Balis Rice Fields are self-optimizing, fractal Patterns

Super interesting findings from Stephen Lansing (Nanyang Technological University) and Stefan Thurner (Complexity Science Hub Vienna): The Patterns of the rice fields in Bali are rare man-made fractals and provide self-optimizing, stable and maximized harvesting results – without any planning or coordination. And this could be an Answer to the Tragedy of the commons („where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users“). Fractals are awesome, kids!

Bali's famous rice terraces, when seen from above, look like colorful mosaics because some farmers plant synchronously, while others plant at different times. The resulting fractal patterns are rare for man-made systems and lead to optimal harvests without global planning. […]

"The remarkable finding is that this optimal situation arises without central planners or coordination. Farmers interact locally and take local individual free decisions, which they believe will optimize their own harvest. And yet the global system works optimally," says Lansing. "What is exciting scientifically is that this is in contrast to the tragedy of the commons, where the global optimum is not reached because everyone is maximizing his individual profit. This is what we are experiencing typically when egoistic people are using a limited resource on the planet, everyone optimizes the individual payoff and never reach an optimum for all," he says.

The scientists find that under these assumptions, the planting patterns become fractal, which is indeed the case as they confirm with satellite imagery. "Fractal patterns are abundant in natural systems but are relatively rare in man-made systems," explains Thurner. These fractal patterns make the system more resilient than it would otherwise be. "The system becomes remarkably stable […] And it happens extremely fast. In reality, it does not even take ten years for the system to reach this state," Thurner says.