Thinking and Acting Beings

I’ve pondering the following sketch today…

The boxes are nouns, the lines are verbs. There are three feedback loops. The “natural systems” loop is the only one that would exist if there were no sentient beings capable of affecting the universe. Decisions anchor the role of rational and sentient beings via the perceptual and behavioral loops. A good way to misread this sketch is to believe that it shows how perception and behaviour are outside of nature when they are actually just more detail. There are a lot of more detailed systems in the natural loop. There’s probably a better way to capture this relationship.

Decisions are what couple perceptions and behavior. Decisions require both an opportunity and a set of beliefs before they can enable an action. Beliefs are formed by exposure to facts. Here you think about facts in a fairly strict sense. It may be a fact that someone told you something that they asserted is a fact. The fact that they asserted may not have actually been a fact, but the person asserting that it is a fact is a fact. (Sigh, language is so hard.) You end up with a notion of directly experienced facts, e.g. what I heard someone say, and reported facts, e.g. what they said. There’s an 80/20 possibility here where 80 percent of your belief system is based on reported facts and 20 percent is based on direct experience. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s an interesting hypothesis.

A future ponder many be to examine the process (verb) of how facts inform beliefs.


Engineering 101

All technologies are nothing more than applying energy to rearrange atoms and/or bits1 within a system of constraints.

Engineering is the discipline of understanding and applying those constraints in order to create systems that solve problems.

Beyond this you’re specializing.



A system is considered to be intelligent if it more or less reliably produces a desirable outcome from a range of unexpected circumstances. A system is considered to be a machine if it more or less reliably produces a desirable outcome from a range of anticipated circumstances. Continue reading “Intelligence”


Time and System Design

Note to self (sort of obvious).

In system design time is an assumption it’s not feedback.

The proof of this is trivial. No matter what your system does or even if it exists, time marches on. Time doesn’t depend on your system in any way.

For example, if I design some sort of whiz bang toothbrush and I build an alarm into it that goes off after five minutes indicating you can stop brushing then I’ve made and assumption that five minutes is enough time to brush. No portion of my system has actually measured how clean your teeth are. I’ve only built an assumption into the system.

It may have been an informed assumption. For example, studies may have shown that on average brushing for only three minutes is not enough for most people and brushing for six or seven minutes doesn’t substantially improve how clean your teeth may be. In the real world however there will be circumstances where three minutes was plenty of time to get your teeth clean or seven minutes wasn’t nearly long enough. Outcomes are distributed and I’m building an informed statistical assumption into the system, but it’s still an assumption.

There are a lot of assumptions we build into systems, not just time based. In the toothbrush example, what is clean enough? Is my definition of clean enough the same as yours? My assumption may be based on long term dental health. Yours may be based on how your smile looks and your breath smells. If I know about all of these needs, how do I prioritize which is most important? Your priorities may be different. When cleanliness was measured in our experiments, how was it measured? If it wasn’t comprehensive in some way then there’s room for error. System design is a bet and is very subject to judgement. The objective of system design is to create a system that works often enough. It’s not to create a system that works all of the time.

It’s good to remember this because I often forget and get frustrated when something doesn’t do what I expected it to do. To avoid some kinds of frustration it can be good to ask yourself, “Does this system seem to work most of the time for most people?” If the answer is yes, then let go of the frustration. For me I either need to change my expectations or I need to stop engaging that system.

Interestingly, we arrive yet again at the basic equation …

stress = expectation – reality

This is another reminder.


Asset Transformation

I’ve been toying with the notion that business, for certain, and possibly life in general is all about asset transformation. Basically, taking one or more assets and transforming them into other assets. We transform our skills and time into money by means of a job. We transform our charm and other personal characteristics into friendships by means of social engagements. Google transforms the audience it develops from web searches into money by means of providing space for advertising. It goes on and on.

The key elements of an asset transformation include the source assets, the resulting assets and the process of transformation. It’s really interesting how well this maps onto the basic planning pattern; Step 1 – Figure out what you want, Step 2 – Figure out what you have that’s relevant, Step 3 – Figure out how to get from what you have to what you want. All planning has these elements though when performed out of sequence it often results in poor planning.

Within this are also the notions of growth and consumption. Consumption is probably the easiest to think about. If you have a fixed, finite asset and you apply a process that consumes that asset in the transformation to another asset then eventually you run out of the supplying asset. Sometimes this ok or at least necessary. Consider the asset of time as it relates to your life. Until we reach Kurzweil’s singularity it’s fixed and finite for each of us. Efficiency, of course, is all about how much resulting assets you can get from the supplying assets. Lots of people have opinions about how to make life more efficient.

If that’s a little to abstract, just think about the gas in your gas tank. It’s an asset you use to get from point A to point B by means of a car. Eventually it runs low or out and you have to get more by transforming the asset of cash into the asset of gas by means of a service station.

Growth is more interesting. It seems like there might be at least two types; feedback growth and forward growth. Feedback growth occurs when a supplying asset is also a resulting asset. It doesn’t necessarily need to grow. Catalysts for example aren’t consumed by a process but are assets necessary for the process and are effectively products of those processes. Systems with network externalities do grow based on feedback, these do need to work in concert with other assets that are consumed. For example, social networks grow as a function of the number of participants, but this is at the expense of the pool of people who are not part of the social network yet. When that runs dry the process stops.

Forward growth may be just feedback with a longer loop. For example, when you are young opportunities (an asset) are relatively few, but one of those opportunities is to get a good education. Having a good education provides you with many more opportunities that you had otherwise many of which aren’t further education but also weren’t available before you got your education.

The notions of investment and profit apply to these growth modes as well.

If you were to say that this is just another way of looking at dynamic systems, then you’d be right. The relabeling though, seems to help me to identify opportunities that might be hidden. It’s certainly interesting to look at business opportunities through this lens.