Compression sickness


The flash-fad for Greg Bateson (already subsiding) made me do it. It wasn’t all bad — going there (feedback loops; cybernetics; systems theory; macroprudentiary regulation!) indeed points to hard consequences of our own complication of time in (chronos/tempo/kairos). But the unplanned rhetorical development led to this wallop of a paragraph in our last essay:

Failure to thrive both clearly and undeniably evidences human nature (you must be this heavy to thrive) and the inhumanity of nature. Humanity (in the timescale where H. Sapiens is a relatively stable entity; that is, as an explicitly and specifically human process) has developed within a feedback loop that has encouraged certain tendencies (toward sociality and social construction) and discouraged other (antisocial) features. In humanity, this feedback loop is no longer in direct and strictu-sensu-Darwinian touch with reality, but is mediated by all sorts of mental models that dramatically accelerate tempo. For example, men and women can experiment with medical treatments in animal models (and increasingly with simulations) and minimize the waste of human lives. This feedback loop has produced the ambient axiologies; but it also has been produced on the ambient axiologies. We like to imagine that this is the surplus over reality that allows us to say “reality kicks ass” and have the theurgy of human culture to kick its ass. But this theurgy is built in tempo and very often “the time is out of joint” and the ongoing conditions drift around and away from ambient axiologies. How can ambient axiologies work, then?

Man, is that a pressure-cooker bomb if something ever is. That paragraph should have been spread over several blogposts, each with various kinds of attractive imagery — psychoanalysis, girls who kiss each other seductively, the racist genius of cinema, infinite wealth, hints at “pick-up” tips, infinite wisdom.

There’s an aspect of the problem that emerges (the parasynchronic feedback loop, the booty-shaking-to-the-funky-music, the hard problem of chronicity) that can be presented quite objectively in terms of ordinary and delay-differential equations. Supply chain managers are usually taught about delay-differential equations in simplified form through the so-called Beer Game:

The goal of the game is to meet customer demand for cases of beer through the distribution side of a multi-stage supply chain with minimal expenditure on back orders and inventory. As we said there are four stages, manufacturer, distributor, supplier, retailer, with a two-week communication gap of orders toward the upstream and a two-week supply chain delay of product towards the downstream. There is a one-point cost for holding excess inventory and a one-point cost for any backlog (old backlog + orders – current inventory). In the board game version, players cannot see anything other than what is communicated to them through pieces of paper with numbers written on them, signifying orders or product. The retailer draws from a deck of cards for what the customer demands, and the manufacturer places an order which, in turn, becomes product in four weeks.

Surfers and skateboards have a physical intuition of the resulting “bullwhip effect”: overcorrecting is doom because signals are always out of turn with the ground conditions of reality. But this is one aspect, and it’s mainly intended to present the unexpected complexity of something as simple as a beer trucking operation, rather than provide solutions. 

Now, we’re not saying we have the SCM silver bullet just yet (but might soon in the future). On the contrary, we speculate that SCM is a wicked problem because delay differential equations are founded on naive chronicity. Like their cousins (PDEs, FDEs, etc) these equations run across a linear interval that mathematicians call simply t and, encouraged by physicists we give the naive name of “time”.


It would seem that tempo and kairos are either overly complex time concepts or unjustifiable, just-so stories. But there’s nothing either simple or justified about t. Ask Feynman or Susskind or anyone — the problem of making an “arrow of time” appear is profoundly vexatory. Indeed, classical mechanics — which is to say, the ordinary setting of human experience — allows for no such thing (except, of course, as a statistical effect from large ensembles, and still then as mathematical abstraction). Fundamental symmetries of the universe (notably that the rules of reality are invariant to where in this clock-time we are) lead inexorably to conservation of energy, which in turn leads to phase transition groups. Because phase transitions are groups, the operation that leads from “state of the word(now)” to “state of the world(now + some time)” is reversible.

Translation for people afraid of math: in the classical setting — in the chronicity we actually experience in human mesoscale  — there is no past and no future.

And it’s not like physicists are unable to give you some add-ins to that chronicity that yield an arrow of time of some type you might find existentially satisfying or not; it’s that the feedback loop (deep geological time and evolution y compris), funky 11/4 jazz music, beer distribution trucks, diegesis (strictu and latu sensi), pick-up scenarios, etc. are all commonly referred to a deeply unsatisfying ground chronicity in t, the time of Newton, Lagrange and Hamilton). Since you, patient reader, can’t breathe quantum effects into any given situation, that’s what you get.

This is the root of the discomfort around “clock time”: chronicity fails to give any insight into the choppy, multicentered, asynchronous structure apparent to all events that surround you — what, your very metabolism fluctuates in pace, your heart, your eye saccades.


There is reason for elation at the discovery of the “parasynchronic feedback loop” — it’s a neat concept that crowns the tempo/kairos split driving so much of theory so far. But its implications make me dizzy to the point of sickness in my throat. Earlier on some sweet nothing was written (and subsequently deleted; it pointed the way to a version of the Tarski program we have already long discarded) about “concept drift”. That confusedly assumed naïve chronicity, although in naked contradiction also assumed this naïve chronicity to be carried forward by the frame axioms.

That we can’t recover “concept drift” should tell in how much trouble we are: frame axioms run in a discrete sequence that’s implicitly even-spaced. Does the choppy loop emerge from a sufficiently large quability program? (I’m not a point percentage powerful, in sheer brain chops, to handle a formal problem that size). Are frame axioms embedded in the choppy loop? My frightened heart wants to run with this; this would be Deleuze’s advice, although the emergence of synchronicities (the visible effects of the choppy loops) are a bitch to manage.

(To be clear: the choppy loop puts the entire Tarski program in peril. But you have to follow theory where it leads you.)

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