Prior Quotes of the Week

Fourth Quarter, 2000

(Titles that are linked may be ordered online.)

Network Economies & Social Capital
Francis Fukuyama, The Great Disruption,
pp. 197 - 200, Profile Books 1999.

 The classic theory of the firm laid out by Ronald Coase in 1937 argues that hiearchies exist because of transaction costs. A complex activity like building cars could be done in theory, by small, decentralized firms contracting with one another to produce all of the component parts, with separate companies providing design, systems integration, and marketing. The reason cars are not made this way by giant, vertically integrated firms is that the costs of all of the negotiating, contracting, and litigating required to outsource everything are much greater than the cost of bringing these activities in-house, where the firm can control the quality of all the inputs and outputs by managerial fiat. ...

If we understood a network not as a type of formal organization, but as social capital, we will have much better insight into what a network's economic function is. By this view, a network is a moral relationship of trust: A network is a group of individual agents who share informal norms or values beyond those necessary for ordinary market transactions. ...

A network is different from a market insofar as networks are defined by their shared norms and values. This means the economic exchange within a network will be conducted on a different basis from economic transactions in a market. A purist might argue that even market transactions require some shared norms, but the norms required for economic exchange are relatively minimal. Exchange can occur between people who don't know or like one another, or who speak different languages; indeed, it can occur anonymously between agents who never know each other's identities. Exchange among members of a network is different. The shared norms give them a superordinate purpose that distorts the market relationship. ...

They are much more willing to engage in reciprocal exchange in addition to market exchange - for example, conferring benefits without expecting immediate benefits in return. Although they may expect long-term individual returns, the exchange relationship is not simultaneous and is not dependent on a careful cost-benefit calculation as it is in a market transaction.

Quote #200: 2000.12.13

Keep Some Dirt in There Somewhere
taken from Improvisation by Robert O'Meally, from Seeing Jazz: Artists and Writers on Jazz,
copyright 1997, Smithsonian Institution.
 The word improvisation derives from the Latin im + provisus, meaning 'not provided' or 'not foreseen.' In some sense, all artistic creation depends on the ability to improvise, to extemporize an unscripted drama, to blow a note not heard before, to fill the blank canvas of the moment. But in the making of jazz music, improvisation is a definitive hallmark, a sine qua non: a something without which, not. Jazz is substantially a performer's art where any charts or notations are provisional guideposts, notes indicating a work's general direction but never its final lines or last word. It is a music in the oral tradition, one in which a composer/arranger's latest changes may be shouted out during on-stage performance and where the performer may introduce a shift in direction while playing, in the unforeseen moment of jazz creation.
 Jazz's improvised character is balanced with the fact that it is never a free-for-all; it has both an improvised freshness as well as a composer/arranger's sense of completeness and finish. Duke Ellington told his band to play the notes as written but also 'to keep some dirt in there, somewhere.' In other words, even when Ellington's band played pieces with no solo spaces indicated, he wanted his players to keep the made-up-on-the-spot dimension, something the score expected but did not ask for explicitly, something of the performers' improvised own, some 'dirt.'
Quote #199: 2000.12.06

Finding Order in Experience
John W. Gardner, Self-Renewal: The Individual & the Innovative Society, pp. 47 - 48, W.W. Norton Company, 1963, 1995 (reprint).
 The individual of high originality, having opened himself to such a rich and varied range of experience, exhibits an extraordinary capacity to find the order that underlies that varied range of experience, I would even say an extraordinary capacity to impose order on experience....
 This aspect of the creative process has not received the emphasis it deserves. We have made much of the fact that the innovator frees himself from old patterns and have neglected to emphasize that he does so in order to forge new patterns. This, if you reflect on it, suggests a picture of the creative individual fundamentally different from the romanticized version . . . that people of high originality are somehow lawless. But the truly creative man is not an outlaw but a lawmaker. Every creative performance since the initial one has been in some measure a bringing of order out of chaos. It brings about a new relatedness, connects things that did not previously seem connected, sketches a more embracing framework, moves towards larger and more inclusive understandings.
Quote #198: 2000.11.30

Rollo May,
The Courage to Create ,

W.W. Norton Company (reprint), 1975, 1994.
  I may have worked at my desk morning after morning trying to find a way to express some important idea. When my 'insight' suddenly breaks through -- which may happen when I am chopping wood in the afternoon -- I experience a strange lightness in my step as though a great load were taken off my shoulders, a sense of joy on a deeper level that continues without any relation whatever to the mundane tasts that I may be performing at the time. It cannot be just that the problem at hand has been answered -- that generally brings only a sense of relief. What is the source of this curious pleasure?
 I propose that it is the experience of this-is-the-way-things-are-meant-to-be. If only for that moment, we participate in the myth of creation. Order comes out of disorder, form out of chaos, as it did in the creation of the universe. The sense of joy comes from our participation, no matter how slight, in being as such. The paradox is that at that moment we also experience more vividly our own limitations. We discover the amor fati that Nietzche writes about -- the love of one's fate. No wonder it gives a sense of ecstasy!
Quote #197: 2000.11.21

See What We Mean

Douglas Hofstadter,
"Analogy as the Core of Cognition,"

The Best American Science Writing 2000,
James Gleick, editor. pp. 139,
The Ecco Press, 2000.

 My point is simple: we are prepared to see, and we see easily, things for which our language and culture hand us ready-made labels. When those labels are lacking, even though the phenomena may be all around us, we may quite easily fail to see them at all. The perceptual attractors [metaphors] that we each possess (some coming from without, some coming from within, some on the scale of mere words, some on a much grander scale) are the filters through which we scan and sort reality, and thereby they determine what we perceive on high and low levels.

Quote #196: 2000.11.15

Quote #195 (2000.11.05)

Better Off Forgotten

 To live is to forget. And it is better that way. If we remembered everything, our minds would be a nightmarish clutter. There have been cases recorded of people who forgot so little that their everyday lives were totally confused. There was no space for new thoughts or intelligent processing of information. Friedrich Nietzsche (how could we forget him?) believed that without forgetting there could be no happiness, no hope, no here and now. 'Whoever thinks much and too good purpose easily forgets his own experiences, but not the thoughts which these experiences have called forth.

. . . If human beings were computers (which we aren't) we might compare our memories to hard-drives which slowly but surely fill up with old files and file fragments as we get older. And the older we become, the more difficult it gets for us to process new knowledge and experience. Older people remember events of thirty years ago more clearly than those of last week. The American writer and psychologist Lawrence LeShan observes that, for the first fifty years of our lives, we remember the details of the tasks we have to perform. But after the age of about sixty we see the world differently. We focus more on relationships and meanings. Our memory becomes more selective. Instead of remembering the names of the people we have just met, we focus on the emotional tone of the meeting. Instead of facts, we remember meaning. Instead of width, we remember depth. We lose the sharp edges of our memory; but that just makes us wiser and more able to put things in perspective.

 Living is forgetting and forgetting is selecting. We come into the world as a blank page and leave it fully written. For most of us, absent-mindedness and oblivion are probably all we have to look forward to.

 Don't remember where you put your keys? Don't worry. Think of it as your contribution to the advance of human civilisation.

Louise Van Swaaij and Jean Klare, with English text by David Winner, The Atlas of Human Experience, pp. 46 - 47, Bloomsbury, 2000.

Quote #194 (2000.10.26)

Bootstrapping Collective Intelligence

 The flashy stories of overnight web millionaires (and billionaires) became the loudest notes in the symphony of the early web era, leading many to believe that electronic commerce was the reason for the Web; this was an easy mistake to make ... But these tales only partially hid a more fundamental change: Our relationship to knowledge became instantaneous, ubiquitous, and far more integrated into the fabric of culture than it ever had before....
 It's as if a new layer of mind—collective intelligence—enveloped the Earth as the twentieth century drew to a close. In half a decade, the prosperous population of the Western world found itself drawn into cyberspace, finding prizes so alluring they became impossible to resist. (Of course, there was a fair amount of garbage mixed into that mound of jewels.) Even without promotion, without the endless hype or clever marketing campaigns, the Web would have been everything it is today because it needs nothing more than itself to be the all-consuming object of human fascination. It has become the ultimate seductive technology—because we all worked to build it, adding our own individual identities to the whole.

Mark Pesce , The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming our Imagination, pp. 163 - 164, Ballantine Books, 2000.

Quote #193 (2000.10.19)

Escaping to Higher Order

 But what about the transitions, those risers on the stairsteps of cultural change? How does a system that self-corrects ever grow and change? ...As a system wanders further and further from equilibrium, it begins to take on chaotic and unpredictable fluctuations. These aren't just random changes, and they're not cyclical either. They are literally chaotic—one consequence of which is a fascinating underlying dynamism that systems analysts call "hunting." The fluctuations seem to hunt for new possibilities, as if the whole system were searching for a new evolutionary level—not just any new level but a more successful way of life than it has had before.
 Unconscious systems like cells and amoebas might make many thousands of tries, millions even, before they arrive at the next higher level. Once they find that level, the system preserves it. More conscious systems like human societies might be able to reach their new level with only a few dozen or a few hundred tries. In every kind of living system, evolutionary leaps are likely to be preceded by chaotic searches and stumblings into crises that cannot be resolved at the old level. The system, in effect, falls into a hole. ...there is a possibility that the system will die at the trough of the hole. It may also fall short of finding a stable new level or make incomplete transitions with partial failures. The evolution of a living system is really that uncertain. But what gives humans a considerable evolutionary advantage is that we can learn from our mistakes, or even plan ahead—if we can make sense of what is happening.

Paul H. Ray & Sherry Ruth Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World, pp. 249 - 250, Harmony Books, 2000.

Quote #192 (2000.10.11)

Slow Motion Solutions

 There are two ways to make systems fault-tolerant: One is to make them small, so that correction is local and quick; the other is to make them slow, so that correction has time to permeate the system. When you proceed too rapidly with something mistakes cascade, whereas when you proceed slowly mistakes instruct. Gradual, incremental projects engage the full power of learning and discovery, and they are able to back out of problems. Gradually emergent processes get steadily better of over time, while quickly imposed processes often get worse over time.
 The astonishing sophistication of ancient poems such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf long has baffled scholars. How could Homer be such a genius? Recent study of illiterate bards in our own day shows that they are always partially improvising for every performance, which solves the problem. The genius of "Homer" was the accumulated ideas of generations of bardic improvisation. The Iliad is so effective because it is so highly evolved. Likewise, science truly took off in the seventeenth century when the Royal Society introduced the idea of scientific "letter" (now "paper"), which encouraged a torrent of small, incremental additions to scientific knowledge.
 Except for open-ended endeavors like science, the tremendously powerful lever of time has seldom been employed. The pyramids of Egypt and Central America took only fifty years to build. Some of the great cathedrals of Europe indeed were built over centuries, but that was due to funding problems rather than patience. Humanity's heroic goals generally have been sought through quick, spectacular action ("We will land a man on the moon in this decade") instead of a sustained accumulation of smaller, distributed efforts that might have an overwhelming effect over time....

Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, pp. 1:56 - 1:57, Basic Books, 1999.

Quote #192 (2000.10.01)

Does Your Company Behave Like a Superorganism?

 The social insects – bees, termites, and ants – provide one of the best examples of the way in which sophisticated behavior emerges from the interactions of simpler entities. Just as an organism "knows" more than any of its individual cells, an ant colony knows more than any single ant.
 Ants, though nearly blind, display a remarkable sensitivity to chemical signals. They use these various substances to send simple messages, such as "follow my trail," "I'm a colony member," "on guard!" "help!" "I'm over here," etc. Biologist E.O. Wilson, a noted expert on ant behavior, suggests that an individual ant can probably send and receive some 15 different messages.
 Imagine several scout ants out foraging for food. One stumbles upon some honey, and drawing upon her repertoire, she deposits a series of chemical messages saying "follow my trail" as she heads for home. The other scouts, having searched for food in vain, leave no returning trail. Sisters in the colony immediately pick up the trail left by the successful ant and go directly to the honey – each one reinforcing the trail on her return. Very quickly, a long column of ants makes its way directly to the food. The appear to follow each other, but in fact each one follows its nose(or, more accurately, its antennae), bumping into and stumbling over those returning with food. Notice that in this scenario, a random search quickly becomes an organized effort, even though each ant simply follows its own rules.
 Clearly, the sharing of information brings an ant colony to a level of complexity (some even call it intelligence) not found in the individual ant. This is why some biologists refer to colonies of ants, bees, and termites as "superorganisms."

Mahlon Hoagland & Bert Dodson, The Way Life Works: Everything You Need to Know About the Way All Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along, pp. 150, Times Books, 1995.

Related Links:
"Rules for Flocking Behavior in the Web"
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, by Kevin Kelly

Other Prior Quotes:

Third Quarter, 2000

Second Quarter, 2000

First Quarter, 2000

Fourth Quarter, 1999

Third Quarter, 1999

Second Quarter, 1999

First Quarter, 1999

Fourth Quarter, 1998

Third Quarter, 1998

Second Quarter, 1998

First Quarter, 1998

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