Homecoming…

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #179:

**
The scent of life and of living
hangs heavy on this place,
Here, where the weight
of memory and first things
lose themselves in the labyrinth
of the mind.

First step, first walk, first smile.
First  words – garbled beyond
recognition but finding
the connection between
the proffered body
and sustenance.

First leaving, first returning
then leaving – the first steps
of a  lonesome journey
to a far country, of seeking
the wily welcome of the open world
calling – siren-like – from beyond
the walls that time has built.

The days have their dangers
and the nights their flights of fancy
but in moments of respite and clarity
I find myself here. Home.
Always returning.

System of Systems

In the news this week on the BBC:

Abattoirs have about a week’s supply of gas. It’s a chain: We have constantly got pigs coming out of the breeding herd that need to go in homes. Those homes need to be emptied.

Stumbled on this on the news recently which got me thinking of a couple of my interests of late – systems, resilience and system of system approaches to identifying deep dependencies and potential unintended cascade failures of supply chains. What is a world in which rising gas prices potentially affect the availability of meat via several fertiliser farms having to shut down if not incredibly fragile. 

Leaving…

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #176:

**
When in the stillness
of the night, sleep
slips away, slowly –
my eyes heavy
with the weariness
of deferred respite –
I remember the road
from there to here,
how it turns
upon itself, snaking
this way and then that
and then disappears.

I remember that leaving
is for the living –
those who have learned
to gift the blessing
of forgiving
and forgetting
to the past.

Between Theorists and Empiricists

Image Source: Caleb Jones on Unsplash 

**

It seems to me that the central distinction in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering – Bomber Mafia – is that between theorists and empiricists. To boil it down to a binary choice is of course an oversimplification, but it is one that helps frame the difference between Hansell and Le May, the two figures from either camp who loom large in the book. At stake here, as it turns out, were the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who met a fiery fate in the aftermath of extensive fire bombings, topped off by the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hansell, we have the theorist who believed against the evidence – or bad luck – that precision bombing was the way to execute a war that limited deaths. Le May on the other hand comes across as an empiricist who allowed the evidence lead him down the paths it did, albeit with disastrous outcomes for those concerned.

Outcomes and motivations differ for the theorist and the empiricist. The theorist is wholly concerned with what might be  possible – subject to the constraints of his/her field (eg  Theoretical Physicists who come up with all sorts of currently unfalsifiable claims ) – as opposed to the empiricist or experimentalist who is concerned with finding evidence to prove or disprove the grand, elegant notions of the theorist.

If one accepts that the empiricist follows the evidence down a path that leads to a real world impact and desirable outcomes, there looms the question of what constitutes a good outcome. Is the loss of thousands of lives a good outcome if they are the lives of the enemy/ the other rather than ours? Is a good outcome measured in monetary terms, or is there a way to value non-physical outcomes? These are questions I do not think the theorist worries about too much, existing – at least to me – in that rarefied space of thought.

As I plod along, firmly ensconced in mid-career engineering, these distinctions are ones that weigh heavy on my mind, as they have the potential to inform what steps I take next. I am truly at a cross roads of sort  – the question being whether I follow the head into theory or the heart into real world applications.