Infinite expansion and regression. One good reason for pragmatism.

Infinite expansion and regression. One good reason for pragmatism. [I got this from a book I’m reading online about systems analysis:

One anxiety inherent in design methods is the hierarchical nature of complexity. This anxiety moves in two directions, escalation and infinite regression. I will use a story, “The Warning of the Doorknob,” to illustrate the principle of escalation.

This has been my experience in Washington when I had money to give away. If I gave a contract to a designer and said, “The doorknob to my office doesn’t have much imagination, much design content. Will you design me a new doorknob?” He would say “Yes,” and after we establish a price he goes away. A week later he comes back and says, “Mr. Eberhard, I’ve been thinking about that doorknob. First, we ought to ask ourselves whether a doorknob is the best way of opening and closing a door.” I say, “Fine, I believe in imagination, go to it.” He comes back later and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about your problem, and the only reason you want a doorknob is you presume you want a door to your office. Are you sure that a door is the best way of controlling egress, exit, and privacy?” “No, I’m not sure at all.” “Well I want to worry about that problem.” He comes back a week later and says, “The only reason we have to worry about the aperture problem is that you insist on having four walls around your office. Are you sure that is the best way of organizing this space for the kind of work you do as a bureaucrat?” I say, “No, I’m not sure at all.” Well, this escalates until (and this has literally happened in two contracts, although not through this exact process) our physical designer comes back with a very serious face. “Mr. Eberhard, we have to decide whether capitalistic democracy is the best way to organize our country before I can possibly attack your problem.”

On the other hand is the problem of infinite regression. If this man faced with the design of the doorknob had say, “Wait. Before I worry about the doorknob, I want to study the shape of man’s hand and what man is capable of doing with it,” I would say, “Fine.” He would come back and say, “The more I thought about it, there’s a fit problem. What I want to study first is how metal is formed, what the technologies are for making things with metal in order that I can know what the real parameters are for fitting the hand.” “Fine.” But then he says, “You know I’ve been looking at metal-forming and it all depends on metallurgical properties. I really want to spend three or four months looking at metallurgy so that I can understand the problem better.” “Fine.” After three months, he’ll come back and say, “Mr. Eberhard, the more I look at metallurgy, the more I realize that it is atomic structure that’s really at the heart of this problem.” And so, our physical designer is in atomic physics from the doorknob. That is one of our anxieties, the hierarchical nature of complexity.

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