Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trade-Off #20: Quality vs Quantity

If the above photo had two flowers instead of just this one, would each seem slightly less pretty? I don't know for sure (we are talking about aesthetics, after all), but I imagine that most would say yes, because each flower would stand out less from the background and seem less unique. The only exception would be if the flowers somehow contrasted or augmented each other's beauty.

In scarce environments, and aside from such cases where individuals interact to produce effects greater than the sum of their parts, the average quality of an agent's choice will be inversely related to its quantity. Here are some examples:
  • People often wonder whether they should spend lots of time and energy pursuing one high-quality mate, or distribute those resources pursuing many lower-quality ones. This is a very general quandary, which many if not all reproductive species face. (see here)
  • In searching a text, an increase in the proportion of relevant results to total results typically comes at the cost of missing more of the possible relevant results from the whole search space. (see here)
  • For an individual using an online social network, adding more "friends" usually decreases the quality of his relationship with his average connection. (see here)
Trade-offs are found everywhere, even in making a list of the most important and widespread trade-offs. So given the quality vs quantity trade-off that we face in adding more trade-offs to this list, the first draft of the canon will end here.

(photo credit to domesticated diva)