DISCUSSIONS ABOUT QUALITY AND QUANTITY
An interesting story of an E-mail debate
Participants (in order of appearance):
The available public documents can be reached through the links posted inside the text. However, for the sake of clarity I also incorporated them in this page.
The whole story started when I incidentally bumped in an ANNOTATION: Quality and Quantity made on the Principia Cybernetica Project Metasystem Transition Theory page by Georgi Georgiev. Here is the complete content of the comment:
ANNOTATION: Quality and Quantity
Georgi Georgiev =
All of the data that we have from the evolution of any kind of system show the same dependence - exponential increase of the Quality of the developing system with the increase of the Quantity. These two functions are connected and as the increase of the first of them leads to the increase of the second, the same way the increase of the second leads to the increase of the first. I will give one biological and one economical example. If there are more individuals of the same kind it is more probable for them to have useful mutation, or to change the environment and for the kind to evolve in better adapted state. This is the quantity increase the quality. From another hand, the following better organization in the kind of species leads to wider distribution and again to increase in the in the quantity. Then the cycle repeats again. This is the main way that the evolution happens. Let's consider another kind of developing system - the economy of our society. The same is true here. The distribution of a product - car or software leads to higher profit, which allows more spending for research and development and the R&D leads to increase in the quality ( productivity ) of the product. This increased quality gives better economic effect for the consumers and this increase the spending for it, which increases the quantity. This new quantity repeats the cycle again. This two functions of developing system of any kind ( it might be language, mathematical, chemical or any other abstract system ) form a system themselves and can be viewed as a mechanism for development. This two abstract functions can be called interfunctions. The interfunctionality is the way any developing system evolves. If one of the interfunctions stops to increase the other stops as well. There is some equilibrium at which definite value of one of the interfunctions corresponds to definite value of the other of the interfunctions. This way if the increase of one of them stop, then stops the increase of the other, which means the development as a whole stops, and the developing system dies. For example if the growth of the human population in the world as a whole stop, then the development of the system as a whole will stop.
I was "forced" to answer at that comment because it seems to me that the connection between quality and quantity should not be understood in such a simplified way. So I posted a comment on Georgi's annotation:
ANNOTATION: Transitions between Quality and Quantity
Josip Pajk =Iím not sure if I understood correctly your idea. You state that "more something of the same kind" leads for "the quantity to increase the quality", and moreover this increase of quality again leads to the increase of quantity, and so on. This is, by definition, the positive feedback function. One must be careful with this kind of feedback because the system is likely to became unstable. I think (correct me if Iím wrong) you forget that the environmental resources for any kind of system are fixed and limited (thanks God), constraining the unlimited evolution (in terms of number, quantity, of course) to systems of all kind (species). The system must, thus, evolve qualitatively (increase itís knowledge, organization) to survive in such limited and overcrowded environment. Quality is harder to find in large quantities. In contrary, lack of quantity usually produces quality. If this would not be true, we would have "coal-powered computers" nowadays. I think it is more a question of "transition" between quality and quantity and vice versa. Quantity in a limited environment brings to the reduction (concentration) of quality, only the fittest survives, those systems capable to mutate and adapt themselves to the environmental changes made by the increase in quantity. In the other hand, quality usually brings to the increase of quantity, which inevitably results with a decrease (deconcentration) in quality due to the increased amount of variety from which the choice must be made. As it can be seen, selection is the key word in these transitions between quality and quantity. Natural selection has itís rules that may not be appropriate for making selections in other kind of systems we are involved in. Management is nothing else, and nothing more, than the art of making selections of appropriate people, ideas, methods, and so on, for the fulfilment of imposed short- and long-terms goals. Nature can not be blamed for the selections it made. We actually are one of the results of itís selection. Unlike it, we have generations in front of us (have we?) to qualify the choices we make today. All that we can do is increase our knowledge (individual and collective) to gain the competence for not making the wrong choices in what our goals are, and how to fulfil them. I have more "anarchistic" ideas about cybernetics I would like to discuss with other people. I have not much time for "surfing" the Net so please send me your questions, suggestions, ideas, encountered practical problems, etc. Please be short and as simple you can. My E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org Josip Pajk
After some time Georgi send me an E-mail with the following content:
Date: Fri, 05 Dec 1997 00:41:13 -0500 (EST)
From: Georgi Georgiev
Dear Mr. Pajk,
Thank you for the comments of the annotation of the MST Theory!
Yes the decrease of the quantity promotes quality. This is reaction of the
system to defend itself against the changing environment. That's what
happens with the increase of the quantity of the species of some kind. The
resources available become less and less, which namely leads to increase
of the quality in order the bigger system to survive the changes. You are
right, we have to specify which quantity we have in mind. It is not the
quantity of the resources available for the system, but of the system
itself. Then this increase leads to decrease of the quantity of the
resources available and we cannot have "coal powered computer". But
keeping the quantity of the system itself very low leads to the opposite
effect. The resources are plenty and we don't need any changes in the
quality. Then the system will be in equilibrium with the environment and
the development will stop. That's why I am saying that the constant
increase of the quantity of the system is the key to its survival and
development, and that there is no limit for the increase of the quality -
the system will always find solution for every problem. We don't know how
it works and our goal is to find it but it works.
I will be very happy to read more from your comments!
Thank you very much!
From it I realized that I didn't explain well my point of view in the first place so I made an effort to explain it better:
On December 8. I send him the following E-mail:
Josip Pajk :
Dear Mr. Georgiev,
Thank you for the attention you gave and the time you spent on my, now when Iím reading it again, pretty rude comment on your annotation on the MST Node. Please forgive me for that. I was striving to be as much as possible direct in the explanation of my point of view. Now I see that I didnít succeed completely in this endeavour. If you have some more time to spend I will try to explain it better.
For me, quality is not a fixed category, but the result (and a mean tool) of environmental filtration. It is strongly bounded with the environmental criteria of selection, or better, with the current environmental demands.
The first selection criteria in any environment is survival. The whole species survives only through the survival of the particular specieís entities as wholes. Re-production of entities is the process that provides the means for survival of the species. The species holds the basic structure of itís entities, but every created entity is a unique whole, more or less different from the "mathematical" species model upon which it was created. Quality, as I see it, is lying in this little difference. The species have no quality of itís own. There are no qualitative differences between species. The "quality" of species can be analysed only in the correlation with the present environmental demands, not when compared to other species. However, other species and their entities makes the environment, so even the environment can be represented as a dynamic evolutionary system.
There would not be any evolutionary process without the quality (difference) inherent to entities that form species. Quantity in this case did not play the crucial role. The accent is on the amount of difference (freedom) allowed by the specieís "model" in the re-creation of itís particular entity. The rule is simple: lower the allowed difference by the model - greater the quantity of re-produced entities and vice versa. It is an intuitive speculation of mine, and I believe it is true (but not proven) for all kinds of systems. Take a look on the difference in quantity between various biological systemsí entities (insects and humans) for example. What I want to stress is that: if an entity (dynamic system) is more flexible (have more freedom), it is more likely that it will survive in the changing environment. Entities with less freedom (rigid structures) are more susceptible to environmental states, so they must rely on quantity in order to survive. On the other hand "models" permitting extensive "freedom" in the creation of each entity are labile and therefore can survive merely by chance.
This is true even for organizational systems as are production organizations. On one side you have serial, mass-production of standard products, and on the other side you have producers of small number of custom designed products (like is Rolls Royce). They are all "living" in the same environment.
In my first reaction I was disputing your statement that the increase of quantity automatically leads to the increase in quality. It is not a rule. I will try to explain it with a recent well known case: You probably know the story of the "war" between two producers of the most used Web Browsers, Netscape and Microsoft.
The Navigator was born "in the head" of few people without any money, while Microsoft with all itís "Quantity" didnít think at all of producing something like that. So we can say that in the first phase of the process, the Quantity (QN) for the people that will later establish Netscape was Low (L), and the Quality (QL) was High (H). At the same time, for the other player, Microsoft, in this particular field, QN=H, because it had the "potential" to produce such a browser and QL=L because there didnít see the environmental demand for such kind of software.
What did occur next? The QL=H of the first Navigator and the great idea of giving it to people free of charge, accomplished the fast increase in the quantity of users, or we can say that a transition happened from Quality to Quantity. It is true even literally because the final result was the August 1995. one-day "explosive" increase of the company's value in money terms.
Only now the "second player" becomes aware of the treat imposed to it on the market by this outsiders, and invests great amounts of money in the creation of the Explorer. We can say that Microsoft made a transition from QN towards QL in order to survive in the "browser" environment.
So, what is the present situation? We have two structurally very close (QN=H, and QL=H) browsers on the market, or better, we have a state of equilibrium, where only small differences in the two products acts as the element for environmental selection. If we address the "explosive" transitions from QL to QN and from QN to QL as "revolution", now we have a process of small variations, or evolution, in this field.
There is no chance any more that any of those two "players" will have a big qualitative shift like that one made by Marc Andressen and company in the very beginning of this story. Why? It is simple. The structure of Netscape is now very similar to that of Microsoft directed by Bill Gates, massive, with a strong inertia (more people, more money, more to loose) and doesnít allow "revolutionary" changes any more.
When I say that the increase of quantity brings to the decrease (deconcentration) in quality, I mean exactly this. Big systems are more "fit" for survival, because they can make transitions from quantity to quality (invest), in that you are absolutely right, but they are not places where "quality can be found in large quantities". Small systems, or particular entities, which have "nothing to loose", have more freedom and (only if they are fit enough to survive) can, thus, make bigger qualitative shifts, because they are searching for solutions in a much broader space which is not constrained by their previous achievements as it is for big systems like Microsoft and Netscape.
It is not my intention to state that big systems are "better" or "worse" organizational structures (as I said, species can not be compared). What Iím trying to say is that each kind of system has itís advantages and constraints. Small systems survives because of the major freedom they gave to their entities, while the entities forming big systems have less freedom but their great number make the system qualitatively fit to survive.
... some ending comments and questions irrelevant for this discussion ....
The discussion became more interesting when I received an E-mail from Alain Grynberg who also read the comment of mine posted on the PCP node. He was asking my opinion about the Professor Turchin's book "Metasystem Transition Theory" but as I was interested in his opinion about the quality and quantity discussion I also send him a copy of my correspondence with Georgi.
The same day two answers arrived, from Alain:
Alain Grynberg =
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 12:17:18 -0500
From: Alain Grynberg
Organization: ALGRYN CONSULTING INC.
X-Mailer: Mozilla 4.01 [en] (Win95; I)
To: Josip Pajk
Subject: Re: On quality and quantity
Tank you for your reply on PCP issues. Yes, I fully agree with your
point of view re Quantity/quality. However the discussion on such general
concepts as "quality" and " quantity", and the conclusions one may draw
from a careful analysis carry the same weakness as the marxist concept
of "class struggle" carried because of it's inadequate level of
description of reality. Class struggle, quantity, quality, etc, are too
big bricks to build a theory from. One must search for more proven
elementary components and their internal/external dynamics, and then
only reconstruct bricks from them. Chances are then that we are less
liable to build new myths that hold for a certain time, until they break
apart due to the pressure of non encompassed facts when the theory was
built. Example : Marxism was built after Hegelian concepts of state
and styles of government. At the time nothing or almost nothing was
known (as it is today) about individual psychology, motivations,
economical trends and drives (Freud, Piaget, Maslow, etc, came much
later). The result was that even on a pure theoretical basis, marxist
philosophy of society was treating human beings as abstract robot-like
entities, due to massively and almost mechanically obey trends of
history. The end of the communist era was also the end of a myth that
could not survive human/technological/economical tectonic forces
completely ignored/underestimated by the fathers of marxism/communism
sociology. Class struggle was an inadequate, too rough concept to
explain social dynamics.
.... irrelevant for the discussion ....
... and from Georgi:
Georgi Georgiev =
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 13:25:29 -0500 (EST)
From: Georgi Georgiev
Subject: Quantity and quality
To: Josip Pajk
Reply-to: Georgi Georgiev
Thank you for the answer.
... Introduction notes irrelevant for the discussion ....
Yes, I like the economical examples because they are the way our
developing system is evolving. I like also the example for the browser
war. But let's make simple thought experiment, as we cannot make a real.
Let's take two developing systems. One with larger quantity and one with
smaller - say it is the number of people. Let's take everything else to
be equal in order to vary only one parameter. Now let's start the time
coordinate. What will happen? The smaller system will produce all kinds of
products. The same will do the larger system. But what will be the speed.
In the smaller system the number of the products is smaller, which
results in higher "price" of them. Given everything else equal, the people
could buy less of this products. The people could invent higher and higher
quality products, but they will be more and more expensive and the people
will buy less and less of them, untill the need of new inventions stops.
In the bigger system, the opposite, the number of the products will be
higher, the price lower, with the same money, the people will have higher
purchase power, and buy more of them. The higher sales will lead to more
profits and the needs of new products. The higher Research and Development
costs will be distributed between the higher number of people and the
prices will be again much lower, and so on, the larger system will reach
much further in the invention of new things, than the smaller system, and
eventually stop at much higher level, than in the small system. So the
organization and the quality will be much lower in the system with lower
But we have this experiment done really. The isolated economy of the
socialist countries was much smaller, and that's why much less developed
than the western. Or another real experiment: Why the countries apply
economic sanctions to the other countries? Making their economy smaller
they slow their development.
We can see the experiment also in the ecology. Every isolated
geologically ( smaller ) system is on some earlier intermediate stage of
the development of the global system. Examples include Australia, for the
animals, South America for many plants and animals, North America untill
500 years ago, for the people. Small system cannot afford new inventions.
They are too expensive for it.
That's my view.
This was the point when I decided to put this debate in public on this page for three reasons:
I want more people be involved in this multidisciplinary discussion
It seems to me a good idea to put in one place all different opinions about this matter
Technically I didn't know how to manage in another way this "private" discussion group.
So I invite anyone who have something to say about this matter to:
Leave a comment in my Guest Book, or
Write me an E-mail with her/his opinion
All thoughts relevant to this discussion will be presented on this page, where I will directly put my answers to individual or a group of similar opinions.
I will start with the answer to Alain and Georgi: