Models with Meaning LO1137

Richard Karash (
Wed, 10 May 1995 12:28:04 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to Incentives LO1126 --

Ketan, I'd like to understand better what you're getting at. It's clear
we're seeing things differently, so we must be coming at this from
different places, or with different models. I don't know your cultural
background -- mine is straight US science (physics in fact) plus MIT
Sloan School. I'm interested in this topic because I work regularly with
management teams on learning issues, culture change, and systems

I wrote:

> >As to Systems thinking being a "descriptive science," I believe we can
> >distinguish descriptive models (such as Kepler's "laws" which describe
> >planetary motion) from structural models which contain a reasonably
> >sufficient explanation of how and why (e.g. Newton "proved" Keplers laws,
> >needing only the assumption that gravity follows an inverse square law).

And, you replied:

> Describing the "forces" is still a description - how things happen(and that
> level, the "why") are not a true explanation - they don't have "meaning"

I can make the analogy more easily in the physical sciences, so I'll
start there. Kepler's laws, although a huge breakthrough at the time, were
only descriptive. He said "Planets move in an ellipse." But, he couldn't
say why this should be the case.

Newton, starting only with the assumption that gravity follows an inverse
squaare law, the the basic ideas of force, mass, and acceleration, was
able to show that the force of gravity would cause planets to move in an
ellipse. That is, he provided the why and how; a structural explanation,
that was reasonably complete and satisfying. Operationally, it's good
enough to sent satellites into orbit, man to the moon, even the Voyager
probe to the outer planets.

But, just to take this one step further, how do we know that gravity follows
an inverse square law? Now that's a much tougher question. At this level,
Newton's explanation in quite incomplete.

So, connecting this to systems thinking, or any approach to understanding
why and how things are occuring -- We really are trying to move the
descriptive (e.g. morale is down, people are leaving, market share is...
etc.). We're trying to provide reasonably complete and satisfying
explanations of why and how things are occuring, explanations that will
be operationally useful for archetecting our human and social systems to
produce "better" results, the results we want.

So, I've only taken my previous argument and tried to explain it a little
more fully. Does this still seem to you as falling short of "true"
explanation, and lacking meaning? If so, tell us more.

Richard Karash ("Rick") | <>
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