Chronic dysfunctions of systems


W. G. Sebald, in Austerlitz:

And several times, said Austerlitz, birds which had lost their way in the library forest flew into the mirror images of the trees in the reading room windows, struck the glass with a dull thud, and fell lifeless to the ground. Sitting in my place in the reading room, said Austerlitz, I thought at length about the way in which such unforeseen accidents, the fall of a single creature to its death when diverted from its natural path, or the recurrent symptoms of paralysis affecting the electronic data retrieval system, relate to the Cartesian overall plan of the Bibliothèque Nationale, and I came to the conclusion that in any project we design and develop, the size and degree of complexity of the information and control systems inscribed in it are the crucial factors, so that the all-embracing and absolute perfection of the concept can in practice coincide, indeed ultimately must coincide, with its chronic dysfunction and constitutional instability.


About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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3 Responses to Chronic dysfunctions of systems

  1. paul huenemann says:

    So, Murphy’s law.


  2. dmf says:

    that and we are quite bad at maintaining complex systems after we design them.


  3. The more complex a system the more potential errors in that system. All systems (evolution) rely on error (and a degree of randomness in its “design”). Systems designed by humans become less and less manageable. As humans increase in numbers and their technology increases there is a corresponding “back e.m.f.” It is a case of action and reaction. For every so called ‘advance’ there is a draw back. Mass production increases food and other production but there are more people and more illnesses and their might be more cars and while people can get around better there are more accidents and pollution. Plastics are wonderful but now they pollute the seas. Here in NZ the use of fertilizer and the advance of dairy industries is at the expense of the extermination of thousands of bird species and the destruction of the wetlands where Maori were able to use the land even up until before the invasion of the Waikato. This meant progress for Europeans but diseases (introduced that Maori were not immune to). Throughout the world some get richer but the numbers of unhappy people increase at the same rate as those who might be called ‘happy’. Homelessness, atrocities, wars, illness etc will continue for ever. Over the world the concept of progress is an illusion. All we see is in fact change. The universe itself doesn’t see that as progress. It is just one more change in the state of the world as it is. We are like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass racing across Carrol’s great chessboard to the amazement of Alice at enormous speed, and getting nowhere. All human systems will ultimately fail. We are so successful we are laying the basis of our own total extermination as a species of irrelevant animal. Only the young have illusions of hope and “progress”.


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