Some Thoughts about Feedback Loops

03 Nov 2014 in Currency Design, Feedback Loops, Flow, Flows, Living Systems, System Dynamics, Upward Spirals

These are notes in progress about how feedback loops work... not complete... nor necessarily intended to be understandable by others yet... all partially formed. 


Coupling / Uncoupling – when you connect the “output” of something more directly to the factors affecting its “inputs” it becomes more tightly coupled.  You uncouple feedback by inserting another layer of components/feedback/response between the operation of something and the feedback about it.

Visibility & Response

  • For a system to respond to conditions on either an individual or collective level, indicators of those conditions need to be visible to responding systems.
  • Responding systems are the self-adjusting parts of a larger system which effect flows in the larger system.  For example, people, businesses, banks, government agencies, etc. are each different types of responding systems in the economy.

Boundaries / Edge Conditions / Operating Conditions / Breakdown

  • If the only visible indicator of the condition of an integral flow is “there / not” which is the same as “working / broken” or “alive / dead” then you have a system which cannot sustain itself, because it doesn’t “know” that it needs to adjust its behavior until its dead.  (e.g. If you don’t know you need to stop fishing a particular stock until you can’t find it anymore, you’ve caused the extinction of species.  At the point, it’s too late to modify your behavior to sustain the species.)

Time Lag – Systemic Response Speed

  • Based on the layers of uncoupling within a system and also certain cycles within that system, there may be lag time to see adjustments.  Determining the amount of lag is critical to avoid under or over-correction. (e.g. Knowing how long it takes to stop your car or ocean freighter… Knowing that noon is peak sun but 2:45pm is peak heat.  Knowing that June 21 is peak solar input, but July 21 is closer the peak heat, etc.)

Indeterminate Path

  • Part of the beauty and the challenge of living systems is that they are non-deterministic.  They have multiple possible paths of action and response.
  • This is fantastic from a resilience and adaptability perspective, however, if feedback information may flow through a variety of different paths, it can be very difficult to ascertain the system lag and

Misaligned incentives – Types of misaligned incentives:

  • Systemic
    • Expecting something to serve multiple purposes which have a fundamental conflict. (e.g. money being both a good medium of exchange and a good store of value.)
  • Individual vs. Collective
    • My “get mine” conflicts with the collective “grow ours”
  • Individual vs. Individual
    • My “get mine” conflicts with your “get mine”

Distributed Intelligence

  • You can distribute more of the intelligence in an organization when the proper feedback loops are in place for it to be self-managing.  However, the “free market” doesn’t manage things well which it cannot see. (water quality, widespread resource depletion, soil quality, air quality, etc.)

Value Reference

  • To make a currency a good measure, it should have a reliable reference (such as kilowatts)

Selection of Value Reference or Determining a good Basket

  • What makes a good reference? Universality? Real/functional value?  Incentive to optimize performance?  Choosing kilowatts as a currency value reference, incents people to find more efficient ways of producing electricity.
  • A basket should be simple enough to update from real data within a marketplace on a periodic (daily? weekly? monthly?) basis for actual currency conversions.
  • It should be diverse enough to make it difficult for a small group of people to manipulate

System Swings / Vibrations / Dynamic Range

  • Pendulum
  • Poles (day/night, summer/winter, inhale/exhale, heart diastolic/systolic, waking/sleeping, tides, ebb/flow, etc.)
    • The alternating pull between two (or multiple) states ensures the system stays dynamic, that things don’t freeze up, fall to stasis.  Homeostasis may be a misleading goal… rather freely adjusting within operating range.
  • Are there systems with designed in multi-modal pulls/states?