A note on systems

Complex systems are often hard to understand, but it is possible to figure out how they work, with a little effort.  Communicating an understanding of a system in a clear manner to others – even others who have spent as much time studying that system as you – is trickier.  Academics who have made their careers out of studying the interactions within complex systems (and who come from specialties as varied as ecology, sociology, economics, and engineering) have come up with various ways of modeling them, in order to better communicate the most important moving parts of each system.  The most primitive form that these models take, the causal loop diagram (CLD), is what I’ve used to illustrate the Interlock::

Interlock colored 10-29-13

A causal loop diagram is not a computational model of a system.  It’s a purely conceptual illustration of what’s going on inside the system – there are no numbers involved, no “proof” that it’s true, and most importantly, no indication of the speed of interaction or the amount of delay involved in each interaction; it’s just a way of illustrating a person’s or organization’s view of which parts of a complex system interact significantly with which other parts.  When I use one to describe the Interlock, I’m describing my view of it – right, wrong, or somewhere in between.


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