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Of Ants and Menr

The Unexpected Side Efeects of Complexity in Society

David Green

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Richard Merton's Law of Unexpected Consequences: in complex situations, any action youtake leads inevitably to unanticipated consequences. And he suggested 5reasons for this:

1. Ignorance - people are never fully aware of all the issues and relevant factors

2. Error - mistakes, including habitual actions instead of considering new ones

3. Immediate interests - acting for local or personal priorities, rather than for the general benefit of everyone 4. Values - acting for 'principles' even when not in best interests. 5. Self-defeating prophecies - fear of something which not actually real Unintended consequences of Prohibition - aimed at curing social problem of drunkenness - but led to growth organized crime to supply illicit market. But can be positive - aspirin originally set as pain-killer, but found it was also an anti-coagulant reducing risk of heart attacks.

Unusual number of left-handed people at top levels of some sports, like tennis. Attributed to early playing. When starting out, right-handed people meet few left-handed, so often unable to deal with different style of play. So left-handed players win more often, get rewarded for success, and more likely to climb the ranks. By time they reach top levels, other players used to dealing with them, but bc already over-represented, more likely to see successful ones. (But caveat - only applies to sports where face opponent - tennis, judo, fencing etc)

Ants build elaborate undreground cities without planning, without any rational thought. Humans pride themselves on being capable of rational thought, but in many ways we are shaped by uncs processes.

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