Upcoming SRA-NE June Seminar

SRA-NE will hold its last seminar of the 2014-2015 seminar series at Industrial Economics, Cambridge, MA. The seminar will feature a talk titled Six Sources of Collapse: A Mathematician's Perspective on How Things can Fall Apart in the Blink of an Eye by Professor Charles R. Hadlock, Trustee Professor of Technology, Policy, and Decision Making, Professor of Mathematical Sciences and of Finance at Bentley University, Waltham, MA. The talk is based on Professor Hadlock's 2012 book with the same title.

Abstract: The most common objective in studying collapse events is probably to broaden our sensitivity to the potential for its future occurrence. In some cases that occurrence might be highly desirable, like the collapse of a repressive regime or the cure of a disease. However, in many and probably most cases, collapses are negative events, and we would like to head them off. We don’t want our homes, our businesses, and our way of life to collapse. The first line of protection against this is to develop a rich understanding of how things have collapsed in the past. A naive approach would be to focus attention primarily on their “proximate causes”: an unusual wind for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a large sale or market manipulation for the May 6, 2010, market flash crash, the unpunished beating of Rodney King for the Los Angeles riots. But that approach would only touch a small part of the story, and it would almost certainly give inadequate attention to the wide range of contributing structural factors that are key to such collapses. To understand the broader complexion of collapse processes, we need to use different lenses to study them, each yielding insights of a different kind. Armed with these multidimensional tools, we can be better positioned to face the future with more awareness of danger zones and how they might be approached.

This talk, based on the speaker’s recent book with the same title, is an attempt to use the framework of relatively simple mathematics to provide insight into the fundamental dynamics that can cause things to collapse. These dynamics are grouped into six categories: low probability events, group processes, evolutionary games, instability, nonlinearity, and network effects. They are shown to permeate collapse events in a wide range of fields across the natural and man-made world. Examples include extreme weather events, technological disasters, the extinction of species, crashing markets and companies, the chaotic nature of Earth's orbit, revolutionary political change, the spread and elimination of disease, and many others. Not only does the mathematical framework help to extract the key features of these events, but it opens the door to specialized techniques that can provide further insight into preventing or managing similar future events.

More information on the seminar and directions to the event can be found here.