Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 6: the two conceptual approaches 5

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on May 22, 2016

This is my sixth installment to a series on general theories of business, and on what general theory means as a matter of underlying principle and in this specific context (see Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, Section VI: Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business, for Parts 1-5.)

I have been systematically discussing general theories in this series, in terms of two basic organizational and conceptual approaches:

• 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 have at least briefly been discussing how a more loosely organized body of observation and special-case theory, as collectively organized according to a compendium model approach, can be brought together and unified into a single overarching minimalist general rules model.

I have also been discussing in that context, how certain basic constraints can mitigate against that type of knowledge organizing and unifying transition, beginning with discussion of:

1. Focus and usability (see Part 3) and
2. Acceptable levels of explanatory and empirically validatable accuracy, and for both what can be accurately measured, and for what degree of accuracy is in fact required (see Part 4.)

Both of those issues, as discussed here, can be seen as reflecting adherence to at least some form of Occam’s Razor, where a minimally complex theory or explanation that can account for all evidence available, is always considered as preferable for its greater simplicity and practicality where that is meaningfully possible. But not all attempts of this sort might meet the “meaningfully” significant and value creating side of that, and even if they are in principle, possible.

And as discussed there in Parts 3 and 4 and in Part 5, both of these sets of considerations also at least tacitly assume that empirical data and evidence that would be organized and explained in a body of theory, are consistent and replicable – that the basic underlying reality that would have to be accounted for does not fundamentally change, and either universally over time, or locally and by context or place. The basic building blocks remain constant.

I began challenging that assumption in Part 5 where I started an analysis and discussion of a third such basic constraint, limiting the evolution of compendium model theory into a minimalist general rules form, with consideration of:

3. Consistency and change in the basic empirically grounding foundations to a body of explanatory theory.

And I offered as a working example, the emergence of the internet and how that has compelled a reformulation of what constitutes distance, and particularly in a cyberspace context. I stated at the end of Part 5 that I would follow it here by picking up on a perhaps unexpected consequence of change as encompassed in this third possible constraint. I will do that here but before doing so I want to more explicitly explain how the working example of Part 5 actually does represent a fundamental change in the empirical reality that a theory of business would have to encompass.

I wrote earlier in this series of how Newtonian, or classical physics can be seen as an approximation model in a special theory of relativity context, and how that in turn can be seen as an approximation model simplification when considered in a general theory of relativity context (see Part 4.) Newtonian physics and its descriptive model of motion and position and special relativity theory, to focus here on two of these bodies of theory, define observable distance as concepts and as measurable qualities very differently. But I explicitly stated that my discussion of these bodies of theory-based description, prediction and explanation can and do all apply in a context in which underlying empirically observable reality remains constant and throughout space and time. I then, in Part 5 took what at first glance might seem to represent a closely parallel situation, where the concept of distance has to be changed when cyberspace has to be considered. But I argued there, that in this case underlying reality has changed – not just what can be and is observed of a more fixed reality.

• Why do I make this distinction when discussing these two sets of explanatory theory? And how can and would I justify that?

I would argue that the speed of light was constant independently of the observer’s frame of reference all along, and whether an observer could identify and observe phenomena where objects would appear to travel at speeds approaching it – where special theory of relativity and Newtonian distance and motion predictions begin to significantly diverge. So reality and its basic building blocks remain the same regardless of what theory is followed, and even regardless of what ranges of experience are even experientially observable and testable. But in my second example from Part 5, cyberspace did not exist in any meaningful sense until the necessary technology that made this possible was created and brought into use. So its introduction and development created new fundamental reality that anything like a general theory of business would have to account for.

Given that as if an axiomatically accepted assumption, it is easy to justify this change in what constitutes distance in an online information flow context, as specifically representing a theory of business example of the third numbered principle as listed above:

• Business processes might govern and determine the creation, processing, storage, distribution and so on of things: physical objects and sets and systems of them. And they might, alternatively determine activities that people carry out and that impact upon both people and the physical resources that they interact with. Ultimately essentially all business processes in fact manage these types of activities – and even if indirectly, acting entirely on information that in turn fits into and supports the functioning of other processes that act in the physical world.
• But ultimately, every business process per se is an information process, so the (here presumed) de novo emergence of cyberspace and its distance and other information processing and transmission parameters is, of necessity a business process-reshaping and even redefining event and one that arises from the creation of new in the underlying reality that has to be accounted for.

And with that, I turn to question this here-presumed axiomatic assumption. And I do so by raising a fundamental question:

• Is it meaningfully valid to state that anything can truly be invented, de novo and without having had any form of prior existence? Or do we merely discover what has up to then simply never been known?

Any answer to that question would determine whether my third numbered constraint as listed above, can even hold meaning.

There are a number of approaches that I could take in addressing this invention versus discover question, and I begin doing so by turning to the beginnings of Western philosophy and the writings of Plato. Modern scientific theory holds that basic underlying principles: the basic laws of nature remain inviolate and everywhere and throughout all time – at least where the principles of space and time can and do exist as we can understand them, and where we can at least in principle observe and measure them. Plato took that presumption of ongoing constancy of existence one big step further. He believed and argued a case for the fundamental eternal existence of all realized forms, as outcomes of the application of those inviolate principles. According to Plato, nothing could be truly fundamentally invented as having never existed before, and only discovery was possible.

He presented his main line of argument for this position in his analogy of the cave, arguing that the essence of reality took the form of ideal forms, and that when we observe and interact with objects in the real world, we are in fact interacting with and observing what amount to shadow replicas of those ideal forms. These forms: Platonic ideals are real and eternal and exist whether or not they are ever observed or known of or even just simply imagined.

• Plato would have argued, if he could have been made aware of it, that cyberspace and all of the supporting technology that enables it fits into his theory of forms too,
• And that all of that existed in his cave in his lifetime as an assortment of eternal ideal forms, even if no one in his lifetime could have possibly become aware of any of it.

And that is where this line of discussion connects into this series-long narrative.

• If everything preexists any human awareness or behavior in some inviolate and immutable form, including every possible relevant observable phenomena as would be encompassed in a general theory of business, then all of that could in principle be encapsulated in a single overarching minimalist general rules model, and
• Even if it might not be possible to actually discern let alone validate all here-relevant phenomena because there might always be essential unrealized “Platonic forms” out there that would have to be accounted for but that are not – even as they already exist.
• I am leading this discussion in the direction of arguing that ultimately, a true general theory of business might have essentially universally applicable, and even universally essential and fundamental features of a type that would fit cleanly into a minimalist general rules model, but it might never be possible to know of all of the (Platonic ideal) forms that would be necessary to fully arrive at them and functionally include them.
• So any such theory as a practical and usable tool, would also of necessity have compendium model domains in it too, and certainly as long as creativity and invention are allowed for and the genuinely new and the disruptively inventive (or at least the appearance of them) would have to be included and accommodated.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will consider the issues of completeness and consistency, and of functional relevance and necessity. In anticipation of that, and to cite one working example of what I will be discussing:

• Consider a disruptively innovative newly invented technical capability such as the internet, that holds potential to fundamentally change businesses and their marketplaces, and how they function.
• And let’s assume that introducing that novel new capability would demand a fundamental rethinking and reframing of some relevant area of business principle and practice, and a reframing of the underlying business theory that would be used to evaluate and understand it, and wherever it can effectively be brought to bear.
• If this new capability arises over a period of time, and only begins to enter into some business sectors and industries and some markets at first, how can you best discuss and analyze the transition where this New is emerging and taking hold?
• What would this mean in terms of an overall theory of business, where new underlying realities and new theory-based understandings of them and their consequences have to be phased in?
• And if this disruptive innovation never can effectively enter into some forms of business transaction and practice, leaving them best described by a now-prior business theory model, how should a genuinely overall theory of business be expanded to account for contexts where the newer theoretical approach would and would not hold greater meaning and value?

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. 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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