Monday, April 06, 2020

Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies

Companies, organisms and cities all scale using a non-linear power law. As cities increase in population, the benefits will not increase linearly. Instead, there will be economies of scale that allow larger cities to benefit more from their increased population. "Establishments" tend to increase at a linear rate. However, the diversity of the establishment changes as the size of the city increases. Similarly, the distance that people will travel to a given location tends to vary at a similar constant rate. (Though some locations, such as an airport may differ.) Rather than comparing cities on a per-capita basis, they can compared on on an adjusted basis to find those that are really "excelling" based on their size. San Jose continues to excel at patents, but there are other smaller cities that also have outsize patent production.
For organisms, there are also some general rules that apply to their size. There is a fairly constant number of heart beats that an organism will have during their lifespan. Smaller mammals will tend to have a much faster heart rate, while larger ones will have one that beats much slower. Organisms scale at coefficiented exponential rate. There is a rough life span that can be expected of organisms based on their metabolic rate. Some parts (such as a heart) must be much larger to support a larger organism. However, other parts (such as the capillaries) remain the same. (We can see something similar in buildings. The empire state building is much larger than a small walk-up. However, the water faucets in both are still the same size.) Organisms have a limit in how much they can grow as individual components need to be able to support the whole body that is growing at a different rate.
Companies also come and go at a similar regular rate. Profits also grow at a different rates based on the size of the company. Like organisms, "death" is an important part of companies and allows for evolution to take place.
Ecosystems are also significantly impacted by minor changes in climate. The metabolic rate is impacted by temperature. Small changes can benefit different organisms in different ways. Some organisms may have a great benefit. However, they also depend on other organisms that may have a different benefit. (For example, a plant may benefit a certain percentage, but pests that attack it my benefit more, while the predator that consumes the pest may benefit less.) It is extremely difficult to tease out all the changes.
The book has a lot of great content and interesting "theories of everything". However, it suffers from an extremely verbose, academic-trying-to-be-popular style of writing.

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