The Mistaken Macro-Micro Evolution

G. L. Filkovsky, TRIZ Master,
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The “Technical System Transition from Macro-Level to Micro-Level” is one of the basic laws of technical systems evolution in TRIZ. In his book “Creativity as an Exact Science”, in 1979, G.S.Altshuller formulated it this way: “Working organs of a system evolve first on a macro-level, then on a micro-level”. In the commentary he explained, “… unavoidably a time comes when farther evolution on a macro-level is impossible. A system then gets essentially restructured, while keeping its function: its working organ begins to operate on a micro-level. Instead of “pieces”, the molecules, atoms, ions, electrons, etc. achieve the result.”

Later, multiple transitions to micro-, micro-micro-, … levels have been added. Later, a transition to using fields has been added as an ultimate micro-level. The macro-micro transition is also considered as one of the principles of Su-Field analysis. It is one of the TRIZ standards.

In later papers on TRIZ this principle appears as one of the eight basic patterns of technical systems evolution. For example, the TRIZ Experts website explains:
“The characteristics of a given technological system change in a predictable manner as it evolves and matures over time. Genrich Altshuller and Boris Zlotin categorized this evolution into the following rules that describe changes in different aspects of a technological system as it matures.

  1. Subsystems are originally developed spasmodically, resulting in contradictions. The primitive subsystems with different life cycles, hold back the evolution of the total system.
  2. The system becomes more dynamic and controllable.
  3. The energy/information flow within the system is optimized.
  4. The system at first increases in complexity then becomes simpler as a result of integration.
  5. Assemblies are originally made of uncoordinated parts, followed by integrated designs, culminating in parts whose characteristics are changeable upon demand.
  6. A transition is made of macro- to micro- objects in the system to further improve performance and control.
  7. Human involvement decreases with increasing automation.
  8. Any system becomes a subsystem of a more general system that is more close to the ideal system.”

I here propose a simple explanation to the macro-micro transition. I suggest that it has nothing to do with evolution of technical systems, being simply a result of advances in sciences. The natural phenomena allowing the transitions to micro-level were unknown only a short time ago. Technical systems cannot use a phenomenon, existence of which is unknown, or which is not understood well enough to be controlled, or which exists only in research lab. So, the systems that existed earlier just had to use the “macro” level, and had to evolve on that level.

While the technical systems maintain their macro-life, scientific discoveries are made, research is done, methods are developed, and finally the new, “micro” phenomena become practically useful. Then, the system “gets essentially restructured” by applying the new phenomena. Not because it became impossible to continue evolution on the macro-level, but because it became possible to use the micro-level!

Systems do not have to be born on a macro-level. Many new systems appear directly on a micro-level, when the micro-level already exists and is known to engineers. Transition of many old systems to a micro-level is rather a matter of educating engineers working with them. As more micro-phenomena are discovered and studied, as engineers come to know these phenomena, so more old systems convert to using them and more new systems start with them.

The ultimate situation canceling this “law of evolution” would be the case when we know and use all phenomena existing in nature. Such a case exists: all natural phenomena are available to biological evolution from the very beginning. As a result, no “law”, “pattern”, or “trend” of a transition from macro- to micro-level exists there. Biological evolution freely moves between levels according to other criteria. For example, an evolution of eye starts on a micro-level of photo-receptors distinguishing between day and night and builds an optical macro-system around it.

Converting old mechanical machinery into “high-tech” physics was very impressive in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. This explains Altshuller’s enthusiasm about it. That was history, and not a part of technical systems evolution.