SL Tool #5: Applying CAS and VMCL Amoeba
Derek Cabrera's discussion of applying Complex Adaptive System (CAS) Rules and the VMCL Amoeba.
Aug 19th, 2020 | 7 min read

Applying Complex Adaptive System (CAS) Rules

An interesting question was posed a few days ago in the Swarm Learning (SL) Facebook Group discussion thread. Peter Jones asked the following question:

SL Facebook Group (click here)

"Hey Jamie, In terms of growing a community, and applying CAS rules to it, would you advise a fixed and predetermined set of rules applied by someone outside of the day to day workings of the community? Or is it better to have someone who was immersed in the community and wants to try to provide community guidelines, and keep them adaptable as much as possible? I would genuinely value your opinion, and even if you have a little time for a quick read of the guidelines, I'd say only five minutes are needed ..."

This was an interesting question. Yet, I knew I was not the right person to answer it. I asked Derek Cabrera for a response. Derek responded with the following:

"Sure Jamie SchwandtPeter Jones we get this question a lot but I think the focus is in the wrong place. It is less important WHERE or WHO the rules come from than that the rules are structurally coupled with the desired emergent properties. This is in part because all communities are dissipative structures so the question of who/where the rules come from is theoretically an infinite regress problem (but I digress). The more important thing is, like I said, that the rules are structurally coupled with the desired emergent properties. An example might help here."

The simple rules for ant colony foraging behavior are

1. randomly search/find food

2. if find food, return to base

3. if find food, shoot pheromones out of butt

4. never cross a pheromone trail

The first 3 rules are pretty obvious if it's a food foraging strategy. But the 4th rule is the most curious. I often imagine two neoliberal/conservative ants debating whether they should follow the 4th rule. One particularly rebel ant is trying to convince others they are being oppressed by rule 4 and why shouldn't they be able to cross a pheromone trail ("we're bein' oppressed! You can see the tyranny inherent in the system! he decries).

But if this rule were jettisoned, it would dynamically alter the desired emergent property of the system. So, we must look at how the rules play themselves out statistically in the collective dynamics. Not at the ant-to-ant level but at the global level of collective dynamics. Without rule 4, ants would not stay on pheromone trails, thereby decreasing the probability of non-random searching/finding, thereby decreasing the probability of stumbling into a pheromone trail, and thereby decreasing the probability of a surprising and intelligent emergent property. The evolutionary benefit of these rules (hard-won through millions of years of evolution) would be lost and the ant colony would be selected for, eventually causing the extinction of the species. So, when we think about purposefully generating simple rules for complex adaptive systems as humans (communities etc.), we must look at how the rules play out in the collective dynamics statistically and how they are linked to the emergent properties we desire."

I asked an additional question: Derek Cabrera that was a fantastic response! Have you used that example in any of your writing (the 4th rule and neoliberal/conservative ant)? Are the first three rules constants, where the 4th is a variable that can be changed; thus, if we wanted to change a system, we need to find that one variable to manipulate? If so, I think that’s what I am doing in SL. Thoughts?

Peter then asked:

"Derek, I'm taking one interpretation there as saying take the "rules" as they are, and see how they play. I suggest one rule for humans is that they don't like rules in general, want to know why they were set and by who, are inclined to challenge them, and are generally less antagonized by softer language, where we might use the expression guidelines instead of rules. What do you think about this statement?"

Derek responded to my question first, followed by Peter's:

"Jamie Schwandt I wouldn't quite say it that way, so yes and no. The rules are a dynamic set and losing or changing anyone would change the emergent properties. My point was simply that the first three seem obviously coupled with the emergent properties of the system whereas the 4th rule is somewhat less clear what the linkage is. Once you think deeply about why that rule is necessary it is clear how it is coupled, but it takes a bit more understanding of the dynamics and how they play out. So, there's nothing fundamentally different about 1-3 from 4, I was just making a larger point."

"Peter Jones The point I'm making is that it's less important who generates the rules than that they are the "right" rules. And, "rightness" is determined by how the rules are coupled to the desired emergent properties. The other thing I would say is that simple rules in CASs should be thought of as quite different from the kinds of "Rules" we think of that "nobody likes." These are not "regulations that are meant to govern conduct" but "degrees of freedom available to agent interactions." The simple rules of a CAS are the thing that makes the CAS behave the way it does. They are essential properties of the system."

Deep thinking for my FHSU students

1. In your own words, state your understanding of the question.

2. What did Derek mean when he stated: "This is in part because all communities are dissipative structures so the question of who/where the rules come from is theoretically an infinite regress problem (but I digress)."

3. What did Derek mean when he stated: "But if this rule were jettisoned, it would dynamically alter the desired emergent property of the system. So, we must look at how the rules play themselves out statistically in the collective dynamics. Not at the ant-to-ant level but at the global level of collective dynamics. Without rule 4, ants would not stay on pheromone trails, thereby decreasing the probability of non-random searching/finding, thereby decreasing the probability of stumbling into a pheromone trail, and thereby decreasing the probability of a surprising and intelligent emergent property."

4. What did Derek mean when he stated: "The point I'm making is that it's less important who generates the rules than that they are the "right" rules. And, "rightness" is determined by how the rules are coupled to the desired emergent properties. The other thing I would say is that simple rules in CASs should be thought of as quite different from the kinds of "Rules" we think of that "nobody likes." These are not "regulations that are meant to govern conduct" but "degrees of freedom available to agent interactions." The simple rules of a CAS are the thing that makes the CAS behave the way it does. They are essential properties of the system."

5. What is the difference between a "Rule" in your organization (i.e. regulation) and the "Rules" of a CAS?

VMCL Amoeba



The VMCL Amoeba by Derek Cabrera -- video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INMcMobEUgM&feature=youtu.be

Finally, in a fantastic video, Derek discusses Vision-Mission-Capacity-Learning (VMCL) by using an amoeba as a metaphor. In The VMCL Amoeba, Derek explains the metaphor. The following discussion serves as my summary of the video:

-If the amoeba is a metaphor for a healthcare organization, what is the purpose of it? What is its vision?

-The purpose of the amoeba is to supply and multiply.

-In order to accomplish a healthcare organization's purpose, what does it do? What is its mission?

-Mission is what you repeatedly do.

-Flagellum allows the amoeba to move around.

-What is a healthcare organization's action potential (critical action... not just any action).

-The capacity in the video is a battery. Each one of the batteries is a system, with potential. The potential can be converted into action.

-What we want to do is build the right kind of capacity to do the mission to achieve the vision.

-This capacity exists in the systems and sub-systems of the organism.

-What are the 1 or 2 things you need to do over and over again to achieve your mission (what do you need the batteries to do?).

-If you can remember the simple functions, you will be able to navigate complexity better.

-Learning is like a set of appendages that collect information.

-The appendage senses something like a toxin, then learns and moves away (feedback, such as market forces, what your customers say, etc.).

-This feedback can change the capacity that you need, the actions that you do, etc.

Deep thinking for my FHSU students

1. What VMCL functions does your organization possess?

2. What VMCL functions does a healthcare organization have?

3. Does your organization or a healthcare organization learn (and/or receive feedback)?

4. Explain the connection between VMCL and an amoeba.

5. If you were to design the VMCL of a healthcare organization, what would it be?

This article was written by Jamie Schwandt.
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