The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 19 No. 8 • December 2017


by Sandy Shaw

Adaptation is a requirement for RESILIENCE, a necessity for preventing aging. “Aging is generally associated with decreases in resilience, the capacity to respond to or recover from clinically relevant stresses such as surgery, infections, or vascular events. We hypothesize that the age-related increase in susceptibility to those diseases and conditions is driven by or associated with the decrease in resilience (Kirkland, 2016).”

Another paper (Downey, 2016) and a commentary on it (Scheffer, 2016) now talks about how loss of resilience can result in the collapse of societies. The paper describes how, in the European Neolithic (8–4 kya), societies experienced rapid growth due to the introduction of agriculture, but this was followed by instability and collapse. The paper discusses the EWS (Early Warning Signals) that foretold the oncoming collapse. A major point here was “decreasing resilience.” The authors described resilience as “the ability of a system to absorb change and recover from disturbance while maintaining relationships between population or state variables.” They were writing specifically about the collapse of a society, but the principles apply just as well to the physiological state of a human body.

There were two classes of Early Warning Signals (EWS): critical slowing down and flickering. They describe flickering as “a general increase in the time it takes a system to recover from external shocks” such as diseases, war, famine, etc. “Flickering describes increasing directional bias in a system’s response rate to such perturbations ... a lack of innovation prevents adaptation ... increasing recovery time ... before major collapse.” This critical slowing down has been demonstrated in papers on the extinction of organisms where experiments were performed to remove their supplies of critical nutrients little by little.

They also describe the appearance of “autocorrelation” and variance leading up to the collapse. (Autocorrelation suggests to me a “freezing” of technology, as part of the loss of adaptation.)

In the commentary on the paper, the author says, “Perhaps the single most-intriguing aspect across stories of collapse is the speed with which massive change can be precipitated. This rapidity is also the aspect that makes such events so relevant from a modern perspective. How is it that a once-thriving society can so suddenly fall apart?” “It has become clear over the past years that loss of resilience may be inferred from subtle changes in dynamics in a wide range of complex systems as they approach a tipping point.”


  • Kirkland et al. Resilience in aging mice. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 71(11):1407-14 (2016)
  • Downey et al. European Neolithic societies showed early warning signals of population collapse. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 113(35):9751-6 (2016).
  • Scheffer. Anticipating societal collapse; Hints from the Stone Age. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 113(39):10733-5 (2016).

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator