Analyzing Complex Events

I am reading Conversations with Miloševic – about the breakdown of Yugoslavia – and the complex struggles that followed. There are a series of maps, showing, in detail, the evolving conflict – in which millions suffered and died. No one expected this much violence to happen so quickly.

But this was not unusual – complex (often violent) events are in fact, the most common kind – in every domain imaginable.

When I went to Engineering School, in the Fifties, I took a class in Linear Analysis – that dealt with two variables at a time. No more could be handled, because the math became too complicated.

The digital computer, which was then just getting a start – could handle any number of variables, interconnected in any number of ways. It could model any situation in the world – but you ended up with two worlds, the real world you were modeling, and a virtual one, on a computer. This raised a question – how well did the model represent the world?

This is a huge problem that goes back to the introduction of human language – the invention that made us human. How well can language represent the world? Very well, and very poorly – at the same time. Words have to be accompanied by person-to-person body language, for satisfying communication to happen.

The same is true of the computer, that uses artificial languages. But its difficulty is worse than that – it can only work with numbers (digits). Everything has to be converted to a number, or a series of numbers (digitized) – then processed by the computer – and then converted back to whatever you started with.

For example, I tap on a key on my keyboard to generate a letter – this is changed into a number and my computer uses that, and all the other characters I enter, to construct its internal representation of a document – then it quickly changes this internal document back to a document on its monitor – that I can see. Two documents exist simultaneously – one inside the computer, and one outside it. When I am finished with it – it converts this into a file that I can send to other computers. This whole complicated process happens so quickly, it seems to happen instantly.

What I am describing is a new world entirely.

This is one of the reasons why so much conflict exists in today’s world. Most of the people in it were creatures of the Industrial World, and had adapted themselves to it. That world (of only fifty years ago) no longer exists – and they cannot adapt to the new one – that is centered around the Computer – that has no need for their skills. They are out of a job – and no worse thing could happen to them.

They are now followers of Trump – who promises to bring their world back to them.


Hackers who breached corporate wires made millions off insider trading

Washington Post

“It’s too complicated!” You may say after giving this a quick glance. Yes, it is – and it is not only complicated it is complex – with many interrelated variables – that make linear analysis impossible. We have to upgrade our reasoning power to understand it.

The whole thing seems too far-out to be real – if it were not acknowledged by the SEC and Homeland Security. But even so, the story has not become front-page news. People want simple stories, and this is not.

The reason for this simple-mindedness is simple – literacy. The Printing Press was driving force behind the Modern World. Which began only six hundred years ago, or so – and ended about a hundred years ago. Practically no time at all.

The real world has always been complicated (complex, actually) but printing seemed to simplify it. And for that reason, we loved it. But it has bit our ass.

I say this as a writer and a reader who is always reading something and writing something. For me, the Computer has always been the perfect writing tool – and I am using it right now to write this blog.

The Printing Press has bit our ass – and now the Computer has too. But we are blissfully unaware of this – and I am sure this posting will change nothing.

My basic message is simple – we gotta get used to living in a complex world – the real world.

This is not so hard, it seems to me. We just have to widen our focus, and see more. If I can do this – a fairly simple person – I don’t see why other people cannot also.

The Death of John Quincy Adams

I just finished listening to John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life. This biography is no doubt the finest one that will ever be written about him, and is a long one – but I chose it instead of something shorter. I have plenty of time now, at the end of my life – and can do with it as I please.

It is hard to say why J.Q.A. – as he was commonly referred to – was considered a Great Man. He was certainly complicated enough. But he served his country longer than any other person of his time – including his illustrious father.

This biography shows him to be a new type – a complex person in a complex time.

Not just a complicated person in a complicated time.

What do People Want To Be?

In this posting, I am defending my last posting The Computer Let People be as Bad as They Wanted to Be. Which I had no intention of writing – it just happened, quite to my surprise. And after thinking about it carefully, overnight – I decided to let it stand. It is my attempt at philosophical writing – and since it is mine – and since it links morality and technology (an unusual combination) – I am fond of it.

I am also reading the work of a professional philosopher, Roger Scruton, in his book The Soul of the World:
In The Soul of the World, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends the experience of the sacred against today’s fashionable forms of atheism. He argues that our personal relationships, moral intuitions, and aesthetic judgments hint at a transcendent dimension that cannot be understood through the lens of science alone. To be fully alive—and to understand what we are—is to acknowledge the reality of sacred things. Rather than an argument for the existence of God, or a defense of the truth of religion, the book is an extended reflection on why a sense of the sacred is essential to human life—and what the final loss of the sacred would mean. In short, the book addresses the most important question of modernity: what is left of our aspirations after science has delivered its verdict about what we are?
I come from a religious family – but they will never read this book – because they are nobodies – a concept Mr. Scruton – does not consider. But which is perfectly obvious to me. People in contemporary America (and indeed, much of the world) have decided to be nothing.

Here I can point to the latest issue of Poetry Magazine – to the first poem in this issue. I cannot reproduce it here, but you can easily look at it for yourself. What do you see?

You see nothing – although less flattering terms could also be applied. Which is probably what the author intended. And what appealed  to the editors of the magazine.

You have the perfect right to ask “What has the Computer to do with this?” And the answer would be “Everything and Nothing!” Because the situation is far too complex to admit an easy answer. Note that I used the word complex, instead of complicated. They are two different things. And not recognizing the difference is a big part of our problem.

I have put a huge effort into understanding Software – the brains of the Computer. And have been forced to recognize that there is nothing there. As Shakespeare said:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
“What?” You may say “An entire Industry amounts to nothing?” Yes, and more than that – an entire era was nothing, and is fast vanishing.

And will never be missed.

If We Can’t be Good to Ourselves

If we can’t be good to ourselves, we are in a hell of a pickle.

I keep harping on this subject – which no one else seems interested in. The basic logic seems simple to me. We are religious beings who must serve some higher power. And this higher power in the last few hundred years has been a series of networked technologies – beginning with the Sailing Ship – that created a flock of technical and social innovations to support it.

Take a careful note of what I just said – I said the Sailing Ship acted on its own – and took the human race along with it. Logically, this makes no sense – how can a thing do anything? But, as a practical matter – this is exactly what happened. And we need to acknowledge this very important fact.

Technology can force people to do its bidding. Technologies (which always come in clusters, or complexes) take on a life of their own. And people are part of these complexes.

Part of this problem was Newtonian physics – which ignored complex behavior in its desire to serve God – who, Newton said, was the ultimate force behind everything. The world operated by cause and effect – as the religions of the time were quick to emphasize. And this catered to the human desire to be divine – the most dangerous of our illusions.

All we had to do was become perfect machines (technologies are always some kind of machine) – and we were in Heaven! Or perhaps Hell instead – the two are closely related. Once we became Machines, we ceased to be Human.

And the ultimate machine was the Computer – a complex I described in Understanding the Computer, The heart of the Computer, the brains that run it – is Software. Which we have taken to be divine in itself. I am here to tell you it is no such thing – but another kind of insanity instead.

I would be happy to quote chapter and verse about this – but it would bore people who are not Software Developers – and would not be believed by Developers themselves – who live in their own little world. And are highly-paid for their efforts. They are not part of the Real World, and do no want to be.

They are not much help in the Real World – where the rest of us live.

The Future is Hard to Predict

This does not stop all kinds of futurists from doing just that – with assurance matched by those who want to believe in them. For the most part, they are telling people what they want to hear – or what they want other people to hear.

People who know the most about what is going on – never do this. If they are leaders, of any kind, they are forced to make decisions – which may or may not work. If they are lucky, they are considered visionary. If they are not lucky (as is usually the case) – they will try something else.

That is why the tags for this posting are CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) and Complexity (for Complexity Science). If you are reading the book I reference in Show the World You Know How to Think – you will know how new this science is – and how it is still being defined.

This however, is its biggest advantage – it probably will continue to be redefined forever.

Show the World You Know How to Think

This is a review for the book Harnessing Complexity. I got the Kindle version for only $9.99 –  and I made sure to use the Kindle for PC app to read it –  as I said in my posting Use the Kindle for PC App – Not the Kindle Cloud Reader.

Understanding complexity is not easy – but this book tries to make it as easy as possible. Even so – it is not easy.

If you want to know what is going on in the world – read this book.