I really love that main quote, am curious how you came across it. I’d also love to know if you would recommend any summaries or sections of the books you recommend in the footnotes.
Some specific areas I liked:1) I think the phrase “scaling-as-a-whole” is very useful and gets to the crux of the problem with the current situation, I also think I resonate somewhat with this sentence in particular:
Scaling of a part without respect to a whole often distorts organizational coherence
Although I’d quibble over what organizational coherence means exactly, I might say something more vague. (I’d be curious how you define the term)
Here’s an alternative “scaling a part without respect to the whole leads to another part being a limiting factor”
But this is not the full picture—e.g. if funding is abundant talent becomes the limiting factor, but there’s other externalities that don’t get captured by saying “talent is a limiting factor”
Another: “”scaling a part without respect to the whole leads to (negative) externalities that disrupt the balance of the existing system”
Not a huge fan of this one either (assumes a lot—e.g. that the current system has a good balance, that balance is desirable etc.), but I think they are getting somewhere.
2) I like this proposed change in framing to consider the EA movement more holistically.
The key difference in practice, I believe, is shifting away from:Scaling-As-A-Goal as *against* Scaling-As-A-Wholeand instead move towards:Scaling-As-A-Goal as *a function of* Scaling-As-A-Whole.This means that when we are scaling a particular part of a company or community, we are actively looking for information/feedback from other parts to understand its externalities.
The key difference in practice, I believe, is shifting away from:
Scaling-As-A-Goal as *against* Scaling-As-A-Whole
and instead move towards:
Scaling-As-A-Goal as *a function of* Scaling-As-A-Whole.
This means that when we are scaling a particular part of a company or community, we are actively looking for information/feedback from other parts to understand its externalities.
The quote is from Christopher Alexander’s book A Pattern Language. It’s an introduction + 200 or so “patterns” (design principles from different levels of architecture, from cities to chairs), where the reader can consult patterns that feels relevant to them. He recommends A Timeless Way of Building for more of the theory, and A Pattern Language for a more applied representation.
re 1) I have thought of it as imagining a child whose arms has chosen to grow faster by becoming an adult arm before the rest of the child body. The decoherence in the child is represented by the fact that not only is the arm putting strain on the child’s body, the child likely awkwardly uses the adult arms in exceptionally sub-optimal ways to the dissatisfaction of the arm and the body. In addition, from the arm’s “perspective”, it’s likely to believe it’s altruistically helping the body by growing faster to reach higher and can feel defensive when feedback from the body is asking it to slow down. Hope this help illuminate the meaning of coherence here!
re 2) My understanding would be that this is extraordinarily difficult. Though as EA is a movement that puts good epistemics as a fundamental value, I also think we have one of the best shot at doing this well and learn from that process.
I really appreciate you engaging with the post the way you did!