View Full Version : Kauffman's Rules

03-05-2007, 04:24 PM
They're not scientific laws, exactly, but a list of rules-of-thumb that should be kept in mind by anybody who's trying to suss out how any kind of system works, and how you're gonna make it change so it's more to your liking.

Draper Kauffman's Rules....

1. Everything is connected to everything else. Real life is lived in a complex world system where all the subsystems overlap and affect each other. The common mistake is to deal with one subsystem in isolation, as if it didn't connect with anything else. This almost always backfires as other subsystems respond in unanticipated ways.

2. You can never do just one thing. This follows from rule #1: in addition to the immediate effects of an action, there will always be other consequences of it which ripple through the system.

3. There is no "away." Another corollary of #1. In natural ecosystems, in particular, you can move something from one place to another, you can transform it into something else, but you can't get rid of it. As long as it is on the Earth, it is part of the global ecosystem. The industrial poisons, pollutants, insecticides, and radioactive materials that we've tried to "throw away" in the past have all too often come back to haunt us because people didn't understand this rule.

4. TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Years ago, bars used to offer a "free lunch" as a way to draw customers. Of course, the drinks in those bars cost twice as much, so the lunches weren't really "free" at all. Similarly, in complex systems, what looks like the cheapest solution to a problem often turns out to be the most expensive one in the long run. TANSTAAFL is a way of saying, "Don't expect something for nothing -- there's always a hidden cost somewhere."

5. Nature knows best. Natural ecosystems have evolved over millions of years, and everything in them has a role to play. Be very suspicious of any proposal to alter or eliminate an apparently "useless" part of the system. If it looks useless, that just means that you don't understand its function, and the risk of doing harm is that much greater. When in doubt, be careful, and always try to find a "natural" solution to a problem if at all possible.

03-05-2007, 04:26 PM
6. It ain't what you don't know that hurts you; it's what you DO know that ain't so. Beware of false assumptions about system behavior. When we are sure of something, we usually don't bother to look for proof that it is true and we may be blind to evidence that it is false. We are much more likely to make really big blunders when we act on false assumptions than when we are uncertain and aware of our own uncertainty.

7. "Obvious solutions" do more harm than good. All complex systems use negative feedback to negate external changes in the system. If you try to change something in the direct, "obvious" way, the system is going to treat your efforts like any other outside influences and do its best to neutralize them. The more energy you waste fighting the system head on, the more energy it will waste fighting back, and any gains you make will be only temporary at best. Finally, if you try hard enough and long enough, you will exhaust the system's ability to fight back--at which point the system will break down completely.

8. Look for high leverage points. Nearly every feedback system has weak spots. These are almost always the control points which measure the system's behavior and determine its response to change. The best way to change a system's behavior is either to change the "setting" of the control unit or to change the information which the control unit receives. If you want to make a cold house warmer, turn the thermostat up or stick an ice pack on it, but don't build a fire in an inefficient fireplace--it will do little if any good.

9. Nothing grows forever. The exponential growth curves produced by positive feedback keep on growing only in mathematics. In the real world, growth always stops sooner or later and the faster the growth, the sooner it will stop. If the Earth's human population could continue to grow at its current rate for another 7 centuries, we would be the only living things on the planet. After just ten more centuries, the mass of human bodies would outweigh the entire rest of the planet--an obvious impossibility. If energy use continued to grow at its current rate for another 400 years, the surface of the earth would be hotter than the sun. And at current rates of growth in food consumption, we would have to eat every living thing on the planet in a single year only 5 centuries from now. Obviously, these projections are ridiculous and the growth of population, energy use, and food consumption will stop long before such extremes are reached. The question is, how soon and in what way?

10. Don't fight positive feedback, support negative feedback instead. Don't poison pests, support their predators. Don't order people to have fewer children, make it more profitable for them to have small families instead. Don't ration energy, raise the price instead (and give the money back by cutting taxes somewhere else, like the social security tax). And so on. England used a version of this rule for centuries in European politics. Whenever one nation or group got too strong, England would throw its support to the weaker side. Don't try to weaken your enemy, strengthen your enemy's enemies instead.

03-05-2007, 04:36 PM
11. Don't try to control the players, just change the rules. When the National Football League wanted to make football games a bit more exciting, it didn't order quarterbacks to throw more passes. Instead, it changed the rules slightly so that pass plays would have a better chance of working. If the, league had gone the first route, teams would have looked for ways to evade the order, perhaps by throwing a few more short, safe passes, and the game would still have been dull. In the actual case, however, teams were aggressive about taking advantage of the new opportunities to pass. The same principle applies in economics, politics, science, education, and many other areas. If the system tries to make choices for people, the people will try to outwit the system. It is much more effective to change the "rules of the" game" so that it is to most people's advantage to make the choices that are good for the whole system.

12. Don't make rules that can't be enforced. If many people want to disobey a law and nearly all of them are able to get away with it, then the law will not be obeyed. But this gets people used to disobeying laws, and it reduces respect for laws in general. It also creates ideal opportunities for corruption, blackmail, and the acceptance of organized crime. A society that really gets serious about enforcing unenforceable laws can tear itself apart. (See, for example, the tremendous damage done by witchhunts, inquisitions, and civil wars that result from enforcing laws against thinking certain kinds of religious or political thoughts.) The same problem arises in business, government, and many other kinds of systems, where a higher system is weakened by trying to overcontrol lower subsystems.

13.There are no simple solutions. Real-life systems are big, messy, complicated things, with problems to match. Genuine solutions require careful thought for their effect on the whole system. Anyone who tries to sell you a simple answer--"All we have to do is. . . .and everything will be perfect! "--is either honestly dumb, dishonest, or running for office.

14. Good intentions are not enough. Few things are more painful than trying to do good and finding out that you've done a great deal of harm instead. Simple compassion and simple morality are inadequate in a complex world. The bumbling missionary causes tragedy because he follows his heart without using his head to try to understand the whole situation.

15. High morality depends on accurate prophecy. You cannot judge the morality of an action unless you have some idea of what the consequences of the action will be. According to this point of view, an action cannot be good if it has evil results, and everyone has a moral obligation to try to foresee, as well as possible, what the results of various decisions will be.

03-05-2007, 04:36 PM
16. If you can't make people self-sufficient, your aid does more harm than good. This usually comes up in discussing problems of poverty or hunger, where temporary relief often postpones the disaster at the cost of making it much worse when it comes. It is not really an argument against helping, but an argument against half-way measures. Ghandi said the same thing in a more positive way: "If you give me a fish, I eat for a day; if you teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime."

17. There are no final answers. As Ken Boulding put it, "If all environments were stable, the well-adapted would simply take over the earth and the evolutionary process would stop. In a period of environmental change, however, it is the adaptable, not the well-adapted who survive." This applies to social systems as well as natural ones. In a time of rapid change, like the present, the best "solution" to a problem is often one that just keeps the problem under control while keeping as many options for the future as possible.

18. Every solution creates new problems. The auto solved the horse-manure pollution problem and created an air pollution problem. Modern medicine brought us longer, healthier lives--and a population explosion that threatens to produce a global famine. Television brings us instant access to vital information and world events--and a mind-numbing barrage of banality and violence. And so on. The important thing is to try to anticipate the new problems and decide whether we prefer them to the problem we are currently trying to solve. Sometimes the "best" solution to one problem just creates a worse problem. There may even be no solution to the new problem. On the other hand, an apparently "inferior" solution to the original problem may be much better for the whole system in the long run.

19. Sloppy systems are often better. Diverse, decentralized systems often seem disorganized and wasteful, but they are almost always more stable, flexible, and efficient than "neater" systems. In Boulding's terms (#17), highly adaptable systems look sloppy compared to systems that are well-adapted to a specific situation, but the sloppy-looking systems are the ones that will survive. In addition, systems which are loose enough to tolerate moderate fluctuations in things like population levels, food supply, or prices, are more efficient than systems which waste energy and resources on tighter controls.

20. Don't be fooled by system cycles. All negative feedback loops create oscillations--some large, some small. For some reason, many people are unable to deal with or believe in cyclical patterns, especially if the cycles are more than two or three years in length. If the economy has been growing steadily for the last four years, nearly everyone will be optimistic. They simply project their recent experience ahead into the future, forgetting that a recession becomes more likely the longer the boom continues. Similarly, everyone is gloomiest at the bottom of a recession, just when rapid growth is most likely.

21. Remember the Golden Mean. When people face a serious problem, they tend to overvalue anything that helps solve it. They mobilize their energies and fight hard to solve the problem, and often keep right on going after the problem is solved and the solution is becoming a new problem. When most children died before their tenth birthdays, a high birth rate was essential for survival and societies developed powerful ways to encourage people to have large families. When the death rate is reduced, a high birth rate becomes a liability, but all those strong cultural forces keep right on encouraging large families, and it can take generations for people's attitudes to change. Like the man who eats himself' to death as an adult because he was always hungry as a child, people tend to forget that too much of something can be as bad as too little. They assume that if more of something is good a lot more must be better--but it often isn't. The trick is to recognize these situations and try to swing the pendulum back to the middle whenever it swings toward either extreme.

03-06-2007, 08:04 AM
Dad had the same rules. He used to say
" Shit happens, deal with it!" ;)

03-06-2007, 08:40 AM
Dad had the same rules. He used to say
" Shit happens, deal with it!" ;)

And runs downhill!! Get out of the way!!