The popular “Balance” quotes

When you hear ancient wisdom and inspiring quotes, “balance” is often a popular subject. But I never really understood why balance is so important. The definition of balance is “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” That seems like no big deal right? Balance seemed quite boring and not that useful to me. Just a tacky word to make some easy quotes. However, over time, when learning about dynamics and complexity, I learned how important balance is. And in fact, now I believe that balance is of key importance to everything that exists. Realizing this was quite a dramatic shift to me. In this blog I will explain why I think balance is so important. I will give several examples of balance, I will discuss that balance is dynamic, why balance is fractal, balance and complexity, to show my point why I think that balance is the key to our existence.

Balance within one*
We know that balance is important within a company, or within a person or animal. For a company, the balance between outcome and income indicates the health of a company. In for living things, we know that many processes require balance. The easiest one is postural balance, the balance of the body, but also the balance of a tree or a plant. Many internal body processes search for some level of balance, also known as homeostasis; “the stable state of an organism and of its internal environment”. Within behavior we can also find balance. For example, if the mind and behavior aren’t aligned (thus imbalanced), a dissonance is created between both. This creates an internal discomfort. For example, if you learn for a test but you can’t reproduce everything, your income and outcome are imbalanced (to a certain extent). I talk more about the balance between mind and behavior in this blog

The balance between the Manta ray and the cleaner fishes

Balance between people, companies, and animals
Next to internal balance, there is also balance across people, companies, and animals. In nature, there are many symbiotic relationships. Symbiotic relationships are a long-term interaction relationship between two animals. A great example is the symbiotic relationship between the Manta ray and the cleaner fish. The cleaner fishes, clean the Manta ray by attaching to him at certain “cleaning stations”within the oceans. The cleaner fishes gets its meal by eating dead skin and parasites from the body of the Manta ray. While the Manta ray has the benefit from the cleaning through the removal of the parasites on his body. Together, these two species are in balance with each other by having mutual benefits. You can think of many relationships where balance between parties is beneficial for both parties. For example, a teacher and his student, a business and its consumer, a flower and a bee, parents and their children and so on. Let’s say that a teacher is keen on teaching the student so he can better comprehend the world. While we have the student who is eager to comprehend the world. So the teacher teaches, while the students learns and questions. The teacher is motivated by the students enthusiasm, and the student is motivated by the teachers’ stories. Here, I believe the relation between the student and teacher is balanced, they both have mutual benefits. If this relationship becomes imbalanced, (like when the teacher loses interest to help the student), the interaction will die. The student should come with another tactic to restore balance (like giving the teacher money). So with long-term interactions, people often become dependent on each other. For example, companies and their costumers become depended on each other through their products. Over time, both parties expect each others activity. Whether this process is effective or not, can be found in one of the most vital signs of companies; the balance between the supply and the demands of their products.

Balanced competition
However, balance does not always have to be (directly) beneficial for both parties. When competitors are similar, they are also balanced between each other. For example, two deer who are fighting, football clubs in the final, or two businesses who are competing with each other. If the competitors are truly balanced between them, there is no winner. In fact, balanced competition requires development of both parties and causes a sustained interaction. When you own a company and you are equally balanced with another company, you need to innovate. As a response, your competing company will also innovate. The same accounts for a heavily balanced football match. So in terms of development, balanced competition is also beneficial. Companies like Apple and Samsung are always competing with each other and have a certain balance between them. This balanced competition results in fast development of their products because they respond to each other. When Apple comes with a high-end camera on their phone, Samsung will also develop a similar camera quickly (to sustain the balance). Equal competition is great for the process of innovation, evolution, and development.

Is this guy standing still?

Balance is not standing still
Usually, when we think about balance, we think about standing still and doing nothing. This would keep you safe wouldn’t it? No, it doesn’t. Because the environment is dynamic, you need to respond on the dynamics of the environment in order to sustain the balance. If you are standing on one foot, and a gust of wind comes towards you, you should act upon it to sustain balance. Your company should respond appropriately to a changing economy to sustain its balance. The environment is usually stronger than you, so you need to adapt to sustain the balance between you and the environment. Balance is thus dynamic. However, if you are strong enough, you can manipulate the environment in order to stay balanced. But in either way, balance requires change.

Balance across multiple segments
Balance goes across multiple segments. If you look at food products, a supply-chain goes from plants, to farmers, to buyers, to processing, to supermarkets, to customer, there should be some balance across all segments. If the balance is too far off in one segment, the whole chain is disrupted, and the product will not find its destiny. If you look at people, there is also balance across multiple segments, like mind, behavior, and environment. And when you try to convey a message, there should be a balance between gestures, intonation, expression, and word-use. When one of these segments is completely off, the message gets weird. The message will die. Read more about it in this blog about fractal people. When you feel like you have no chance at all with something you will stop what you are doing. For example, if you lose from your friend with Ping-pong, you might stop playing it. But if you want to remain friends you might continue playing (you want to keep the balance of friendship). If you also don’t care about staying friends, you will stop playing Ping-pong and end your friendship. Thus in order to continue, balance needs to be sustained across multiple levels of interaction.

Irrecoverable balance means death
If something is out of balance over all the levels, and it does not recover, it will die. This account for everything; competition, cooperation’s, people, friendships, and soon. Imbalance without recovery means death. It’s that simple. Nonetheless, one party from the (at least) two involving parties will survive after an irrecoverable imbalance. However, there are several consequences for the surviving party. Firstly, the internal balance of the surviving party will be disrupted because the parties were dependent on each other(as discussed before). Secondly, another competing party will take the place of the fallen party, to restore (or make a new) balance. People will literally die if balance is lost. After all, balance will always remain at the end. 

Balance is fractal
Internally, or with our close neighbors, we strive for balance. But also your neighbors will strive for balance with their neighbors. But as I mentioned, we also strive for a total balance across all involved segments. So if all the segments are interacting with each other, we will strive to find balance across all segments. When each level finds balanced with the other levels, you will observe patterns of self-similarity across all involved segments, just like cutting a cake equally. But as I mentioned earlier, balance is dynamic. Balance is adaptation, while sustaining the existence of all involving parties. Thus, the more you become connected with your (far) neighbors the more you need to adapt to all of them sustain balance. So the sizes of the “pieces of cake”  become interdependent, so the pieces need to be re-cut once you find different pieces of cake, to sustain balance. As a result, you’ll see interdependent self-similarities across all segments. From self-similarity and interdependency you will see fractal-like properties.

Our love for complexity
I believe, that we love it when someone can sustain balance in highly complex situations. Just think about the fact that we appreciate juggling efforts more, when more cones are being juggled. Or think about a huge and difficult operation (like building a tower) that goes smoothly. Or a large orchestra, playing one song. The involvement of more levels increases our complexity, and thus gives us more abilities to adapt to potential unexpected situations (environmental dynamics). And adapting to unexpected situations is need to sustain balance. Thus, it could be possible that we increase our complexity in order to sustain balance and don’t care about complexity itself per se. If you think about something that is very complex but has no structure at all (or no balance at all over the segments), you do not appreciate it. There is nothing to appreciate.

Conclusions
I believe, that our strive for complete balance, means a strive for existence. But because everything is always in motion, we almost never observe complete balance. I believe that is the reason why we appreciate the sparse moments of complete balance in our world. In art, music, and dance, the environment can be controlled, making it possible for complete balance to emerge. And no surprise, in art, music, and dance, balance is often a goal by itself. Just imagine the beauty of a ballet dancer balancing in a difficult position, a well-balanced painting, or a nicely balanced piece of music. In real life, we hardly observe complete balance, but we strive towards it while increasing complexity everyday**. Even if you think about balance on our (current) largest scale, our earth, we strive to balance too. Namely, the imbalance between nature and our society. Nature can’t adapt fast enough to sustain the balance, so now we are trying to adapt as fast as we can to sustain the balance by using sustainable resources. And I’m afraid that if we aren’t fast enough, the balance will be restored somehow. Adaptation to the stronger parties is the key to survive, to sustain our balance. From individuals, to companies, to nations, to continents, to the UN, to our earth, we are striving towards balance across all levels. Only through balance we can exist and live as long as we can. Balance is key to our existence.

Notes
*Within one is just a perspective. The “one” I talk about, exists of many segments interaction.
**For example, the blockchain technology, where it is envisioned that there are equal payments across many scales, a great innovation from this perspective.

2 Comments

  1. Siebe

    “Firstly, the internal balance of the surviving party will be disrupted because the parties were dependent on each other(as discussed before). Secondly, another competing party will take the place of the fallen party, to restore (or make a new) balance.”

    Not necessarily: a power vacuum can also be filled by the survivor, ensuring a monopoly (single seller) or monopsony (single buyer) – this can still be an equilibrium.

    Some other thoughts:

    It would be interesting to look into the math behind balance: what drives systems towards equilibria?
    – There’s the supply-demand model in economics that sets a price;
    – There an exploration-exploitation tradeoff: how much should we spend on learning and discovering, and how much on using our lessons and discoveries? I think the underlying math is related to diminishing returns to multiple variables – to maximize the payoff we are constantly looking for the best marginal payoff (where to get the highest payoff from an additional unit of investment). It seems the same phenomenon as the ‘path of least resistance’ which also generates the phenomena that vacuums get filled, profits get taken (competition drives profits to 0 if there’s no innovation), cognitive dissonance gets resolved by change of belief rather than change of behavior, etc. Maybe this is all just entropy?

    I like that you stress dynamic equilibria. Given the complexity of the real world, static equilibria seem incredibly unlikely. You can’t land a rocket without continuous adjustments. Similarly, our striving towards sustainability seems a potentially misguided attempt to achieve a static equilibrium, rather than a dynamic one. Here’s a quite from Nick Bostrom:
    “instead of thinking about sustainability as is commonly known, as this static concept that has a stable state that we should try to approximate, where we use up no more resources than are regenerated by the natural environment, we need, I think, to think about sustainability in dynamical terms, where instead of reaching a state, we try to enter and stay on a trajectory that is indefinitely sustainable in the sense that we can contain it to travel on that trajectory indefinitely and it leads in a good direction.

    An analogy here would be if you have a rocket. One stable state for a rocket is on the launch pad: it can stand there for a long time. Another stable state is if it’s up in space, it can continue to travel for an even longer time, perhaps, if it doesn’t rust and stuff. But in mid-air, you have this unstable system. I think that’s where humanity is now: we’re in mid-air. The static sustainability concept suggests that we should reduce our fuel consumption to the minimum that just enables us to hover there. Thus, maybe prolong the duration in which we could stay in our current situation, but what we perhaps instead should do is maximize the fuel consumption so that we have enough thrust to reach escape velocity.”
    – from http://www.stafforini.com/blog/bostrom/, a post which I’ve read approximately 5 times and I’m sure you’d also be interested in, as it touches a lot on complexity and chaos related to ethics.

    Reply
    • justintimm

      Thanks for your long comment! I love some feedback and additional thoughts!

      First of all, you are right about the power vacuum, I am aware of this. But I decided to drop it out of the text. I thought it would be a bit confusing for the audience. Moreover, I believed monopolies were not that relevant in today’s market. Nevertheless, in interpersonal they might be more relevant.

      Yes, the math would be very interesting. I have thoughts on what a systems drives to an equilibrium, but I am not sure how to translate this into mathematical symbols. So I’m not going to try that here. After reading your text a few times I get what you mean. I believe that the concept of “free energy” plays a huge part in your examples. You don’t have to explore that much if you find already enough free energy that you can exploit it. Depended on the filled places, you can find your own place. And the more places are taken, the more we need to work with higher entropy.

      Yes, that’s exactly why I stress a dynamic equilibrium. I believe, that we as humans prefer to see the worlds as a static place because it gives us stability. Books, texts, and science are often quite static as well. We work like this because stability (statics) gives us way more comfort and certainty. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that everything is moving all the time; concepts change, organizations change, cultures change. I believe our environment is currently so dynamic, (close to chaotic), that we can not go back to total stability anymore. I am not sure how sad that is.
      But if I understand the analogy correctly, the rocket of humanity is either searching for (a sudden) transition-state; a new form of humanity with a complete different culture, that could live in stability with the environment. Or, the rocket could go on with changing and adapting until it reaches some utopia, a place where we fully achieve a circular economy. I have to mention that the two options are quite alike, but the speed of change is different, and the outcomes might be different. Nevertheless, I still think this state is very hard to achieve given the human nature (or my perception of it), the current state of humanity, and the fact that entropy always increases.
      – Thanks! I will read that blog. Maybe I should’ve read it before posting this comment. But I like to think about it myself.

      Reply

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