Friday Quiz: Feedback Loops, Positive and Negative (February 20, 2009)
What is the difference between positve and negative feedback loops?
A: Positive feedback, sometimes referred to as "cumulative causation", is a feedback loop system in which the system responds to perturbation in the same direction as the perturbation.A kind and astute reader corrected my confusion on positive and negative feedback a few years ago. In essence, the question posed by the global financial meltdown could be phrased: which feedback loops will dominate the process? If positive feedback loops predominate, then we get the doomsday runaway-train/nuclear fission analogy in which the entire global financial system implodes and life becomes nasty, brutish and short for millions, if not billions.
Alternatively, if negative feedback loops predominate, then the downtrends currently in place will be slowly modified until a new equilibrium is established.
It seems many see only positive feedback loops in play, but I see numerous negative feedback loops in play as well. For instance, as gasoline prices rose and the economy stumbled, gasoline use fell dramatically in the U.S. This is a negative feedback loop. The government throwing trillions of borrowed dollars at "the problem" is also a negative feedback loop. Citizens demanding an end to the bank bailouts (see link in right sidebar) is also a negative feedback loop.
Panic tends to be a positive feedback, reasoned action based on practical gleanings from history tend to be a negative feedback loop.
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