The answer may be to convert the dominant systems energetic store and generation into an alternative systems; driving force, structures, stores of value and logics.