synthetic zero

September 29th, 2008

Finally done setting up all the templates, so posting should be happening more frequently now.

I’ve recently had a revelation about a sort of systematic pattern which has always fascinated me, but I now realize it shows up all over the place, across many different disciplines and in many contexts. The essence of the problem is ignoring the effect of hidden coupling and connections between different parts of a system — you can see this in the recent fiscal crisis (in which the ratings agencies mispriced the risk of these securities by assuming that every mortgage was independent of every other mortgage, not realizing that once the market started to contract, a whole class of mortgages was at risk), but you also see in everything from the Chernobyl accident to ecological disasters (as illustrated by Dietrich Dorner in his excellent book The Logic of Failure), as well as in human psychology, where we naively ignore the impact of the unconscious, and we assume the mind and body are independent… there are so many variations of this mistake.  What is needed is a fundamental shift in view to one in which the complex nature of systems are respected — including the nature of our own minds.  I have much to say on this subject.

Google update: I still think it is a remarkable company, but as I expected I’m beginning to see the flaws in the place. The downside of it being so decentralized, so bottom-up, is that there is a tendency for some teams to “wing it” — not enough attention is paid to certain processes and best practices that I’ve found are very useful. It’s a very engineering-driven culture, and there’s less attention paid to non-engineering design (user experience is greatly respected at Google, yet I don’t think fully understood — of course, this varies a lot by team).  I will have more to say about this later.

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one response to this post:
  1. Ronn says:

    I agree with your concerns about reductionist viewpoints of larger systems.

    I don’t think the connections are innately hidden, just missing from this view of the world. Fortunately, I think there’s a generational shift going on that does appreciate the world as a system with emergent properties. Moving from an industrial paradigm to one based on biology is helping this along.

    Bottom up, emergent behavior, graceful failure modes, all lessons that can be learned from biologic systems.

    I look forward to hearing your further thoughts on the subject.

    September 30th, 2008 at 8:56 am

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