Surprising Detail

I read an excellent article off the back of an open question from Paul Graham on Twitter: Reality has a surprising amount of detail, by John Salvatier. It uses building stairs and boiling water to demonstrate that things are almost always more complicated than they seem:

Surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with realityBefore you’ve noticed important details they are, of course, basically invisible. It’s hard to put your attention on them because you don’t even know what you’re looking for… This means it’s really easy to get stuck.

This was a good aperitif to Can Anyone Reshape the State? by Nicolas Colin, which looks at Dominic Cummings’ prospects for reshaping the British state, an undertaking full of hidden complexity if there ever was one. I appreciated his invocation of Gall’s Law, which I hadn’t heard of before:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

Nicolas agrees that the state could do with a make-over, but expects that Cummings’ efforts will fail. If so, I am sure that surprising detail will have played a part.

Habits and habitat

I got back from San Francisco on Tuesday. It was a good trip, but between the time difference and the unfamiliar surroundings, my normal routine was thrown off somewhat.

I wouldn’t say I have always thought that much about routine, but reading Principles by Ray Dalio last year gave me a renewed appreciation of the importance of habits – what he calls “the most powerful tool in your brain’s toolbox … If you do just about anything frequently enough over time, you will form a habit that will control you”.

Since then I have made a concerted effort to build certain habits, with some success. Though as Ray says in Principles, “developing this skill takes some work”. This is particularly the case when you are away from home, and while I was away last week, a few of my newer habits fell by the wayside.

I have picked them back up from the wayside now, which is good. But I am reminded of a nice turn of phrase my sister used when we talked about this a while back, resolving “to make my habits into my habitat, keeping them with me as I go”.

I didn’t quite manage to do that on this trip, but I am hopeful that next time round I will do better.