Reductio ad absurdum

As I’ve been learning more and more about Systems Thinking I realize that for some reason a common theme in our insane society is to reduce things into the absurd, and believe that this helps us in any way. We can see this delusion when academic achievement of students is reduced to “grades”, when ways to measure company success is reduced to “KPI’s”, when the popularity of a blog post is measured in “likes”, and so on.

This reductio ad absurdum inspired me to make an art project, the first in my life. Art is, or so it seems, a good way to deal with the depressing weight of the insanity around us. Some do it through satire, some through music, some through writing. The ways are as varied as the craziness in our world.

So here it is: the Reductio Ad Absurdum Of Art. Basically, I’ve taken a number of famous art pieces and averaged the colors down to a single pixel, which then is enlarged so you can see it on the screen. I then took the same art piece, but which had a Simpson twist, and performed the same process. When you see them side by side it is hard, if not impossible, to figure out which one is a masterpiece, and which one is a Simpson-esque satire.

And that, in itself, sums up the absurdity of trying to reduce anything down to a number, and expect it to mean anything beyond just a number. Which company is a master of their trade, and which ones are Simpson-esque charlatans? If all you see is a reduced number, then how would you know?

On that note: Enjoy 🙂

Mona Lisa

The last supper

The Persistence of Memory

The scream

In other words

To try to reduce what we see around us to simple numbers, and expect them to mean anything, is absurd. And yet, this is what we do on a daily basis with anything that is important to us. The only thing we can know for sure, is that we can never know anything for sure, if everything is reduced to its absurdity.

Thanks for watching 🙂

This entry was posted in Random thoughts, Systems Thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Reductio ad absurdum

  1. Codeslave says:


  2. dux says:

    can’t see the images ?

    • Rickard says:

      Can’t see the original images you mean? That’s the point! When you see a grade “A” in math for a student, what does that mean? That he/she knows and understands the subject? Or that the student has good memorization skills? Maybe cheating, even legal cheating, was involved. Example: I recently looked at a math test my son took. It was 20 years since I read that stuff. But I could easily get at least a B on the test simply by doing the process of elimination of the answers (it was a multiple choice test). No calculations involved, just educated guesses. Did I cheat? In some sense. Did I know the math? Not really. Would you be able to tell just by looking at the score which it was? Not at all. And that is the point. Looking at an absurdly reduced version of reality does not provide any insight into what anything is, and yet this is precisely what most people seem to believe. And this belief in reduction is absurd. And yet… it persists…

  3. Jelena says:

    I like your art experiment. 🙂

    I thought about your math test example, and here is a short story:

    I move to Sweden and decide to go to SFI (svenska för invandrare) to learn the language.

    On the entrance test I perform a pattern matching and guess a bit (you do an entrance test so that they could place you in a group suitable for your initial Swedish language skills, which in my case were next to nonexistent). Suprisingly enough, I get placed in the most advanced group (people who studied Swedish already in 1-2 years, 4 times a week).

    So I take the course, socialize and talk some made up language, since I am a talkative person. I pick up a few and make up many of my own “Swedish” words. I talk and talk. Something. Anyway, 2-3 months later I make an attempt to pass a so called SFI test (if you pass it, you are considered able to speak Swedish well enough to get around and live and work in Sweden without using other languages). So, I pass the test in flying colors. Did I speak Swedish? Not really.

    Yes, we often measure wrong things. But hey, here I am, a few years later, speaking fluent Swedish. Maybe the system does work, but for different reasons. It maybe shows the probability to be successful, whether that is because you know math (or Swedish) indeed, or you are just clever in some way. 🙂

  4. Thomas Tammann says:

    As Einstein said: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

    And Antoine de Saint Exupery said:
    Perfection is attained, not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.

    No offense.I think your mentioned approach is to simple. The trick is….-> see Einstein….

  5. Our education system relies on marks and not grades. Admissions to medical colleges are restricted to students who score a certain cut-off mark. The students are so adept at scoring marks that this year the cut-off mark was set at 100%. Can you believe it ? This caused a furore here but the fact is that many students who scored 98% could not make the grade. The idea is that a student who aspires to become a doctor should be the smartest of the smartest because lives are at stake. I never understood this logic.

    What exactly is your recommended way of learning about Systems thinking apart from books ?

    • Rickard says:

      Learning about systems thinking requires on the one hand reading (Seddon, Deming, et al), and on the other doing, i.e. going into your job and applying the ideas. You need to understand the ideas that performance comes from the system, how to NOT spoil the purpose of what you are doing (which education has done by overfocusing on marks and not on learning), and then learning to see and talk with people to really understand the work. Both Seddon’s and Deming’s books really show the pitfalls in detail, and what to do instead. Also, I have found that studying Taylorism (read his original book) and pathological mental disorders have helped a lot. When you understand that the current way of working comes from a demented mind, and why this appeals to many so-called “managers”, it becomes easier to understand what to do. But it is very very hard, because it’s not as simple as saying “this is a better way to do it”, because of the enormous amount of conditioning and brainwashing that has gone on up until now.

  6. After encountering dementia I have also started taking refuge in Systems Thinking, lean, Theory of constraints etc. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s