Complexity Matters

Managing complexity is not just how you connect things together but to what extent the connection mechanisms scale. In Nature the scalability of the mechanisms seems to have hard physical limits. D'Arcy Thompson [1] wrote:

In nature, the effect of scale depends not on a thing in itself but in relation to its whole environment.

Everywhere Nature works true to scale, and everything has its proper size accordingly.

In short, it often happens that of the forces in action in a system some vary as one power and some as another, of the masses, distances or other magnitudes involved; the "dimensions" remain the same in our equations of equilibrium, but the relative values alter with the scale. This is known as the "Principle of Similitude", or dynamic similarity, and it and its consequences are of great importance.

Size matters too. Even the smallest mistake can kill an animal/program. In [2] Richard Gabriel writes:

build small abstractions only

build hierarchies slowly, keeping them shallow as long as possible

buildings with the quality are not made of large modular units

we must make sure the structure is correct down to 1/8th of an inch (quoting Christopher Alexander)

Fan-in/fan-out is important complexity metric. The difference in complexity between different levels of the system should be roughly the same. This is reminiscent of fractals and what Christopher Alexander calls "centers". Again from Patterns of Software:

without large structure, the design cannot hold together - it becomes merely a jumble of isolated design elements.

The nature of a system is such that at almost any granularity it looks the same - it is a system. ... When we put together an object-oriented thing, it is a system, not a program. The difference between a program and a system is precisely the characteristic of a system having many centers or ways of approaching it - from the vantage point of any sub-system, the rest of the system is a server - whereas in a program, you generally have a single way of viewing it, usually from the top down.'

Objects are important because they make it easier to create systems rather than programs and systems can handle complexity and change better than programs.

[1] On Growth and Form. D'Arcy Thompson. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43776-8

[2] Patterns of Software. Richard Gabriel. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-5100269-X

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  1. Anonymous10:04 p.m.

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