On brevity and the 140-character constraint

It often begins with a tweet, doesn’t it?

So, yesterday Jabe Bloom tweeted:

“Might it be possible that instead of the world “getting more complex” our aging models don’t fit a world, we’ve radically changed, anymore?”

As always with Jabe’s tweets and blog posts, it was another thoughtful and thought provoking question. Is the world “getting more complex” or is it a question of observational scope and trying to make everything around us fit into the models that we’re familiar with and which create the illusion of order? I replied with:

“Certainly. Due to co-evolution, expanded temporospatial and ontological awareness and bounded applicability of models.”

Now, the wording in that reply was deliberate as I was trying to compress four aspects I felt were relevant into the constraints of Twitter’s 140 characters. Specific words convey more context relevant to the ideas being put forth. But they can also appear as so many fancy words.

Ari Tanninen, my new chum who’s as sharp as they come (and if you’re interested in Agile, Lean, SW dev, complexity, you’d do well to follow in Twitter & elsewhere), replied to me saying: “I understood some of those words!”

Cheeky bastard. He understands them all (I told you he’s sharp).

But it’s a good point, and I thought I’d briefly open up the choise of wording in that tweet of mine.

Coevolution. In Complex Adaptive Systems, the agents and the system co-evolve. Agents (people, ideas, etc) acting in the system, through interaction with each other and the system, modify (change) the system, and the modified system changes the agents acting in it. My point was that due to coevolution, our models will never be accurate in the first place. The only accurate model of a complex adaptive system is the system itself. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety comes to mind, yet again.

Temporospatial. This simply means relating to time and space, or distance. I wanted to suggest that largely through advances in technology, we’re more aware of what goes on around us. We’re increasingly connected, not only acting in the immediate physical here and now. The notion of locality and time has changed. We’re connected to more and wider networks than we used to be even ten or twenty years ago, let alone 50 years ago. The observational scale we choose determines the degree of perceived complexity.

Yaneer Bar-Yam writes in his paper Multiscale Complexity/Entropy:

“The complexity as a function of scale of observation is expressed in terms of subsystem entropies for a system having a description in terms of variables that have the same a-priori scale. The sum of the complexity over all scales is the same for any system with the same number of underlying degrees of freedom (variables), even though the complexity at specific scales differs due to the organization / interdependence of these degrees of freedom. This reflects a tradeoff of complexity at different scales of observation.” -Yaneer Bar-Yam, New England Complex Systems Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Ontological. A philosophical term in metaphysics meaning the nature of things. We’re more aware of the nature of things around us. The way things are determines what we can know about it and how we can act in it. Ontology precedes epistemologyEverything isn’t the same around us, and there isn’t a cookie cutter way of working. This is a reference to Cynefin and multi-ontological sense-making.

Bounded applicability. This ties into the notion of ontology, and means that there are natural limits to the usefulness of things. The context advices the approach.

So has the overall complexity of the world around us grown in real sense, or is it a question of scope and view, and how we choose to define the boundaries of the system we’re investigating? I think it’s a question of the scale of observation and inauthentic ontological awareness. Googling for entropy and complexity, I came across Yaneer Bar-Yam’s paper on Multiscale Complexity/Entropy. Sounds like the right avenue to continue exploring this topic.


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