Adonis Diaries

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DISCUSSION ON “OPTIMIZATION”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb posted this August 8, 2015

A lot of the discussions we’ve had here can be framed with the difference between “satisficing” (an old Northumbrian word meaning “good enough”) and “optimizing” (meaning always try to do better).Clearly, as with everything we think both modern and relevant, this was present in the classics in the various discussions of the difference between moderation and greed, particularly in virtue ethics.

The great polymath Herbert Simon posited that systems cannot really optimize;

I have held that optimization leads to nonlinear increase in hidden risks (the fragility arguments) which invariably blows up the apparatus.

Simon was hated by economists (he got their “Nobel”) because all their methods consist in optimizing (the easy mathematical route).
In human relationships we can’t optimize without becoming greedy selfish unethical crooks.

And in commerce we prefer relations to transactions, ready to support the local butcher because we feel we are part of a community and we are not alone –we are paid back with a smile and someone who says hello in the street.

Indeed the central flaw in optimization is thinking that “everything else” ceases to exist and makes people think the individual, not the collective, is the true unit –when such thinking blows up the system (or fake local rationality as opposed to more organic, collective, survival of the system broader type of “rationality”).

But the true discussion is the Procrustean Bed standpoint: from an existential reason, we humans are punished when we try to optimize, as if we suddenly ceased to be humans.

Friends, comments are welcome (provided they conform to the rules, i.e., add to the discussion).

Note 1: Can’t Optimization be applied to Virtue Ethics? If we can create a measuring scale for the taxonomy of virtue Ethics?

Note 2: I am pleased to read this new perspective on optimization.

In 1975, I had an MS in physics and wanted to leave my home-country that plunged in a civil war. The list of engineering fields mentioned Industrial Engineering”and I wondered: “Why not? I crave something with hand-on knowledge. Like drawing and designing objects, equipment and “system”as it was later called. It turned out that discipline had nothing to do with design or had any lab courses, but  mainly optimizing production, inventory…

We had to deal and resolve sets of constraints along with an optimization function. It was no brainer mathematically, but we had to solve tedious equations by hand.


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