Via Negativa



[...] reasoning has not evolved in the ways that we think it has – as a process of ratiocination that is intended independently to figure out the world. Instead, it has evolved as a social capacity – as a means to justify ourselves to others.

We want something to be so, and we use our reasoning capacity to figure out plausible seeming reasons to convince others that it should be so. However, together with our capacity to generate plausible sounding rationales, we have a decent capacity to detect when others are bullshitting us.

In combination, these mean that we are more likely to be closer to the truth when we are trying to figure out why others may be wrong, than when we are trying to figure out why we ourselves are right.

This superficially looks to resemble the ‘overcoming bias’/’not wrong’ approaches to self-improvement that are popular on the Internet. But it ends up going in a very different direction: collective processes of improvement rather than individual efforts to remedy the irremediable.

The ideal of the individual seeking to eliminate all sources of bias so that he (it is, usually, a he) can calmly consider everything from a neutral and dispassionate perspective is replaced by a Humean recognition that reason cannot readily be separated from the desires of the reasoner.

We need negative criticisms from others, since they lead us to understand weaknesses in our arguments that we are incapable of coming at ourselves, without them being pointed out to us.

we likely radically underestimate the importance of the invisible and non-individually lucrative contributions that people make to the collective benefit by improving others’ ideas.

[Henry Farrell]
'In praise of negativity'


Metastability




In physics, metastability is a stable state of a dynamical system other than the system's state of least energy.

A ball resting in a hollow on a slope is a simple example of metastability. If the ball is only slightly pushed, it will settle back into its hollow, but a stronger push may start the ball rolling down the slope.

'Metastability'




You can have something that’s very fragile but stays for a very long time.

In phase transitions - between gaseous, liquid, and solid forms - there is a thing called a metastable state. The material is already at the right temperature for, say, water to start boiling, but because there is no disturbance to it, it stays in the previous transition. If you then drop a little speck into this kettle of metastable water, it will instantly start boiling.

I think societies when they become stabilised or inactive in this way, they’re in a metastable state. And they can last there for centuries. It’s very similar to a dry forest.

[Samo Burja]
Live Players w/ Samo Burja (June 18, 2020)



Related posts:

The Adjacent Possible





The concept of the adjacent possible originates from Stuart Kauffman and his work on biological evolution.

Kauffman was particularly interested in the origins of order and the mechanisms that drive self-organization. His findings are broadly applicable to any complex adaptive system, be it natural like the biosphere, or human-made like cities, the economy, or technology.

Kaufman investigates how the actual expands into the adjacent possible. The actual describes the system under investigation in its current state, with all its components and interconnections. The adjacent possible contains all the elements outside but near that system; those represent the opportunities for the current system to expand by building new connections and turning those elements into system components.

[...] expanding any realm always requires leaving its current boundaries in order to explore ‘the possibilities out there‘. But rather than chasing the most extreme or distant possibilities, successful exploration focuses on the immediate vicinity of the current boundaries: Expansion can then occur by naturally ingesting nearby possibilities, by a short stretch of the realm’s new boundaries.

Therefore, the adjacent possible is the target of successful exploration and expansion.

Innovation is no exception from that general observation. To expand the realm of what we can do, innovation explores the wellspring of novelty in the adjacent possible. This concept of the adjacent possible could therefore help us frame our evolving understanding of innovation and gain new insights.

[Ulf Ehlert]
'Exploring the adjacent possible – The origin of good ideas'




So how do you change a system which is entrained around perverse behaviour?

And this applies to culture change in organisations as much as it does to wider society change [...] From my anthro-complex perspective the following stages are necessary:

1. Map the current dispositional state of the system.  What are the attractors in play, how stable are they?

2. Within those maps identify what Kauffmann [termed] the adjacent possible, patterns of behaviour adjacent to the present but in a more desirable position.  Radical change is hard and may have unintended consequences, smaller shifts are easier to achieve.

3. If there are no adjacent possibles, or the nature of system is such that the energy cost of escape is too great, then you need to take actions that disrupt or perturb the existing attractor mechanisms to allow the adjacent possible to emerge.  Until that happens change is very difficult.

[Dave Snowden]
'The adjacent possible'




The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD [...], is best understood as the zone of the closest, most immediate psychological development of the children that includes a wide range of their emotional, cognitive, and volitional psychological processes. 

In contemporary educational research and practice, though, it is often interpreted as the distance between what a learner can do without help, and what they can do with support from someone with more knowledge or expertise ("more knowledgeable other").

The concept was introduced, but not fully developed, by psychologist Lev Vygotsky during the last three years of his life. Vygotsky argued that a child gets involved in a dialogue with the "more knowledgeable other" such as a peer or an adult and gradually, through social interaction and sense-making, develops the ability to solve problems independently and do certain tasks without help.

Following Vygotsky, some educators believe that the role of education is to give children experiences that are within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning such as skills and strategies.

'Zone of proximal development'




"I spent years trying to get my early things published,” Rosch recalls. “Journals would send them back, finding fussy little things wrong with them, and saying, ‘Everyone knows this isn’t true.’”

Why did they balk?

“If something is going to be new, it has to be exactly in the right degree of difference from what’s going on for people to say, ‘That’s interesting,’” she says. “If it’s too new, it isn’t understood.”

[Daniel McNeill & Paul Freiberger]
Fuzzy Logic, p.88


On-record / Off-record





On-record                           -                      Off-record
Formal                                -                      Informal
Official                               -                      Unofficial
Narrow                               -                      Wide
Expert                                -                      Amateur
Limited                               -                      Unlimited
Solid                                   -                      Liquid
Safe                                    -                      Dangerous
Sterile                                 -                      Fertile
Centre                                 -                      Periphery




We need to understand what’s going on, and you can only understand a complex system by understanding the small particular parts of day-to-day interaction.

For humans those are the anecdotal data of the school gate, the street stories, the beer after work; not the grand narratives of workshops but the day-to-day anecdotes of people’s existence.

[Dave Snowden]
Complexity, citizen engagement in a Post-Social Media time | David Snowden | TEDxUniversityofNicosia




I know that I would not like to be held scientifically responsible for many loose spoken sentences that I have uttered in conversation with scientific colleagues.

But I also know that if another person had the task of studying my ways of thought, he would do well to study my loosely spoken words rather than my writing.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry'), p.230




On-record is the official line; it is certified. Certification gains its significance, in part at least, from reputations. And when the reputation of the speaker, or institution, is at stake, risks are less likely to be taken. Thus, certified knowledge - and on-record talk - has a certain stiffness to it. It is a museum of sorts, a place where formerly loose and lively things go to be categorised (fit in to a wider system), viewed, and referenced; and die slow deaths.

The zone of off-record, on the other hand, is a sort of playground - a creative space where ideas and concepts are treated loosely, roughly; are tinkered with and explored. We can loosen up in off-record, and needn't act as responsibly (needn't 'act' at all). Accordingly, it can also be a dangerous space, and is not for the fainthearted.

On-record is found in books and respectable publications, in the output of venerable institutions. Off-record is found in comments sections, forums, subreddits, and informal conversations ‘around the water-cooler’ (do these still happen?). When you put a suit on you become on-record; when you discard your tie and undo your top-button you go off-record.

Identity is important in the zone of on-record; passports are thoroughly checked by border security, and you best hope you have the right credentials. Having a friend from inside write a letter of recommendation can also help with admission. Off-record is often pseudonymous or anonymous - here it is what is said that is important, not who is saying it.

The more strict are the border protocols of on-record, the more information is likely to be rebuffed. This information falls through the cracks and becomes ‘lost’ or liminal knowledge. It takes the form of bodges, hacks, and folk remedies.

The more restrictive, or ossified the zone of officialdom becomes, the more relevant off-record becomes. When on-record is corrupted (or gamed) then off-record may become a more reliable source of truth. Instead of looking to the centre, we begin to search the periphery. But there are dangers at the edges; we expose ourselves to uncertified material, outlandish theories.

On-record information comes ready-packaged - we don't need to check facts and references because we can safely assume this has been done for us. This is the whole point of on-record, after all. When handling off-record material we need to be more cautious - discernment is crucial in this zone.

Most information aspires to be on-record, but some makes a virtue of being off-record ('underground', 'edgy', 'esoteric').


Efficient / Inefficient





Efficient                            -                      Inefficient
Engineer                           -                      Artist
Specialist                          -                      Generalist
Narrow base                     -                      Wide base
Closed                               -                      Open
Order                                 -                      Chaos




Complex situations/interactions cannot be standardised. Standardisation implies known territory. In complex circumstances, an abstracted/wide view is more advantageous than a concrete/narrow view.




A strong mechanical metaphor characterizes [process engineering] approaches. The focus is on efficiency, stripping away all superfluous functions in order to ensure repeatability and consistency.

The engineering process takes place in a specific context and once achieved, shifts in that context require the engineering design process to be repeated to some degree before efficiency can be achieved again. Radical shifts in context may make the entire approach redundant or lead to catastrophic failure.

Manufacturing plant, payment systems in a bank and the like are all closed systems that can be structured and standardized without any major issue. We can in effect define best practice. However when we apply the same techniques to systems with higher levels of ambiguity, for example customer interactions, sales processes and the like we encounter more difficulties.

[Some of these] arise from the impossibility of anticipating all possible situations and shifting context. In these cases we need a different focus, one of effectiveness in which we leave in place a degree of inefficiency to ensure that the system has adaptive capacity and can therefore rapidly evolve to meet the new circumstances. 

Examples would include apprentice schemes of knowledge transfer, maintaining mavericks or misfits, allowing people to take training in subjects with no apparent relevance to their current jobs and providing more delegated authority.

There is nothing wrong with an engineering approach; there are many things that need high degrees of order and control. However taken to excess, and it has nearly always been so taken, it sacrifices human effectiveness, innovation and curiosity on the altar of mechanical efficiency .

[Dave Snowden]
'Multi-ontology sense making: a new simplicity in decision making'




The exact opposite of redundancy is naive optimisation.

I tell everyone to avoid attending (orthodox) economics classes and say that economics will fail us and blow us up […] The reason is the following: It is largely based on notions of naive optimisation, mathematised (poorly) […] and this mathematics contributed massively to the construction of an error-prone society.

An economist would find it inefficient to maintain two lungs and two kidneys: consider the costs involved in transporting these heavy items across the savannah. Such optimisation would, eventually, kill you, after the first accident, the first “outlier.”

Also consider that if we gave Mother Nature to economists, it would dispense with individual kidneys: since we do not need them all the time, it would be more “efficient” if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis.

Almost every major idea in conventional economics […] fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called ‘perturbation,” when you change one parameter, or take a parameter heretofore assumed by the theory to be fixed and stable, and make it random.

For instance, if a model used for risk assumes that the type of randomness under consideration is from Mediocristan, it will ignore large deviations and encourage the building of a lot of risk that ignores large deviations; accordingly, risk management will be faulty.

For another example of egregious model error, take the notion of comparative advantage […] behind the wheels of globalisation. The idea is that countries should focus, as a consultant would say, on “what they do best” (more exactly, on where they are missing the smallest number of opportunities); so one country should specialise in wine and the other in clothes, although one of them might be better at both. But do some perturbations and alternative scenarios: consider what would happen to the country specialising in wine if the price of wine fluctuated

Mother Nature does not like overspecialisation, as it limits evolution and weakens the animals.

Globalisation might give the appearance e of efficiency, but the operating leverage and the degrees of interaction between parts will cause small cracks in one spot to percolate through the entire system. The result would be like a brain experiencing an epileptic seizure from too many cells firing at the same time. Consider that our brain, a well-functioning complex system, is not “globalised,” or, at least, not naively “globalised.”

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 312-3




A typical strategy of companies and corporations is to eliminate redundancies and degeneracies in the name of minimizing costs.

This is the major reason why almost all companies have great difficulty adapting to change, and eventually disappear. Just as biological systems pay a cost for robustness and evolvability foregoing efficiency for long-term persistence, so too should we demand this of our institutions.

[David Krakauer & Geoffrey West]
'The Damage We’re Not Attending To'


Old / New





Things that have worked for a long time are preferable - they are more likely to have reached their ergodic states. At the worst we don't know how long they'll last.

Remember that the burden of proof lies on someone disturbing a complex system, not on the person protecting the status quo.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 371




We have polluted for years, causing much damage to the environment, while the scientists currently making these complicated forecasting models were not sticking their necks out and trying to stop us from building these risks […] - these are the scientists trying to impose the solutions on us.

But the skepticism about models that I propose does not lead to the conclusions endorsed by anti-environmentalists and pro-market fundamentalists. Quite the contrary: we need to be hyper-conservationists ecologically, since we do not know what we are harming with now.

That’s the sound policy under conditions of ignorance and epistemic opacity. 

To those who say “We have no proof that we are harming nature,”  a sound response is “We have no proof that we are not harming nature, either”; the burden of proof is not on the ecological conservationist, but on someone disrupting an old system.

Furthermore we should not “try to correct” the harm done, as we may be creating another problem we do not know much about currently.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 316




It isn't always the future that people want; they are often, as it were rather ambivalent about the Promised Land. Indeed, it isn't the future they most want, it is the past.

Psychoanalysis, like education [...] is an attempt to lure people into the future, to tempt them to grow up.

What the analyst and the teacher and the political revolutionary come up against is people's refusal to sacrifice an apparently known pleasure for an apparently unknown one. Better the devil you know, because if you know him he can't be the devil.

[Adam Phillips]
Side Effects ('Learning to Live'), p.152, 154




Societies, like animals, evolve.

The ones that survive spawn memetic descendants – for example, the success of Britan allowed it to spin off Canada, Australia, the US, et cetera. Thus, we expect societies that exist to be somewhat optimized for stability and prosperity. I think this is one of the strongest conservative arguments.

Just as a random change to a letter in the human genome will probably be deleterious rather than beneficial since humans are a complicated fine-tuned system whose genome has been pre-optimized for survival – so most changes to our cultural DNA will disrupt some institution that evolved to help Anglo-American (or whatever) society outcompete its real and hypothetical rivals.

[Scott Alexander]
'Meditations on Moloch'


Context




Part                            -                       Whole




[…] absolutism of conduct can be secured only by means of an absolutism of doctrine, by means of the doctrine that good and evil traits and actions are inherently distinct from one another and that their character does not depends on the character of those who manifest and engage in them on each particular occasion.

[…] this approach creates the view that “there are actions that are good and bad in themselves,” whereas in reality, according to Nietzsche, “an action in itself is perfectly devoid of value: it depends on who performs it,” for what reason and with what effect.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 213-14


Fragile / Resilient






Fragile                     -                  Resilient





[...] what makes a complex adaptive system resilient is its learning and transformational capabilities, not its ability to merely resist a shock.

As phrased by Folke: “[R]esilience is not only about being persistent or robust to disturbance. It is also about the opportunities that disturbance opens up in terms of recombination of evolved structures and processes, renewal of the system and emergence of new trajectories”

Resilience enables the system to cushion the effects of unforeseen disturbances by absorbing the shock and adapting to changing conditions, thus bouncing not back but forward to a more advanced level better suited for future hazards.

[Rasmus Dahlberg]
'Resilience and Complexity: Conjoining the Discourses of Two Contested Concepts', Culture Unbound, Vol. 7, p. 545, 553




Consider all the different manifestations of pressure on a system, which Taleb calls the “disorder brothers”: uncertainty, variability, imperfect knowledge, chance, chaos, volatility, disorder, entropy, time, the unknown, randomness, turmoil, stressors, error.

If something doesn’t “like” any one of these, it’s not going to like the others (and will therefore be short-lived before failure). On the other hand, if something is made stronger by these, it is antifragile—and therefore also displays the “Lindy” effect (the longer it lasts, the longer it is expected to continue lasting).

The insights are useful to check the ambitions of modern power. Should we trust a model that recommends engineering drastic change in the atmosphere, or should we defer to and protect the Earth’s proven, inscrutable systems of climactic balance? Should we tinker with DNA to design a new kind of pest-resistant crop, or should we respect the nucleic wisdom encoded in long-proven varieties?

Risk management’s “precautionary principle” can be understood as respecting essential systems that are Lindy and making sure one doesn’t interfere with whatever makes them antifragile: solve world hunger with better distribution logistics (low downside, huge upside), not by playing God with crop genes (huge possible downside).

In social life, this suggests a bias in favor of traditionalism (including respect for religion) as well as encouragement for experimenters and entrepreneurs (tinkerers, who actually try new technology, not scientists and economic “experts” who merely theorize).

In political organization, it shows the wisdom of localism—or what Taleb calls “fractal localism,” to distinguish it from simplistic decentralization [...] Political community is healthiest when people making decisions also have the most at stake in their outcomes (“skin in the game,” the title of Taleb’s fifth book).

[Joshua P. Hochschild]
'Optionality and the Intellectual Life: In Gratitude for the Real World Risk Institute'


Global / local




I don’t trust [Steven Pinker’s] optimism […] more and more kinetic energy, like war, has been turned into potential energy, like unused nuclear weapons - [but] if you don’t have a potential energy term, then everything’s just getting better and better.

[Eric Weinstein]




The tide is out, and globalism is exposed. In its place, watch for the rise of localism.

This won’t be some Jeffersonian agrarian world where we’re all threshing our own wheat, but a complex, locally–adapted system that is vibrant and resilient because it’s interconnected but not centrally controlled. 

Our current supply chain and financial system evolved by using standardization to create efficiencies. Finding “synergies” led to geometric growth of certain companies, lowering nominal costs for customers and concentrating decision-making among few. For example, four companies are now responsible for 70% of the pork production in the U.S.

The sticker price might appear lower at the grocery store, but hidden costs exist.

Think of it this way: A $4 Mr. C’s hotdog sounds like a deal, but it comes with the low-probability kicker that if a virus/terrorist/cyber-attack occurs, we might be sheltering in place for an extended period of time and our economy could go down the toilet along with millions of jobs. Now consider a locally–sourced hotdog that costs $5, $6, or even $15. Localism would likely result in higher nominal cost, but if localized decision-making, supply chains and finance prevented being shut-in at home, hoping centralized governments and corporations can avoid being overwhelmed, what is that worth?

Some things are better managed at scale, just not ALL things. By pushing most decision-making to the locally-dispersed, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “fractal localism”, we can maximize customization, adaptation, and responsiveness while still keeping those systems and institutions that are most effective across locales.

[Eric Weatherholtz]
'Localism: Retail’s Coronavirus Hangover Cure'




Things appeared to be getting better and better but our prosperity was built on credit. The things we gained came at the price of an increasingly fragile system, caused by ever-increasing imbalances.




Localism


1. The principle of subsidiarity which holds that the state should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

2. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.

3. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, trade unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole.

4. But the principle of subsidiarity also allows for some decisions to be taken at regional or national (or indeed international) levels, for example in order to protect human rights or for reasons of social or economic justice.

'Localism'



Related posts:
Scale

Notes: Dave Snowden - '#12 MANAGING IN COMPLEXITY - DAVE SNOWDEN | Being Human'


................................................................................................................................................................................

'#12 MANAGING IN COMPLEXITY - DAVE SNOWDEN | Being Human'
[Dave Snowden]

................................................................................................................................................................................


39:58 - We’ve got very few polymaths left in the UK under the age of 50, because the education system is now highly specialised. That’s a major mistake, because one of the strengths of British education has been our ability to produce generalists, but we’re not producing them any more.

A collection of specialists is not the same thing as a generalist. A generalist knows a little bit about a lot of things and can integrate disciplines; a specialist can’t integrate.

Exaptation is a process by which you suddenly notice novel side effects and associations.


................................................................................................................................................................................


41:19 - Art comes before language in human evolution - we learned to draw on the walls of caves before we really spoke.

Like everything in evolution, its accident. Basically we draw because it has use for the hunt, but what it also does is allow us to shift up a level of abstraction. If you go up a level of abstraction you make novel associations. I have some of my best ideas either walking or at the opera, because I’ve moved up a level of abstraction. My mind associates things in a less concrete way. Abstraction is key to innovation.

It is one of the arguments most of us from a scientific background are making against the focus on STEM education, because if you don’t have art you don’t have innovation. It is this engineering culture coming through again. Engineers who appreciate art are more likely to be exaptive.


................................................................................................................................................................................


50:28 - The problem with a hypothesis is it’s based on what we understand from the past. So if something novel has happened, it will restrict our ability to see it.

If you have a hypothesis it’s highly risky under conditions of uncertainty because the past is not going to repeat. You have massive asymmetry between the past and the future, so hypothesis based approaches don’t work. You move from deductive logic to abductive logic.

Abductive is sometimes known as the logic of hunches - what is the most plausible connection between apparently unconnected things. Human beings have evolved to think abductively which means we’re brilliantly inventive, but also prone to conspiracy theories. 

We’ve got fifty-five people who come with these wild ideas. [To objectivise these abductive leaps] we present the wild ideas to panels of several thousand, they interpret it - if we get a dominant pattern we know it’s probably okay.

You can’t rely on individual judgement. Human beings evolved to make decisions collectively, not individually. That’s our strength, we can cooperate. We can [also] cooperate outside kinship groups - the advantage of that is that you can have specialists.

So-called educational deficiencies [autism, dyslexia, etc] are actually part of the collective intelligence. This is now called cognitive diversity. If you can increase the number of people in the collective decision cycle you can make it more objective.


................................................................................................................................................................................



Notes: Dave Snowden - 'Multi-ontology sense making: a new simplicity in decision making'


................................................................................................................................................................................

'Multi-ontology sense making: a new simplicity in decision making'
[Dave Snowden]

................................................................................................................................................................................


Order / Un-order

The vertical dimension of the matrix contrasts two types of system, namely order and un-order. In the earlier story of the childrens’ party the first approach, namely that of objectives, planning and best practice is in effect an illustration of the type of approach that is typically adopted in an ordered system and it can be legitimate. Where there are clearly identified (or identifiable) relationships between cause and effect, which once discovered will enable us control the future, then the system is ordered. It can be structured on the basis of a desired outcome with structured stages between where I am “now” and where I want to be “then”.

This is contrasted with un-order in which the relationships between cause and effect do not repeat, except by accident and in which the number of agents interacting with other agents is too great to permit predictable outcome based models, although we can control starting conditions and monitor for emergence.

“Un” is used here in the sense that Bram Stoker uses it of Dracula: the un-dead are neither dead not alive, they are something different that we do not fully understand or comprehend.

--

Undead/un-order - liminal, in-between states. This implies that complexity = in-between. The limit of control is the line between order and un-order.


................................................................................................................................................................................


Efficient / Inefficient

A strong mechanical metaphor characterizes [process engineering] approaches. The focus is on efficiency, stripping away all superfluous functions in order to ensure repeatability and consistency.

The engineering process takes place in a specific context and once achieved, shifts in that context require the engineering design process to be repeated to some degree before efficiency can be achieved again. Radical shifts in context may make the entire approach redundant or lead to catastrophic failure.

Manufacturing plant, payment systems in a bank and the like are all closed systems that can be structured and standardized without any major issue. We can in effect define best practice. However when we apply the same techniques to systems with higher levels of ambiguity, for example customer interactions, sales processes and the like we encounter more difficulties.

[Some of these] arise from the impossibility of anticipating all possible situations and shifting context. In these cases we need a different focus, one of effectiveness in which we leave in place a degree of inefficiency to ensure that the system has adaptive capacity and can therefore rapidly evolve to meet the new circumstances. 

Examples would include apprentice schemes of knowledge transfer, maintaining mavericks or misfits, allowing people to take training in subjects with no apparent relevance to their current jobs and providing more delegated authority.

There is nothing wrong with an engineering approach; there are many things that need high degrees of order and control. However taken to excess, and it has nearly always been so taken, it sacrifices human effectiveness, innovation and curiosity on the altar of mechanical efficiency .

--


Efficient                            -                      Inefficient
Engineer                           -                      Artist
Specialist                          -                      Dilettante
Narrow base                     -                      Wide base
Closed                               -                      Open
Order                                 -                      Chaos


Complex situations/interactions cannot be standardised. Standardisation implies known territory.
In complex circumstances, an abstracted/wide view is more advantageous than a concrete/narrow view.


................................................................................................................................................................................


Engineering thinking - top-down (controlled), bottom of pyramid (specific, narrow)

Systems thinking - top-down (controlled), top of pyramid (general, whole)

Complexity thinking - bottom-up (emergent), top-of pyramid (general, whole)


Systems thinking widens the scope of engineering thinking by attempting to map a whole system, as opposed to a part. However, it still assumes that the system can be mapped (and therefore controlled).

Complexity thinking does not assume that the extent of the system can be known, and instead of coming up with a theory of the system, it widens the range of its view as much as possible and looks for emergent patterns.


................................................................................................................................................................................


Humans make decisions based on patterns

This builds on naturalistic decision theory in particular the experimental and observational work of Gary Klein (1994) now validated by neuro-science, that the basis of human decision is a first fit pattern matching with past experience or extrapolated possible experience.

Humans see the world both visually and conceptually as a series of spot observations and they fill in the gaps from previous experience, either personal or narrative in nature.

Interviewed they will rationalize the decision in whatever is acceptable to the society to which they belong: “a tree spirit spoke to me” and “I made a rational decision having considered all the available facts” have the same relationship to reality.

Accordingly in other than a constrained set of circumstances there are no rules to model.


................................................................................................................................................................................


We both create and maintain multiple often parallel identities shifting between and amongst them as needed without so much as a second thought.

Accordingly in other than a constrained set of circumstances there are no clear agents to be modeled.

--

A clear agent would have to be unipolar (consistent) in all contexts, across the board. Human beings are tricky to model because they are inconsistent.


................................................................................................................................................................................


Humans ascribe intentionality and cause where none necessarily exist.

There is a natural tendency to ascribe intentionality to behavior in others, whilst assuming that the same others will appreciate that some action on our part was accidental.

Equally if a particular accidental or serendipitous set of actions on our part lead to beneficial results we have a natural tendency to ascribe them to intentional behavior and come to believe that because there were good results, those results arose from meritorious action on our part.

In doing so we are seeking to identify causality for current events. This is a natural tendency in a community entrained in its pattern of thinking by the enlightenment.

One of the key insights of social complexity is that some things just “are” by virtue of multiple interactions over time and the concept of a single explanation, ascription of blame or for that matter credit are not necessary.


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Bret Weinstein's Probability Map


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It is best to approach a complex issue with a provisional, probabilistic approach (allowing room for uncertainty i.e. the ability to move to a better position in line with further information) rather than be tempted into premature certainty.

Weinstein's chart is a neat way of laying out an ambiguous issue (i.e. one that allows a number of interpretations), allowing a certain narrative to be favoured whilst keeping the door open to competing interpretations.


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You know you're in a complex space if you have competing hypotheses and can't resolve them.

[Dave Snowden]


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Notes: Dave Snowden - 'LAS Conference 2013 - Keynote Dave Snowden - Making Sense of Complexity'


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'LAS Conference 2013 - Keynote Dave Snowden - Making Sense of Complexity'
[Dave Snowden]

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A chaotic system is one in which there are no constraints, which means every agent of whatever nature is independent of every other agent.


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Heretics, outliers

The line which goes through the middle is called the line of coherence. If we’re on that line it’s okay.

We really don’t want to have excessive proof but not have [?] - if we do that we get heretics and mavericks. This is where a small group of people know they’re right, but nobody else believes them. Their solution to this problem is to explain to people why they’re right, and when that doesn’t work they explain to the people why they’re wrong. Then they wonder why they get [burned as heretics].

You need heretics in an organisation because they think differently. 

There are two strategies from a management perspective. One is coaching: this is finding people that can interpret them to the wider community. What you’re doing is pulling them back onto the coherence line. One of the big roles of coaches is to reinterpret material because the people with the bright new ideas are very poor at explaining them, in the main. The other alternative is hide it until it can prove itself.


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Notes: Dave Snowden - 'Dealing with unanticipated needs'


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'Dealing with unanticipated needs – Dave Snowden'
[Dave Snowden]

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Inattentional blindness, heuristics

'Inattentional blindness' - we do not see what we do not expect to see.

The most anybody [...] will scan of the available data before you make a decision is about five percent. That’s on a good day, if you’re really focused. If you’re Chinese it is ten percent (there are actually different evolutionary processes in the brain as a result of symbolic as opposed to non-symbolic language).

You then make a decision based on a first-fit pattern match privileging your most recent experiences - that’s called conceptual blending. You scan five percent of the data, that causes trigger of memories of your own experience - things you were taught, things you learned from other people in narrative form - you blend that together and you come up with a unique form of action.

That’s how you make decisions - unless you’re fully autistic. The only people who make rational decisions by assessing all available data are autistic, which is why they can’t operate.

If you think about it in evolutionary terms, you can see why this happens. If you imagine the first hominids on the savannahs of Africa, something large and yellow with very sharp teeth runs toward you at very high speed. Do you want to autistically scan all available data, look up a catalogue of the flora and fauna of the African veldt, and having identified ‘lion’ look up best practice case-studies on how to avoid lions?

We evolved to make decisions very quickly based on a partial data scan, privileging our most recent experiences. 

In modern cognitive science we don’t call these biases, we call them heuristics. Evolution doesn’t produce things that have no utility. So-called biases are actually heuristics that allow us to make decisions faster.


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Art comes before language in human evolution. 

We drew and produced music before language happened. That’s unique to us as a species. That actually then continues to develop to the heights of modern art. If you look at modern fine art and music it’s usually sophisticated.

The reason that is so valuable to us in evolutionary terms is that if you move up a level of abstraction you see novel connections. Art has been critical to human inventiveness because it disconnects us from the material and moves us into the abstract.

Which is why the focus on STEM education is a potential disaster for the species, because if you don’t have art you don’t have inventiveness. You’re just connecting them with the material.


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If you want innovation forget people between the age of twenty-five and forty-five. 

They don’t innovate  (unless you put them under considerable stress and so increase brain plasticity). By the time you hit about twenty/twenty-five, you’ve locked down how you see the world based on what you need to do in the society you belong. It doesn’t really change until you reach your late forties/fifties.

You don’t see racism in kids before puberty. Racism comes in after puberty because by then the brain is starting this lock-down process to meets the needs of the society to which it belongs. Therefore it will assume the prejudices of that society.

Chemically triggered in the fifties, the same things happens - the brain becomes plastic again.

So if you look at innovation in the humanities its older people, in the natural sciences its younger people. In the older people innovation is synthesis, in younger people it is originality. 


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Notes: Dave Snowden - Managing for Serendipity


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'Managing for Serendipity or why we should lay off "best practice" in KM'
[Dave Snowden]

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Best practice

In an ordered system a “best way” is theoretically possible as we are dealing with repeating relationships between cause and effect […] If, and it is a very big if, there is a stable and repeating relationship between cause and effect in a common context then best practice can and should be mandated.

Human social systems are uniquely able to create such stable contexts by agreeing and establishing conventions for matters such as payment systems and traffic regulations.

If we are dealing with a complex system then there is no such repetition. Even in an ordered system the degree to which we understand the relationship between cause and effect determines the degree to which we can define best practice. This is true even of scientific knowledge where serendipity is as frequently the cause of major breakthroughs as is disciplined method and where old knowledge frequently used best practice to exclude new thinking.

For complex systems best practice is dangerous, for ordered systems it is valid, but not universally and only in very stable situations, in all other cases it is entrained past practice.

--

‘Best practice’ - codified knowledge, devoid of context. Script, code. You can only run the code if the situation is known, predictable because the code has been written for specific circumstances. When the situation is complex, running code - doing what has worked formerly - will not work.


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Habituation

It is also true that habituation is necessary for the consistent application of best practice. Fire fighters do not just enter each situation with a manual, they practice daily to ensure that best practice is engrained in their thinking, and that practical experience provides both knowledge of when not to follow best practice, and also creates high levels of trust based on interdependency (Weick & Sutcliffe 2001).

This has implications for much of the so called attempts to create efficiencies in human actions. A large part of the attempts to introduce process improvements in professional services for example fails to recognise this need for habituation.

For a computer there would not be an issue as each task would look up the processes on the basis of articulated decision rules, but humans do not work that way, they need to build and habituate patterns to be effective.

We actively seek out multiple encounters to increase the probability of an emergent solution, that does not just repeat the past, but which opens up new possibilities.

The loss of content, but particularly context involved in codification means that written knowledge is only ever a partial representation of what we know.

[…]  innovation is dependent on disruption of entrained patterns of thinking.

--


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Pattern matching, patterns of expectation

[…] humans do not make rational logical decisions based on information input, instead they pattern match with either their own experience, or collective experience expressed as stories. It isn’t even a best fit pattern match but a first fit pattern match (Klein 1998).

The human brain is also subject to habituation, things that we do frequently create habitual patterns which both enable rapid decision making, but also entrain behaviour in such a manner that we literally do not see things that fail to match the patterns of our expectations.

We do not see what we do not expect to see - and you can't train yourself to see the unexpected 

--

Cyclists on roads. Most drivers are habituated to see cars, not cyclists. When they scan, they scan for car-shaped objects. A cyclist does not, generally speaking, match the ‘pattern of expectation.’ The cyclist has a greater chance of breaking into this scan if they can catch attention - i.e. move erratically or wear something jarring.


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Efficiency

Unfortunately while efficiency does achieve effectiveness in mechanical or highly structured human systems it does not in respect of the majority of human interaction which, as previously stated is complex in nature.

An interesting feature of complex systems, particularly in social insects, is that for a system to be effective there needs to be a degree of inefficiency in the operation of its agents. Humans are the same; the efficiency focus of best practice harms effectiveness because it assumes repeatable past patterns of cause and effect. Driving out inefficiencies increases vulnerability to new threat as the adaptive mechanism of the complex system has been withdrawn.

--

Efficiency= 'minimum wasted effort'. Something that is efficient has been stripped of any redundancy, boiled down to its essentials. It makes a minimum of moves to reach an intended goal.

Inefficiency is more desirable in complex systems as it implies a wider base, and a potentially wider range of movement. Inefficiencies are doorways to alternate patterns.


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Top down / bottom up

A true narrative database uses only original material and searches it based on abstract questions that discourage directed enquiries to create serendipitous encounter.

Attempts to engineer a network through design and allocation of staff to groups generally fail as they create artificial relationships that are not sustainable.

--

Define boundaries in which things can emerge. Define the playing field and let the game take care of itself. Bottom-up (emergent) within top-down (planned).


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Outliers


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Normal                            -                      Divergent
Centre                              -                      Periphery


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Dave Snowden: There’s a level of dissent you want to have permanently present within the organization. The thing [is] to measure the degree of inefficiency a system [needs] in order to be effective.

Jim Rutt: Do you have anything you can explicate on on how one would think about what’s the right amount of diversity? I suppose it’s situationally dependent.

Dave Snowden: That links in with apex predators. If you’ve got a stable ecosystem you don’t need so much diversity. If the system is suddenly destabilized you need to increase diversity very quickly.

[Jim Rutt & Dave Snowden]
'EP11 Dave Snowden and Systems Thinking', Jim Rutt Show


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Related posts:

Notes: Daniel Schmachtenberger - Jim Rutt Show


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EP7 Daniel Schmachtenberger and the Evolution of Technology
Jim Rutt Show



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Anything that has bottom-up coordination only, but abstraction-mediated capacities, like markets, is going to fall to multipolar traps. Multipolar traps with exponential tech will be catastrophically bad.



43:35 - Because of the nature of evolved systems we get antifragility. Complicated systems subsuming their complex substrate increase fragility.

If I burn a forest it will regenerate itself, if I cut my body it will heal itself. If I damage my laptop it won’t heal itself.

Humans take the antifragility of the natural world and turn it into fragile stuff. We turn it into simple and complicated stuff. So we turn a tree, that’s antifragile and complex, into a two-by-four that is simple; or a house that is complicated; but both are fragile. 

We have complicated systems subsume the complex systems, so we’re creating an increasingly higher fragility-to-antifragility ratio. We’re trying to run exponentially more energy through an exponentially more fragile system.



45:20 - The way humans solve problems tends to create worse problems. For the solution to solve the problem it has to be larger, faster, somehow bigger than the problem was.

The solution typically is to solve a very narrowly defined problem - [a small number of] metrics - and yet it’s going to interact with with complex systems that affect lots of other metrics, where it will end up having harm-externality that will be larger than the original thing.

The plough solved the problem of local famines, but ended up causing desertification, and species extinction - and all these things writ large globally. The internal combustion engine solved the problem of too much horse shit in the cities and the difficulties of horses, but climate change, oil spills, wars over oil, and the destabilisation of the Middle East are the unintended externalities.

We can see the same for the value of Facebook compared to the unintended externalities it created.

I can define a problem in a narrow way, but that’s actually not the problem it’s a little part of it. It’s the same with biotech - I can say the problem is one biometric that I’m trying to address, for instance LDL, and I can give something that lowers that, but it also might do a bunch of other things that are negative which are the side effects. This is not a good approach to medicine.

The information processing that it takes to come up with a new piece of tech is orders of magnitude less than the information processing it takes to ensure that tech won’t have any externality in its long term application. The safety analysis is going to end up being NP-Hard relative to the work that it takes to come up with the tech being expressible as polynomial.



51:43 - Why do we get so much concentration of sociopathy in the top of Fortune 500 companies, and politics, and especially finance?

They’re basically systems to attract, reward, incentivise and condition sociopathy. 

People who are attracted to power and people who are good at winning a bunch of Win-Lose games get to the top of a power game. At each step they move up the ladder they’re winning against somebody else, usually via things like disinformation and deception. If you think about the nature of a government, or a corporation, or any top down power system it is basically a strange attractor for people who want to have power.

If there are forty, fifty - up to a Dunbar number - of people living in a tribe there is an extraordinarily high degree of transparency that is forced in that scenario. Everybody pretty much sees what is going on with everybody else, everybody knows everyone, everyone has fealty relationships with everyone.

So sociopathy is not going to be advantageous - you’re not going to have an evolutionary niche in that environment for much in the way of conspiring and lying, because it will get found out and punished.

So the forced transparency creates an accounting system where you don’t get an evolutionary niche for somebody fucking the other people in the system. As soon as the system starts to get large enough that…

- there are anonymous people, so I can harm people who I don’t really know and care about
- I can do stuff that people won’t be able to see; if I can have a corruption of the accounting in the system…

…we get an evolutionary niche for internal defection, rather than participating with the system. I’m not externally defecting and leaving the system, I’m internally defecting and playing the system.

Most people inside a corporation or a government are optimising what is good for them and their direct fealty relationships, rather than what is good for the whole - and nobody can tell.

We do our social science inside of a world where these systems have become ubiquitous, and we assume that those properties - where there is ubiquitous conditioning - are intrinsic to human nature. We have to be careful about that because I think a lot of them are not intrinsic to human nature, they are a result of the ubiquitous conditioning - and we could create conditioning environments in which things like sociopathy are not advantageous and don’t get up-regulated.

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Accept / Aspire


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Accept                             -                       Aspire
Maternal                          -                      Paternal
Communal                      -                       Individual
Communism                    -                      Capitalism
Saturn                              -                      Apollo


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The world for Nietzsche is full of people who are incapable of accomplishing what they hope to accomplish, people who want in vain to be brave, generous, strong, perhaps even cruel, or at least notorious in some way - people who want to, but cannot, leave a mark on history.

These are “the suffering,” those who […] have finally convinced themselves that their weaknesses are actually their virtues, the results of their choice rather than the shortcomings of their nature; they even take their weaknesses to be reasons why they will someday be rewarded “in another life.”

Unable to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world, they come to consider uniformity a virtue and impose it on everyone: this is how “the herd” is created.

The values of the weak, which Nietzsche considers moral at least in part because they are intended to be virtues that all must exhibit, aim to ease suffering caused by impotence by construing such impotence as an achievement.

The weak actually suffer from envy, from ressentiment, of the few “fortunate accidents of great success” who are not like them and who are unaffected by the morality of the herd.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 120-1


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When you explain the way in which we behave on a genetic level there’s something that is missed, which is why I’m much more fond of explaining it in historical terms; [accepting that] ‘these are the things that have always been with us,’ and then to an extent making your peace with that. It means that you have a reasonable approach to things that you can’t do anything about.

You’ll never get rid of the hucksters, the liars; you’ll never get the world without hate. So have reasonable aspirations.

[Douglas Murray]
'Trust, truth and media in the pandemic, Douglas Murray' (53:00)


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"I can't ever lose control with you"

The beloved compels us to be on our best behaviour, to be the best we can be at this moment in time.

And, inasmuch as this best behaviour runs contrary to our default patterns, it may sometimes seem like an act; as if we are playing the part of being good, whilst deep down maybe it isn't who we really are.

But the act needn't seem false; it is necessarily put on, and in putting it on we are able to craft ourselves, mould ourselves into the shape we want to be.

"Enough. Remember who you are"

Maintaining the act involves a frequent remembering. To stay on course may require constant minor adjustments, because we all forget the way from time to time.

Abstinence becomes a sign of inner strength, the hardest act to maintain. In conquering of one the strongest instincts (one of the strongest defaults), we light the road that leads to other victories.


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The chaste brain has tremendous energy and gigantic will power. Without chastity there can be no spiritual strength. Continence gives wonderful control over mankind.The spiritual leaders of men have been very continent and this is what gave them power.

Chastity in thought, word and deed always and in all conditions is what is called Brahmacharya. Unchaste imagination is as bad as unchaste action. The Brahmacharin must be pure in thought, word and deed.

[Swami Vivekananda]


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Related posts:-
A Higher Power
Budo
Walk a Straight Line
Stand Tall
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
The Middle Path

Daniel Schmachtenberger - The Portal

'Daniel Schmachtenberger on The Portal (with host Eric Weinstein), Ep. #027 - On Avoiding Apocalypses'
The Portal


54:07 - Basically economics has perverse incentives - we try to create law to bind it, but economics is deeper in the stack of power than law is. So you get a legal system that is supposed to bind the perverse economic incentives, but mostly ends up legislating in the benefit of it.


57:45 - If I’m perfectly ethical I’m going to lose in politics, because I won’t be able to get anybody to support me - so I make certain compromises.


1:52:55 - Up to a tribal scale people could do a better job of accurate information sharing because there was less incentive to disinform each other, because it would probably get found out - and we depended on each other pretty significantly. The Dunbar limit seems to be a pretty hard limit on that kind of information sharing. 

Tribes never got beyond a certain scale within a certain kind of organisation, and if they started to they would cleave - if they were going to get larger they would have to have a different kind of organisation.

One thing that we commonly think about is a limit of care and tracking - up to [say] a hundred and fifty people I can actually know everybody pretty well, they can all know me, and if I were to hurt anybody I’m hurting the people that I’ve known for my whole life.

Something like universal interest of that group, or a communalist idea makes sense if there are no anonymous people, or very far spaces where I can externalise harm. I basically can’t externalise harm in the social commons when I know everybody well. I also can’t lie and have that be advantageous. 

There is a communication protocol that anyone who has information about something within that setting can inform a choice where that information would be relevant. They can actually communicate with everybody fairly easily. If there’s a really big choice to make everybody can sit around a tribal circle and actually be able to say something about it. As you get larger you just can’t do that.

I think there’s a strong cleaving basis in not wanting to be part of a group that would make decisions that I’ll be subjected to that I don’t get any say in - unless it’s really important. [For instance,] tribal warfare is starting to occur more often, and so having a larger group is really important. In which case the bonding energy exceeds the cleaving energy.


1:58:29 - We still have incentives to figure out how to game the game as long as we still have separate interest.

Separate interest - where any in-group can advantage itself at the expense of an out-group, or any individual can itself at the expense of other individuals; which is grounded all the way down to a private balance sheet -  is an inexorable basis of rivalry.

Rivalry, in a world of exponential tech, self-terminates. 

Given that I don’t think we can stop the progress of tech, I think we have to create fundamentally anti-rivalrous system, and I don’t think we can do that with capitalism, or private-property ownership as the basis of how we get access to things.


2:32:02 - I think we get a certain level of empathy up to the Dunbar number just through mirror neurone type effects - the fact that I know these people, they know me, we’ve lived together and so on. If they’re hurting, I’m going to see it because they aren’t somewhere far away. Similarly I’m less likely to pollute in an area I’m in than through an industrial supply chain that pollutes somewhere that I’m not.

Proximity [is significant because] as we start to get to much larger scales, when I [cause something] there is an effect but I don’t get a feedback loop on it. A broken open feedback loop is a problem. 



3:11:40 - I think that status is a hyper-normal stimuli […] what porn is to sex, sugar and salt and fat concentrated in a Frappuccino, or a McDonalds is to food - void of the actual nutrition […]

In an evolutionary environment we couldn’t necessarily have more than 150 people pay attention to us - now we can have a huge number of people pay attention to us and have it metricised with likes.

I think it is like sugar, a hyper-normal stimulus that is [unlikely] not to be bad for us, and we have to have a very mature relationship to it. Addiction of any kind - any hyper-normal stimulus that decreases normal stimulus - is going to end up being net bad for us.

I think one of the metrics for how healthy a society is, is inverse relationship to addictive dynamics. 

A healthy environment conditions people who are not prone to addiction, which means having more authenticity of choice. Addiction or compulsion writ large is less authenticity of choice.

If there is a healthy status relationship - in a tribal environment, where I can’t really lie and people are watching me, and know me - if I’m thought well of it’s because I’m actually doing well by everybody and I have authentic healthy relationships, as as opposed to [being able to] signal things that aren’t true, get more status though negative signalling about other people, and so on - that is the same kind of thing as the fast food, or the porn.

So I think we have a hypo-normal environment of the healthy stimulus which actually creates a baseline well being. Most people, when they go camping with their friends and they’re in nature in real authentic human relationships, they’re checking their phone for dopamine hits from email or Facebook less - because they’re actually having an authentic, meaningful, engaging interaction.

But in a world where there is a lot of isolation, [little] connection to nature and meaningfulness, that hypo-normal environment creates increased susceptibility to hyper-normal stimuli. Hyper-normal stimuli happen to be good for markets, because on the supply side addiction is good for the lifetime value of a customer, but is bad for society as a whole.

Attractors



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You get periods where there is no pattern, and then you get into an area where you get a particular pattern, and then you get into no pattern again. It’s a bit like old fashioned radios, where you tune the radio set and get a station, and then there’s a noise in between, and then you get the next station. You come in and out of these resonant frequencies.

These are like basins of attraction. [There are] patterns that we get at [certain] frequencies, and [there is a] minimum amplitude needed to create the pattern […] There is a point where you get the pattern clearly with a minimum of energy and there is an area around it where you have to have more energy to make [the pattern] happen.

If you look at the vibrations at these bits in between, what you see is something on the cusp... It’s what Chaos mathematicians call a ‘chaotic pattern’, where it is drawn between two attractors.

The in-between is an unstable area.

[Rupert Sheldrake]
Dynamic Patterns in Water as Analogue Models


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While studying turbulence, physicist David Ruelle (1971, 1980), coined the term strange attractor to describe the tendency of systems to move toward a fixed point, or to oscillate in a limited repeating cycle.

A pendulum is a good example of a fixed point attractor. It moves closer to its steady state over time, as it gives up energy to air friction.

Strange attractors imply that nature is constrained. The shape of chaos unfolds relative to the properties of the attractor.

An interesting property of the strange attractor is that initial conditions make little difference. As long as the starting points lie somewhere near the attractor, the system will rapidly converge upon the strange attractor. 

[David S. Walonick]
'General Systems Theory'


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The Colour Wheel
The Eternal Ideas
Escaping Uncertainty
In-between
Shades of Gray