The meaning of success

I once had a quite extensive discussion with a colleague about several topics related to the software industry, and slowly but methodically we reached a fundamental disagreement on what “success” means. Needless to say, without agreeing on what “success” means it’s really hard to reach a conclusion on anything else. I now believe that many problems in society — not only in the software industry — can be derived from our mismatches in our understanding of the word “success”. It is like trying to decide if abortion is moral without agreeing on what “moral” means — and we actually don’t have such an agreement — and in fact, some definitions of morality might rely on the definition of “success”.

For example: which is more successful? Android? iPhone? or Maemo? If you think a successful software platform is the one that sells more (as many gadgets geeks probably do), you would answer Android, if on the other hand you think success is defined by what is more profitable (as many business people would do), you would answer iPhone. But I contend that success is not relative only relative to a certain context; there’s also an objective success that gives a clear answer to this question, and I hope to reach it at the end of this post.

This not a meta-philosophical exercise, I believe “success” in the objective sense can be clearly defined and understood, but in order to do that, I would need to show some examples and counter-examples in different disciplines. If you don’t believe in the theory of evolution of species by natural selection, you should probably stop reading.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as (among other definitions):

  • a : to turn out well
  • b : to attain a desired object or end <students who succeed in college>

From this we can say there’s two types of success; one is within a specific context (e.g. college), and the other one is in general. In this blog post I will talk about generic success, with no specific goal, or rather with the generic ultimate goal. Since it’s highly debatable (and difficult) how to define this “ultimate goal”, I will concentrate on the opposite; to try to define the ultimate failure in a way that no rational person would deny it.

Humans vs. Bacteria

My first example is: what organisms are more successful? Humans, or bacteria? There are many angles in which we could compare these two organisms, but few would reach a definite answer. The knee-jerk reaction of most people would be to say: “well, clearly humans are more evolved than bacteria, therefore we win”. I’m not an expert in the theory of evolution, but I believe the word “evolved” is misused here. Both bacteria and humans are the results of billions of years of evolution, in fact, one could say that some species of bacteria are more evolved because Homo Sapiens is a relatively new species and only appeared a few hundred thousands years ago, while many species of bacteria have been evolving for millions of years. “Kids these days with their fancy animal bodies… I have been killing animals since before you got out of the water… Punk” — A species of bacteria might say to younger generations if such a thing would be possible. At best humans are as evolved as bacteria. “Primitive” is probably the right word; bacteria is more primitive because it closely resembles its ancestors. But being primitive isn’t necessarily bad.

In order to reach a more definitive answer I will switch the comparison to dinosaurs vs. bacteria, and come back to the original question later. Dinosaurs are less primitive than bacteria, yet dinosaurs died, and bacteria survived. How something dead can be considered successful? Strictly speaking not all dinosaurs are dead, some evolved into birds, but that’s besides the point; let’s suppose for the sake of argument that they are all dead (which is in fact how many people consider them). A devil’s advocate might suggest that this comparison is unfair, because in different circumstances dinosaurs might have not died, and in fact they might be thriving today. Maybe luck is an important part of success, maybe not, but it’s pointless to discuss about what might have been; what is clear is that they are dead now, and that’s a clear failure. Excuses don’t turn a failure into a success.

Let me be clear about my contention; anything that ceases to exist is a failure, how could it not? In order to have even the smallest hope of winning the race, whatever the race may be, even if it doesn’t have a clear goal, or has many winners; you have to be on the race. It could not be clearer: what disappears can’t succeed.

Now, being more evolved, or less primitive, is not as a trump card as it might appear; nature is a ruthless arena, and there are no favorites. The vast majority of species that have ever lived are gone now, and it doesn’t matter how “unfair” it might seem, to nature only the living sons matter, everyone else was a failure.

If we accept that dinosaurs failed, then one can try to use the same metric for humans, but there’s a problem (for our exercise); humans are still alive. How do you compare two species that are not extinct? Strictly speaking all species alive today are still in the race. So how easy is it for humans to go extinct? This is a difficult question to answer, but lets suppose an extreme event turns the average temperature of the Earth 100°C colder; that would quite likely kill all humans (and probably a lot of plants and animals), but most certainly a lot of bacterial species would survive. It has been estimated that there’s 5×1030 bacteria on Earth, countless species, and possibly surpassing the biomass of all plants and animals. In fact, human beings could not survive without bacteria, since it’s essential to the human microbiome, and if you sum the bacteria genes in a human body, it probably outranks the human genes by a factor of 100-to-1. So, humans, like dinosaurs, could disappear rather easily, but bacteria would still be around for a long long time. From this point of view, bacteria are clearly more successful than humans.

Is there any scenario in which humans would survive, and bacteria would not? (therefore making humans more successful) I can think of some, but they would be far into the future, and most definitely we are not yet there. We are realizing the importance of our microbiome only now, and in the process of running the Human Microbiome Project, so we don’t even know what role our bacteria plays, therefore we don’t know how we could replace them with something else (like nanorobots). If bacteria disappeared today, so would we. It would follow then that bacteria are more successful, and there’s no getting around that.

Fundamentals and Morality

Could we define something more fundamental about success? I believe so: a worse failure than dying, is not being able to live in the first place, like a fetus that is automatically aborted because of a bad mutation, or even worse; an impossibility. Suppose “2 + 2 = 5”; this of course is impossible, so it follows that it’s a total failure. The opposite would be “2 + 2 = 4”; this is as true as anything can be, therefore it’s a total success.

There’s a realm of mathematics that is closer to what we consider morality: game theory. But don’t be fooled by its name; game theory is as serious as any other realm of mathematics, and the findings as conclusive as probability. An example of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma — here’s a classic version of it:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the one that remains silent receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do? If it is supposed here that each player is only concerned with lessening his time in jail, the game becomes a non-zero sum game where the two players may either assist or betray the other. In the game, the sole worry of the prisoners seems to be increasing his own reward. The interesting symmetry of this problem is that the logical decision leads each to betray the other, even though their individual ‘prize’ would be greater if they cooperated.

There are different versions of this scenario; with different rules and more complex agents game theory arrives to different conclusions as to what rational agents should do to maximize their outcomes, but these strategies are quite factual and universal; we are not talking about human beings; they are independent of culture, or historicism; the rules are as true here as they are in the other side of the universe. So if game theory determines that a certain strategy fails in certain situation, that’s it; it’s as hard of a failure as “2 + 2 = 5”.

With this notion we might be able to dive into more realistic and controversial examples — like slavery. Nowadays we consider slavery immoral, but that wasn’t the case in the past. One might say that slavery was a failure (because it doesn’t exist (at least as a desirable concept)), but that is only the case in human society, perhaps there’s another civilization in an alien planet that still has slavery, and they are still debating, so one might be tempted to say that slavery’s failure is still contended (perhaps even more so if you live in Texas). But we got rid of slavery because of a reason; it’s not good for everybody. It might be good for the slave owners, and good for some slaves, but not good for everybody. It is hard to imagine how another civilization could arrive to a different conclusion. Therefore it is quite safe to say that in all likelihood slavery is a failure, because of its tendency to disappear. Perhaps at some point game theory would advance to the point where we can be sure about this, and the only reason it took so long to get rid of slavery is that we are not rational beings, and it takes time for our societies to reach this level of rationality.

Objective morality and the moral landscape

Similarly to the objective success I’m proposing, Sam Harris proposes a new version of objective morality in his book The Moral Landscape. I must admit I haven’t read the book, but I have watched his online lectures about the topic. Sam Harris asserts that the notion that science shouldn’t deal with morality is a myth, and that advances in neuroscience (his field of expertise) can, and should, enlighten us as to what should be considered moral. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective. The different “peaks” in the landscape of morality are points in which society aims to be, in order to be a good one, and historically the methods to find these “peaks” has been rather rudimentary, but a new field of moral science could be the ultimate tool.

Regardless of the method we use to find these “peaks”, the important notion (for this post), is that there’s an abyss; the lowest moral point. The worst possible misery for all beings is surely bad:

The worst-possible-misery-for-everyone is ‘bad.’ If the word ‘bad’ is going to be mean anything surely it applies to the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone. Now if you think the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone isn’t bad, or might have a silver lining, or there might be something worse… I don’t know what you’re talking about. What is more, I’m reasonably sure you don’t know what you’re talking about either.

I want to hijack this concept of the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone that is the basis of (scientific) objective morality, and use it as a comparison to my contention that ceasing-to-exist is the basis for objective success.

Today our society is confronted with moral dilemmas such as gay marriage and legal abortion, many of these are hijacked by religious bigotry and irrationality, and it’s hard to move forward because many still define morality through religious dogmas, and even people who don’t, and are extremely rational, still cling to the idea that morality comes from “God” (whatever that might mean). Even many scientists claim that morality cannot be found through science, and others that morality is relative. But yet others disagree and have tried to define morality in universal terms, like Sam Harris. The jury is still out on this topic, so I cannot say that morality should definitely be defined in terms of what is successful to our worldwide society, merely that it is a possibility — A rather strong one, in my opinion.


It’s a little more tricky to define what constitutes a successful life, because all life ends. The solution must be one on the terms of transcendence: offspring, books, memes, etc. However people living a more hedonistic life might disagree; but lets be clear, a life can be unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things, but still be good, and the other way around. It might be tempting to define success in different terms: “if my goal is to enjoy life, and I do; I’m succeeding”, and while that is true, that’s being successful in relative terms, not general terms.

Some people might have trouble with this notion, so I would give an example: Grigori Perelman vs. Britney Spears. Most people probably don’t know Grigori, but he solved one of the most difficult problems in mathematics, and was awarded one million USD for it. Clearly this would have helped him to become famous, but he rejected interviews and rejected the money. Does this means he rejected success? Well, lets try to view this from the vantage point of 500 years into the future; both Britney Spears and Grigori Perelman would be dead by that time, so the only things that remain would be their transcendence. Most likely nobody would remember Britney Spears, nor listen to any of her music, while it’s quite likely that people would still be using Grigori Perelman’s mathematics, as he would be one of the giants upon which future scientists would stand. In this sense Grigori is more successful, and any other sense of success would be relative to something else, not objective.


Hopefully my definition of success should be clear by now in order to apply it to the initial example.


iPhone is clearly successful in being profitable, but many products have been profitable in the past and have gone with the wind. The real question is: What are the chances that the iPhone will not disappear? It is hard to defend the position that the iPhone will remain for a long period of time because it’s a single product, from a single company, and specially considering that many technology experts can’t find an explanation for its success other than the Apple Cult. While it was clearly superior from an aesthetic point of view while it was introduced, there’s many competitors that are on par today. Maybe it would not disappear in 10 years, but maybe it would. It’s totally unclear.


Compared to the iPhone, Android has the advantage that many companies work on it, directly and indirectly, and it doesn’t live on a single product. So if a single company goes down, that would not kill Android, even if that company is Google. So, as a platform, it’s much more resilient than iOS. Because of this reason alone, Android is clearly more successful than the iPhone — according to the aforementioned definition.


Maemo is dead (mostly), so that would automatically mean that it’s a failure. However, Maemo is not a single organism; it consists of many subsystems that are part of the typical Linux ecosystem: Linux kernel,, Qt, WebKit, GStreamer, Telepathy, etc. These subsystems remain very much alive, in fact, they existed before Maemo, and will continue to exist, and grow. Some of these subsystems are used in other platforms, such as WebOS (also dead (mostly)), Tizen, MeeGo (also dead (kinda)), and Mer.

A common saying is that open source projects never die. Although this is not strictly true, the important thing is that they are extremely difficult to kill (just ask Microsoft). Perhaps the best analogy in the animal kingdom would be to compare Maemo to a sponge. You can divide a sponge into as many parts as you want, put it into a blender, even make sure the pieces pass through a filter with very minute holes. It doesn’t matter; the sponge would reorganize itself again. It’s hard to imagine a more resilient animal.

If this is the case, one would expect Maemo (or its pieces) to continue as Tizen, or Mer (on Jolla phones), or perhaps other platform yet to be born, even though today it seems dead. If this happens, then Maemo would be even more successful than Android. Time will tell.


Like any a scientific theory, the really interesting bit of this idea would be it’s predictive power, so I will make a list of things in their order of success, and if I’m correct the less successful ones would tend to disappear first (or their legacy):

  • Mer > Android > iOS > WP
  • Linux > Windows
  • Bill Gates > Steve Jobs > Carlos Slim (Richest man in the world)
  • Gay marriage > Inequality
  • Rationality > Religious dogma
  • Collaboration > Institutions

To me, this definition of “success” is as true as “2 + 2 = 4” (in fact, it’s kind of based on such fundamental truths), unfortunately, it seems most people don’t share this point of view, as we still have debates over topics which are in my opinion a waste of time. What do you think? Are there examples where this definition of success doesn’t fit?


45 thoughts on “The meaning of success

  1. If your idea is truly a *scientific* theory, then it cannot be “as true as 2 + 2 = 4”. 2+2=4 is a *mathematical* truth, provable from the Peano axioms for arithmetic, the definition of addition, and the definitions of 2 and 4 (2 = S(S(0)), 4 = S(S(S(S(0))))). It can’t be proven wrong, unless arithmetic is inconsistent; it could only be made wrong by, for example, choosing different axioms or different definitions. A *scientific* theory *can* be proven wrong, e.g. if no Higgs boson is found, the Standard Model would be proven wrong, and if, in a significant number of cases, the items on the right-hand sides of your inequalities outlast the items on the left-hand sides, your theory would be proven wrong.

    Thinking of a scientific theory, especially in its early stages, as equivalent to a mathematical theorem can be dangerous; one might fool oneself into thinking it’s “an irrefutable consequence of fundamental truths” and thus that it’s impossible for it to be false.

    (Oh, and in “…that many technology experts can’t find an explanation for its success other than the Apple Cult”, make sure that those are technology *experts* rather than technology *pundits*. Technology *pundits* are people paid to make claims about technology, often the more outrageous the better as that attracts more readers/gets more page clicks/etc. and thus brings in more advertising revenue; whether they know what they’re talking about or are just pulling their claims *ex recto* doesn’t matter. That produces what John Gruber calls “claim chowder”.)

  2. Success is the achievement of one’s aims, goals or mission. Things can end and still be successful. The Mercury project ended but was a success. Its goal was to provide NASA experience in surviving and working in outer space. It suceeded. It ended. It was replaced by the Apollo program. It’s mission was to land Americans on the moon and get them back home again, alive. it suceeded. It ended. Google and Apple have the same basic goal, to make money. Both seem pretty successful. How they differ is how they go about achieving that goal. Apple by making one product with a high profit margin, google, by making a product used by many other products that are sold with much smaller profit margins. Success doesn’t need to involve money however. Many open source projects determine success by how widely the library or application is (legally) used.

    With regard to successfully 🙂 “killing” an open source project, there is an almost surefire way of doing so – paying off the primary developers not to work on it.This is the danger of smaller open source projects where it’s really one or a few developers who are doing all the work. If Linus Torvald stopped working on the linux kernal now, it wouldn’t effect things very much. But what if he had stopped working on it in the early 90s? The problem with Maemo is that some of it’s most important parts were written by a very few developers, e.g. the powervr drivers. Notice, why was the open source adreno GPU “freedreno” driver started? Because the primary author was not allowed (or at least felt he was not allowed) to work on an open source powervr driver as he had access to the code as part of his paying job and was thus “tainted”. Hire enough of these kind of guys and you can kill any open source project.

    A non hardware related example was Tora, an open source competitior to Quest Software’s TOAD. It was written by essentially one person. This person was eventually hired by Quest to work on TOAD.Tora’s last official release? TOra 2.1.3 dated 2010-09-19. Ironically TOAD itself was originally a freeware (but not open source) project written by a different person because he was frustrated with the commercial offerings that existed at the time, including Quest’s SQL Navigator. Quest’s response was the same one they later used with Tora. Buy the guy out.

  3. Two comments:

    1. IMO slavery was ended because the commerce needed more buyers. You “release” the slave in exchange for money (yes, they had to pay for their freedom). At that very moment, the ex-slave has to find a way to earn money to buy food and clothing; things which he got “for free” from his owner before. The whole “we’re abolishing slavery because it’s immoral” is pure propaganda.

    2. “Mer/Maemo will live on through its pieces”. I find that quite a bit pushy actually. In fact, to me that’s plain wrong. Those “pieces” have been there since before Maemo ever existed and the same “pieces” are used by many other players in the game. For example Apple uses the same wpa_supplicant, the same binutils, the same gcc (well, they moved to llvm now, but you get what I mean), the same webkit, the same libiconv and many many other components; the same situation happens with Android which even uses the same Linux Kernel.

    If you can label Maemo successful because it can live through its pieces, you need to give the same label to Android and iOS. Even if apple dies today, GCC, LLVM, wpa_supplicant, binutils, and a bunch of other components will continue to exist. So they are successful right ? Wrong!

    The post started out great, but your final definition of “Success through its pieces” was really pushy.

  4. +Guy Harris

    I’m not saying that my idea is a scientific theory; merely that the idea’s predictive power is interesting.

    +Joseph Charpak

    Yes, things can end and be successful within their specific objectives, but generic success is different. The Mercury project can be successful only if doesn’t disappear completely; if it transcends: in the form of other projects, or in the form of scientific knowledge, or in the form a lesson to humanity. One can easily imagine a scientific experiment that goes awfully wrong and explode a whole building, thus a huge failure in achieving it’s objective, but remain forever in our minds as a lesson to be more careful.

    +Felipe Balbi

    1. It doesn’t really matter why certain societies got rid of slavery. Slavery is immoral today. Even if slavery still existed in some countries, and it was considered moral within that country, it would still be considered immoral everywhere else. And immoral things have a tendency to disappear. The point being that slavery tends to disappear, in any society.

    2. Yes. Android and iOS can survive through their pieces (even though they are not really theirs), but they have far less generic pieces, and far more specific pieces. You could say for example that if they disappear, 40% of iOS could be salvaged, 60% of Android, and 80% of Maemo (totally invented numbers).

    But you have heard that Android doesn’t use much (basically nothing) of a typical Linux ecosystem in user-space, and even in kernel-space a lot of people say it’s a fork (all kernels are a fork, but Android even more). In that sense Maemo has always been more Linux than any of the competitors, and that might be the reason why it transcends more, and thus is more successful in the grand scheme of things. But either way, as I say; we need to see what happens with Tizen and Jolla (and Mer) to be able to say if Maemo was indeed successful, and that should give it a little more credibility to this idea of objective success.

  5. a definition of “success” without context is not possible. you only defined the context “will and how long will it last” with many more words. the longer the more successful. but if time is infinite the possibility that it is unseccussful, your context, is going near 100% (but never reaching it (limes)).

    So the point is (and why i’m writing this), that there is no such thing as “success in an objective sense”.

  6. To be honest, I don’t think I understood what you’re saying.

    To use a metaphor, it strikes me what you’re saying like comparing Maemo to a sandcastle. The sand was there before and then it was made into the castle structure. Then afterwards when the tide came in and washed the castle away, the sand was still there but the ordered structure was gone. And in your definition of success and to finish this metaphor, success is the fact that the sand is still there once the structure is gone? (as an extension of the metaphor Apple and Google would have included sand substitute materials)

    So how does your idea generate the prediction?

    Responding to some of your examples.

    With regards to the success or one species or another within the context of evolution, since evolution is a continuum there is no failure, life goes on.

    Another little metaphor: Many animals are herbivorous and they eat plants. Once eaten, a plant or at least that part of it is dead and therefore following your structure would be a failure. Yet plants bare fruit to attract animals which then successfully carry the plant’s seed to a new non-competing location.

    About slavery, not everything is as rosy as you might think, people are just not nice. These a few older articles that make the point that there is more slavery in the world today than there was at the height of the legal slave trade. Age of the articles aside I don’t believe that there will have been significant deviation from the data as it was when these articles were published:

    Britney Spears vs Grigori Perelman
    You’re clearly forgetting

    Thank you for your patience.

  7. Some people might still be listening to Britney Spears in 500 years. Music from the 1500s (such as Missa de Beata Virgine) hasn’t died out completely yet.

  8. I like the supposed predicative power of your theory, I hope it’s “on the money”.
    Being upset with how F/OSS & GNU/Linux generally has failed to take-off commercially in the last few yrs.
    It gives me some consolation that perhaps all is not lost, LONGER-TERM!

  9. Since time is pretty open ended, I don’t see how success can be defined based on temporal events. That is, who is to say that ten years after Brittney has supposedly failed, her music won’t become all the rage? Perhaps some super civilization in the distant future will decide it’s the bees’ knees to run their computing systems with DOS? If the future defines success, who can truly know the future?

  10. +blubber

    but if time is infinite the possibility that it is unseccussful, your context, is going near 100%

    Then everything is a failure.

    Unless you are wrong, and the universe tends towards stability, and complexity, and everything becomes the building blocks of greater things. IOW; transcendence.


    No, Maemo was not a sand-castle; it was more like a structure made of legos, while Android and iOS is a structure made less malleable pieces (and a few legos).

    But in any case I already pointed to a more appropriate metaphor than a sand-castle: a sponge.

    With regards to the success or one species or another within the context of evolution, since evolution is a continuum there is no failure, life goes on.

    Some branches of life go on, others end forever.

    Yet plants bare fruit to attract animals which then successfully carry the plant’s seed to a new non-competing location.

    Both species are successful, as they have not gone extinct.

    These a few older articles that make the point that there is more slavery in the world today than there was at the height of the legal slave trade.

    That is irrelevant. We now agree that it’s immoral. Slavery, as an idea of what is good and desirable is gone.

    +Anony Mouse

    Some people might still be listening to Britney Spears in 500 years. Music from the 1500s (such as Missa de Beata Virgine) hasn’t died out completely yet.

    Listen to both: one is complex, beautiful, and hard to reproduce; the other is not. One is worth remembering, the other is not.

    Moreover, you are confusing a live “artist” who is doing not much more than present her body and move her mouth, with an actual artist who writes music, which can be reproduced by future generations without diminishing its beauty.

    +Gene Venable

    That is, who is to say that ten years after Brittney has supposedly failed, her music won’t become all the rage?

    Maybe in 10 years, but 100 years? 1000 years? Eventually it will disappear completely, and leave absolutely no transcendence.

    Perhaps some super civilization in the distant future will decide it’s the bees’ knees to run their computing systems with DOS? If the future defines success, who can truly know the future?

    Yes, perhaps, but that is extremely unlikely.

  11. You’re talking about the concept of values here, which is very cool. 🙂

    I eminently agree that morality is both universal and objective (and that moral relativism is a terrible and dangerous concept), but Sam Harris’ version (as I currently understand it, I haven’t looked at him in a while) contains some severe errors: it talks about such minutiae as neurological implementations when actually morality has to do the simple concept of action. We don’t need neurological models to tell us what we ought to want, and furthermore Sam makes the mistake of using those models as a way to dilute the role of the individual, and make individuals *responsible* in some fashion for managing the supposed happiness of others.

    I highly recommend the works of Ayn Rand, a person who studied the concept of universal objective morality in great detail. The general idea is that a person is responsible for their own achievement of happiness by their application of reason and effort to pursue their values, and moreover that it is on their own self-interest to allow others to do the same. She can be a bit of annoying writer to read, and it’s important to check which definition she means by a given usage of a word, but it doesn’t make her core premises or philosophy any less correct.

    To see how the same core logical eventualities drive the biological world, check out The Selfish Gene by Dawkins.

  12. +Andrew

    We don’t need neurological models to tell us what we ought to want, and furthermore Sam makes the mistake of using those models as a way to dilute the role of the individual, and make individuals *responsible* in some fashion for managing the supposed happiness of others.

    Happiness and well-being are concepts connected to neurology: without a nervous system there’s no point in talking about happiness and well-being. A sponge wouldn’t mind if you cut it in half, because it doesn’t feel pain, it doesn’t even realize that such thing happened, it doesn’t have a concept of self, it doesn’t even have a brain, and it doesn’t even have senses. There’s no point in talking about morality when it comes to sponges.

    I highly recommend the works of Ayn Rand, a person who studied the concept of universal objective morality in great detail.

    I have read her novels, and while I like many concepts, morality is defined by societies, not by individuals, there’s nothing else to it.

  13. well you should really be comparing bacteria with say animals. or a specific species of bacteria with humans… asside from that if you want a fudemental and technical measure of success you probably want to look at something like thermodynamics and entropy. So lets try a worked example.

    Two peoplea re attending collage both of hypothetical equal ability and knowledge.
    one person decides to revise using material consisting of around 1000 words
    another person revises using a compleatly different set o material consisting of 50000 words

    though both pass the exam with the same score.

    which method was more successfull?

    because the first person didn’t have to spend so much time revising they spent more time preparing for what they would do after they left college.

    now which method was more successfull?

    so by that measure you would say that success is relative to waste and production, you could also say that lack of production is also ultimatly a form of waste.

  14. 1530s, “result, outcome,” from Latin successus “an advance, succession, happy outcome,” from succedere “come after” (see succeed). Meaning “accomplishment of desired end” (good success) first recorded 1580s.

  15. well you should really be comparing bacteria with say animals. or a specific species of bacteria with humans… asside from that if you want a fudemental and technical measure of success you probably want to look at something like thermodynamics and entropy. So lets try a worked example.

    I don’t think that definition is generic nor definite enough. According to my definition, in your example both are successful, not because they achieved their goals, they would be successful even if they died trying to achieve their goals. In fact, their studying has probably nothing to do with their success, because I’m not defining success as success for a specific goal or task.

  16. Well to measure you would need some kind of scaliar axis. I provided the latin root of the word success, which is advance, succssion.

    I used college as an example because it was in your origional dictionary defintion of the word success in terms of a goal, I then generically related it to ‘advance’ in terms of productivity vs waste.

    That provides the ability to scale. that is more successfull vs less successfull.

    One core of entropy would be ‘friction’, friction would theirfor hamper the ability to advance or for succssion. that is it retard succssion, you could even have a situation where the work required to succed is greater than the force counering it. that would be failure.

    I think thermodynamics and such is pretty well defined and generic.

    there is also in you defintion well or a sense of morality, I alluded to ‘well’ interms of post exam achievements. But lets examine morality in terms of entropy, waste, advance etc…..

    If you say, as you do, that some peoples bad is another persons good there must be some point at which a ballance between good and bad can be reached (game theory). More over a conflict of good and bad produces friction and waste over absolute productivity, though it may ultimatly result in good winning out… that is ‘well’, so in terms of entropy you would want to advance good with as little friction from bad as possible to reduce waste.

    ultimatly things that are ‘true’ in nature when resolved should produce less friction that things that are false (but presented as truth).. (this is ignoring the human condition to a greater or lesser extent, there’s not sufficient research into that to say either way)

  17. to extend on marolity, a ‘weak’ argument for the morlity of eating animals or not, imho would be to anthropomorphize animals…. after all I’d still have to murder a plant to eat it.

    A stronger argument would be that the animals would have to eat more plants to provide you with food than if you alone ate the plants…… That is there is greater waste in eating animals than plants.

    I could ofcourse counter with, but I can’t eat grass.

  18. Under the right definition of success, the dinosaurs are not successful, and under the right definition, the dinosaurs were never successful, not even at their peak of dominance.

  19. an objective view should be applicable ad-infinitum and factually defined, otherwise, if it’s not ad-infinitum then it fails basic testing if it’s not factualy defined then it’s subjective

  20. your using game theory, which the interesting part is, and you can’t really talk about without talking about the nash equlibrium.

    slavery still exists to-this-day, in the more obvious forms of prisoners forced into labour, and in what could be considered less obvious forms such as ‘wage slavery’ or whatever it may be called.

    the latter is obviously a lot more subjective and depends upon how you define slavery, but looking at the run off of modern black slavery (i’m not too familiar with it nor other slavery that has existed throughout time), the ability to accrue property to meet your needs is one strong element that is true under ‘wage slavery’, there’s also social stigmatization and such.

    Incidently slavery is mentioned in the bible even Jesus talks about it and many could view it as quite a christian thing to do.

    A quick google on slavery says

    “Forced labor occurs when an individual is forced to work against his or her will, under threat of violence or other punishment, with restrictions on their freedom.[8] It is also used to describe all types of slavery and may also include institutions not commonly classified as slavery, such as serfdom, conscription and penal labor.”


    in terms of game theory I think complex system and things like emergance also come into play

    in both systems the equlibriam created in an example of the entropy measures I mentioned earlier.

    emergent systems are an example of synergy, comlex and sometimes chaotic systems and some believe also produce classial sysmetery breaking such that 2+2 does equal 5.

  22. I’ll do a good search on google scholla, but game theory and emergance turns up little, though they are both typs of complex systems.

    one pice of commentary that did turn up was:

    “This article discusses some of the fundamental flaws in game theory and discusses agent based modelling as a successor to model social emergence.”

  23. reading the article it includes a lot of detail and is written an author of a book on game theory who has changed his mind to the view of agent based models.

    It also links to articles about the EU shifting from ‘clasical’ echonomic models to agent based ones as classical models don’t work.

    both game theory and agent based models have one thing in common, entropy.

  24. I’ve read through your page a few more times, I’d go for more artifically constructed examples.
    For instance how many species of bacteria died when the diansours died out. The examples you’ve give have too many holes when analysed critically.

    I would however say that in the first example you are making a measure of 100% waste.

    you have also made a measure of truth, which I have corrilated to waste earlier.

    as they say 1+1=2 except for exceptionally large values of 1.

  25. a working example of something like slavery, can’t remeber precicely what it was you mentioned would be something like a bee collonay, where worker bees only live to serve the queen and die without mating.

  26. I can’t think of a excptional example of never being born, maybe something like AIDS or something like that that as soon as it was born it was killed.

    One the other hand I very much susspect a large number of people wish the CEO of monsanto etc… had never have been born.

  27. one final comment, if you want an example where a failure is a success, sometimes only an absolute failure. then that comes under things like bounds testing.

  28. come now, objectivly chickens are avian dinosaurs, very few scientists disagree with that. please define dinosaur.

    You keep with your red herrings, I’m done with you. When I say “dinosaur” I’m talking the term everybody in the world agrees with, not the scientific term “dinosauria clade”. This of course it completely and totally irrelevant to the topic.

  29. so you’re talking about dogmatic dinosaur’s not rational ones?

    it’s not irrelavante because you said no rational peron would disagree that it wasn’t a total failure, so I rationalized dinosour into something measurable in comparrison to modern day bacteria and also posed the question how many bacteria where wiped out? amoung other things. I also said I could see what you where getting at, which was 100% waste.

    the exceptionallu large values thing is actually serious comentary on quantization, esp in the real world.

    for instance
    2.4 = 2
    2.4 = 2
    2.4 + 2.4 = 4.8 = 5

    2 standard deviation 7

    little jimmy spent all day digging after finding the treasure map of long legs john.

    2 + 2 being greater than the sum of the parts:

    a man takes 2 oranges from a bag one after another and then another 2, he mixes them randomly into piles of two and gives them to you. your task is to return them to the bag in the same order the man took them out again.

    or less than:

    an exothermic reaction creating something with less weight than the sum of the origional consituants.

    then there’s quantum tunnelling, which I suppose is a bit like, well I put 2 in but 50% of the time I get 3 out.


    a pretty solid (though possibly not definate) example of symetry breaking would be that there’s more matter in the universe than antimatter.

  30. so you’re talking about dogmatic dinosaur’s not rational ones?

    It’s clear you don’t even know what the word “dogma” means, and it’s clear you don’t understand what’s the purpose of words.

    And that’s the final red herring. I’m going to start removing your posts. Cyanobacteria? You provide random data without ever hitting the topic at hand.

  31. “unfortunately, it seems most people don’t share this point of view, as we still have debates over topics which are in my opinion a waste of time. What do you think? Are there examples where this definition of success doesn’t fit?”

    Although I do broadly share your point of view in spirit I feel there are many mant examples where the defintion you gave doesn’t fit.

    I’m sorry you didn’t understand the corrilation between evolutionary argument you made and the drop in replacement (without creveats) from the great oxygenation event.

    Dogma is the official system of belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization.

    such as a call to the belief (not fact) of the masses (official and group)

    Doctrine (from Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings


  32. +oliverthered Exactly, dogma has absolutely nothing to do with the colloquial use of the word “dinosaur”, and even if it did, you are still arguing about arguing, two levels apart from the actual topic. Your comment about dogma is irrelevant, the different meanings of the word “dinosaur” are irrelevant; it’s obvious that the word “dinosaur” was meant to describe the class of dinosaur that did go extinct, which is the colloquial use, and it’s what everybody refers to as “dinosaur”. Even after all that we are not even touching the argument at all.

  33. a synonym of goal is objective… no I don’t believe you can measure success without an objective/goal.

    I gave the example where a failure and possibly only a total failure would lead to an advance (advance being the root of success to move forward etc….)… that is bounds testing in it’s various forms.

    no the goal or objective doesn’t have to be antrypomorphic/subjective.

    I gave the example of thermodymaics and friction.

    if you want something equally fundemental the you could look at something like the double slit experement where the mode of succession changes dependant on the goal/objetive.

  34. a synonym of goal is objective… no I don’t believe you can measure success without an objective/goal.

    It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is reality

  35. My that flounder really sucks quite how one could manage a level of double speak stuck in the cold war, even before 1984, and in this day and age, is beyond me.

    Being a veteran of ‘game theory’ I expect that you already know that it was developed by John Nash, a paranoid schizophrenic who through people wearing red herrings oh sorry, red ties where communists. Such psychotic derailment from neurologically disordered minds is noting more than a marvel in a zoo a perfect description of both the economist and psychopath, thought little distance has it got us, not even one step beyond that fabricated narcissism tranquil delights of insular paranoia.

  36. @Joseph Charpak Nope. That guy sent a bunch of silly trollish comments to a lot of my posts, with correct context. Spam generators don’t do that. He is an obvious troll, but not spam. I removed most of his stupid comments though.

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