From Open Source Ecology
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OSE Context

Degeneracy is a term that refers to a vast number of technology options being reduced to a small set of substantial options.

In a nutshell: there are 50 million types of the same gizmo in the world - name it - from a car to a washing machine. Typically, this indicates lack of part interchangeability, throwaway nature of the gizmo because it can't be repaired, many hours of design time wasted for making 50 million different versions of essentially the same thing. OSE believes that one or few basic designs should be standardized as a Construction Set which allows many variations to exist - but based on a transparent and inclusive pattern language of modules. This allows maximum interchangeability of parts, ease of finding replacements, and effectively, lifetime design. This is intended for humans to master control over their technology base, instead of humans serving the needs of technology. This is quite opposite of non-appropriate technology today, where a single screw may cost $100, or a missing or broken specialized part renders a large machine completely useless (such as in modern tractors) for weeks until a replacement is shipped in.

To repeat - degeneracy is a term that refers to a vast number of artificial technology options being reduced to a small set of substantial options.

Complex Adaptive Systems

  • [1]
  • Biology - [2]. The biological definition fits the. OSE context well. Ie, degeneracy is evolution to a more 'primitive' state, but primitive does not mean that it is 'worse.' For technology, the metaphor involves stripping all complexity and unnecessary features until a robust design is achieved. Robust design implies that unnecessary complexity and variation is eliminated, meaning the design solution should converge to a simpler form.
  • Chemistry context - [3]

Thus, degeneracy in the OSE context means convergence to a simpler and uniform design solution. Degeneracy is thus a property of robust design, not of design in general.

Degeneracy and Diversity

Degeneracy does NOT imply the death of diversity. Diversity is a key aspect of resilient systems. The diversity comes from the ability to produce an infinite number of options for implementation - as allowed by OSE's Construction Set Approach. Thus, degeneracy applies more to the building blocks.

Here we can get into a discussion that degeneracy is ultimately about 100. This refers to the number of elements in the periodic table. This is not exactly the concept we are talking about. We are talking about macroscopic assemblies - such as how to design a wheel, engine, or microchip.


  • A car typically has 4 wheels, not 5 or 3. This is an obvious example, but many other much more subtle tech choices are similar in nature to this trivial example.