Thursday, April 25, 2013

Measuring 'Progress'

There's all kinds of waffling all the time about social and economic progress.

I think it's easier to just consider two likely factors, based on empirical observation. Societies and economies that are said to have progressed relative to others are those with a higher information flux density or energy flux density.

For those less enamoured of technical-sounding terms, 'flux density' is a measure of the rate at which something flows through a cross-sectional area. So a high information flux density implies that a lot of information is flowing through a specific cross-section. The more 'units' (how ever measured) of information or energy flow through an average cross-section of the society being evaluated, the more 'socioeconomically progressive' it can be said to be.

Whether this is a valid formulation or not is still debatable. However, it's an interesting place to start — my personal thesis that socioeconomic progress can be measured by information and/or energy flux density, or some combination thereof.

Why would such measures be valid?

Well, if information is being transferred from node to node (that is, meaning is successfully conveyed — a la communication theory — from one place to another), then teaching and learning, and other social tools, are implied. The higher the density, the more likely it is that it is for some purpose; it is unlikely that a lot of information is being routed from point A to point B for no reason at all (except, perhaps, for back-up and other 'modern' purposes). If large amounts of energy (of any kind) are being transferred from point A to point B, it is also unlikely that it is being used for no reason at all (except, perhaps, for aesthetic purposes such as decorative lighting).

Although there will certainly be exceptions, the chance of social complexity, diversity of thought, and diversity of purposeful action being present should increase with the increase in these flux densities. In order to make this more robust, I'd propose that successful 'flow' should be measured in terms of what was sent at the transmitting end and what was used at the recipient end. So if someone sends me an email and it is routed to my junk folder and deleted, that doesn't count, since no information transfer in a practical sense has occurred.

Let's see how it goes...

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