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Apples from life, apples from task.

In the real world, we see specific physical objects that we deal with: modules/work products/artifacts/products/role performers/modular elements/physical objects --- all these are essentially the same behind slight nuances, just different properties are emphasized in various methods and different terms are used in disciplines/explanations of these methods. These work products can be touched, kicked, pointed at, loaded onto a cart. They exist in space and extend over time (beginning to exist at some point and disappearing at another).

In the real world, we see artifacts like "apples" and actions involving these artifacts, such as "eat apples", "count apples". Alphas represent those objects that are described by discipline/theory/model/ontology of thinking. Taking the example of counting apples, the discipline/explanation describes the characteristic of the object set as "quantity of items" and the method of operation as "count items". Here, the "apple" is a cognitive "counting object", not an actual "apple"! One needs to realize that an "apple" from real life can play the role of a cognitive "counting object"! This is the connection between life and the course or textbook: here, you must figure out what type of object from the meta-model (subject area) and meta-meta-model (fundamental disciplines: physics, mathematics, logic, including object types of a systems approach) is involved. And remember: methods are executed, while discipline/theory merely describes the method, so one must also figure out what method is being used and what tools are hidden behind the discipline, what skills will be required.

Here is a fable about apples in a problem and in real life, for example, in such a variation:

A teacher came to a school who had read works about the didactic function of visual aids and believed that teaching should be done using visual aids. And they were working on an addition problem at that moment: "3+5". She brought three apples and another five apples, placed them on the table and said, "Children, you see here -- one--two--three -- three apples, and here -- one--two--three--four--five -- five apples. I connect them, how many apples will you have in total?" The children stared at the apples, saliva dripping, but they did not understand the problem. The second day passed, the third --- a record: usually such a class would cover this within a day. She came to the teacher's room, complained that she was applying new methods, making everything visual, but there were no results. And on the fifth day, a hand reached from the back row, and a student said: "Miss, I understand now: those apples you put on the table are not real --- they are apples from the problem." --- "Yes, so what?" --- "Well then, miss, it's a whole different story." And from that moment on, when the class understood that these were not real apples, but apples from the problem, everything clicked in an instant. Why? When you place real apples -- what do you do with them? You eat them. And to count, you need drawings.

Another similar story:

--- We will practice arithmetic... You have two apples in your pocket...

Buratino winked craftily:

--- You're lying, not a single one...

--- I'm saying, -- repeated the girl patiently, -- let's assume you have two apples in your pocket. Someone took one apple from you. How many apples do you have left?

--- Two.

--- Think carefully.

Buratino scrunched up his face --- he thought so cleverly.

--- Two...

--- Why?

--- I won't give an apple to anyone, even if they fight for it!

--- You have no math skills, -- the girl said sadly.

About physical bodies from a physics textbook (discipline/theory/thinking of physics, documented in a textbook), we know that with the force of gravity present, they fly in a parabolic trajectory. Acceleration and mass are characteristics of physical bodies. If you throw a stone and cannot relate it to a physical body, then you cannot claim it will fly in a parabolic trajectory! There are no textbooks that describe flights of stones specifically! Richard Feynman regretted this fact in his notes on teaching physics: students worldwide cannot relate their excellent knowledge from the textbook to the phenomena in the surrounding world.

There are countless artifacts that represent role objects/alphas "from the textbook," and each of them cannot be written about in textbooks! Therefore, textbooks write about role objects/alphas/functional elements: a brief text in the textbook can therefore be applied to thousands of situations in real life.

An alpha is not just a synonym for any functional object; it is specifically one whose changes are important to track during a project. Alphas are necessary to manage attention to changes in the project.

Alphas are usually not very formally specified. Ontologists/methodologists who insist on a strict and unambiguous formalization of the world are dissatisfied with how alphas are defined. Alphas emerged when the OMG Essence development team asked: What do we have in every software development project? After reviewing around 250 specific software development projects from 2011-2013, they arrived at a proposed set of 7 primary alphas (kernel in the terms of this standard, which we stopped using in our course as it became hopelessly outdated). And they found what they found: no additional formalization, no reduction to one ontological type for alphas (language in the terms of this standard) was done.

The task of a thinking person is to relate role objects from the textbook to the artifacts playing them in real life. Only after this can theoretical knowledge from the textbook be applied to a real-life situation. There is nothing more practical than good theory if you can recognize objects with types from the theory in real life, meaning your attention can grasp corresponding objects from the surrounding heterogeneous background for the types from the theory/discipline/textbook/scientific article.

In cases where the inability to work with types is coupled with a lack of understanding of the basics of systems thinking, a discussion among developers of the active inference approach (where you change your world and self models in cognition, actively changing not only models but also self and the world!) could be an example. The concept of Markov blanket was proposed as a "system boundary," but it seemed "odd," and this oddity was noted and sparked a huge discussion. If the discussion participants were familiar with modern fundamental thinking, including systems thinking, they could have quickly identified three sources of confusion (all of which are highlighted in our course as important for thinking):

  • Confusion about whether the Markov blanket is a mathematical/mental object or a physical one (e.g., in the cell example, is the cell boundary meant to be geometric as a mathematical object, or is it the physical boundary of the cell, and if so, what is it made of and what thickness does it have?)
  • Confusion between functional and constructive objects. Is the Markov blanket a functional object with some behavior or a physical object or group that will exhibit the corresponding behavior? The boundary of a cell with some behavior --- does it matter what it is made of, or is it clear that we are talking about the cell membrane or "all that has adhered to it from the inside and outside."
  • Confusion between the concept of an interface and an interface module (an interface is the boundary between two modules that ensures their connection, while an interface module is a module with two interfaces: one specified and discussed externally to the system, and the second "within the system". So, the Bluetooth interface is the junction between two systems, the behavior of which is described by the Bluetooth standard, while the Bluetooth interface module is some microcircuit that has the Bluetooth interface on one side and connects to the rest of the electronics inside the system on the other side, some pins of the microcircuit through which signals and power pass. And this is not a complete description, as we did not touch on the antenna as an interface module: it has a high-frequency Bluetooth signals interface on one side and a Bluetooth radio wave interface on the other --- and whether this antenna is part of the Bluetooth interface module or not). The cell was discussed: Is the Markov blanket an interface (zero physical dimensions, "interfaciality": what is between modules) or an interface module? In the conversation, it became unclear whether the cell boundary was on the external membrane or a membrane with an external environment interface and a second interface to the internal environment.

All these discussions could have been significantly reduced by utilizing systems thinking: a quick agreement that for the discussion, multiple concepts are needed, not just the Markov blanket concept: system description, system realization, functional aspect, constructive aspect, interface, interface module with two interfaces. Using one concept, Markov blanket, for all of this would significantly slow down the project due to a total misunderstanding of what exactly is being discussed!

Those engaging with our course typically go through the following stages when learning systems thinking:

  • They do not understand anything because they cannot relate the course material to their surrounding world. Indeed, in their engineering, managerial, cultural projects, there are no alphas as typified changing functional objects during the project. Moreover, each project is unique --- they have nothing in common (they all deal with a very limited range of systems attached to specific scales), and the course is the same for these different projects (unscaled and as deanthropomorphized in its descriptions as possible)! These projects are not described in the course, examples from which are not provided (although there are plenty of examples in the literature that the course references! Have you looked at this literature via the references? The examples are there!). Similarly, in the case of a physics textbook at this stage: there are no physical bodies in kitchen and production situations, and no chapter in the physics textbook describes these situations! Strange questions arise like "to which situations is what is described in the textbook applicable?" --- in the expectation that a situation will be found where a "target system" will be for systems thinking, and a "physical body" for physics. This chain of "real-life object :: type of functional object from the textbook of physics" and "type of functional object from the textbook of physics :: type from the textbook of mathematics." Objects of the subject area are often modeled in textbooks as functional objects of some method (so we understand that it is the same object --- this cherry berry "stone fruit" from the biology textbook and the "target system" from the systems thinking textbook both point to the same place in space-time, meaning it is the same object).
  • They understand everything about the examples provided in the course, as well as the projects of their peers and colleagues at work, but at the same time, they do not understand anything about their own projects. Of course, because other projects are "projects from someone else's task" (remember, "apples from the problem --- they can be counted"), and their own projects are "my real projects" (they must be consumed!). So, work is done with types on other people's projects, as we do not know the details of those projects, "everything is transparent, it's all like in the textbook". If you do not know the details of the project and are not involved in it, you quickly identify the main point, ask questions about it, and tend to act according to the method indicated in the course. You are collected because the details do not distract your attention!
  • They understand everything about their projects and their colleagues' projects. But they do not act on any of the understood, as studying systems thinking is not to apply it (i.e., to compile and fill tables with objects important to track in a project) but "for self-education and development," "to pass an exam," etc. External hindrances such as bosses, turnover, laziness, lack of like-minded individuals, lack of assistance in applying knowledge impede its application. This is also true for physics. They solve a static friction problem from a physics textbook, but why moving the table across the kitchen is so difficult remains a mystery! Congratulations, you are an analyst, not an operator!
  • They apply the course material in their projects because working this way proves to be of higher quality, easier, and ultimately faster. Often, this occurs only a year or two after encountering the course, after gaining some fluency in using the concepts of systems thinking. This was detailed in the first section of our course. A similar process typically occurs with a physics textbook (and any other textbooks): it takes time to master the method. Of course, it is not about the "10,000-hour rule" for mastery but usually, for serious methods, it involves years of deliberate practice, not just a couple of months. Our experience shows that it takes a couple of years to grasp systems thinking, but during these couple of years, one must also raise their experience in other fundamental thinking methods of the intelligence stack (implementing a basic "type machinics," learning to remain in rational reasoning, increasing the level of coherence, etc.). It's like in sports: three months of training usually do not show results, but after a couple of years of training, there are significant differences from "regular people," and after a decade of training, one can start thinking about championship.