Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 3: the two conceptual approaches 2

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on February 16, 2016

This is my third installment in a series on empirically grounded, evidence based general theories, and on what would go into developing a general theory of business (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I began to more formally develop this series in Part 2, by roughly and perhaps cartoonishly dividing general descriptive and predictive models of this type into two broad categories:

Compendium models: models that seek to describe and causally explain as much as possible, even if an overall single unifying theory is not available to tie all of this together (at least yet), and
Minimalist general rules models: models that seek to comprehensively predictively describe and causally explain such a universe of phenomena through application of a minimal set of general principles, rules or laws.

And I proceeded to at least briefly outline how compendium models can and do arise out of a diversity of observation and experience, and how with time they can become supplanted with more widely organizing minimalist general rules models. I drew examples from science, and particularly from the birth and development of quantum theory to take that discussion out of the abstract. And then I ended that posting by listing three factors that would shape and even fundamentally determine the viability of this developmental process:

• Consistency and change in their empirically grounding foundations,
• Acceptable levels of explanatory and empirically validatable accuracy, and
• Focus and usability, where actually applying these larger conceptual understandings in real-world contexts always means taking recourse to context-specific special case and organizationally restricted implementations – elements of a more compendium model type, even if we use them knowing they fit into larger conceptual understandings in the back of our minds as we use them.

And I stated at the end of that series installment that I would continue its discussion here, by at least starting to address these factors, and how they might arise and how they would impact upon the conceptual models and theories that they enter into.

I initially offered my three factors list in a very specific order, running from the more foundational and fundamental in determining what type of theory might be possible with the first, to consideration of specific-instance usability as such an organizing model is applied with the third. I am in fact going discuss these factors in a reversed order from that, starting with the third. And in keeping with Part 2, I will draw from the physical sciences for my working example as I address a very simple sounding question:

• How does it rain?

First of all, all meteorological science is grounded in basic physical and chemical theory and principles, and ultimately all of that is grounded in underlying physical science and its explanatory and predictive theory. So in principle, rain as a phenomenon could be explained and described in very fundamental physical theory terms. But while this might prove of interest to some, it would not be very effective in a practical here-and-now sense. For immediate here-and-now utility, actually using this overall physical theory construct for practical purposes means in effect stepping into the middle of the overall explanatory model and taking much of its descriptive and explanatory structure for granted. That in fact is a big part of why we have a specialized multidisciplinary field of science such as meteorology in the first place – because it offers such relevant topically focused descriptions and explanations for specifically dealing with weather-related issues.

How does it rain? Air in general can hold only so much moisture – only so high a concentration of water vapor in suspension in it before some of that water would precipitate out due to oversaturation. And how much of this water vapor a body of air can hold is, among other things temperature dependent and in very specific ways that can be mathematically predictively modeled. But a fuller answer to that question, that would probably extend past the interest of the person asking this question, would also address where and how this water vapor entered the atmosphere in the first place. Addressing that would involve a much wider discussion of heat exchange and evaporation from ocean and salt water sources and of the basic physics and chemistry of water, and a lot of other issues as well, and certainly if an attempt were being made at a really comprehensive answer.

• How does it rain? A realistically focused and useful answer to that would not attempt to roll back the causal mechanism sequences that would arguably come into play, ad infinitum, until any explanation of anything specific becomes in effect an explanation of everything.

So in practice, we do not necessarily think in terms of more general theories, at least not when facing specific contexts where they would apply. Those general theories and what does and does not go into them are still important. But in practice, and to rephrase this specific line of discussion under development here, and in the specific terms of this series:

• Even when a body of knowledge is tightly organized around, and build from a solid foundation of a highly validated minimalist general rules model, descriptive and predictive use of that in representing and explaining specific case in point phenomena covered in it is usually done as if in accordance with a compendium model – and with what for immediate needs purposes would be extraneous details, all left out.

And this brings me to the second of the three factors that I noted towards the top of this posting:

• Acceptable levels of explanatory and empirically validatable accuracy.

I am going to turn to that in my next series installment. And in anticipation of that discussion, I note here that I will do so with three general explanatory and predictive models and one real-world practical problem that would be addressed and resolved in physical science terms: the theory of general relativity, the theory of special relativity, Newtonian physics, and the challenge of putting a space probe into orbit around a planet such as Saturn after launching it from Earth.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here in this blog at About this Blog. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems.

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