Wednesday, May 15, 2019

To simplify ... or not?


Shim Marom has interesting post on complexity wherein he says this:
"A lack of an intellectual capacity to grasp a complex system is not a sufficient argument or drive for simplification.

If you artificially simplify a complex system you end up with a different system that, while simpler, is fundamentally and conceptually different from the one you started with and thus, simplification ends up with destruction."

So, what are we to do about a system we don't understand? Should we:
  • Get a smarter guy to understand it for us? Possibly; we can't all understand the particle collider
  • Design in some fail-safe stuff so that even a chaotic outcome is contained? Yes, fail-safe is always a good idea if you have the right assumptions (See: Fukushima, March, 2011)
  • Design a different system altogether -- one that we can understand? Yes, that might be a good idea (See: HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  • Do the destructive simplification Marom talks about?
A system engineer would say: "Yes" to all of the above, situationally, as required.

About destruction
I suggest that "destruction" could be the intended end-game insofar as if you can't understand a system you may not be able to control it, and certainly can't predict its behavior. So, "destruction" to a simpler device may be an important and required objective. Lord knows, we have enough stuff we don't really understand!

CAS is not for everyone:(*)
Also, when discussing complexity, especially adaptive complexity, one must be careful not to cross domains: CAS in biological and chemical systems, and others like weather systems, is not a phenomenon we have to deal with in man-designed physical systems that operate within reasonable physical limits. To impute CAS properties improperly is one of the common errors I see.
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(*) Complex Adaptive Systems: the behavior of the ensemble is not predicted by the behavior of the components. They are adaptive in that the individual and collective behavior mutate and self-organize


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