How have you learned or experienced something in a series of layers? (DYM II.74)

By John Allen

John Cage's artwork Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, 1969  layers chance outcomes from the I Ching into plexigrams. According to the Norton Simon Museum...



American composer Charles Ives was first exposed to layering music by watching his father, George, march two bands toward each other while performing different songs in contrasting keys.  Later Charles would continue his father's musical layering experiment in many of his own compositions, most notably The Unanswered Question.  According to Ives scholar, Jan Swafford:

In Charles Ives's most famous work The Unanswered Question, a miniature he called a "cosmic drama," one finds distilled his revolutionary means, and more importantly the ends of his singular art. The piece is a kind of collage in three distinct layers, roughly coordinated. In the background a quiet and hauntingly beautiful chorale of strings represents, said Ives, "the silence of the Druids." Over that silence a solo trumpet proclaims, again and again, an enigmatic phrase representing "the perennial question of existence." In response to each question, a quartet of winds Ives called the "fighting answerers" runs around in search of a reply, becoming more and more frustrated until they reach a scream of rage. Then the trumpet proclaims the question once more, to be answered by silence.
While I recommend listening to the whole piece, I've excerpted a short section during which you can hear all three layers (strings, trumpet, winds):


[Northern Sinfonia.  James Sinclair, conductor]

In Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains "antifragility" in terms of a continuum of dynamically related layers ranging from local to general.  These layers must work together correctly (with only minimal and wise intervention) to ensure growth:

We saw that antifragility in biology works thanks to layers. This rivalry between suborganisms contributes to evolution: cells within our bodies compete; within the cells, proteins compete, all the way through. Let us translate the point into human endeavors. The economy has an equivalent layering: individuals, artisans, small firms, departments within corporations, corporations, industries, the regional economy, and, finally, on top, the general economy— one can even have thinner slicing with a larger number of layers. 
For the economy to be antifragile and undergo what is called evolution, every single individual business must necessarily be fragile, exposed to breaking— evolution needs organisms (or their genes) to die when supplanted by others, in order to achieve improvement, or to avoid reproduction when they are not as fit as someone else. Accordingly, the antifragility of the higher level may require the fragility— and sacrifice— of the lower one. Every time you use a coffeemaker for your morning cappuccino, you are benefiting from the fragility of the coffeemaking entrepreneur who failed. He failed in order to help put the superior merchandise on your kitchen counter. 
Also consider traditional societies. There, too, we have a similar layering: individuals, immediate families, extended families, tribes, people using the same dialects, ethnicities, groups. 
While sacrifice as a modus is obvious in the case of ant colonies, I am certain that individual businessmen are not overly interested in hara-kiri for the greater good of the economy; they are therefore necessarily concerned in seeking antifragility or at least some level of robustness for themselves. That’s not necessarily compatible with the interest of the collective— that is, the economy. So there is a problem in which the property of the sum (the aggregate) varies from that of each one of the parts— in fact, it wants harm to the parts. 
It is painful to think about ruthlessness as an engine of improvement. 
Now what is the solution? There is none, alas, that can please everyone— but there are ways to mitigate the harm to the very weak (Kindle Locations 1494-1509). 
Designer and architect Doris Sung layers different metals into "thermalbimetals" that can respond dynamically to changes in weather conditions.  This new type of architectural "skin" allows buildings to respond in ways that radically reduce energy usage:
 


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