The fractal dragon

I’ve already shared this piece elsewhere, but might as well post it here. This story is almost like a piece of fantasy fiction that’s waiting to be written — and a metaphor to which I keep coming back to describe flux.

Imagine a warrior who sets out to slay the dragon. The warrior has the sharpest sword, the best armor, and is in the top physical shape. The dragon is looming large, and the warrior bravely rushes forth. What the warrior doesn’t know is that this is a fractal dragon. You can’t defeat a fractal dragon with a sword. So our courageous, yet unwitting warrior lands mighty blows on the dragon. The warrior moving in perfect form, one with the sword. You might look at this feat of precision and go: wow, this warrior is so amazing at crushing the dragon into a million bits! Look at them go! Except… each bit is a tiny dragon-fractal. A few hundred more valiant slashes and the warrior will be facing a new kind of opponent: the hive of the dragon sand. The warrior’s blade will woosh harmlessly through the sand and all we can hope is that the warrior has dragon-sandblast-proof defenses (hint: nope).

This weird effect of flux is something that we engineering souls need to be keenly aware of. When we find ourselves in that confident, exhilarating problem-solving mindset, it is on us to pause and reflect: are we perchance facing the fractal dragon? Will each “solution” create an army of different kinds of problems, each more and more immune to the tools we applied to the original problem? And if/when we recognize the fractal dragon, do we have the access tools that aren’t our mighty sword we’re so fond of?

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