The Wisdom of Rules

When talking rules (of any kind) I often quote:

“Rules are for guidance of the wise,
and the obedience of fools.”

(Attributed variously to Douglas Bader, David Ogilvy and others, so hard pin down originality. And now part of an extended page on rules in the game of public discourse.)

However far you choose to push information metaphors back into the fundamentals of physical reality, the processing of information can be thought of as a game. Life, the universe and everything are there to be gamed. We call this evolution.

Evolution of anything is about applying the rules of the game, algorithmically, whilst at the same time evolving the rules, creatively. And as with any evolution, the game needs to be 99% algorithmic and 1% creative; many identical repeats with only a few significant mutations, otherwise we have chaos and no species can emerge. And emerge they must, since we can only ever know and name a new species with hindsight. Species of anything that is, cosmological objects, biological beings or cultural artefacts – even cultural artefacts like the contents and processes of science and the humanities.

Anything and everything.

So rules are there to be broken, so that new better rules can emerge, but this relies on us mostly, conservatively agreeing to mostly abide by, or at least respect, the existing rules.

At one extreme of logical and physical science some of the rules are 99.9999999% cast in stone, 100% axiomatic in specific cases, and only a fool could act as if they didn’t exist beyond any equally tightly controlled context. Even an axiomatic rule – the simplest arithmetic for example – is open to the questions of if and how it applies in any given context. At the other extreme of chaotic creativity anything goes and no holds are barred. Constructing or performing a piece of abstract art whilst juggling chain-saws has its attractions, provided you don’t do it on the bus whilst the rest of us are trying to get to work in the morning. Only a fool would countenance total chaos beyond an appropriate context.

Most of real life is between those extremes.

Rules are there to be
respected mostly,
and broken with care.


[Part of a series on rules of human engagement – rhetorical AS WELL AS logical. “As well as” is about integration not a binary choice between application and ignorance.]

[For more on Hypocrisy – an Exception to the Rules.]