Page 19 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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and possibilities inherent in the interactions of large numbers of autonomous and semi-
autonomous agents.
W. Ross Ashby’s “law of requisite variety” states that a representation or regulator of
a system must possess as much variety as the system that it aims to represent or regulate
(Ashby, 1956). The system that we hope to portray – the set of practitioners and scholars
working at the juncture of philosophical erudition and pragmatic application – contains a
great deal of variety. Basic definitions, objectives, standards of evidence, and means of
discourse remain hotly contested. Though the diversity of opinion cannot be fully captured in
a single book, we felt it necessary to give the reader a sense of the variety that lies at the
intersection of what we will come to refer to as the two Sciences. Thus, the text you are about
to encounter is diverse, but in our view properly so. The diversity ranges from style and form
to philosophy and substance. Some chapters are but a rewrite of a snippet of a conversation
that took place at the workshop. Other chapters consist of both original text and selected
excerpts of additional writings by the author. Whereas the authors of the shorter pieces had a
specific, targeted perspective to share, the authors of the longer pieces had so much to say
that the text herein is but an introduction to their point of view. The text reflects the variety
that one experiences when attending a conference.
Explaining can be hard work. It can involve strategy and drudgery, fame and fear of
exposure. Much of it is less than glamorous. Those who explain things have to deal with
people, and people are much more difficult to understand and deal with than machines.
Sometimes the explanations offered will succeed and sometimes even the same explanation
will also fail.
Before the interdependent, cell-phoned, internet-linked, networked world, life was
simpler for the explainer. An offered explanation could not be challenged with merely the
flick of a wrist and the clicking of a few keys. Change was slower. We not only had a simpler
system to deal with, but also more time to make decisions, more time to realize whether those
decisions were correct or not, and still more time to set matters right if they were wrong. In a
simpler world, the gap between what theory prescribed and what we experienced was less
apparent, and far less important. The world has changed, however. In an interconnected
world, actions do not only have immediate consequences. What the economists call second-
(and even third-) order effects take on new prominence. The effects of one action lead to
actions by others, which in tum lead to still other actions by perhaps yet others, and so on.
Little things can snowball into big things.
As one of us wrote more than a decade ago:
“A little boy survives the sinking of a boat and the world seems to believe it is in the
midst of a global morality play. An arrogant executive writes emails about ‘burying’
the competition and an entire industry faces redefinition. A young woman delivers a
pizza to a big boss (in fact, the biggest boss) and the government of the world’s
largest economy grinds to a halt for over a year.” (Lissack, 1999)
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