Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 7: completeness and consistency, and functional relevance and necessity

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

This is my seventh 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 for Parts 1-6.)

I have been discussing general theories per se in this series, as fitting into two possible major categorical models:

• 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, more specifically, discussed how compendium model theories can evolve into minimalist general rules-based theories, and how this evolutionary shift can be deterred or even rendered effectively impossible if any of a specifically considered set of modulating factors apply (see Parts 3-6.)

As a key element in that narrative, I focused in Part 5 and Part 6 on consistency and change in the basic empirically grounding foundations to a body of explanatory theory, as they variously arise. And as a part of that discussion, I proposed a possible working example of how fundamental details of knowable empirical reality, that would have to be accounted for in a more complete general theory of business can emerge de novo through innovation and change. I discussed an example of how the knowable empirical reality building blocks that such a body of theory would be built upon, can change. And I raised a possible counterargument to that as a means of delving more deeply into the issues that arise here.

My goal for this posting is to continue that line of discussion, focusing in more detail on what change means in this series’ context. And I begin that by clarifying my own position on some of the issues that I more specifically raised and discussed in Part 6.

• I raised the specter of Plato’s analogy of the cave, in the context of raising the question of whether innovators truly invent, creating entirely new where it had not in any sense previously existed, or whether they simply discover what was perhaps entirely unknown but what in some significant manner already existed – as a very real if still unrealized potential.
• And I noted in this context, that as long as there is an ongoing potential for either the invention or the discovery of fundamentally new empirical building blocks that a general explanatory and predictive theory would have to account for, any such general theory attempted has to be able to account for and include at least compendium model elements that cannot, at least as of now be accommodated within a single, overarching minimalist model, set of rules or laws.
• I wrote that in terms of a general theory of business, and I add other comparable general bodies of theory where an emergence of new invented or discovered building block elements might be expected, and on a regular ongoing basis. But I note here that this basic consideration applies in full force to physical theories too, of the type that I used as working examples in my first few installments to this series. To bring that point out of the abstract, I offer a modest conjecture.
• It is well known that Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity offer tremendously accurate descriptive and predictive models for how the universe functions – for objects that are large relative to atoms and regardless of how rapidly they appear to move relative to an observer’s frame of reference. And quantum theory is equally accurate as a body of descriptive and predictive knowledge for the very small. But there are incompatibilities and even apparent inconsistencies between those two bodies of knowledge and understanding in how they are formulated and understood that have made it essentially impossible to smoothly, consistently unify them into a single overarching theory of the physical universe. That seemingly fundamental incompatibility in effect forces each of these two sides of any larger all-encompassing putative theory into a “compendium model” position relative to the other and certainly when they have to be applied coordinately. And I would argue that a most likely way out of this seeming impasse is that there are almost certainly a set of fundamental empirically observable building block elements that a truly unified theory would be built to include and address, but that are still unknown – at least as a matter of observational validation of existence. There are what amount to bridging elements that we do not know of yet that if known and included in our physical theories, would resolve the apparent inconsistencies that still prevent the formulation of a validatable minimalist general rules-based theory. (That is where approaches such as string theory enter this narrative, with their perhaps fundamentally impossible to actually observe proposed building block elements, though I suspect there are unknown observables that are still waiting discovery there too.)

My goal for this posting is to more fully discuss completeness and consistency here, and yes to at least begin to divulge my own position and my own in-effect axiomatic assumptions that would enter into a general theory of business too. And I begin that by acknowledging that:

• I would argue that while the universe might be fundamentally complete for the raw materials in it and for the basic organizational building block elements in it that are available that physical theory could be constructed from,
• It is still incomplete for what can be created from and done with those starting points. Discovery is real and it does happen and the same can be said for true invention too, with the bringing into existence of that which has not existed before.
• To take that out of the abstract, the basic building blocks of atoms and molecules and the underlying patterns and processes that comprise their behavior have existed from the beginning of the universe and will continue to do so – but there really were no electric toasters, and even just as Platonic ideals until someone conceived of one and invented it.
• And this applies both to physical inventions such as the internet as noted in Parts 5 and 6, and to ideas as to how inventions like it could reshape businesses and commerce, and marketplaces and consumers.

But the points of opinion that I raise there are effectively non sequitur here; it is more relevant for this discussion, and certainly for this part of it that whether new is invented de novo, or simply discovered, there are unknowns and even very fundamental ones, and there is always going to be at least a possibility for arriving at new ones that will have to be taken into account. So any attempt at developing a truly comprehensive general theory can at best only be provisional, and with a need to include and accommodate ongoing compendium-like elements where completeness might be frankly known to exist (as with reconciling relativity and quantum theory), or where it might simply be in doubt with basic-seeming open questions that current understanding cannot clearly and fully address.

And this brings me to a set of questions that I ended Part 6 with, citing them as still open for purposes of this series and its theoretical considerations:

• 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?

I have in effect already been addressing these questions here in this posting, where I write of explanatory domains within a larger explanatory and predictive body of theory that hold more of a compendium model relationship to each other, than a minimalist general rules relationship. Ultimately, both de novo invention and simple discovery of what had previously been fundamentally unknown, leave general explanatory bodies of theory incomplete, and in need of at the very least, compendium elements.

I am going to (perhaps) complicate this ongoing series-long discussion in a next installment where I will add in issues of interpretation, noting in anticipation of that the palpably obvious point that one of the main reasons why relativity and quantum theory seem so incompatible is that their ways of understanding and interpreting underlying reality are so divergent from each other. Interpretation is of course a lot more complex and nuanced than this one example would suggest. And I will at least touch on some of those details in my next series installment. 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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