The world is in economic crisis bringing upheaval throughout the planet. Experts disagree about the best ways to m (Blaha, 2006) (Menzies, 2002) (Rienzo, 1993)anage paths to stability and prosperity for global societies. The severity of the crisis pressures policy makers toward pragmatism, whatever their ideologies. The big question for every leader involves the effectiveness of their intended actions. Will those actions work? The issues before world leaders range from short-term economic recovery necessitated by the failure of capital markets, to long term survival of humans on the planet earth challenged by climate change and ecological systems, natural resources, and population growth. Potential consequences for world societies and civilizations are enormous.
World leaders need confidence that they can predict outcomes when they implement their plans. They cannot manage their policies without prediction. W. Edwards Deming tells us that management is prediction (Rienzo, 1993). How does the human mind find confidence in predictions? From where does confidence come?
Confidence comes from knowing the systems we are attempting to manage. The purest expressions of knowledge that we have as human beings are scientific laws. Scientific laws allow scientists to predict outcomes with certainty when they engineer physical structures, mechanical technologies, or chemical/biological reactions. Can political and business leaders use processes similar to the ones that produce scientific laws to address the most pressing issues of world societies? The perspective of physicist Nancy Cartwright offers some insight.
Truth is Relative Wherever it is FoundScientific laws come as close to uncontested truth as exists in the human experience. They are often presented as true in all circumstances, but Nancy Cartwright (1999) argues against what she calls scientific fundamentalism. Cartwright argues for more realism in pursuing scientific theories to solve human problems. She is particularly concerned about unwarranted resources given to glamour theories that promise to produce universal laws governing the behavior of everything.
The pernicious effects of the belief in the single universal rule of law and the single scientific system are spread across the sciences. Indeed, a good many physicists right now are in revolt. Superstring theory is the new candidate for a theory of everything…The theory consumes resources and efforts that could go into the hundreds of other enterprises in physics that ask different kinds of questions and solve different kinds of problems (p. 16).
Cartwright is concerned that an unrealistic vision of what is possible poses a danger of much waste and little reward in the application of scientific and economic theories. She questions scientific fundamentalism – the tendency to think that all facts, regimented into theoretical schemes which provide accurate predictions in highly structured environments, are exemplary of the way nature is supposed to work (p.25). She denies the universality of laws, advocating instead a dappled world governed by local realism and metaphysical pluralism in which reality is more like the outcome of negotiations between domains than the logical consequence of a system of order (p. 1).
Cartwright contends that well known laws, like Newton’s second law, F=ma, are successful only in nomological machines -- fixed (enough) arrangements of components, or factors, with stable (enough) capacities that in the right sort of stable (enough) environment will, with repeated operation, give rise to the kind of regular behavior that we represent in our scientific laws. It is the design of nomological machines operating under specific conditions that