There's Complexity for You

The individual's relation to complexity

Mitchell caressed the worn old skin. Underneath the wrinkled surface was his hope, his love. The pigs would fall. He would be master of the world. Somewhere, in the dark, tortured, body were the secrets that would make his dreams come true. He need merely find it. Shear it from the clinging, yellowed flesh, spin it into knowledge and weave of it a spell which would snare the people, trap the classes, and cover his coronation bed.

So begins a popular novel describing the rise of The Design School (TDS) in Europe. Chillingly, investigators into the TDS case have this week uncovered a secret library in TDS's Munich compound, and in this library, a book which bears a striking similarity to the protagonist Mitchell's tome. In the margins of this fairly common book describing research into experiments designed to increase the utility and propriety of designs through targeting at the proper complexity level for the audience, are chilling notes which debate the possibility of using this same research, and the same results to develop designs which force the user to understand more and more complexity, which eventually train humanity so that artistic visions need not be limited by the needs of users.

IPADD News has obtained a photograph of one of the most shocking pages in the discovered book, the page dealing with "u-curves." Scrawled over the standard graph are words of chilling consequence. (See the aside: Inside the Mind of a Sadist). Comparing the photograph with another copy of the book obtained from a local library, our reporters were able to piece together how the character Mitchell might have discovered the seeds of power in what is a standard text the purpose of which is the complete opposite of his intent.

The "u-curves" are a description of the relationship between complexity and arousal, a typically perverse psychological term meaning interest. The thrust of the graph which we see here are the three lines which intersect the graph, the two vertical, marked as "boredom" and "impenetrable" represent what are termed thresholds of interest. The horizontal line divides the chart into positive reactions (above the line) and negative reactions (below the line). What this means, for the lay-person is that people will get bored if something is too simple, and will be unable to figure out something which is too complex.

Although this is not really news to most people, the graphic form seems to have spoken to the proto "Mitchell." He appears to have realised that if he pushed past the optimal solution encouraged in the text (the top of the graph), he could force the user to adapt, to learn to understand more complex patterns. This appears to be justified by a search for "true art", apparently meaning extremely complex art. This is consistent with the ideas within the text describing how an individual's thresholds can be altered by their experience, particularly their exposure to particular types of patterns.

We can see the results of a plan based on this in the structure and organisation of The Design School when it was shut down by government forces last year. TDS had targeted the education of those who were likely to become wealthy or powerful to provide monetary resources for their work, and had managed to increase the complexity of their work seemingly exponentially, all without the public raising a cry over the co-opting of "their" arts.

The meaning of the cryptic "pabulum for the masses" statement is difficult to discover. Perhaps the proto-Mitchell had plans for introducing some sort of mind-numbing scheme for reducing the intellectual capacity of the masses, though to what purpose this would be, or how it could be achieved, we cannot determine.

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This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1997