The Wunderkind has no Clothes

The Wunderkind has no Clothes. (Via Jorn again). Quote from Heinz Pagels in a Wired review by Steven Levy of Stephen Wolfram’s meisterwerk “A New Kind of Science“.
“Most scientists will find it difficult to believe that there’s a better way to do science.” OTT, unscientific, but intriguing thesis based on complexity underlying all phenomena, and the simple quantum effects and algorithms underlying all knowledge and computation. Hits so many of my threads that this looks like a must read. My conclusion is in here somewhere already – “scientific method” – objective inductive rational logic – is effectively useless for any real life processes beyond simple controlled experiments – life is just too complicated (or in Wolfram’s words – just complex enough.) “Anything can be done on three or four lines of code !” Too radical to ignore. (Interesting angle on humour too.)

Litigious Society

BBC Radio 4 Today this morning, interviewing a head teacher and a local authority administrator about boring “safe” school playgrounds with no chance of injury – hit all key points. Individually all three in the studio arrived at same “some level of risk is a good thing” conclusion and noticed they’d agreed, but all said such a decision would not get made by any committee with coroporate responsibility for kids at school – “fear” of litigation, rather than litigation is the rationale, but this is identical to thread (2) Rationalisation based on cultural pressure in “organised” decision making. John Humphries, bless him, even suggested sueing a local authority for providing playground facilities for a child NOT getting exposure to risk, and therefore not learning / preparing for life adequately. Spot on. (Also tied in with the general issue of “people” in general not comfortable with the idea of “acceptable risk” – in fact it illustrates precisely the opposite, specifically that thoughtful individuals are comfortable – it’s organised decision making that’s not.)

Political Heat (Chicago 1995)

Political Heat (Chicago 1995). New Yorker (via Jorn again – how does he find them ?) review of book by Malcolm Gladwell. A complete set of rationalisations of poor decisions leading to many deaths, and the “political” reality and “act-of-god” justifications used. Interesting blend of science / engineering calculations in sizing power supplies and air-con units, vs the “complexity” of weather forecasting vs the political aspects of decision making, together with the “random” chance outcomes of who does and doesn’t survive. Review based anecdotally around July 1995 Chicago heat-wave disaster, but drawing on references to many earlier, mainly natural / extreme weather related, disasters. Interesting angle on behaviour at extreme cases in complex systems being the true determinant of “good performance”, rather than long-term steady-state averages. I was beginning to wonder why disasters like Enron, 9/11 etc were becoming an emerging theme of this research – morbid fascination / ambulance chasing or a natural consequence of looking at complex behaviour ? In fact it is quiet literally “Catastrophe Theory” all the significant minutiae are hidden or suppressed until the chaotic outcome reaches some cusp, whereupon we have a catastrophe on our hands. Blindingly obvious again – “ambulance chasing” a euphemism from the “Many a true word” thread.
[And a further review from Salon, also via Jorn.]

The Story so Far

. Just posted a first draft (barest outline actually) thesis / essay / paper on the threads emerging from this effort. Accessible from my Work in Progress page too. The threads identified are (1) Values & Levels, (2) Rationalisation, (3) Emergence, (4) Many-a-true-word. Bookmarks to this draft should avoid my continuing need to repeat myself in the K-Blog itself everytime I find a relevant link. Encouraging that Heylighen’s draft paper on complexity and overload (below) should turn up so recently too. I wish I had the personal bandwidth to do justice to this research.

Buy, Lie and Sell High

Salon interview (via Jorn) with D. Quinn Mills author and professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, by Paul Roberts. Enron et al “evidence, not of the irrational exuberance of ordinary investors, but of a complete ethical collapse”. Also includes a reference to the McNealy (Fools Paradise for CEO’s) link blogged below, concerning complex IT systems products which don’t work.

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