direct aims, broad interests

You can want something, or you can just be interested in things.

On a dating site, you can decide what you want in a partner and filter people for that and message them. Or, you can find many things about people interesting, and look for any of these traits or hobbies, and ask about them.

In software, you can set an engagement metric and aim to move it. Or, you can aim to “be more useful,” think of many possible ways that could happen, and look for ones that you can try.

A danger of aiming for one metric is: in moving that needle, you may degrade essential properties. If your added information makes the page so busy that I can’t look at it, then your needle may move while the software becomes less useful.

In people, the world has more wonder in it than I can think to want. Wide interests invite widening surprise.

There is a place for purposive action (as Gregory Bateson calls it). For deliberately moving directly toward a goal. Maybe that place is limited to systems we can understand and predict.

I’ll be specific about my wants, in the small: I want to write this post. And open to whatever finds me, in the large: someone will subsume it in more interesting ideas.

Develop before define

First the loose thinking and the building up of a structure on unsound foundations and then the correction to stricter thinking and the substitutions a new underpinning beneath the already constructed mass.

Gregory Bateson on the advance of science. (From Steps to an Ecology of Mind)

This expresses a process I have observed in developers. We can develop something faster than we can define it.

That loose thinking includes the construction of loose code. We think with our fingers and eyes, keyboards and screens, editors and runtimes as well as with our brains. We try things, we draw them out or code them up. This eliminates a lot of impossible paths.

Then afterward, we shore up the useful ones. We put an API around it, error handling within, types throughout. We describe its interface and action in documentation.

Bateson grants permission to code loosely as an extension to thinking loosely, with the responsibility to return with rigor before we rope in other teams.

So do this, play in code the way we play in thought.

Then please realize that putting the foundations under it, defining the functionality so others can use it, is 10-100 times more time-consuming than your happy-path sketch.

How religion is important

I begin to wonder whether I am mad or have hit on an idea which is much bigger than I am.

Gregory Bateson

As someone who grew up in a religion and then let go of it in my mid-twenties, it’s easy to say, religion is a useless fiction that persists because a powerful group finds it useful.

Bateson (an atheist in a family of atheists) has a bigger idea. He believes that religions exist to hold the “everything else” of whether and why we should do a thing. To hold all the systemic and invisible-to-consciousness reasons for an action. They are the foil to strait-line purpose.

“Supernatural entities of religion are, in some sort, cybernetic models built into the larger cybernetic system [our culture] in order to correct for noncybernetic computation in a part of that system [our conscious, purposive minds].” (this from a letter; thanks to @gdinwiddie for leading me to it.)

As people in our (capitalist) culture, we aim to meet goals. Those goals accomplish something, and have some side effects that are very hard to notice or measure. Bateson proposes that religion is designed to account for all of the rest of those effects.

Can we come up with a way to notice the effects of our actions, wider than the progress toward our goals, that is not based on the fiction of existing religions?