The previous articles in this series looked at how everyday entities such as a cup of coffee or a Lego pack can provide templates for thinking about other subjects, particularly abstract concepts such as justice, and entities that we can’t directly observe with human senses, such as electricity.
The previous articles examined templates for handling entities that stay where they’re put. With Lego blocks or a cup of coffee, once you’ve put them into a configuration, they stay in that configuration unless something else disturbs them. The Lego blocks stay in the shape you assembled them in; the cup of coffee remains a cup of coffee.
However, not all entities behave that way. In this article, I’ll examine systems theory, and its implications for entities that don’t stay where they’re put, but instead behave in ways that are often unexpected and counter-intuitive. I’ll use Meccano as a worked example.
The best examples of powerful principles often come from unexpected places.
Today’s article is one of those cases. It’s about why it often makes excellent sense to use a particular method, even when you’re fully aware that the method doesn’t work as advertised on the box, or doesn’t work at all.
It’s a story that starts with one of the most widely misunderstood cards in the Tarot pack. The story also features some old friends, in the form of game theory, pattern matching and script theory. It ends, I hope, with a richer understanding of why human behaviour often makes much more sense when you look at the deep underlying regularities, rather than at the surface appearances.
So, we’ll start with Tarot cards. A surprisingly high proportion of people who use Tarot packs will cheerfully tell you that the cards have no mystical powers. Why would anyone use Tarot cards if they don’t have those powers? There are actually some very good reasons.
Sources for images are given at the end of this article
When a politician or a manager tells you that they’re going to take a “common sense” approach to a problem, they usually mean that they’re about to take a concept that works in one area, and apply it to a different area on the unstated assumption that it will work there too. Once in a while, it actually does. A lot of the time, though, it ends less than well.
There’s a technical description for one common way in which this approach comes to grief.
Sub-system optimisation does not necessarily lead to system optimisation.
It’s not exactly the most catchy line ever written, which might be why it’s not as widely known as it should be. This article is about what it means, and why it’s important.