Saturday, March 29, 2014
  Stolon vs Stalin

In programming a batch converter for my new courseware setup, I ran into a 'sync problem' that I couldn't solve neatly with my habitual style of programming.

Normally I treat each function as a sort of smart servant, capable of doing its complicated job with a couple of input arguments, and returning with a simple indication of success or failure. Sort of like a postman. You write a few words and numbers on the envelope, and you assume the complex organization of the PO will know what to do with those words and numbers.

The best solution here turned out to be a 'pipe' approach, with each function picking up all of the available info through lots of input arguments, processing the info, and spitting out the processed result via return arguments that match the pattern of the input args. This is clumsy but easy in Python. It feels completely unnatural to me because I've been programming in C for 30 years, and C strongly favors the postman function. (You can do a two-way pipe in C by passing a pointer to a struct, but it doesn't feel right.)

= = = = =

Unnatural? Well, no. The pipe is much more natural than the postman.

Nature runs three different styles of organization.


(1) Simple global namespace. Within one cell, all the pieces are bathed in the same chemicals. Ports on the membrane let desirable chemicals in and excrete undesirable chemicals. Specific functions inside the cell, like the DNA repair mechanism, draw on the common store and spit back into the common store.


(2) Pipes or stolons. Diskagma here shows the basic idea. Major parts are almost like separate creatures, and may be capable of separating. They may be able to reproduce or digest or excrete on their own, but constantly share nutrients and signals through the pipes. Plants are big fans of stolon-style, and use it at every level from roots to trunks to leaves to fruits. In many cases the vertical stalks that we see as "individuals" are semi-separate growths from a large underground stolon; and even when the stalks are not connected by roots they may be connected by a network of symbiotic fungus.

A typical animal combines global and stolon styles. Organs are semi-independent, connected by blood vessels and nerve fibers. All the organs are contained within one outer envelope, often with global distribution of liquids like mesenchyme or lymph.


(3) Postman style. Typical of animal communities, at least beyond the level of sponges and corals. Each individual takes care of its own reproduction, nutrition and excretion. It has no physical connection with others of its species, but it may communicate through temporary and abstract channels via chemical or visual or auditory signals.

= = = = =

Among human organizations and systems, the same three styles reappear.

Global namespace is typical of a cult or a total tyranny. All males must have the same haircut as Dear Leader. All females must wear the same dress as Dear Leader's latest girlfriend. All individuals are contained within Dear Leader. O'Sullivan's Law reigns supreme in a global-namespace organization. When Satan takes over the NYC office or the Rome office or the Canterbury office, Satan is immediately in charge of everyone. Satan loves global namespaces.

Stolons are the most resilient. Local branches or churches or houses or cities are semi-autonomous. They receive a constant flow of water or electricity or information or dogma from other branches or churches or houses or cities. Each unit can decide how to use the water or electricity or info or dogma, but it must use the material in a way that doesn't sacrifice or corrupt the other units. If a unit goes bad, the other units can close the valve, stop sending and receiving, forcing the bad unit to create its own set of pipes or die.

Postman style doesn't last long. Hippie idiots and Randian idiots assume incorrectly that it's possible to have absolute autonomy for disconnected individuals, but it always lapses quickly into a global namespace cult. Applies equally to physical disconnection. Off the grid means you're not tied to city water and sewer. You're drinking from an undifferentiated and uncontrolled water table, and your sewage is flowing into the same water table. Global poopspace.

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