Model Pluralism

Much has been written and said about the latest terrorist attacks and consequent reactions. Many have tried to analyse the incidents and their roots and we are constantly arguing in favor or against the analyses. Each of the analysis is a “model” to make it simpler to understand what is going on in the world. However, every time I read an analysis, I remind myself some points:

  1. Borrowing the concepts from biology, human society is an ecosystem including actors and their relationships, and the environment surrounding the ecosystem. It is indeed a very complex and dynamic ecosystem. The actors are very diverse, take different roles and have conflicting interests (while sharing basic needs). The relationship between actors is very dynamic, has various attributes and change all the time. Environmental factors (natural resources, climate change, etc.) affects the ecosystem and make it even more complex.
  2. Human brain is constantly in search of “the pleasure of cognitive ease”. Digesting the complexity is very demanding and human brain is avoiding that unless there is a survival need for it. That’s why we love models. Simpler and more familiar the model, easier we can connect to and (most probably) we even feel it is more true. (There is evolutionary explanation for this, read chapter 5 of famous “Thinking: Fast and Slow” if you are interested).   
  3. In 1976 George Box argued that “all models are wrong… ”. (Unfortunately) there is no model that can completely represent the reality! There is no correct model! However, two years later he extended the claim by “… but some (models) are useful”. Recalling point no. 2  I need models, right? So, I should search for models that are more useful in explaining the reality!
  4. Considering all three mentioned points, I need models (analysis) that explain what are the roots of latest terrorist attacks. Without them it is impossible to understand and improve the situation. But everytime I see a model in media I warn myself:
    Is the model downgrading the complexity of the ecosystem to the interaction between very few actors? Then there is something wrong with the model, I should not advocate the model. Is the model ignoring the context that actors are interacting within, or the environment that ecosystem is interacting with? Then I should definitely not buy the model!
    Examples are obvious these days, we need to just open our facebook or twitter, they are there: “Terrorist attacks are result of opening borders to refugees”, “Do you really want to know who created ISIS? The answer is US”, “The terrorism problem lies within the religion”, “Terrorism is the result of West manipulations in Middle East”, “If we send Muslims back to their countries we won’t see similar attacks”, “Paris has discriminated immigrants for decades and now here are the results” and the list goes on. None of these models alone is correct, some of course are useful and has valid points but they alone cannot represents the reality, they are too simple! They just resemble one or two actors which are sitting behind a machine and pushing a button to manipulate the world which is way too far from the reality.
  5. The problem with these models and advocating them is not only that they are not correct! The bigger problem is that they polarize the human ecosystem! Blaming only one actor and putting all negative charges in the hand of one actor polarize the world. More importantly, it neglects the responsibility of other actors, it ignores the responsibility of ourselves as actors of this ecosystem.
  6. So, I need more holistic models which consider wider actors and more complex relationships. There is a limitation though: Many analysts and modelers (left or right, religious or secular, Western or Eastern) and their publication channels (media) are either consciously not interested in giving holistic models, because they benefit from narrow models and from more polarized ecosystem, or they are just unconsciously biased towards some models. A solution is to not advocate only one model, to be exposed to all models, to read analysis from all channels and make a more holistic puzzle with elements I perceive from each narrow model (the result is still a wrong picture but more useful). It is against cognitive ease and I am lazy and love simple models, but it is not impossible.

wicked-problems-demand-various-viewpoints

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One Response to “Model Pluralism”

  1. vahid Says:

    Well written. Thanks

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