For no light matter is at stake; the question concerns the very manner in which human lfe is to be lived.
There is no perfect solution to anything - and no one can predict the ultimate effect of any action.
Charles Handy - "The Empty Raincoat"
Reaching Cognitive Thresholds
Inappropriate Thinking Failure - why thinking with simple models fails to solve complex problems
Co-creating meaning since 2001
In a complex social system, the obvious, common sense solution to a problem will turn out to be wrong most of the time.
Jay W Forrester
Causality as a catastrophic delusion
The first rule of intelligent tampering is to preserve all the pieces
We are now tampering with nature and human nature on a gigantic scale and the pieces we are breaking or losing in the process can never be recovered.
The attempt to describe reality
- Through our senses we perceive and gather information about the world.
- Brains evolved allowing organisms to make simple associations between stimuli and their consequences.
- This gave a way of ‘mapping’ the world spatially, temporally and deterministically.
- By thought and mental processes we formed representations and descriptions the world our senses perceive.
- Our representations and descriptions are ‘maps’ and ‘models’ of our perceptions.
- Many such maps and models are practical and useful.
- Useful maps and models tend to become accepted and assumed to be accurate representations of ‘reality’.
- There is a growing tendency to treat maps and models as reality itself - as the 'real world' - and increasingly the map is the territory.
We are still in a rather primitive stage of philosophical mapmaking, and no one is to be blamed for an inclination to trust skilled verbal directions as against new and imperfect maps
The attempt to understand reality
- It is through our descriptions and representations – our maps and models - that we understand the world and explain it.
- We test and judge our understanding of phenomena and processes in the world by making predictions based on our representations, maps and models.
- We feel we understand something when we find we are able to make successful predictions about it.
- Any such predictive success strengthens our view that reality is both deterministic and causal, and that simple and identifiable cause and effect relationships exist.
- Consequently we build simple deterministic and causal models that allow significant degrees of understanding and prediction with simple systems and phenomena.
The move from simple to complex systems
- Where the systems we examine are not simple – but are complex - these techniques of modelling and mapping and extrapolating from them do not hold.
- What distinguishes a complex system from a simple system? It is the amount of information needed to describe the system and the number and degree of variables required.
- Thus the behaviour of simple systems tends to be linear and predictable, that of complex systems tends to be non-linear and unpredictable on anything but short timescales.
- Our success modelling simple systems leads us to assume that the same techniques will work with complex systems.
- But our models of complex systems fail to adequately describe and explain those systems, nor allow us to work in predictable cause-effect terms with them.
- Confidence in the deterministic nature of complex systems, reinforced by our predictive successes with simple systems, leads us to create spurious causal connections within our complex system models.
- The transition from simple to complex systems modelling marks, in the grandest and societal terms, the crossing of the ‘cognitive threshold’ described by Rebecca Costa in “The Watchman’s Rattle”. Some systems we work with are beyond understanding using the inappropriate or inadequate models we have made of them.
- With the crossing of this cognitive threshold comes a society’s inability to manage a system or cope with the problems their mis-management creates.
- Some of these problems may amount to issues crucial to the survival of that society.
As the complexity of a system increases, our ability to make precise and significant statements about its behaviour diminishes until a threshold is reached beyond which precision and significance (or relevance) become almost mutually exclusive characteristics... A corollary principle may be stated succinctly as, "The closer one looks at a real-world problem, the fuzzier becomes its solution.
Lotfi A Zadeh
The eastern and western civilizations of today are the first to start committing suicide in full knowledge that a way of salvation exists
Cognitive thresholds and the Failure of Organizations
Cognitive thresholds and the Fermi Paradox
The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the total lack of any observational evidence for their existence. This contradiction caused Fermi to ask "Where are they?"
A wide range of possible solutions have been proposed - generally on the theme that all civilizations ultimately end through war, pollution, environmental degradation or other causes.
Rebecca Costa's writing now leads to another possible solution - that all extraterrestrial civilizations ultimately reach a cognitive threshold - and the problems, threats or issues facing them become simply to great for them to handle.
How is the cognitive threshold of a society determined by the individuals comprising that society?
In cradle-time, when a shape came lurching
Out of the imbecile sky (a star? an apple? a face?),
You might even pause to crow,
Then your gums and sightless fists would get on with their searching;
Being wordless to put a word in its place
You were hardly abashed by a heaven you couldn't know.
Then words discovered you, and you taught them
The discernments of your eye, and your hands' unending to-do.
You gave them errands to run;
If there were secrets for sale, they willingly bought them,
And they put on their game little acts for you -
'Cheese please', 'Thou art fair my love', X equals one'.
It was immense, till one bed-time, turning
Absently into a blind alley of sleep, you kicked
Against an unbiddable wall,
And stirred awake, your throat full of fear and yearning;
But syntax had you barred and bricked,
And the strict white words were there, within easy call.
Then you understood how you lay in prison,
How your kindly attentive guards on the parapet beneath
Would lend you names for things,
Would comfort you in the brilliant cell of reason -
An idiot breaking idiom in his teeth,
A gargoyle spouting steeples, passions, wings.
Walter Nash in 'Our Experience of Language'
When the map becomes the territory
- Environmental, economic and social systems are among the most complex we have modelled.
- They are treated as not only deterministic, but also causal and predictable.
- In consequence environmental, economic and social systems are often erroneously described, modelled and explained as if they were simple systems.
- Economic and social system modelling in particular have moved to quasi-sciences, their practitioners attempting to emulate the successes of physicists descritions of the world.
- This -called by several authors ‘physics envy’ - leads to an unfounded reliance on the predictive power of untestable models.
- Such erroneous modelling resulted in the catastrophic economic and social experiments of the 20th Century.
- These processes continue into the 21st Century with gathering momentum.
- In economic and social systems modelling THE MAP HAS BECOME THE TERRITORY.
The inevitable failure of formal educational systems
Formal Thinking Disorder
If an idea makes sense to you - make it yours.