Complexity and Four

Interestingly, it often takes only 3 or 4 types of agents (building blocks) to make a system quite complex. Consider the following: Four building blocks of DNA have led to the thousands of species on earth. All of physics can be explained by four forces: weak, strong, electromagnetic, and gravitational. There are four parts of speech: pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation. Holland's model has 4 properties and 3 mechanisms.

Deci & Ryan, in their self-determination theory, says that motivation has 3 components: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and amotivation. Extrinsic motivation is subdivided into a continuum of autonomy: integrated regulation, regulated regulation, introjected regulation, and external regulation--integrated regulation having the most autonomy and external regulation the least.

Learning task incorporating intrinsic motivation, according to Lepper & Malone (1987), include four elements: fantasy, control, curiosity, and challenge. Note that "control" overlaps with the autonomy (extrinsic motivation) in Deci & Ryan's theory. Hmm.

Those 2 theories are psychological theories of motivation. For a social theory of interaction (based on psychological mechanisms), Alan Fiske posits that there are four relational models: communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing. These four models govern all social interactions, constrained by cultural guidelines. (There are also non-social interactions not covered by the theory.)

That so many different arenas can be based on a small number of building blocks suggests that when many factors are posited as explanations, it may be due to interacting combinations of 3 or 4 basic building blocks that generate the many factors.