HURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2009
Kevin Kelly: The Nine Laws of God
That man – Kevin Kelly – returned to his hostel to rest, and there had a strong sense that he would die within six months and that he should live accordingly. Kelly did not die – he went on to be the editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, as well as the founding executive editor of Wired magazine.
Kelly is a unique figure in American culture – able to navigate the technology & faith world with equal comfort & insight. In the Spring 1994 issue of the Whole Earth Catalog, Kelly wrote what he calls the 9 laws of God – they are profound 15 years later as they were when Kelly first wrote them:
Control from the bottom up. When everything is connected to everything in a distributed network, everything happens at once. When everything happens at once, wide and fast-moving problems simply route around any central authority. Therefore, overall governance must arise from the most humble interdependent acts done locally in parallel, and not from a central command. A mob can steer itself, and in the territory of rapid, massive, and heterogeneous change, only a mob can steer. To get something from nothing, control must rest at the bottom within simplicity.
Sow increasing returns. Each time you use an idea, a language, or a skill, you strengthen it, reinforce it, and make it more likely to be used again.
Grow by chunking. The only way to make a complex system that works is to begin with a simple system that works. Attempts to instantly install highly complex organization – such as intelligence, or a market economy – without growing it, inevitably lead to failure.
Maximize the fringes. In heterogeneity is creation of the world. A uniform entity must adapt to the world by occasional monumental revolutions, one of which is sure to kill it. A diverse heterogeneous entity, on the other hand, can adapt to the world in a thousand daily mini-revolutions, staying in a state of permanent, but never fatal, churning.
Honor your errors. A trick will only work for a while, until everyone else is doing it. To advance from the ordinary requires a new game, or a new territory. But the process of going outside the conventional method, game, or territory is indistinguishable from error. Even the most brilliant act of human genius, in the final analysis, is an act of trial and error.
Pursue no optima, but multiple goals. Simple machines can be efficient, but complex adaptive machinery cannot be. A complicated structure has many masters and none of them can be served exclusively. Rather than striving for optimization of any function, a large system can only survive by “satisficing” (making “good enough”) a multitude of functions.
Seek persistent disequilibrium. Neither constancy nor relentless change will support a creation. A good creation, like good jazz, must balance the stable formula with frequent offbeat, out-of-kilter notes. Equilibrium is death. Yet unless a system stabilizes to an equilibrium point, it is no better than an explosion, and just as soon dead. A Nothing, then, is both equilibrium and disequilibrium.
Change changes itself. Change can be structured. This is what large complex systems do: they coordinate change. When extremely large systems are built up out of complicated systems, then each system begins to influence and ultimately change the organizations of other systems. That is, if the rules of the game are composed from the bottom up, then it is likely that interacting forces at the bottom level will alter the rules of the game as it progresses. Over time, the rules for change get changed themselves.