Darwin and Platform Tyranny

“Tyranny consists of the desire of universal power beyond its scope.”

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can spit out those damn brainstorms before they do too much damage to your equilibrium or worse or are extinguished by your daily life.

I’d not noted before that the evolved animal is like a software platform.

One of the curious facts about software platforms is that they aren’t good for anything. You have to pile an application on to the platform before it solves real problem. That is a useful right first approximation. Of course platforms are good for something, they are good for solving some space of problems. They allow you to build things.

There is a gap between a platform and a problem solution. In platform system design, where we don’t solve problems we just design more platforms, we think of these as layers.

For example the end-to-end principle suggests that the layers should be thin, so that the lower layers are windowed down to a kernel of necessary function and no more. In business theory where platforms go by other names like toolkits, standards, rule sets, and are observed in numerous guises such as major commodities on supply chain, we know that a platform creates an options space of further commercial activity. There is always a lot of competitive to and fro about who gets to capture that value. Suppliers often covet value created down stream from them in the supply chain. That’s no different than how platform vendors often fold high value innovations back into their platform offering. A move that is contrary to the end-to-end principle but is quite rational in a commercial mindset. When we complain about a supplier, say Microsoft, overreaching, say by bundling the web browser with the operating system, we call that monopoly; but as the quote above suggests it’s a kind of tyranny.

Reading and thinking about “Breakdown of Will” has been triggering some very surprising connections to all that. Animals are wired to manage their attention in a way that is at odds what we believe to be the optimal way to manage the attention of a rational man. There is a gap between the platform, i.e. the animal, and the problem to be solved, i.e. to be a rational man. It is into this gap that we humans pour our clever rationalizing schemes. Applications on the platform.

So that was my brainstorm. What triggered it was some stuff at the beginning of a book from the anthropology library about trying to explain religion. The introduction was working it’s way through the necessary dross and was talking about Darwinian explanations for religion. My reaction was “The platform can only tell you so much about the applications that run on it.” Darwinian ideas are a major supplier in the explaination of animal systems, but there is a tendency for people to let these ideas overreach their natural scope. You see a similar overreaching by the ideas that come of economics. At this point in my thinking about the ideas in “Breakdown of Will” I’m more inclined to put religion in the application layer as part of our struggle to create useful solutions atop the worse is better legacy platform.

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