One should draw hint in observing that a lie is often both simple to craft and complicated to defend at the same time. One should not fear complexity, rather complicated-ness and over simplicity; as these are descriptives of systems which lack elegance. Elegance is scientific parsimony in design; often breathtaking to behold, not because of its complexity, but rather because of its reach.
Elegance can sometimes be hard to discern if one is merely an administrator or blind recipient of its benefit. The ethical skeptic therefore always strives to determine the why, and not simply the how. To seek complexity when necessary and straightforwardness when not.
I have always been a why-man, and not a how-man. This tended to piss off my instructors in undergraduate school. But I have found the trait to be of enormous advantage ever since. Accordingly, I was examining my new espresso maker a couple months back and noticed an interesting little feature, which at first perplexed me as to why it was included in the coffee maker’s design. You see, if you press any of two buttons on the espresso maker’s unit control, then both the espresso and lungo lights flash simultaneously, until the unit has heated up, whereupon they both burn solid fluorescent green – and then the unit does absolutely nothing. Upon my first use of the maker, I paused for a moment at this inactivity, and wondered why the buttons just did not function under an ‘on’ and ‘off’ philosophy. Just press the button and as soon as the heating element heats up, the unit starts pumping water into the espresso glass. Such simplicity! Until 3 days later, when I did not have an espresso glass under the dispenser. That scramble to get a glass quickly under the spigot taught me what I needed to know. The why. What I realized through using the unit for a couple days, is that there are three steps to this particular espresso making process: 1. Heating the element, 2. Positioning the espresso glass and 3. Starting the heated water flow/pour. And since the heating of the element in step 1 took some time, what the two step button procedure afforded me was a chance to fill the unit with water, place the espresso capsule inside the machine and finally set the glass under the spigot before I then pressed the solid green button a second time, to start the aromatic flow of espresso. More complex for sure as a process, but also elegant.
The process I had gone through was what is called in industry, a ‘learning curve’. I had accomplished two goals in my learning curve. First I had discovered how to operate the machine correctly and, second and most importantly, why it was designed to operate in a particular fashion. The knowing of why, not just how, is the key which differentiates a designer from an administrator. My administrative assistant, ‘M’ as I call her, would have tackled this challenge much more quickly than did I. She, would have simply read the instructions for the maker and then just followed them. But I bear this nasty penchant for wanting to understand why the starting element for the espresso maker was designed the way it was. I wanted a period of discovery, not just instruction. I wanted to own the machine, and not have the machine own me. I was not an administrator by heart, but am an excellent researcher. M kept me out of trouble for years and years of administrative tasks which I did not accomplish with efficient skill.
Now I once used this penchant for discovery as a young officer in the Navy. Not satisfied with merely knowing how to operate my missile fire control system, I spent a night researching its configuration protocols and reviewing the algorithms used for a launch, so that I could understand the nuances of targeting and engagement. Why? I don’t know. I just felt it important that I understand more than simply the sequence of buttons one needed to push in order to get the missile to lock on, and launch. As a lark in curiosity therefore, I pulled out the engagement protocols and programmed them into my Hewlett Packard 15C programmable calculator, so that I could run through them back in my officer’s stateroom. I forgot about the program stored in my HP-15C’s memory until two days later, when we were ordered by our scene commander to simulate a missile engagement strike. Unfortunately, the missile fire control computer had malfunctioned just hours before the exercise was called – and the fire control team found that they could not calculate a solution for launch, which to successfully feed back to the scene commander. There would be hell to pay for this. So, I offered up to the senior tactical action officer “Sir, I have the launch protocols of the fire control computer programmed into my calculator.” To which he replied “Bullshit!” “No sir, I have all the input variables, output variables and protocols replicated exactly as the fire control system executes them, in my calculator. “Why the hell would you do something like that?” I shrugged and did not pretend an answer. So we loaded the inputs into the HP-15C and plotted the telemetry and settings for a simultaneous time on top engagement solution. The scene commander replied to our launch report with the hoped-for response, “Roger, out.” Those two confirmatory words over the radio tendered permission for the entire combat team to breathe a sigh of relief. The senior tactical action officer just looked over at me and shook his head, grinned and then walked off. Two months later, I received orders to be discharged from my Persian Gulf billet and take a senior Intelligence Officer role in Washington, D.C. A place where why-men rise to the top, and how-men sit in cubicles assembling reports.
Knowing Why – What Differentiates the Straightforward from the Simple & the Complex from the Complicated
Over the years since, I have designed over 150 million square feet of industrial operating space, some of the most elegant, successful or even award-winning designs in the world. I have developed numerous information systems and novel information technology applications, and even led the crafting of entire national trading markets. This penchant for wanting to know the why – has served its purpose. Knowing why something works the way it does – or should work the way in which it will – this is essential for a systems designer. The systems designer relies upon an important early and foundational study effort, prior to designing anything, called a Requirements Definition. And whether one is designing a missile fire control system, an operational facility for a major corporation or a trade market between the nations of the planet, all such mechanisms hinge upon the important thought processes wound up inside the Requirements Definition phase. What one learns, what one gathers through the learning curve involved in applying Requirements Definitions to effect actual systems designs, is the distinction between a design which is complex, and a design which is straightforward; and hope to avoid systems feature simplicity or complicated-ness. A systems design principle known as ‘elegance’. Elegance, in science, does not mean fancy or highminded, rather it means:
/philosophy : science : systems design/ : the expression of parsimony in design. A descriptive which identifies the inherent trait of a design or process, wherein it comprehensively and completely accomplishes all goals of its crafting in the fewest stacked set of entities possible, and not one entity less.
The two design features indicating elegance (green in the graph above):
2. Complexity (plural entities) – when critically necessary
Elegant systems are often breathtaking to behold, not because of their complexity, but rather because of their reach.
The simple translation for those who are Social Skeptics:
Complex – Good :-) = The goal is understanding
Complicated – Bad :-( = The goal is rent-seeking or money
Straightforward – Good :-) = The goal is effectiveness
Simple – Bad :-( = The goal is promoting a sales job or lie
To understand why ‘simple’ can be a misleading principle, please read here: When Simple is Just Simply Wrong.
Elegant systems are often breathtaking to behold, not because of their complexity, but rather because of their reach (in effectiveness and extent). Straightforwardness can be breathtaking in its reach just as easily as can complexity. But these types of systems sometimes can be hard to discern if one is merely an administrator or blind recipient of its output/benefit.
As an ethical skeptic, always strive to infer or determine the ‘why’ of a system, and not simply its ‘how’.
In such a context, our common use of the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ reveal an inadequacy at describing elements of professional systems design. Just as ‘rest’ is not synonymous with dreaded ‘idleness’; we fear complexity when we should not. What we should fear is ineffectiveness and bureaucracy. What is in slang described as being ‘complex’, is in actuality rather, complicated; and what is often described as being simple, is in actuality, straightforward. Simple and Complicated serve to damage mislead and destroy. Straightforward and Complex, are signature descriptives of designs involving elegance.
The Axis of a Lie: Simple to Issue – Complicated to Defend
The astute ethical skeptic should take note that a lie is often both simple and complicated at the same time. A lie is simple in its crafting, as the tip of an iceberg is simple, and often thrives inside an ocean of lack of information or complex understanding:
“A lie can travel half way around the world while truth is still putting its pants on.” ~ Winston Churchill
But a lie is also complicated thereafter in terms of the level of effort needed to then protect it. Religions thrive on simple concepts of god, and thousands of years of apologetics and countless philosophers and reformations necessary in explaining why this simple model constantly fails to make any sense. A simple, yet complicated lie.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave …when first we practice to deceive.” ~ Sir Walter Scott, Marmion
Both ‘Simple’ and ‘Complicated’ are errors in a system requirements design. Errors which must then be concealed through even more non-elegant tom foolery to in order to protect them.
In contrast to system designs which feature elegance, are those systems or ideas which have reduced entities to the point where the system no longer accomplishes its goals. Such ‘simple’ systems may function, yet take a long time to betray their flaws to those who hold skin in the game inside their stakeholder base. They end up blowing up on their victims and causing sometimes enormous damage through being crafted in too simple a fashion. Thereafter, since the liar is often in power and someone has benefited from this damage, the lie must be defended at all costs, and through enormous complicated-ness.
Take note, that complicated-ness often exists in the form of a woven matting of explanations, arising from the liar being in chronic reaction mode in exhaustive defense of the simple lie. Note this about the club of skepticism as well.
Some examples might include these evolutions of simpleton science, which now reside in the complicated defense stage of the lie:
Vaccine Safety Science – the ‘cost benefit analysis’ and followup protocol which served to justify a 49 event US vaccine schedule was – SIMPLE
Agricultural Technology – the impact studies on glyphosate which justified its over employment and ubiquitous presence in our food, came from studies which were – SIMPLE
CICO Weight Paradigm – the prevailing focus on calorie metrics as the sole source of obesity, diabetes and chronic inflammation are the results of dietary study which was – SIMPLE
In compliment to simplicity-lacking-elegance, is the condition of a system which is designed with too plural a set of entities, more than is required to ‘comprehensively and completely accomplish all the goals of its crafting’. This condition is known as Complicated-ness. Complicated-lacking-elegance. When a system is designed to be overly complicated, this is typically done in order to protect the parties benefiting from such complication. Banks, governments, money supplies – all complicated so that the system managers or the system itself benefits from its weakness in design. Some examples of this condition might include:
National Tax Codes/Governance – the government bureaucracies and codes managing the confiscation of assets from private citizens are purposely – COMPLICATED
Monetary Transfer and Banking System – the means of SWIFT and bank to bank transfers of large sums of money are designed to exploit the delay of fund transfers due to processes which are – COMPLICATED
Collegiate and Post Graduate Educational Systems – the paucity of lessons learned and actual knowledge imparted by colleges and universities is designed so as to extract the maximum amount of money possible from citizens, pamper academicians and create a labyrinth of activity necessary in obtaining a degree from a process which is overly – COMPLICATED
The amount of damage imparted through these six simple and complicated systems alone is immeasurable. But we as stakeholders, those who know the ‘why’ of these systems, do not hold the power to influence their design by the how-men. This is backasswards. As you can see, simple and complicated are facets of design – where the process does not involve serving the stakeholders inside a design’s impact; rather serving its operators instead. An issue of ethics.
Something in which we at The Ethical Skeptic are highly interested.
The Ethical Skeptic, “The Nature of Elegance” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 8 Jun 2018; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-7N1