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Friday, January 30, 2015

It takes a process

My subconscious, the divine lecturer (whoever or whatever that is, God?) was talking to me this morning as I woke up. It was reminding me of an important imposed reality that is common to all functional systems:

It Takes Good Processes to make a functional system.

In the dictionary you get this definition of system:

1. a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole, in particular.
2. a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method. [From Google]

In order to have a functional human system both definitions of a system have to be present. It takes good processes and procedures based on related principles for a human system to work properly. J.D. Rockefeller made his millions by creating Refineries that systematically separated and processed crude oil into "standard" kerosene and other products [oil, gas, road bitumen, plastics, explosives]. The United States has managed to survive because it has functional (more or less) processes like it's justice system, military system, bureaucracies. Processes are necessary and inevitable to good function of any living system; economy, physiology, computing, politics. When those processes go awry it reflects a failure to analyze them and compensate for the idiosyncratic properties of the elements of of their combinations.

A well constituted system will have both centrifugal and centripetal forces. Refineries use both centrifuges and compressors. Compressors usually operate on centripetal principles -- pushing gases towards a center. While Centrifuges spin and separate things. Without designing a process the result is a mess, but with good processes one can separate something into it's composite parts and then recombine them intelligently. Eat crude oil and die. But from crude oil we get fertilizers and energy that helps us eat. Transport crude oil across the landscape and dump it in an aquifer and people die, but oil itself is just a resource. It's how those processes deal with the oil that makes it a poison or turns it into pretty wax candles we can burn while taking a hot bath.

A well designed system processes in stages. It may dry something, then recombine it. It may turn something to gas then cool it. It may use catalysts to break down something from a complex stew into easier to deal with components. It may add heat or extract heat. A refinery is a display of profound chemical knowledge at work creating something useful from ugly, poisonous tar. The issue with our oil business is not with the engineering, but with the focus of the engineers.

Using Systematic processes

Anyway, engineers and people with an engineering, creative spirit, use a variety of systematic processes (definition 2) to devise systems for ensuring that we have living systems instead of messed up ones. This is called "systems engineering" and it has transformed the planet in good ways. A system can be optimized for the few, or optimized for the sake of a functional system. A system that is optimized only for some of it's elements tends to be dysfunctional. Bad process is also tyranny, injustice, maldistribution, oppression and depression. A dysfunctional system dumps junk in the wrong places. Instead of refining things into something useful. So to separate the junk into it's useful components (to a creative mind, everything, including junk and merde, is useful), folks trained in system engineering analyze related things into their component parts and then figure out how to process them into something that accomplishes something good.

Requirements and Laws, inputs and outputs

The requirements of a system are the laws and design goals of that system. Some requirements are built in constraints. No matter how much we'd like to turn lead into Gold there is no chemical process that can do so. Requirements flow from constraints and possibilities. How a set of input materials is processed determines the outcome of that system. And the steps in that process are determined by what the final product is desired to look like. If I want to bake a pie. What ingredients I start with and add to the filler, dough to make the crust, etc... determines the texture, taste and other properties of that pie. A good cook follows a process and understands the requirements for a pie that will taste the way he wants it to taste. A good architect will come up with a repeatable formula for producing a tasty pie everytime.

It takes Process diagrams and Input Output diagram.

Finally, the reason this "lecture dream" woke me is that we need to constitute our government as a systematic structure if we want to solve our governing processes and not rely on trite slogans and self-centered/interested ideologies that ignore systems theory or are dysfunctionally optimizing. Governing processes need to be designed to process information and decision making in a manner similar to processes cooking ingredients or crude oil into useful products. Our politics can either be crude or refined based on how we constitute it. That is why Hamilton put so much care into his part of designing the constitution. That's also why the constitution, while it could be worse, reflected the mess of committee and self interested decision making. We need to apply systems theory to designing our legal processes. But to do that we need to apply what we've learned in psychology and psychiatry and to also remember the principle of engineering;

Just as the same building blocks can build a pyramid or a prison, a swimming pool or a cesspool. So the same elements of legal systems and political process can build a functional republic with democratic attributes or an authoritarian police state. The same blockheads who can destroy our country, can be used to build a really nice system that has the attributes of a functional one.

More work to be done.

Notes and Details

System Examples from Google definition [taken 1/30/2015]:
a set of organs in the body with a common structure or function.
"the digestive system"
the human or animal body as a whole.
"you need to get the cholesterol out of your system"
a group of related hardware units or programs or both, especially when dedicated to a single application.
(in chronostratigraphy) a major range of strata that corresponds to a period in time, subdivided into series.
a group of celestial objects connected by their mutual attractive forces, especially moving in orbits about a center.
"the system of bright stars known as the Gould Belt"

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