Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Some Parables at 3QD

That’s my current piece at 3 Quarks Daily, Monday, February 7. It starts with me getting stuck in traffic trying to across the Hudson River by going through the Holland Tunnel, which runs between Lower Manhattan and Jersey City. Depending on when you make the crossing it may take you half-an-hour to an hour or more, and such delays are not at all unusual. All of the Hudson River crossings near New York City are like that. There aren’t many of them, a half-dozen or so, and hundreds of thousands of people use them every day. It makes no sense.

No one would set out to create a city with so many transportation bottlenecks. And no one didn’t. It just happened. It has always been possible to make things a bit better by making incremental improvements to existing arrangements. And the cumulative effect of these improvements is to make the overall situation worse and worse by allowing it to grow and grow. That’s what the post is about.

That’s last months 3QD post, Monday, January 9. As you may know, at the beginning of each year super-agent John Brockman has his stable of authors and friends present answers to a question, which he then collects and publishes, first to the web, and then as a hardcopy book. The question for 2017: What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known? For my post I chose three concepts and fleshed them out a bit:

  • Prediction error minimization, suggested by Andy Clark.
  • Bayes’ Theorem, suggested by Sean Carroll, and
  • Attractors, suggested by Kate Jeffery.

There were a number of others I would like to have discussed. For example, Ross Asby’s Law of Requisite Variety, suggested by John Naughton:
His “Law” of Requisite Variety stated that for a system to be stable, the number of states that its control mechanism is capable of attaining (its variety) must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.

... In colloquial terms Ashby’s Law has come to be understood as a simple proposition: if a system is to be able to deal successfully with the diversity of challenges that its environment produces, then it needs to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems thrown up by the environment. So a viable system is one that can handle the variability of its environment. Or, as Ashby put it, only variety can absorb variety.
That’s an interesting way of thinking about the human mind, and the mind in society. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to link it up with the three ideas that I did discuss in my 3QD post. For extra credit you link discuss the relationship between last month’s post and this month’s.

No comments:

Post a Comment