by dyketheelder

We stir, mix, knead, and blend all the time when we’re cooking (or painting, for that matter). We do it to produce uniformity, homogeneity, smoothness, and so on. If you want your pea soup with lumps of ham, and maybe carrots, in it, don’t put it through the blender. If you want a marbled loaf of bread, don’t stir the two batters together too much; just enough to get the fractal dimension of marbling you want. If you want nice smooth gravy, blend it.

If you want nice scrolls and whorls in your Belusov Zabotinski reaction. don’t stir it. If you want a nice smooth martini, stir (or shake) it.

If you don’t want a uniform sea of blank faces in your classroom, don’t impose a system of homogeneity producers in your prerequisites and in your required assignments.

If you want the distinctiveness of your state to make a difference in a presidential election, elect through an electoral college, not a nationwide popular vote.

Everywhere and always there are reasons and pressures to stir, mix, knead and blend, and reasons not to do so. A humble epitome of the nonlinear dynamics we live by.



  1. Nice. JohnD just added this link to our earlier discussion of Murakami and translation, rightly noting that it connects here too:

    Stephen Snyder, “The Murakami Effect: On the Homogenizing Dangers of Easily Trans!ated Literature”

    Incidentally, Snyder’s project on the face of it looks a lot like what I take JohnM to be doing with the Japanese ad industry?

    I suppose we might talk about the differences among admixture, incorporation, and chemistry. Or as the old joke has it, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.

    What do we even mean by a “learning outcome?”

  2. “Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.”
    – JM Keynes, 1936

  3. “If you don’t want a uniform sea of blank faces in your classroom, don’t impose a system of homogeneity producers in your prerequisites and in your required assignments.”

    I used to work on evidence-based best practices in medical diagnosis and treatment. Certainly the intent was to impose a system of homogeneity among those who had the prerequisites (an MD degree), with the required assignments consisting of the research literature evaluating the efficacy and effectiveness — the outcomes — of various treatments for a particular diagnosis. I expected that, by standardizing the 80% of situations they routinely encounter, the doctors could devote more of their attention to the 20% hard cases where empirical evidence was inadequate. Of course the doctors resisted: you’re not a real doctor; medicine is an art not a technology; etc. Like all of us, the docs didn’t like the idea of being replaced by lower-paid technicians and robots. I don’t think that most of them really wanted to struggle with the hard cases; they wanted to keep earning big money and prestige doing mostly routine activities. But the doctors controlled the means of production; i.e., they owned their own practices. So they were able to take advantage of the situation by offloading most of the routine diagnostic and treatment work to techs and machines, enabling them to see 5 times as many patients per hour as before. Instead of working on the hard cases, the doctors became managers; instead of making less money, they made more. Now most of the doctors have sold their practices to hospitals, relieving them of some of the managerial duties and risks of running their own businesses. And the hospitals, typically wielding monopoly power in their local marketplaces, have been able to raise prices across the board, letting doctors maintain or increase their incomes.

  4. that seems to hit a nail on the head; and probably drives the nail right on through leaving a hole out through which a lot of health care leaks. (gak what a sentence). Two other facets that have to be considered are (a) hyperspecialization — that reinforces the focus on the 80%; and (b) the vast expansion of expectations for health care, both in terms of numbers and in terms of entitled access to “the state of the art”. How many doctors would we need if a large part of the system weren’t routinized and automated?

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