Monday, May 17, 2004

The System Has No Memory

by Asim Jalis

This is something I have been chewing on for a while and it is quite a powerful insight. 1. I read about this study recently about the effects of diet on fruit flies. Here is the link: Here is an excerpt: NY Times---Scientists know that very strict low-calorie diets can prolong life. But now they report that it does not matter when you start that diet -- at least if you are a fruit fly. The life-prolonging effect kicks in immediately, continues as long as the diet, and is lost as soon as the dieting stops. "We were very surprised, completely taken aback," said Dr. Linda Partridge, a professor at University College London, whose laboratory made the discovery. For now, no one has a clue about what the crucial changes are in a fly's body when it goes on or off a diet. "It's been assumed that the reason things live longer when they diet is that there is a slowing down of age-related damage," Dr. Partridge said. But, she added, it now appears that cannot be true. "The system has no memory." 2. Note: "The system has no memory". For some reason we assume that systems have memory. This is a fallacy that is everywhere. Once you realize that memory is a human artifact, that most systems have no memory, things begin to make a lot more sense. 3. Consider exercise. I find that the effects of exercise last at most a day. It doesn't matter how many years I exercise, if I stop, I become unfocused and lethargic and passive the next day. This is because the system (in this case my body) has no memory. It just remembers what happened today. 4. The same thing happens at work. To be a star performer at work you have to produce every day. Your manager has no memory. He doesn't remember the great job you did last year, or last month, or even last week. You have to keep producing or get fired. You have to keep reminding the system that you are valuable. 5. The public utilities are also like this. You have to keep paying the bills every month. Once you realize that most systems are like this, that they have to be fed continuously, it becomes easier to accept this and to do these maintenance tasks. 6. Our whole judicial system is designed to refute the fact that the system has no memory. Crime is punished to create the illusion that the system has memory. 7. Relationships are also like this. You can not give your wife a present and expect this to be remembered. You have to continuously give presents, for she has no memory. A cheap $1 rose given 12 times a year counts for a lot more than a single bouquet of 12 roses for $12 given once a year, even though mathematically they are equivalent (assuming low interest rates). 8. This is a profound insight that applies to nearly everything. It also makes accepting many things much easier. For example, one's own mortality. The idea of life-after-death is appealing to many because it tries to deny the fact that the universe has no memory.