Fey-Rivin Law of a Higher-Level Vacuity
Genady L. Filkovsky,
Nomura Securities International Inc.,
New York, USA
e-mail: Gfilkovsky@us.nomura.com

While it is clear that TRIZ is not quite a science, neither it's a real religion, reading some TRIZ articles make a strong impression of participating in a psychic or astrological reading: playing with double and triple meanings, fluidly transforming definitions, using free-hand interpretations... in one word, demagogy. Let's take a specific piece of TRIZology and try to figure out, what it means. The piece in hand is, "Law of Transition to a Higher-Level System" (chapter 4.1.) from V.Fey and E.Rivin, Guided Technology Evolution (TRIZ Technology Forecasting) (at http://www.triz-journal.com/archives/1999/01/c/).

I'll read the piece statement by statement:

"This Law states that technological systems evolve in a general direction from mono-systems to bi- or poly-systems."

Here we are introduced to three new terms: mono-systems, bi-systems and poly-systems. Without defining these terms, the law is meaningless, like saying, "technological systems evolve in a general direction from rhubarb-systems to re- or por-systems". Hopefully, the term definitions follow.

"Systems usually originate as single objects - mono-systems. "

There are two statements here:
1) Systems usually originate as single objects.

This statement cannot be true: by any definition of system, SYSTEM is a GROUP, as opposed to a SINGLE object. Probably, the authors meant to say, "Systems usually originate from single objects". What a revelation! I'd change only one word in this deep truism: since systems are groups, they ALWAYS originate from single objects. Bear with me: if one didn't have some single objects, how would he group them into a system?

2) "Single objects are mono-systems". This sounds like a definition. Not a useful definition, though. Why do we need a new term? What's wrong with the "single object"? For the sake of clarity, let's re-formulate the law, using what is defined up to here:

This Law states that technological systems evolve in a general direction from single objects to bi- or poly-systems.

"An example of a mono-system is a pencil. "

An example of a single object is a pencil.

Not a good example: a pencil is hardly a single object. Everyone knows that pencil consists of at least two distinct objects - a lead and a holder. These two objects differ in their physics, chemistry, geometry and function. I guess, Fey and Rivin use keyboards for too long. Let's re-formulate:

Examples of single objects are a marking lead and a wooden holder.
But, I don't think anybody really needs examples of single objects.

"Mono-systems can be combined to form higher-level systems: bi-systems (i.e., pencil+eraser), or poly-systems (i.e., a set of more than two different pencils)."

Oops, no definition, the authors go straight to examples. Probably, that means the terms are self-defining. In that case, bi-system means two-part-system, and poly-system means many-part-system. And, the statement above reads:

Single objects can be combined to form higher-level systems: two-part-systems (i.e., pencil+eraser), or many-part-systems (i.e., a set of more than two different pencils).

What is this "can be" doing here? If one didn't combine single objects, they wouldn't form a system. And, what does this "higher-level" mean? Single objects are not "lower-level" systems, they just AIN'T systems, period. Finally, ALL systems, by definition, have parts: two parts, three parts, many parts. The entire specification after the colon doesn't add anything to this fact. So, the statement really says:

Single objects are combined to form systems.

True! Systems are groups of single objects, single objects are combined to form systems. How many different ways to say it one can come up with?

"A higher-level system can be composed from similar or identical subsystems. Combining several mono-systems into such a homogeneous bi- or poly-system can enhance functional performance of each constitutive sub-system and develop a new and useful functional properties."

A system can have similar or identical parts. It can be useful.

Wow! I have a left hand and a right hand. And it's quite useful! Also, having five fingers is certainly much better than having only one. Wow!

"Transition to bi- and poly-systems represents a very important and very powerful trend of evolution. The following are examples... "

Systems very often do better than single objects.

Who need examples? Especially such a boring examples - scissors, spectacles... Just look at mafia, party, a statement as a system of words (although, not every statement does that good; need examples?)

"In other cases, the component sub-systems can be similar but different in size, color, and/or functional properties. Examples of such systems are:... "

Of course, there are billions of examples where parts differ in shape, material, temperature, velocity, race, gender, sexual preferences...

"Effectiveness of bi-systems and poly-systems may increase when their components are more diverse. Some examples of heterogeneous bi-systems comprised of diverse components are... systems can be enhanced in the process of elimination of redundant auxiliary components... transition to a system when one system performs two or more functions."

Systems with different parts may do even better. But don't think that the more parts the better. Throwing away of unused parts and re-using of other parts may be good too.

One would hope that engineers know at least that much.

That's all. So, what did we learn about the "Law of transition to a Higher-Level System"?
This Law states that technological systems generally evolve from single objects, have identical, similar or diverse parts, which work together and/or use each other.

But, this is not a law - this is merely a definition of system. More wordy definition than, say, a Webster's:
System - an organized integrated whole made up of diverse but interrelated and interdependent parts.

Use Webster Thesaurus for Technology Forecasting - this is really bright!