The art of curve-fitting is elevated to high science in this curious collection of data compiled by a physicist/management- science-consultant living in Geneva. Modis acknowledges a major debt to mentors at the International Institute of Advanced Systems Analysis near Vienna, one Cesare Marchetti in particular. The basic theory applies the concept of invariants—constants over time—with growth curves describing how animal species fill an ecological niche in the face of competition for limited resources. Equations of this type were described 50 years ago; it was Marchetti's notion to apply them to nonbiological phenomena, such as discoveries and inventions, energy sources, and much human activity, from a composer's productivity to the spread of disease. The two basic curves involved are the bell- shaped normal distribution curve and the slanty S-shaped curve that represents cumulative growth over time. The latter starts out almost flat, rises diagonally, and then ceilings-out in another almost flat line. Does the theory work? Maybe, in some cases. Especially if you buy the kind of number-crunching and plot-fitting that Modis and his mentors swear by. So the book tells us that humans universally are happy with 70 minutes of travel time a day; that motor-vehicle deaths have occurred at the rate of 24 per 100,000 for the past 65 years; that energy-source competition and substitution evolves naturally, no matter what governments do or do not do, and so on. Capping all this predictive optimism about optimization and natural evolution are...are you ready for it? Cycles: 56-year intervals that describe economic cycles of boom or bust, innovation or saturation (and that also match eclipse- phenomena and sunspots and holes at Stonehenge). You could argue that there is a lot of selectivity in the data adduced, a blurring of time periods, a discounting of chaos and chance, and some pretty wild notions about human behavior. And you would be right.
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