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Sender: Steven H Johnson
Subject: Re: Putting questions on the table
Date: Fri, Mar 28, 2014
Msg: 100892

Hi Bruce -

There are so MANY tools one can reach for. It's such a challenge to choose well. I enjoyed the conversation you shared. It reminds me of my occasional "seeing" errors. I "see" something in the shadows that seems to be a horse from a merry-go-round. As it's sitting in front of a pizza shop, I know that can't be right. Then I get closer and I "see" better - it's a small motorcycle.

And I realize that my mind "sees" all the time - but normally it sees cars as cars, and I don't notice. It's only when it "sees" improperly that I notice "seeing" as the ceaseless assignment of meanings to visual cues. Which - in itself - is a clue to the challenge facing transpartisan dialogue. How many ways of "seeing" this opportunity are there?!?

This could become infinitely complex. But I'm a bit impatient, so forgive me if I pare things down.

What's reassuring is the thought that we live in a cause-and-effect world. Yes, poor design choices lead to poor outcomes. But - on the other hand - good design choices lead to better outcomes.

So what's the larger focus that guides our efforts? I think we have to appreciate our society as a permanent mixture of realities.

Start with business realities. "Seeing" society as a mix of commercial realities leads to one set of success yardsticks. We measure revenues and incomes and GDP.

Shift to "seeing" asset realities. The "enduring asset" reality leads to another set of success yardsticks. Are environmental assets healthier or sicker? Communities of people healthier or sicker? And so on.

Then there's a civic reality to "see". Have we a wise set of laws, that steer our cause-and-effect efforts toward more successes and fewer failures?

Which is where transpartisanship comes in. It takes a special kind of dialogue to find optimal answers for all three realities at the same time - our commercial realities, our asset realities, our civic realities. In a cause-and-effect world, we want beneficial causes that will give us positive effects, on all three fronts at the same time.

What makes this especially important is scale. Bad choices, at scale, have bad consequences, at scale. Poor laws and poor business behaviors lead to degraded assets. Good choices, at scale, have better consequences. Better laws, better business behaviors, commercial health and healthy assets. At scale.

Once we really get the hang of this, I expect we'll get beyond "right" and "left" and we'll start taking on different roles. Some of us will be voices of commerce. Some of us will be voices of our society's enduring assets. Some of us will be voices on behalf of wise lawmaking. In those roles I think we will find our dialogues getting deeper and stronger.

I am not immune to all the other ways of modeling our reality that one might use. I focus on the ways described above because I think they can take us the furthest. There are many tools I leave on the shelf because they just don't seem quite as useful.

All my best,


On Mar 27, 2014, at 8:32 PM, Bruce Schuman wrote:

> Steven, thank you for this note. I think you and I exchanged some email a > while back -- connected through the Steiner/King email list. I looked at > your ideas, and was impressed and interested. > > I'd like to talk about this more -- though it might be true that this > Transpartisan group in general might not be fully receptive to systems > thinking, since they are mostly dialogue practitioners (etc). > > But just for fun -- let me share a thought with you that might (?) be > relevant. > > I think the point would be -- small errors at small scale -- become huge > errors at large scale -- and we stand around dumbly wondering what hit > us.... > > > I have a background in semantics -- and how abstract words are assigned > precise meaning -- and how that meaning is often confusing, because > abstractions are very broad, and must be interpreted. Abstract words are > like Rorschach tests -- until people have specific reasons for understanding > them as intended, they are compelled by the nature of abstraction to > "project" an interpretation into the word. Maybe they get the intended > meaning, maybe they don't. Reality may require a specific interpretation, > but the abstraction by itself is inherently ambiguous -- so, it get > misinterpreted -- sometimes intentionally -- by politicians anxious to > intentionally misunderstand one another, so as to accuse the other of > malfeasance. > > So -- because I am interested, I got onto a mailing list of computer science > professionals that are looking at this kind of question. > > The list is called "ontolog" -- > > The guy who is the primary voice on the list (John Sowa) wrote a book that > influenced me -- called "Conceptual Structures". > > The other day, he posted this message: > > ******************************** > > Following is a note by Lotfi Zadeh, who copied a note from Pat Suppes. > > I would emphasize the point that the "ideal" of exactness is a goal that has > never been and can never be realized in practice. > > Perhaps God has an exact, infallible theory of everything. But the best > that we mortals can hope for is "satisficing" -- to use a term by Herb > Simon. We can always strive for better approximations, but the assumption > that exactness is possible is misguided and misleading. > > All our theories are approximations, which need to be tailored for different > applications. A satisfactory approximation for one purpose may be totally > unsatisfactory for another -- and vice-versa. > > In fact, *every* complex system of any kind uses different theories with > different approximations for different parts, subsystems, and modes of > operation. > > Just imagine all the subsystems of an airplane. Even for airflow, many > different approximations are used for the wings, fuselage, and interiors of > the engines at various speeds, altitudes, and maneuvers. > > This point does *not* imply that we must use fuzzy logic and fuzzy > reasoning. What it does imply is that there is no such thing as an ideal, > one-size-fits-all method of representation and reasoning. > > John > > ******************************** > So, I wrote back this comment: > ******************************** > > Yes, this is an essential point regarding any sort of conceptual description > defined in "a finite number of dimensions" (or factors or aspects or > properties or "columns"). Any model is defined for a purpose, and involves > selecting aspects of something pertinent to that purpose. So we have to > ask, "Why are THOSE aspects pertinent in this context, and those not?" It's > a matter of ad hoc choice, and essentially makes the definition stipulative. > > > "Reality is continuous (in an undefined but potentially infinite number of > dimensions), and conceptual structures are discrete." At the very least, > there is a round-off error in any conceptual form at "the lowest level of > decimal place" (where bounded digital measurements intersect with undefined > continuity -- as a kind of "analog-to-digital conversion" issue). And this > is not a minor point (I actually learned this idea many years ago from > "Conceptual Structures"). It should be foundational and basic to any > ontology. Any conceptual model or system should be built with conscious > awareness of this point... > > ******************************** > John Sowa then replied: > ******************************** > > Bruce and Conrad, > > I agree with Bruce's point: > > On 3/16/2014 9:53 AM, Bruce Schuman wrote: >> Any model is defined for a purpose, and involves selecting aspects of >> something pertinent to that purpose. So we have to ask, "Why are >> THOSE aspects pertinent in this context, and those not?" It's a >> matter of ad hoc choice, and essentially makes the definition stipulative. > > And thanks to Conrad for the following article: > > On 3/6/2014 11:37 AM, Bock, Conrad wrote: >> This is from a OMG-related community, approaching similar problems... >> > > From the abstract of the article, "Modeling Modeling Modeling" >> At the heart of modeling, there is a relation that we establish to >> represent something by something else. In this paper we review various >> definitions of models and relations between them. > > From page 1 >> Rothenberg: “It is widely recognized that the purpose of a model must >> be understood before the model can be discussed”. > > Yes! Purpose is always an answer to the question "Why?" It should be the > first question to ask about any project to do anything. Questions about > how, what, when, where, and who are irrelevant without a good answer to the > question why. > > p. 2 >> Bézivin: “A model is a simplification of a system built with an >> intended goal in mind. The model should be able to answer questions in >> place of the actual system.” >> >> Brown: “Models provide abstractions of a physical system that allow >> engineers to reason about that system by ignoring extraneous details >> while focusing on the relevant ones.” > > Yes. Models -- *and* any ontologies derived from them -- are always > simplifications and abstractions that eliminate extraneous details. > > But what is extraneous for one application (purpose) may be critical to > another. About a century ago, one engineer "proved" that it was impossible > for anything to move faster than the speed of sound. > > But it turned out that his so-called proof was based on equations derived > from a model based on the approximation that all velocities were much less > than the speed of sound. > > Also from p. 2 >> According to Stachowiak a model needs to posses the following three >> features: >> – Mapping feature: A model is based on an original. >> – Reduction feature: A model only reflects a (relevant) selection >> of an original’s properties >> – Pragmatic feature: A model needs to be usable in place of an >> original with respect to some purpose. > > Two points: > > 1. This definition is almost identical to Peirce's definition of the > word 'sign'. In fact, CSP would say that every model is a kind > of sign. > > 2. But I would generalize the word 'original'. An engineering model > is usually designed, analyzed, tested, and revised before the > object is built. In fact, it may go through multiple iterations. > > p. 4 >> Intentional modeling answers questions such as who and why, not what. >> The intention of a thing thus represents the reason why someone would >> be using that thing, in which context, and what are the expectations >> vs. that thing. > > My only change would be to delete the word 'intentional'. Similar things > can arise from similar causes. But every model of something is always the > result of some intention. Even when you choose some previously existing > thing *as* a model, that choice is intentional. > > John > > ******************************** > Then, another member of the list, William Frank, wrote this below comment -- > which I think is fascinating. He says that errors in this process are > essentially MORAL errors, and he learned this in high school, as essential > to the foundations of science. This is a point, I think, that could be the > source of the "small errors" that become huge at large scale. > ******************************** > > Yes, Indeed, > > I learned this fundamental, foundation of science principle in high school > physics. I was taught it as a **moral** principle, related to 'false > precision' as an evil of misleading others, and related to the idea that > unless you determined, for your purposes and given your tools, how many > digits were significant, you had not fully examined your purposes or > understood your tools, and so, acting without awareness, your actions were > meaningless. > > This was later reinforced for me by Karl Popper's writing about theories and > approximation. > > Wm > > ******************************** > > So -- is "false precision" a source of evil in vague political categories > running the world in sloppy and dangerous ways? I'd say yes. > > For me -- this is a fascinating theme, and one I want to explore one of > these days. I will probably write back to the ontolog list and make my > case. > > Hope all this stuff isn't too far afield from your own interests, Steven -- > it might be relevant to what you are doing -- and it might not. > > Thanks. > > > Bruce Schuman > NETWORK NATION: > SHARED PURPOSE: > INTERSPIRIT: > (805) 966-9515, PO Box 23346, Santa Barbara CA 93101 > > -----Original Message----- > From: List for transpartisan leaders and innovators > [mailto:TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG] On Behalf Of Steven H Johnson > Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:21 AM > To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG > Subject: [TRANSPARTISAN] Putting questions on the table > > Hi everyone - > > As a wonkish romantic (yes, I worked at Bain for three years in the 80s, > and, yes, I came of age in the Sixties).... > > .... my largest concern is that a great many very important processes occur > at vast scale, and when they are done badly, their consequences are damaging > at vast scale. > > Which leads to this aspiration: That we aspire to have our society develop > a capacity for competence, at scale. At a national scale, we would call it > "enterprise-level competence" - a concept that builds on the "enterprise > perspective" of a CEO. > > And to the concern: We as a society fall short of this, partly for > character reasons - too much rationalization and corruption - and partly for > reasons of sloppy thinking - just not enough rigor to get to the bottom of > things. > > Competence at scale. Does this aspiration resonate with anyone else? > > Best, > > Steve Johnson > Annapolis, MD > ############################ > > To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list: > write to: mailto:TRANSPARTISAN-SIGNOFF-REQUEST@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG > or click the following link: > > >


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