Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Stellar Metaphor


Consider how a large star ends its life. First its core fuses all of its hydrogen to helium; then fusion stops, its core contracts and heats while its mantle expands; then it starts fusing helium to carbon, and the mantle contracts. Then it runs out of core helium, fusion stops, the core contracts and the mantle expands again. Then it starts fusing carbon to neon, with the same ultimate result. Then neon to magnesium, then magnesium to silicon, then silicon to iron. Each cycle is shorter than the previous one, because each fusion step is less exothermic than the previous. Eventually it stops fusing for good, or it tries to fuse iron. That's fatal, for fusing iron is endothermic: it absorbs instead of releasing heat energy. The core collapses in a fraction of a second, the mantle falls onto it at a good fraction of lightspeed, and rebounds in a star-sized thermonuclear explosion; a supernova.


By analogy... the "core" of a large society (a.k.a. the top) staves off collapse by monetizing ideas. It runs out of good ideas to monetize; then it monetizes by centralization; then it restabilizes by monetizing worse ideas. It runs out of those, resumes centralization, starts to monetize even worse ideas; and so on, until it tries to monetize money-losing ideas. Collapse comes quickly, triggering an enormous monetization that wrecks everything. The periphery of the society is blown far away; and the "core" becomes some sort of collapsed remnant: either the equivalent of a neutron star, held aloft only by its degeneracy; or worse, the equivalent of a black hole, a region of inescapable darkness whose core is heavy and twisted enough to break all known laws.


I call the above paragraph the Stellar Metaphor. I don't know how accurate it is; but if it is, then I'd rather be an ion in the periphery than in the core. You endure an inferno but avoid the pit.


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