Guest Post:A Hipbone Approach to Analysis III.


Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

A Hipbone Approach to Analysis III.

by Charles Cameron

I’ve been slowly prepping this series of pieces about my analytic approach — and the mysterious business of “connecting the dots” — for a while, but.. Jeff Jonas, whose work I only recently ran across, has given me “another piece of the puzzle” and a slew of new dots to connect, so here’s a quick impression of some new (for me) terrain that connects with other areas I have long been familiar with.


What it comes down to in my post today is this: I would like to reconcile “connecting the dots” with “putting together the pieces of the puzzle”.

Both metaphors have to do with “seeing the big picture”, and one of them (“connecting the dots”) has to do directly with nodes and edges, i.e. with those systems we call graphs and networks, while the other suggests a far subtler set of connections.

Consider this: n+1 is the next dot in the series of integers after n, with “+1” being the only link necessary — you can represent that on a graph with two nodes and an edge. But if you had the sky of the northern hemisphere in one hand (hey, this is a thought experiment) and five square miles of landscape around Winchester Cathedral in the other, finding just where to fit the cathedral (and the surrounding, branching, leafy trees nearby) snugly into the sky would be a far trickier business, and the links between air and leaf and stone molecules would be very many — we should be grateful for the ease with which the sky accommodates itself in reality to the cathedral and the trees (and the cathedral and the trees to the sky) — and for the ease with which a painter like Turner can capture the effect…

Two puzzle pieces, I mean, may have to fit along many aspects of their intersection, while dots can be connected by a single common thread.


I’ve only recently “met” the mind of Jeff Jonas, but he has some remarkable things to say about puzzles — for one thing, he writes about the levels of, well, computation involved in solving a jigsaw puzzle:

The first piece you take out of the box and place on the work surface requires very little computational effort. The second and third pieces require almost equally insignificant mental effort. Then as the number of pieces on the table grows the effort to determine where the next piece goes increases as well. But there is a tipping point where the effort to determine where to place the next piece gets easier and easier … despite the fact the number of puzzle pieces on the table continues to grow.

That in itself is a fascinating thought to dwell on, in fact it’s the sort of piece of the puzzle that gives me an epiphany — Jonas talks about puzzle pieces that provoke epiphanies, too:

Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.

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