Monday, February 20, 2017

When Is The President Like A Bathtub?

Consider a bathtub.  First, start with a plug in the drain and turn on the faucet.  Before the tub overflows you turn off the inflow from the faucet.  Now, record the level and then pull the plug.  Every 10 seconds record the level of the water - the height from the drain to the level of the water in the bathtub.  Graph the data.  Describe the shape of the curve.

In a second experiment, take the plug out of the drain. Turn on the inflow faucet, change to different flow amounts for a few minutes each and record the level of the tub. Turn off the inflow faucet and let the water drain repeating the measurements above in the first experiment.

Graph the results of changes in level over time with different inflows.  Notice that the outflow drain was not changed in any way. 

In a third experiment, draw a stock and flow diagram of a bathtub. A stock represents the bathtub.  An inflow from a “cloud,” has an arrow into the stock.  An outflow (drain) connects to the stock and has an arrow pointing into a “cloud”.  

The physics is hidden from eyesight. The water pressure changes at the drain based on the height of the water column above the drain.  The stock and flow model shows this as a feedback loop from the stock (bathtub) to the outflow (drain).  As the water level changes, the outflow rate changes.

Our next experiments use the model on the computer.  First we change the names.  Stock is now “Self Esteem.”  Inflow is “Affirmations.”  Outflow is “Self Talk.”

School teachers in the 1980s were told to give students positive affirmations in order to increase student self esteem.  The scientific research showed that students with higher self esteem had higher test scores.

Teachers quickly discovered that the positive affirmations had a short term effect on improving self esteem.  Further research showed that everyone has a regulator in our mind that is often called “Self Talk” that maintains our self esteem at a “target” level.

Now we need to change our model to add “target” as a constant and connect this value with the outflow rate for Self Talk.  The equation calculates the difference between the level of the stock, the value of Self Esteem, and the target value, then multiplied by the rate of change due to the Self Talk. As the positive affirmations fluctuate, the calculated difference changes, and the rate of outflow changes.  Sometimes the Self Talk increases in value to bring the Self Esteem down faster as the difference between the target and actual Self Esteem increases.
I have never spoken to Trump and I am not qualified to diagnosis his behavior.  This model applies to all of us. As an example, let’s apply this model to a person that has low self esteem.

A person with a low “target” self esteem, might receive positive affirmations and have a short-lived boost in self esteem that quickly decreases back to the target value without a constant flow of positive affirmations.

In order to boost the self esteem of our example person, a constant inflow of positive affirmations are required to maintain a higher level of self esteem than the “target” level.  Our example person would seek out ways to find people who would give them constant positive affirmations.  If they have a lot of money, they could “buy” a constant flow of positive affirmations from the people around them.

Our example person, with low self esteem, could be like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent.

The clothes represent an inflow of positive affirmations from the weavers.  The people around our example person are the weavers he is paying to give him a constant flow of positive affirmations.  If an adult or a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!”, then they are fired or removed from access to our example person.

Any criticism of our example person, or facts that don’t agree with the world view of our example person, are quickly suppressed or discredited or not heard by the example person.  The example person learns to tell stories in public that are positive affirmations that boost their own self esteem when their audience agrees with them. In our example person, false information, conspiracy theories and blatant lies become a constant flow of positive affirmations believed by his audience.

A systems thinker understands that cause and effect are separate in time and space.  Our example person does not understand cause and effect as part of a system's perspective of the world.

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