Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Today's International News...

German blogger and "graphic arts industry engineer" Annette Hexelschneider (aka Serve2Know-frau) recently discussed my "Metaphors Are Mindfunnels" article on her blog, Serve2Know. I must admit I'm quite surprised to hear people in Germany are reading my stuff. What a cool world this is!

Since I don't speak German, I had to rely on Google's automatic translation service of Frau Hexelschneider's blog (speaking of what a cool world). Google produced a fairly clear English translation, despite ending with the following sentence: "Yet - with all the careful now won lesenswerter article"

Anyone know what lesenswerter means? I'll just assume it's German slang for awesome.


Kimmer said...

Cool! Based on my rough Dutchy knowledge, I would say that the last sentence (after noting that the authors are in the military) says something like: "Nevertheless, with all just caution, a read-worthy (or awesome!) article."

The Dan Ward said...

I can totally live with "read-worthy"

Thanks for the translation!

Anonymous said...

Better to translate the last two sentences together since they relate:

"A somewhat ironic reflection of this theme is that the authors employ the very suggestive Matrix/Morpheus metaphor and that they are members of the US Air Force. In spite of this caution (or caveat) [it is] an article worth reading." (translated by this retired USAF L/C who had a Junior Year Abroad at the Uni in Bonn)

Haven't read your book and am interested in the theme but from a "complexity science" perspective. Not surprising someone in Germany would pick up on your paper because they are culturally inclined to philosophical "constructivism" going back to Immanuel Kant (see extract below) or try GOOGLING on "radical constructivism" and/or "von Foerster"

"....It describes a model of the constructed world as defined by the ethologist Jakob von Uexkuell [7], and why we gain by applying it to describe the behaviour of the animats we evolve. His theory was heavily influenced by the constructivist ideas of Kant. If we use his theory to explain animat’s behaviour, then we have a simplified model of the constructed world generated by the animat. It is hoped that applying von Uexkuell’s theory will help overcome the problem of defining information within complex self-organising controllers, allow us to improve the evolvability of our animats, and perhaps lead to insights regarding the constructed worlds of robots and organisms...."

Anonymous said...

Now that I've read your thought provoking book, permit me some brief comment. In general your text and references show you are on the right track, but your graphic metaphor needs improvement. Understanding the "Zen" of your Einstein quote is the key (see the original German & my translation below).
„Alles sollte so einfach wie möglich gemacht werden, aber nicht einfacher.“

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Albert Einstein

The implication of Einstein's remark is that in a given context complexity & simplicity are the SAME...whereas "simplistic" or "complicted" are also the same in the 180 deg opposite direction.

So to make your graphic metaphor work, I'd suggest putting complexity/simplicity at the + X end of the abcissa and complicated/simplistic at the - X end. The Y ordinate becomes + Utility and - (disUtility) as it represents the dependent variable as a function of design complexity or discomplexity = complicatedness.

The problem with mismanaged space programs I've worked on in my career is either that they depart the origin in the negative direction from the start or when they depart in the positive direction, they become lost when the program staff becomes so large that the initial elegant design concept becomes diluted & encrusted with complication. At this point the design path "folds over" into the 3rd quadrant and continues to degenerate as management does not perceive the "fold" has happened.

But there is a more fundamental problem with the prevailing engineering culture recognized by Nassim Taleb, Richard Feynman & again Einstein.

“…in economics, and the social sciences, engineering has been the science of misplaced and misdirected concreteness. Perhaps old J.M. Keynes had the insight of the problem when he wrote: ‘To convert a model into a quantitative formula is to destroy its usefulness as an instrument of thought.’

….Marshall, Allais and Coase used the term charlatanism to describe the concealment of a poor understanding of economics with mathematical smoke."

"It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny region of space, and in no matter how tiny region of time.

How can all that be going on in that tiny space?

Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what a tiny piece of space/time is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board with all its apparent complexities."

Richard P. Feynman (1965)

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain;

as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
- Albert Einstein

The Dan Ward said...

Hi Anonymous - thanks for the thoughts. I appreciate the suggestions, but I think I'm going to keep the Simplicity Cycle diagram the way it is... imperfect, to be sure, but consistent with my understanding and the point I'm aiming to make. I published it under a Creative Commons license, so you are free to use it as a springboard to create your own diagram / book if you want to...

I'm curious - are you someone I know? I just wonder why you choose to post as "anonymous" instead of identifying yourself. To be frank, I'm less inclined to take advice from someone who doesn't give their name...

Anonymous compliments, on the other hand, are always welcome. :)

Anonymous said...

You do not know me & the reason I prefer anonymous is that I still work in the bowels of the Defense Industrial Complex where those few of us working on the government side unsuccessfully but still trying to protect to taxpayers from big industry have to be careful.

I'll reiterate my warning about misleading metaphors and suggest another reference on complexity theory for managers:

From Conclusions of his paper "What is Complexity Sciene Really?"

"I have already mentioned how output from computational models of complex adaptive systems and artificial life has been used to draw qualitative similarities with real-world phenomena. While this work is interesting as far as it goes, it is basically a sophisticated form of resemblance thinking, and should be classified as pseudo-science or, at the very least, pre-science. The missing link is to demonstrate a correlation between the model and reality on a quantitative rather than qualitative basis and then, ultimately, to use the model for prediction or control.

The second case of resemblance thinking involves the use of metaphors. The use of complexity metaphors is particularly prevalent in business, where the past few years have seen a plethora of books using complexity terminology to provide novel “scientific” insights into business problems (Lissack, 1999). There are many examples of resemblance thinking in business, for example equating chaos with “a sense of chaos and upheaval in today’s business environment” and complexity with “the increased complexity of today’s business environment.” Clearly, these writers are not practicing complexity science because they do not subject their claims to testing, confirmation, or falsification (Thagard, 1988). In
fact, there is no sound scientific evidence to back any of their claims."

The Dan Ward said...

I'm not quite sure what Anonymous' warning was - and I think we are using the word "complexity" in two different ways.

I'm talking about complexity as a characteristic of a designed system. That's different than what "complexity science" people mean. There's nothing about emergent behavior in my book - it's not that kind of complexity.In fact, I was quite careful to define the term complexity as simply "consisting of interconnected parts."

But what I'd really like to talk about is the fear I see in Anonymous' comment about hiding his/her identity. Being excessively careful and covering one's own backside is a big part of the problem in the DoD. A HUGE part of the problem (and it's not just the DoD, of course).

The truth is, there is way too much fear in this business - almost all of it unwarranted and the result of overblown pessimism. But warranted or not, the fear is killing us. More to the point, it's killing the people who depend on us. And frankly, it's cowardly and unbecoming. I'm disgusted by the amount of self-protective CYA that goes on in this business, and by the culture of fear that's so prevalent. Whatever happened to service before self?

Look, I develop weapon systems for a living. The people I develop them for put their lives on the line. The least I can do is be willing to put my career on the line when necessary, by speaking up boldly and honestly. Self-serving, fear-soaked anonymity would undermine my credibility and my effectiveness. And fear has a tendency to trickle into other areas as well.

My bottom line is this: if you are not willing to stand behind your statements, don't say them. If you won't sign your name to something, don't write it. And if you're too scared to speak up in your own name, go do something else.