Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Low-tech Early Warning System

This is a fascinating example of how oral traditions carry practical knowledge about how to live safely in a particular place. Researchers studying the level of fatalities in tsunamis report that they are far higher in areas where the population is made up of recent migrants, compared to those with longstanding traditional communities:

It became apparent that oral traditions were going back 500 years ... The stories contained information about how to recognize when a tsunami was about to come, such as falling sea levels, and told how people should take action.

Read the whole article here - and the press release from UC Santa Cruz on which it's based.

(Hat tip to Tom.)


Dan Aktivix said...

Metis, man, metis! Hayek'd be with them all the way. He was, like, well into tacit knowledge that rational systems couldn't codify or account for.

Oh - except that he'd say they're atavistic socialist-types who need to be beaten into the Great Society quicksmart. The Great Society being the one that evolved to be the way it is even though it requires us all (also according to Hayek) to have it inculcated into us in Sparta stylee from the moment we leave our mother's breast. Lord, Hayek was a strange moocow.

SimplyTim said...


I recall that when the water level at the shoreline receded significantly over a short period of time, many people went out further into the sand / mud to "explore." Interesting play between curiousity and "an omen."

Years ago I came out of my place of work and was getting ready to get into my car to go home. I sensed something out of the ordinary and noticed the color of the atmosphere was "off." I looked up into the sky and noticed that there were two cloud banks, one low and one higher and they were both moving fast and in opposite directions.

I debated whether it was better to go back into the building or to hop into my car and get out of Dodge. I opted for driving.

Nothing happened, but there was no doubt in my mind that if anything was going to happen, that was a set of conditions which would have presaged something big.

I wonder if it would be possible to get others to put up some of their "low-tech early warning system" thoughts.

I'll give one: I understand that significant levels of fatigue and loss of energy extending for weeks and perhaps months is a significant precursor of a heart attack.

So there we have one in nature (Tsunami) and personal body crisis.

What would it be like for a societal stampede, i.e., a panic of national proportions?

A bank run? People running to the supermarkets and stocking up on everything?

I'm also thinking of your earlier posting on complexity and the complications that come with that.


Dougald Hine said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Dan - gosh, I don't think I'm really up on 'the Great Society'. Was that Hayek's idea in particular, or a broader thing? I'm reading Daniel Bell's 'The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism' at the moment, which has some of the same slipperiness about it - one moment he's very close to how I see things, the next in a different hemisphere...

Tim - excellent suggestion about collecting other low-tech early warning signals. I guess a lot of the blogs I follow attentively are written by people who, in one place or another, are trying to pick out the signals for what's coming, from among the noise of vested interests and the noise of paranoia! Interesting to think about the signals we miss about our health because of our medical culture, as well. (Someone I know who went through a major cancer scare remembers a relative telling her not to worry, the tumour would turn out to be benign, because if it had been malignant she would have noticed herself unexpectedly losing weight. It was benign, but I don't know how reliable that is as a signal.)

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