Posts tagged complexity
Leyla Acaroglu — It’s an experimental knowledge lab that I set up three years ago to help overcome what I call the knowledge-action gap, the difference between people knowing that there are problems in the world, feeling that they want to address them, but not knowing how to take action. I really struggled a lot with the mainstream structural system of education, I did a lot of research in pedagogy and the way in which we teach and the way in which the brain works, how a lot of the experiences we have in life educate us, and how actually a lot of those experiences de-educate us.
“We have never had to deal with problems of the scale facing today’s globally interconnected society. No one knows for sure what will work, so it is important to build a system that can evolve and adapt rapidly.”
The advantage of working together is to get a complex task right, to be successful at making the right decision. The higher the complexity, the more specialists cannot be successful, but teams can be. This is important in healthcare in addressing complex diseases and conditions that can interact with each other. It is also generally important in dealing with complex tasks of all kinds. The cost of having such a team in place might seem high, but for complex cases such a team will prove to be more effective and less costly than the alternative. The challenge is making sure the teams work together smoothly and efficiently. This will yield better results than specialists working separately.
So much for classical objects and time travel. But what would happen if a quantum particle entered a closed time-like curve? In the early 90s, the physicist David Deutsch showed that not only is this possible but that it can only happen in a way that does not allow superluminal signalling. So quantum mechanics plays havoc with causality but in a way that is consistent with relativity and so prevents grandfather-type paradoxes. Deutsch’s result has extraordinary implications. It implies that closed time-like curves can be used to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time and to violate Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
A support-group leader for female survivors of sexual abuse — and someone who had spent many years within a positive-thinking metaphysical church — wrote to me in 2012. She said that she had experienced both sides of the positive-thinking equation, witnessing how survivors could ably use a program of mental therapeutics to rebuild their sense of self, but also observing the kind of burden that affirmative-thinking nostrums could visit upon those recovering from trauma.“Is there room for a positive-thinking model that doesn’t include blame and single-model definitions of success?” I take the attitude that such a model can exist. But for positive thinking to reach maturity, its followers must take fuller stock of the movement’s flaws, particularly the attachment to a single, all-encompassing theory of life, which is to say, the Law of Attraction, recently popularized in The Secret. While the mind does possess influences that are not yet fully understood, and that are palpably felt by many people, the idea of a mental super-law binds New Thought to a paradigm of extremist self-responsibility, which cannot be defended to its limits.
Consider the following as a rule. Whenever you have nonlinearity, the average doesn’t matter anymore. Hence:The more nonlinearity in the response, the less informational the average.For instance, your benefit from drinking water would be linear if ten glasses of water were ten times as good as one single glass. If that is not the case, then necessarily the average water consumption matters less than something else that we will call “unevenness”, or volatility, or inequality in consumption. Say your average daily consumption needs to be one liter a day and I gave you ten liters one day and none for the remaining nine days, for an average of one liter a day. Odds are you won’t survive. You want your quantity of water to be as evenly distributed as possible. Within the day, you do not need to consume the same amount water every minute, but at the scale of the day, you want maximal evenness.From an informational standpoint, someone who tells you “We will supply you with one liter of water liter day on average” is not conveying much information at all; there needs to be a second dimension, the variations around such an average. You are quite certain that you will die of thirst if his average comes from a cluster of a hundred liters every hundred days.
Clarity is an ambiguous virtue today. It’s more frequently called “transparency” now, and the naive still advance it as a simple salve for all ills. But the ills of the early 1990s never left us. If anything, they doubled down, demonstrating how comparatively oversimplified issues like ozone depletion, statist territorialism, and rain forest conservation really were—simply being able to see the issues were supposed to lead to the implementation of their obvious remedies. Today that false dream remains, in the form of technological innovation that promises to “change the world” by producing an even more commercialized version of progress than we endured two decades ago. Would it be a step too far to call Silicon Valley one big, compostable bottle of Crystal Pepsi? Probably. The nostalgia you drink when you drink a reissued Crystal Pepsi is not a nostalgia for taste, nor for the gewgaws of the 1990s, nor even for the youth that might have accompanied the original. It is a nostalgia for a moment when a new secular, global righteousness seemed simple enough that drinking a branded cola could legitimately contribute to it.
The best example I know that gives insights into the functioning of a complex system is with the following situation. It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minorities –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. Further, an optical illusion comes with the dominance of the minority: a naive observer would be under the impression that the choices and preferences are those of the majority.
It is intoxicating to trace materials and people back towards their origins. You start with an iPhone in Brooklyn and end up in an open pit mine in Alaska, Russia, or Peru. You start with Silicon Valley and end up digging a ditch in Thailand. It is great fun, zipping along unexpected pathways to exotic locales. But Beware! Exoticization is one of the hazards of trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. So are: oversimplification, marginalization, undue emphasis, overcomplication, obfuscation, and tedium. Tim Cook has spent a lot of his professional life trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. His success has resulted in one of the most powerful and effective supply chains on the planet. In order to accomplish this, he has had to delegate much and abstract away much else. From the perspective of the supply chain, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a workers’ strike, and an overlong security line at the border are more or less the same thing. Tim must also avoid oversimplification, overcomplication, marginalization, and all the rest of it. When he gets it wrong, there are substantial human costs.
“We may speculate that humans explore such invariant cues to anticipate upcoming transitions. However, individuals may interpret the cues differently; some may go deeper to identify structural-revealing characteristics to optimize and adapt their action relative to critical transitions, while others may simply ignore the signals due to biased beliefs. It’s also possible that our brain has been wired to perceive such invariance as we perform perceptual or higher-level cognitive reasoning. There’s much to investigate.” “My highly ambitious, yet scientifically unfounded, conjecture,” Moon added, “would be that the brain might be performing linear algebra-based spectral analysis to decompose the dynamics and summarize the patterns!”
The war will go on until it doesn’t, until it runs out of fuel and the historians take over, arguing about who or what won. I no longer expect to see an end in my lifetime. It will take a generation, and many enormous geopolitical shifts, before the wheels of this juggernaut shudder to a halt. Until there are no more self-dramatising young men who prefer the abstraction of death to living a meaningful life, until there are no more wealthy pious bigots to fund them, until there are no more disenfranchised migrants pressed against the border fence and no more hard-faced “realists” eager to turn the war dial up to 11, this will go on and we will have to live through it.
Our tools change us in fundamental ways. When we learned to cook food, our brains grew in size and made us the humans we are now. As we organized into more complex social groups and now as we’ve built tools that can act on our behalf, we have been and will continue to be changed by these tools. In the meantime, we live in a world that we haven’t completely caught up with. There are four big fractures between our bodies and our lives right now: trust, agency, tempo, and scale.
The Logic of Nature - Doria JD
Biologists study how organisms evolve and adapt to their environments. In the Genre Evolution Project, we approach literature in a similar way. We study literature as a living thing, able to adapt to society’s desires and able to influence those desires. Currently, we are tracking the evolution of pulp science fiction short stories published between 1926 and 1999. Just as a biologist might ask the question, “How does a preference for mating with red-eyed males effect eye color distribution in seven generations of fruit flies?” the GEP might ask, “How does the increasing representation of women as authors of science fiction affect the treatment of medicine in the 1960s and beyond?”
For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable. We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.
How could anyone be against transparency? Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious. But I have increasingly come to worry that there is an error at the core of this unquestioned goodness. We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse. And I fear that the inevitable success of this movement–if pursued alone, without any sensitivity to the full complexity of the idea of perfect openness–will inspire not reform, but disgust. The “naked transparency movement,” as I will call it here, is not going to inspire change. It will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.
Examples of catastrophic and systemic changes have been gathering in a variety of fields, typically in specialized contexts with little cross-connection. Only recently have we begun to look for generic patterns in the web of linked causes and effects that puts disparate events into a common framework—a framework that operates on a sufficiently high level to include geologic climate shifts, epileptic seizures, market and fishery crashes, and rapid shifts from healthy ecosystems to biological deserts. The main themes of this framework are twofold: First, they are all complex systems of interconnected and interdependent parts. Second, they are nonlinear, non-equilibrium systems that can undergo rapid and drastic state changes.
Stapledon-Woolf space is a fiction-state in which the scale characteristics of both these writers exist simultaneously. Or, more simply, a single sentence in which galactic grandeur is meshed with some small matter, something human and intimate.
red5k_640.jpg (via http://www.complexitygraphics.com/VIOLIN-Red)
red14ak_640.jpg (via http://www.complexitygraphics.com/VIOLIN-Red)