Article > The Great Black Box
Description :: An idea for you to ignore and forget
Hi..Josh (the Floppy Hatted Calvinist Man) here.

I read through the articles on this forum to get the tone and it seems pretty varied. So I'm going to post a couple of ideas of mine that I wish more people understood.

Most of the CS folk here understand the idea of a black box. It is a machine whose inner mechanics you do not understand. You can see buttons and levers and such, and you can see the results of your useage of those things, but you don't really know how the box works inside.

Almost all things in life are black boxes, but people don't treat them that way. We assume that we know why a person is doing a thing even if we are proven time and again that we are incorrect. Indeed, Life itself is a giant system of black boxes..some of them lie within others. It is a system with an extremely large number of buttons and multiple users! But we think we have more or less mastered it, or perhaps are merely content with the knowledge that we have no knowledge.

Before I go further, I want to explain the intricacies of dealing with black box systems with an event that I experienced recently. A co-worker told me at work "I've been printing all day and my printer has begun to squeak and now it won't stop and it's terribly annoying. Can you fix it?" I immediately had an internal thought war as to how to fix the problem. Reason told me that the printer was probably not so unlike other things in the world. WD-40 would probably fix it. Logic told me that I know nearly nothing about printers...printers are a black box and one should probably not open up black boxes and spray black-box chemicals (I do not understand WD-40, I just know what its effect is sometimes) into their mechanisms. My reasonable side insisted "I can't think of a single bad thing that WD-40 could do to a printer." That was when my logic side won with "Just because you don't know a thing doesn't mean it doesn't exist." I was lucky because when the printer guy came by and we told him about the problem and I mentioned WD-40 he interrupted me with " no no you NEVER put WD-40 in a printer." I did not bother asking why. I had previously learned that printers are deceptively complex when paper dust buildup had rendered a roller ineffective and when I was told "Do not use a 'Can O Air' on a laser printer..the printer dust will blah blah blah." Printers are weird and I don't need to understand them.

What's the moral of the story?

Quite often in life we need to recognize when it is that we know nothing about the inner workings of a system. If we don't know, we should not talk. Sometimes even pushing the buttons of a black box can be dangerous.

Before you read my followup, fully understand this concept: Life is a black box. We know that the world operates on mechanisms and we have discovered many of those mechanisms. People have even died because they experimented with things that they did not understand (radiation etc).

So here's a teaser about my next article. What can you possibly know about the mechanisms of a Black Box with no buttons?

Hopefully when I click the Confirm button below, it will post this article to what I assume is an article list. Here goes nothing...

Editor's Note. Little did I know that html tags are required to make paragraphs. Black boxes are fun! Let's try again.

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Owned by Ensis Involucrus - Created on 07/01/2003 - Last edited on 09/28/2003
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