Emergent patterns in nature and society

How to imagine regime shifts? – Drawings and communication of regime shift ideas

After years of reading about regime shift is really hard to explain what they are without the typical bifurcation diagram or the ball and cup metaphors. My brain is biased towards the representations that the authors I’ve read used. They have been useful for teaching but obscure certain aspects of the concept that are hidden by the representation of you choice. In what other ways can we represent and communicate the idea of regime shifts?

Every year in our master’s course on regime shifts we ask students to come the first day with a representation of their understanding of what are regime shift. It’s amazing how, after reading a couple of conceptual key papers, they come with cool examples of regime shifts, covering fields as far apart as emotions in psychology (e.g. depression) to cancer development. Through their representations students explore different aspects of regime shifts: temporal dynamics, hysteresis, flickering, tipping points, feedbacks, what structure and function of a system means. One day perhaps I make some of their artistic representation public (first I need to ask for permission), these includes drawing, painting and last year we got a poem. I’m happy to see how this week at the Ecological Society of America 100 years meeting in Baltimore, there has been a buzz about science communication and many researchers are following the same idea of explaining their research field with a drawing. Here you can find some sketches and here some tips on how better communicate science.

At SRC we faced a similar challenge last year when some students and researchers gather together to discuss what have been the models that have shaped resilience and social-ecological systems ideas. The result is the Models Calendar that you can freely download here. I was involved on the model selection and particularly on diagraming the idea of regime shift. Not surprisingly my brain is biased by the endless s-shape curves, ball and cup (potential energy of the system) or bifurcation diagrams I commonly see on the papers. However, with help of artist Elsa Wikander from Azote, we arrived to the following representation:


Browsing for good images that people relate to regime shifts today I found this one created by Seiji Ishida entitled ‘Social regime shift in this post-oil-peak world’. It caught my eye because they look like colourful networks. For more of his work check his Picasa album Eccentric art.

Social regime shift due to post oil peak


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s