Subalpine Fir & Engelman Spruce subalpine silhouette . . .
Eagle Cap Wilderness [ click photo for next . . . ]
On the road in the Northwest of America.
ORDER BY CONTROL vs. ORDER BY LIMIT
Consider for a moment control as the continuous steering
and correcting of an organism or machine by means of
ongoing positive commands. Control in this sense is a
defining feature of human / machine interfaces in which
the less intelligence a machine possesses, the more constant
the attention of human control is necessarily demanded. A car,
for instance—which might well serve as a paradigm of a poorly
designed machine in this regard—must with the utmost care be
controlled by its human driver. A bicycle, however—a simple,
elegant machine, arguably superior in design to the car in almost
every way—also demands a modicum of control, but in contrast
to the automobile, to a far lesser degree.
A key feature of this process is that when it is applied inappropriately
to not machines but living systems, like for example a watercourse,
or orchestra, or classroom of children, must conform to control's
procrustean bed and behave like a well-oiled but essentially
When dealing with living, intelligent systems, an in my view vastly
better way of structuring things is order by limit. Order by limit
makes no attempt at controlling behavior in an ongoing, constant
way; Instead, order by limit sets clear, unambiguous restrictions
on certain key variables at the outset: stop here, turn to the left
there, no bigger / no faster than, move only on the right or left.
These are the handful of limits that order or govern traffic almost
universally. They make traffic, I think, a remarkably self-sustaining
and self-organizing system, in need of, when we really think about
it, a relatively small amount judicious control by law enforcement
officers. That such a complex systems of roads and vehicles works
as well as it does with such a small set of limits should give all
Notice that the key difference between order by control, and order
by limit, is freedom.
If there is any native, free, intelligence in the system, machine
or organism, to be subjected to control, it must of necessity be
drummed out. You obviously don't want your car of its own volition
suddenly veering to the left or right. In contrast, order by limit
informs the system not what to do, but what not to do. And it always
does this is in a simple set of clear rules or limits. We might say then,
that the system's natural intelligence is thereby given maximum
leeway to order or organize itself in a fundamentally open and
It is open—and this is crucially important—because
it is free to respond to the new, the unexpected, the unknown.
Therefore the system's intelligence is allowed to in a natural
Consider yourself for a moment as a user of the system called
'road,' either as a car owner, bike rider, or pedestrian. You know
the limits, the rules. But you almost in the same breath know your
freedoms, the great freedoms of choice you have in moving through
and in using the system. Two other systems of great significance
which might also benefit in being designed in similar ways might
be the world-wide economy, and the world-wide information network.
The worldwide web has functioned well already for two decades
much like the above mentioned order-by-limit system of highways.
But now, in a tragic way, special interests are seeking to control for
unjust financial gain large swaths of the public network. I feel, that
if we understand clearly the beauty and simplicity of well-designed
self-limiting networks, which the web in many regards still is, we
would in an equally simple and forceful way demand that governments
work the way they are supposed to, viz., as unbiased officers that
patrol information networks to the mutual benefit of all.
The economy is another matter altogether. I'll reserves that theme
for another miniature.
But you can ponder what this might look like yourself. Just remember
that all freedom, in the view articulated here, is inherently limited.
If it is not, it goes necessarily into a self-destructive exponential
runaway. Add that thought to the above phrase, "to the mutual benefit o
f all." Now that would be an economy of a wholly different order!
Camp Lost & Found,
Eagle Cap Wilderness,
All Photographs & texts by Cliff Crego © 1999-2012 picture-poems.com