The ninth of 10 key attributes of metadesign

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Julia setMandelbrot set

What are fractals?

  • A fractal is an object or quantity that displays self-similarity on all scales.
    The object need not exhibit exactly the same structure at all scales, but the same "type" of structures must appear on all scales.''
    (from Wolfram Math World)

Why use them?

  • How can we make large social/ecological systems more coherent and/or cooperative?
  • A fractal approach could enable all participants to 'see' the same (fractal) logical space.
  • This means that different entities will be assigned to 'similar' forms, but at different scales.
  • It is similar to semantic interoperability (how?).
  • We need to assess the relative scale of elements within (meta)designed systems.

Language is insensitive to scale

  • Many languages do not differentiate between different scales.
  • For example, the verb 'to kill' may refer to battles between micro-organisms, or to infanticide, manslaughter, or genocide.
  • Vagueness of scale can blur identity.
  • Does "We", for example, mean 'you and me', 'community', or 'humanity'?
  • Whole organisms within biology are not scalable. Hence a chicken (x100) or (1/100) in size would not survive.
  • Living organisms only exist at a specific scale, but humans can (imaginatively) identify with 'foreign' scales of operation.
  • Hence - albeit with some difficulty - we can observe and discuss events at the cosmic level, or at the sub-molecular level.
  • This ability is an important aspect of our nature as a species that has some emerging ability to steer its own destiny
  • This is a very new experience for Homo Sapiens. It means that we may be able to live 'in' Nature...as well as altering it. <?>
  • Our society's mindset has made it difficult to orchestrate complex systems without resorting to top-down management methods
  • One method of maintaining a flatter (e.g. more consensual) management approach is by communicating simple orders that nevertheless afford complexity
  • Fractals meet this description, in that they can be recognized, with low error, at any scale - however large or small they are.
  • Taleb (2007) describes scalability in natural systems as when a property can accommodate extremes without changing unduly.
  • The Fordist idea of an economy of scale was very appealing to industrialists because efficiency seemed to be scalable.
  • However, a clearer analysis of factory systems may show that factories are merely one part of a larger system.
  • In this respect it is wise to look at whole systems before focusing too much on a single component within the whole.
  • A similar story may be true for farming systems (see scale within agricultural systems)
  • On the other hand, human values, or net worth may be scalable. We may therefore consider a scalable ethics of relations.
  • In order to design a scalable ethics of relations we may need to consider whether it would be a fractal structure.

Further reading

Download A Fractal Framework for Metadesign by John Wood

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