(P3): Models Summary

Standard Model Diagram of a Complex Adaptive System. Nothing Special in the Diagram.
Abstract CAS Model

In both of these models, note the following:

  • Every complex system has a history, and there is no way to avoid the effects of that history. This means:
  • You can’t go back to the beginning.
  • You can’t even correct something and try again. There are no do-overs. The effects of history always become part of the aging of the system.
  • You can improve part of the system, like getting a hip replacement when arthritis impedes the use of your leg, but
  • You (and any complex system) is still aging.
  • Improving the function of a complex system makes it more complex and makes the use of affordances more difficult and resource intensive.
  • Eventually, the sum of all this is some kind of collapse. When and how are not predictable, but all complex systems collapse, slowly or quickly.

A good “concrete” example of the overall process of complex system aging is the development and current state of the US freeway system.

I am old enough to remember when the freeway system was built. I was in elementary school and I saw the building process because my extended family all lived in Detroit, while my father worked at Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan. Before the freeway was built it took us nearly 4 hours to drive from Midland to our relatives’ homes. We had a long trip through small towns with two-lane 25mph roadways and stoplights. In bad weather, it was worse.

The first time we drove the freeway to Detroit, it took us less than one and a half hours. It seemed like a miracle. For a long time, the only problem was the increased use of the freeway by other drivers as they got more used to the idea of a freeway and its convenience.

Then the population grew, the number of people who used cars grew, the use of freeways for commutes allowed people to live further from their jobs, etc. So there were traffic slowdowns that increased the length of time it took us to drive to Detroit, and we had to be more careful when we made these trips so we wouldn’t run into the commuter traffic. And, of course, the increase in traffic density led to accidents that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

Then the roads needed repairs and maintenance, partly because of their increased use.  We all know this led to our current experience of freeways, not a miracle, but an increasingly useless tool which we must use, like airplanes.

If it was possible, we could simply eliminate the entire freeway system and start over again from scratch. We could use modern materials that wouldn’t break down as fast, we could have more lanes, we could rethink the way we use freeways.

But of course, we can’t do that. And the core reason why we can’t start over again from scratch is that we must use the freeway every single day without fail. And buying an entirely new land base for the freeway would destroy the economic system that was built around the existence of the freeway. And all that concrete would have to be removed before the land the current freeway system is on could be used for any economic purpose. And all that concrete would have to be transported and deposited somewhere.

If all of this seems obvious now, the question you should ask yourself is why it wasn’t obvious from the beginning?

(P3): Developmental Model of Aging

A simple model of A Developing Network; The three frames are an Infant and it's developing action abilities; An Affordance Interface, and it's feedback loop between Developing Skills and the Evolving Interface; and The World and it's constant Unpredictable Reconfiguration.
The infant as Developing Network

This model uses the commonly observed process of infant development as an analog for the growth of a complex system.

Infants are surrounded by a large, more or less infinite environment of possibilities. But it is in the nature of developing infants that the vast majority of these possibilities are of no interest and do not at any given moment contribute to the infant’s development. Instead only certain parts of the environment are of interest to the infant and these are exactly what the infant needs to engage with in order to further current development.

These parts ready for engagement are called “affordances” because they allow for action by the infant that supports the infant’s current development.

As development continues, those parts of the environment that can act as affordances shift because of the growing competence of the infant and their consequent shift in focus and interest. So, the infant’s “affordance interface” is constantly shifting as development occurs, and exactly tracks the current development of the child.

The deep part of this model is that even if you are 90 years old, you are still doing what the infant is doing, albeit at a different functional level and with a different set of strengths and weaknesses (i.e., a different affordance interface).

(P3): Simple Network Model of Aging

3 simple network models made from nodes and links; described as Centralised (A), Decentralised (B), Distributed (C)
Some Simple Network Models

In this model (very abstract), the world starts with a bunch of nodes (actually self-sustaining processes) that act for their own reproduction, however that happens.

When there is a reason to do so, one node connects with another to exchange food, goods, information, whatever. These first connections are done less because of need and more because of the ease of connection. Maybe I form a relationship with a farmer at a farmer’s market to get vegetables that are hard for me to grow for myself.

Over time, especially with the growth of population, more and more of these connections are made. This process is fairly straightforward until we have to change a connection.

Maybe the farmer dies, and the family leaves the farm, and it’s turned into a housing development project which we don’t need.

Needing to change a connection can also occur because of changing technology (stores instead of individual farmers). Whatever the convenience of the new connection, it will almost always be more complicated than the one you had before, and there are additional costs associated with making the change and using the new connection.

This is the kind of change in a system that leads to aging at the large system scale.

(P3): The Adaptive Cycle

The Adaptive Cycle model, with two interacting cyles, a small fast one with reorganization and exploitation as its phases, and a large slow cycle with conservation and release as its phases
The Adaptive Cycle

The model above is the simplest version of the Adaptive Cycle I could find. There are a lot of more complex diagrams that are useful once you know how the basic model works. Think of how a forest comes back after a fire removes the previous forest. The recovery has 4 phases:

  • Fast Reorganization (Pioneer Exploration by First Weeds)
  • Fast Exploitation (Entrepreneurial Expansion by Most Successful Weeds)
  • Slow Conservation (Organizational Ecosystem Development by the Developing Forest)
  • Slow Degradation Followed by Fast Release (Collapse due to Increasing Brittleness over time)

This final phase of collapse creates the circumstances of a new cycle.

These cycles are not entirely predictable. But the larger phases can be recognized if not foretold by simple observation. (At least if you are looking for them.)

(P3): Aging in Complex Adaptive Systems

Portrait photo of the face of an old woman
See My History

There are two kinds of significant systems:

  • Complicated
  • Complex

Complicated systems are ones that have many mechanical parts, like a 777 plane. The parts have relationships with one another, but the parts don’t change just because they interact. Aging in complicated systems is mostly that the parts wear out over the lifetime of the system.

Complex systems also have parts and relationships, but the parts change all the time because of those relationships. The relationships modify over the course of the system’s lifetime as well.

Any system is some mixture of complicated and complex. Modern complicated systems only exist within a context of some complex adaptive system. See Drift into Failure: From Hunting Broken Components to Understanding Complex Systems for the best example I have run across, about how a complicated machine can break because of the complex system in which it must exist.

Aging in complex systems is, well, complex.

Part 3: System Aging

Kist of Ways Humans Age, including: Gene Silencing; Mineral Induced RNAs; Mitochrondrial Loss; Biophoton DNS Dance; Biophoton Song of Life
Ways We Age

All complex systems age. Even the universe ages, though I suppose we won’t have to worry much about the effects of that. We all tend to think such aging has no relevance to us. Our society is so big, and our concerns are so local.

In a sense that was true in the past, but no more. Our larger system affects our lives in important ways every day, and the impact seems to be expanding and accelerating.

We have to understand the contours of this aging in order to make reasonable choices about our future and to preserve our flexibility for those parts of our future that we can’t predict or control.

Once we give up the idea that complex, adaptive systems are machines, we must confront the reality of system aging.

(P1): Evolution is not about creating the perfect species

15 slightly different sea shell patterns, different colors, different line patterns
Examples of shell variation for the same species

Resources:

Mostly, we think about evolution as though it is trying to create the perfect organism.  I suppose this reflects the importance that we humans place on reputation, social status, and power in our society. But evolution doesn’t care about our social values. Evolution is about continuing to evolve, and the key to that is creating variation. As much variation as possible.

Selection (what we tend to think is the important part of evolution because it is important to us) is automatic anywhere there is a scarcity of any kind of resource.

It is the variation that “drives” evolution. Selection works locally, variation works throughout the complex system of life.

Evolution is about continuing on despite uncertainty (the universe is a very uncertain place), and variation is the best way to be ready for what you just can’t predict.

Since the two most consistent forces in evolution on this planet have been gravity (a fulcrum for all movement that shifts in its impact with every movement) and the day/night cycle (framing the cycling of all processes in every complex system), change is constant.

Part 1 (P1): Basic Ideas

Color picture of underwater kelp bed with a variety of fish schools.
Our Society Is Not a Machine

Resources:

Complex Systems Are Not Machines

If I were to ask most people if they thought their pet dog or cat was a machine, they would likely say “no”.  I certainly agree with this having had, now, 5 dogs over the years. Most people get that the larger world does not consist of a bunch of machines.

But….We continue to try to solve problems by using models that are based on machines. We describe the problem we are trying to change as though it were isolated, like a broken part in a machine. Our problem solutions are all of the sorts, “This is what is broken; we can put a new part in place of the broken part. That will take care of the problem”.

This approach doesn’t work for complex systems like our society any better than it works for your pet. Every time we replace the “broken” part with a new one, we create new problems over time, called “unintended consequences”.

The unintended consequences are experienced as new problems, entirely separate from the one we “solved” earlier, so we try to replace those new broken parts as well. And so on……..

Because we focus on fixing parts, we keep making new problems for ourselves. Worst of all, we think we are actually improving the system by fixing the part.

Overview Over: On To the Feature Presentation!

Big Screens of young man showing his software in a Serbian competition.
On To the Deep Framework

I’ve made my last post in the FutureStrategy Overview. Obviously, the posts from the Overview will remain available for review if the going gets tough with the deep framework posts coming next.

The full presentation of the deep framework is 56 slides long and each slide is packed with notes, resource links, quotes and what have you. I’ll be reformating the slides so they work better in a blog post. If you have questions, you can put them into the comments and I’ll answer them.

Although I would be happy to do presentations on the ideas in this deep framework, the reality is that it is a long slog as a whole, and I divided it into a number of parts, each being a presentation in itself and running about two hours per part.

I hope some of what follows will prove useful to you and our community in the years ahead.

What Do We Do Next?

Sign on a computer that says, This machine is a Server! Do Not Power Down!
Don’t Turn Off the Server!

Some ways to think about how we might create useful change:

  • Within the Shell of the Old: We don’t have the option of either taking over control of the levers of society or starting from scratch to assure our survival as a community. The disability community’s dependence on the health care system and our sensitivity to small changes in our ability to access our community mean that whatever we do, we will need stability in supports every second of every day for the near term. We must build what we need within the current system of supports.
  • Getting Good at Change: We can get good at change by practicing change in small ways as an ongoing part of our self-support and advocacy. Often, it is so tiresome to simply get through the day, that we default to dependence on systems of support even though we know those systems can and will change without notice. This habit means, though, that we will not be able to respond to the truly unpredictable because we will have no experience of creating successful change on the fly. This means that we must build our general ability to accept and act on the necessity of change long before all hell breaks loose.
  • The Commanding Beliefs of the American People: These beliefs were a part of the assumptions that Americans made about what change could mean. In many ways, we no longer believe them, and the erosion of these assumptions increases a little every day:
    • Everything is Possible.
    • Vast problems can be solved if broken up into pieces and addressed one by one.
    • Ordinary men and women contain within themselves, individually and collectively, the constructive genius with which to craft such solutions.
  • Personalism: For at least the last 7,000 years, we have lived with the good and the bad of the institution of states that control the creation and distribution of those resources we need to live. Over the millennia, there has been an ongoing battle at every level of society between the value of each person in themselves and the use of each person by the elites in the various states.

    Personalism is the philosophy (sometimes religious, sometimes not) that society should support the freedom and choice of each individual to craft their unique lives. We don’t actually need a philosophy or ideology of personalism (in fact, I think that would be a repetition of the errors mentioned earlier), but we do need to internalize in ourselves and build into the future we create, the values that the disability community has discovered to be the basis for freedom and choice. This model is the idea of using accommodation to each of our individual characteristics to expand the possibilities of our futures.