The complex ecosystem of pasture grass on Monkey Ranch

Fixing a complex system

You can influence it, but not direct it.

When a complex system breaks, it never goes back to its original state. Never. Yes, it seeks out some state of equilibrium, some stable state, but it can only move forward from its current broken state, so it will change into something completely different from what it was originally.

All the second engine does is fly you to the scene of the crash.

Complex systems cannot be directed. They can barely be managed or even understood. They can be influenced, however, by the slow exertion of steady force. But even gentle force pushes the system into disequilibrium, and a complex system that has been disturbed from its equilibrium is unpredictable.

Twin-engined airplane

Even the simplest programs are simply not simple.

This is all very counterintuitive to humans. We comprehend the world through mental models, and all of our mental models are of simple systems. We expect the world to react to our actions the way a simple system would react. Things like, outputs are proportional to inputs, or that if we push harder we get results faster. Of course, when pushed, complex systems will react, and often will do so in a way that at first appears to conform with our simple mental models. So we are lulled into thinking that we have achieved our goals, that we have indeed directed the system, but this is just an illusion generated by our cognitive biases.

Each new equilibrium is in turn knocked out by its own behavior.

As soon as we altered their environment, the plant mix began to change in response. The pastures are seeking their new equilibrium, but each new stage is a change in itself. Each new equilibrium is in turn knocked out by its own behavior. So it’s a new equilibrium every year. We see this in the species that arrive, thrive, and then are supplanted by another one next year. Each plant takes a shot at survival, but it’s attempt changes the system, and then the changing system kills it off in favor of another. And each season, we witness a mix of plants that never existed before and will never exist again. Some of the species that appear are benign, but many are nasty things that kill other plants, drain the soil, and metastasize in our pastures.

Sheep have replaced cows on Monkey Ranch.
California Bay Laurel trees in the creek bed.

So we are lulled into thinking that we have achieved our goals, that we have indeed directed the system, but this is just an illusion generated by our cognitive biases.

Software is our very own complex system and, because we created it, we trust that we can manage it, but we cannot.

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher

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