Delight in Complexity

Posted on Monday, March 30th, 2020

We have stayed home since the Governor told us to do so, except for excursions to fetch food or to walk or bike for exercise. We have been connecting with the grandchildren in one family via Zoom, trying in small ways to help our son get through the days with twin four-year-olds and their two-year-old sister. Their mother is a nurse, and quite busy these days. We’re part of “morning circle,” a check-in process followed at their school in Port Hadlock. They sit on couch cushions on the floor in the living room in front of the laptop, Janet and I at our computers in different parts of our house. We have to remember to bring something for show and tell, something interesting.

On the day I bought it two years ago…

Today, midday, I got on the bike just to be moving. I’d been at my desk all morning, mostly on Zoom calls. The weather all morning was a mix of rain and intense sun as clouds rolled and billowed over us. I waited for a sunny spell to get started, though outfitted in rain gear. No where I really needed to go, although I did ride through downtown Olympia to see which restaurants were still offering take-out. We’ve been rotating among 3 or 4 restaurants a few times a week to be supportive: Da Nang, Wicked Pies, California Tacos (truck), and The Gyro Spot. All of these were still offering take-out as I made the rounds today.

Today’s delight arrived on the ride home. I’d crossed the two bridges up to the west side of Olympia and had gotten to the level part of the ride. The skies darkened again, rapidly, and hail began to fall, mixed with rain. I don’t recall having ridden in hail before. I felt delight as the intensity of the hail increased and the staccato on my helmet grew louder. Had I not had the helmet, I would not have had such appreciation for the sound of the hail as I rode. At one point I passed in and out of tree cover, and the pattern of hail took on a musical quality, stopping and resuming. As I made the last turn and approached our driveway, the hail stopped completely and at the same time the sun emerged. I paused and basked for a few minutes.

The connection to complexity is that I have heard people dismiss or distrust models of complex systems with a general claim that “they can’t even predict the weather accurately.” Each day now we all are seeing the results of lots of modeling activity. The purpose of simulation modeling is not to predict what will happen, but to try out different scenarios to see what might happen if different actions and decisions are taken. What if…? Of course, as soon as one “intervenes” and tries to change the behavior of a complex system, the system itself is changed and can behave differently. So it’s not possible to run a model and then sit back and watch things unfold. Everything is connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.