Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

94. Elements of a Simulation

Note: This post is the ninety-fourth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

This week, I just wanted to think out loud about what elements would need to be included in a simulation designed to test Jane Jacobs' theory about the 'Systems of Survival'.

The three basic elements I think we need are land, stuff and people.

Based on the territorial nature of the guardian syndrome, it seems as if we need a model that allows for people to interact in a 2 dimensional territory in order to replicate whatever it is about managing land that lends itself to guardian activity.

The interesting variations in the nature of the land that I see are that it could either be finite in size, infinite or it could be finite and also contain various natural boundaries (rivers, mountains, etc.) that would tend to foster distinct political groups forming.

In addition, the land needs to support some sort of resource production, since we will need something for our people to take and trade.

As for the people, they are more complex.

First of all, people will need to have various ethical approaches open to them. Looking at Jacobs' list of precepts, I see the following minimum requirements:

Use force and fraud (take) / Shun force and fraud (trade)
Work hard(er) / Take more leisure
Be obedient / Make your own decision about what is best
Be loyal / Be selfish
Be exclusive / Be open to dealing with strangers
Consume now / Invest to consume more later
Share wealth or dispense largesse / Hoard wealth
Compete / Cooperate

Naturally, putting these options into concrete terms that can be coded into a simulation will be the tricky part.

In addition, for obedience and dispensing of largesse to make sense, we'll need a concept of hierarchy or rank.

For definitions of loyalty and exclusivity to make sense, we'll need a concept of groups or identity.

If taking is an option, we'll need some sort of conflict resolution method, involving individual strength for our people as well as some logic for measuring the increase in combined strength that comes from cooperation. Note that relative strength could also function as a resource which is finite in quantity (although absolute strength would not be).

If trading is an option, we'll need at least two different goods or resources in circulation, that are valued differently by different people. It may be interesting to add another element that is finite in quantity (besides land) to see if it is treated differently.

If investing is an option, we'll need a function that translates investment of time and resources into more/different resources.

People will also need an objective so that we can rank how 'well' they are doing in the simulation. Some possibilities:
Maximize wealth
Maximize consumption of comfort and convenience (resources)
Maximize rank
Maximize status
Maximize honour
Maximize population
Maximize some combination of these.
And of course any of these objectives could be for the person themselves, for the group they belong to or for all people in existence.

Lots of possible combinations - you can see why economists like to simplify and pretend that people only care about their own personal wealth, but clearly this approach will be too limited to either represent reality or to help us develop a simulation that will incorporate the ethical choices listed above.

Finally, we'll need to define how our people's behaviour works over time. Do people just have a fixed set of ethical behaviours and we see who does best. Or do we allow people to modify their behaviour based on the context (trading vs. taking), or to modify their behaviour based on the success of those they encounter, can a leader cause them to change their ethical approach, or do we just introduce random mutation into people's behaviour patterns and see how things evolve.

Obviously, the number of permutations is large, even leaving out all the elements I've no do doubt overlooked here. It seems like it would be best to start with a simple scenario and then gradually elaborate it to take more elements and more complexity into account. But that's a task for another day...

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