Tag Archives: Systems Thinking

On relativity and how we are repeatedly mistaken

Pondering on the question of relativity for over three years, and in a continuous effort to nail the meaning of human thinking patterns, I read many physics, engineering, math, and other scholars. My reading focuses on scholars who try to make sense of the way the world works, how things are related and interconnected to each other, and why so many things are way too similar.

According to my observations, one thing becomes crystal clear. Many things, phenomena, systems, and changes work in the same way. Hence, seeing a change in one system may sign there is a change coming in the other system. The tricky part, though, is finding the systems that respond or interconnect with each other, and even more – identify the system that work in groups, and how they behave over time.

If you notice, my main argument is about HOW and not about WHY. I hardly believe any scientist can provide a valid explanation for the root cause of any system or behaviour, and every scientist who works in the field of understanding how things happen will admit that science nowadays has no knowledge WHY things happen, or what causes them to happen at all. This limitation, however, should not discourage us from trying to figure our HOW things relate, associate, and interconnect.

Program Evaluation

Relativity, on the other hand, appears as a real obstacle to human beings (and possibly AI systems that are built on human wisdom) when it comes to the question of HOW systems work together. The major problem of relativity is our limited ability to see the bigger picture. As much as we can try to overcome the problem and explore larger, deeper, and include more data or variables, we are still in loss of too much information. This obstruction inevitably leads us for mistaken conclusions. Moreover, it repeatedly leads us to false inferences and assumptions.

How relativity works? Imagine yourself looking at a data that includes several locations within a time frame. When you try to understand what you see, you immediately look for patterns and repeating behaviour. Once you identify them, you conclude that variable X distributes in Y order (add as many variables as you want); and you forecast this is possibly anticipated to happen again in a similar manner – whether in a stable pattern, growth pattern, non linear pattern, power law pattern, and so forth.

In fact, this is exactly where relativity makes us blind. We see things
relatively to others, and in my experience even scholars who are well aware of this human tendency, cannot think differently. This human trait explains very well why economists cannot explain what happened financially in the decade between 2009-2019; it also explains well why once the real estate prices started to climb in 2010, many believed they will continue climbing in infinity. One can continue describing many other areas in which humans step into the trap: generalizing from one community behaviour to another; assuming that patients will respond similarly to medical treatment; and determine that variable X causes variable Y. We think in a relative way and given our limitation as human beings we will continue to do so.

All things considered, next time when you infer from one thing to another, stop for a second and ask yourself if you just committed the sin of relativity. Because if you did, it is better you be cautious with your assumptions before a decision is made. Practically speaking, in my experience, when you are aware of your tendency to generalize based on relativity, you start to search for more information, look for more data, seek alternative explanations, and get to know some interesting mechanisms that describe HOW things work together. As an informed person, you are unlimited and much clearer in your capability to forecast and vision the future. This is not to say you will be able to release yourself from relativity constraints, but you will at least be aware of it and know what is going hand in hand with what and how, within a timespan that is captured by
human brain.

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Introduction to systems thinking & social theory and practice – post #1

In the following  series of posts, I will introduce, review, discuss, explain, and examine the wicked topic of systems, by integrating several disciplines of knowledge (such as physics and sociology).

I will talk about actual consequences and implementations related to the social element in our life. By “social” I refer to the knowledge, perception, and practice about the human society. The materials I use are taken from academic books, lectures, YouTube videos, peer reviewed journals and so on.

Systems Thinking

The basic of systems thinking is that there is interrelationships between everything to everything. In simple words, what goes around comes around. This is not random this expression is using the round shape. It is circular. Think for a moment about earth, rounding around itself, rounding around the sun, other stars rounding around on the same system, the milky way within the galaxy, the galaxy within universe, and so forth. Step back, and see the same pattern for humanity. A child was born, circled by family, circled by broader family, circled by neighborhood, city, country, human beings, etc. now, add more components (let’s call them “agents”) to the system. Wild life, weather, forests, energy. Another frequent example is to imagine cloudy sky. We automatically know it’s going to rain, and then the sky will be blue again.

Russel Ackoff (2000) explains what is a system: “A system is whole which cannot be divided to parts, the system is dependent on how the parts interact, not how parts act alone. An example: life, our body; part of cars”.

We live in a never-ending system. In effect this is an infinite system, which is interrelated, and every agent is affecting other agents, and those relationships cause a dynamic change of the system. In fact, we are part of this complex dynamic system, and what we do is undoubtedly affecting other agents, in so many ways, shapes, and variations, but we tend not to see it, because we are not used to it, we think linearly.  We see straight lines. Cause and effect. A straight arrow from A to B. A led to B. we are having a hard time to internalize the obvious fact that it is a circle.

Systems Thinking

This may sound weird to you, but before getting familiar with Physics (especially quantum theory and information theory), and systems thinking in general, I was doubtful and considered myself a woman of facts and strong reality, with a special affection to multiple linear regression.

Therefore, repeatedly, Peter Senge introduced this topic of systems thinking in his book “the fifth discipline”, and in other lectures on (2014), with the very clear statement that Gut and heart are fundamental for every process of effective learning and action; and leader are the key. We firstly grasp it from the heart, then we translate it to thinking.

Ricardo Valerdi (2011) is convinced that system thinking is not a natural act. He explains that interruptions distract us from what we are doing; our brain is limited to boundaries of complexity and dynamics. As an example, he mentions Dan Ariely – “predictably irrational” book – on how people tend to wrong decisions because of abilities limitations.

In summary, systems thinking is not natural to us, we are not used to it, our school systems educate us to think linearly, however once we start seeing the patterns, interrelationships, grasp the complexity as a life fact, it is a matter of time, until we view the world utterly differently. Moreover, with enough practice, we can leverage our potential to achieve much better results, and avoid repeating problems.

As Senge says in his book “the fifth discipline” (1994): most of the problems we face as a humanity, reflect our inability to grasp and internalize complex problems.

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