# It's not always insane: more is different

08 Aug 2023

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” —usually attributed to Einstein

“Naïveté is doing the same thing over and over, and always expecting the same result.” —Frank Wilczek, Scientific American, 2015

“More is different.” –P.W. Anderson, Science, 1972.

I’ve heard Einstein’s insanity quote quite often. I’ve heard Wilczek’s less. Both of these—while pithy—only apply in certain instances.

If a door is marked “push,” it really doesn’t matter how many times you “pull” it–and it would be ‘insane’ to expect that it will open. On the other hand, if you work in a coffee shop and the first five people of the day order plain coffees, it would be ‘naive’ to expect the next five also must. When we look at a statistical analysis of gospel presentations, we might say the vast majority of a particular kind of Gospel presentation—for example, a tract—achieve no result in a particular context. This doesn’t mean they are entirely without result.

For example, hypothetically, let’s say a million Bibles are placed in hotel rooms, and 99.9% of them yield no result. That still leaves 0.1%, and 0.1% of a million is 1,000 souls. For most strategies, the issue isn’t a lack of desired results, but rather the cost-effectiveness (money, time, and so forth) and the question of whether some other strategy is more cost-effective or not.

The third quote taps the additional nuance: you can repeat the same thing over and over and get the same result (“insanity”)–but if you do the same thing in greater quantities, you can get a different result. With things that involve people, ‘more’ can eventually reach a tipping point that causes a cascade (“go slow to go fast”). Suddenly, everyone is buying the latest fad toy or joining on the latest social network. The ‘virality’ has exploded seemingly out of nowhere (but really, just doubling unseen in the background). My general rule of thumb: more is different at 10^x (or, simply, “add another zero”).

07 Aug 2023

09 Aug 2023

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