2010/03/19

About my dog and the terrific complexity of our society

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I had a dog until a few years ago. We got along greatly and I enjoyed to take the dog for a walk. It wasn't like with many other people and their dogs. I didn't need a dog leash for he never attacked or threatened strangers and he never crossed the street on his own.

He always ran ahead of me and simply walked around the bent when we came to a road interjunction. He had his fun with traces of smells and with leaving his marks and ran back to me once I reached the road interjunction as well. Then he looked up to me and waited for me to do the first step on the street before he himself began to run to the other side.
There were simply no troubles thanks to the one rule that he had learned; to never cross the street without my consent.

I always think of this when I see how other dog owners keep their dogs under control with short dog leashes, forcing the dog to walk at their relatively slow pace. That's so suboptimal, stressful and no fun. And then I need to think of something else because I begin to miss him again just as I do now.


Normal traffic isn't much different. In some places it's chaotic and full of "friction" and crashes while elsewhere it's an orderly flow. Sometimes I'm sitting in a café and watch the street. Everything works neatly, no collisions, no arguments, no electricity blackout - many rules are at work to keep the complex action on street in the precinct and on the nearby street going. I could hardly count the rules that all those people - and electronic hardware! - obey all the time, without exception. Well, until some drunkard comes along and violates the limit on how loud he's supposed to be at most.



We spend many years to learn to conform with the myriad of rules in our society (and immigrants have understandable problems to adapt). We consider people to be (almost) mature at 18 - as opposed to about 14 in less sophisticated societies. Four additional years of learning, till the age of 18 - and then the learning only begins for many young people.
A university is supposed to educate a young man for a profession and awards a title when he's done. That's nice, but in effect it doesn't train for one, but often for at least half a dozen different professions. It would take about 10 to 15 years to really attend (and learn for) all courses as a MBA student, for example. Even after this time, the student would merely have learnt the basics. It's no wonder that few MBA students can live up to the expectations of others when asked to comment on some particular economic legislation proposal.

The age of universal geniuses - people who knew all advances and insights of Western art and science - passed sometime in the early 19th century. Nowadays even Nobel prize winners from the same field of science can disagree fiercely on topics like the present economic crisis. The difference is usually easily explained with a look at their specific research, for they aren't really top experts beyond their narrow field of research - and thus they're excessively influenced by whatever their speciality suggests as interpretation and solution for a problem. The fair synthesis of existing knowledge busts even their capabilities.

The increasing specialisation and division of labour is extreme. Look at a "soldier", for example. He's not just a soldier; he's more. A soldier is (supposed to be) expert, specialist in something. Modern armies have hundreds of different job descriptions just like corporations have hundreds or thousands of different job descriptions.
Today we've even got Powerpoint soldiers. Their job (description) makes them produce the flood of at times neatly decorated Powerpoint slides. These decorations remind me of ornate medieval books. It's no wonder that there's a dedicated job description for this job; such a job existed even in the dark ages when people were really able to recount all couple dozens different professions in their society.


It's a weird feeling to relax, to empty the mind and then simply think of the world as if it was strange to you. Suddenly you can see all those self-evident things as a terrific, super-complex and clockwork way beyond your abilty to explain it. You think of the park bench you're sitting on and realise that you couldn't produce such a thing in a thousand years because you have no clue how to make such a green paint. Or the steel. Think of all those mine workers, steel workers, truck drivers, salespersons, metal workers involved in producing that simple park bench.


How could anyone make a decision or develop something new without ignoring almost the whole world? You need to ignore almost the whole world, after all. You couldn't handle its complexity if you didn't dumb it down to the point of near-total ignorance.
Think of a general; do you think that he could recount every military job description of every soldier under his command by title? How many could he recount in detail?

What does this necessity to simplify everything to the point of near-total ignorance mean for our ability to advance without primitive trial-and-error?
Are we locked into evolving, never revolutionising our institutions because building new ones would require a Herkulean job of constructing a new rule set?


I still miss my dog badly.


Sven Ortmann

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6 comments:

  1. Lots of dogs in dog pounds on death row just now ...every one a unique .
    Annie

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  2. Yes you are absolutely right!
    The more you learn/think to more you realize the less you actually know and will ever be able to know.

    -A possible line of reasoning-
    With knowledge increasing exponentially it would take an exponentially increasing intelligence to properly deal with this complexity.

    Since computer processing power is the only unitary entity which develops exponentially, what we are essentially talking about is some (still not existent) form of artificial intelligence. And this is exactly what some elites are envisioning for the future.

    Today many important decisions are already made by computers. How can we forget some big financial disasters which were completely supported by computer models so complex only a handful of mathematicians knew their workings.
    However these computer models do not have the capability to "self learn" yet.

    -- begin quote --
    http://www.oldthinkernews.com/Articles/oldthinker%20news/trends_to_a_new_world_order2.htm
    Societal control through technology

    The perfection and fine tuning of social management utilizing high technology is a theme that permeates science fiction literature. Today, this theme is moving into reality. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote of "pre-crisis management" in his book Between Two ages,

    “Power will gravitate into the hands of those who control information. Our existing institutions will be supplanted by pre-crisis management institutions, the task of which will be to identify in advance likely social crises and to develop programs to cope with them." [1]

    The Futurist magazine, in its Outlook 2008 forecast lists an intriguing and disturbing trend for 2008. Educational, health, and financial decisions will be increasingly made by artificial intelligence.

    "More decisions will be made by nonhuman entities. Electronically enabled teams in networks, robots with artificial intelligence, and other noncarbon life-forms will make financial, health, educational, and even political decisions for us. Reason: Technologies are increasing the complexity of our lives and human workers' competency is not keeping pace well enough to avoid disasters due to human error."
    -- end quote --
    I recommend people to read the entire article, because this is one part of a big jigsaw puzzle.
    ------------------------
    Democracy
    You can see where this line of thought would bring you right?
    You can kiss you precious antiquated (possibility) of democracy goodbye (said the man with a cat in his lap).

    Faith
    But if no one is able to grasp reality including these so called experts, then what is the point of any ruling system dictated by humans?

    Many people will come to realize this in the future, which will also lead to more people searching for any ruling system dictated by non-humans. The materialists will cling on an increase in technology and others towards religion, while the rest will be aimlessly wandering in the dark. But since as stated in the beginning there is no real way of "knowing" without going into some form of logical fallacy, all forms will based on faith or lack there of. (This sentence is merely restating the premise and not a new conclusion, circular reasoning)

    "Science" although very useful, inherently has some form of philosophical influences and at the more complex levels becomes more a "faith in scientists" than "pure science". The "Alpha sciences" which are less "pure science" are paradoxically the ones needed for leadership.

    Experts versus Rulers
    I don't think "knowing more" is an essential part of leadership thought. The essential part of leadership is abstract thought. To see beyond form and capture essence. (Another definition for this would be vision.) And being able to form a leadership structure of capable leaders with vision on their respective levels. Although being able to capture essence without going into absurdness is indeed a very thin line.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The problem with computing is that both input and decision rules are difficult to make right.

    Computers cannot play a great role in ruling because there's no way known how to feed them with the information about the people's preferences.
    Their ruling would be random crap without knowing about preferences. You could as well make an astrologer your tyrant.


    The way to go is probably to dumb down decisions based on info from relevant clusters of knowledge. (Think of the 1-page "executive summaries" at the beginning of 150 pp studies.)
    Democracy is necessary to connect the imperfect information with the electorate preferences to come to a decision in the interest of the people.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ruling structure
    "The way to go is probably to dumb down decisions based on info from relevant clusters of knowledge."
    Yes this is exactly what I meant with my last paragraph "Experts versus Rulers".
    And since you prefer a democracy that also means that "The plebiscites need to self-organize"
    Like I commented here http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2010/03/lets-improve-our-democracy-work-in.html
    Although I am (for various reasons) not for a democracy myself, I am open to, and willing to think about, good advice and arguments in favor of democracy. Since many people believe in democracy as well.

    But I know revelation cannot be pushed and this is a work in progress, more a way then a destination. So answers will not come instantaneous.

    Dealing with complexity: "What is" versus "How it should be"
    Those that are in control are planning in putting more power into autonomous data-mining techniques. How else can you possibly use all that digital information about people? If you have a hammer all your problems look like nails.
    Seeing the security and privacy trends today this is the taught that I suspect will shape a large part of the future.

    However knowing the "why" (what you call preferences?) of peoples thoughts is more important than the "what" (data points). Computers are only capable of thinking in "what". Am I correct is this interpretation of your use of "people's preferences"?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I meant "preferences" as defined in economic science.

    Imagine two possible regulations on the colour of taxi cabs.
    One citizen lieks taxi cabs white and literally pukes when he sees red ones. Another citizen likes red and white cabs.

    How could a government rule to the best effect if it doesn't know about these preferences? It might end up with the white option.

    Dictatorships use their domestic spies and their bureaucacies to learn about such preferences (and at times they still ignore them).

    Democracy has proven to be vastly superior in this regard, it's much more able to govern based on the nation's preferences mix.
    That's why it's so important to have regionally-anchored MPs who need to campaign in their region and thus keep in contact with their constituents.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    -Robert A. Heinlein

    swordtail

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