Principle of Complementarity

The epistemology of knowledge can be summed up in the tale of the blind men and the elephant. The complexity of reality exposes a basic human limitation: our view of reality is subjective due to our inherent disability to see the entire systemic whole.

Case in point: the phenomenon of light. For years, physicists thought that light is a wave or a particle when in fact, it exhibits wave-particle duality. It’s not that light is not a completely understood phenomenon, it’s more of a synthesis of apparently polar opposites.

In government, statistics and economics are only snapshots of reality that may or may not withstand the test of time (courtesy of The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb). Taleb mentioned in his website Fooled By Randomness that his activism include among others:

To “robustify” society against Black Swans –occasional activism against those who fragilize it (bankers, economists, social scientists, oversized top-down governments, etc.)

But how do you account for the “unknown unknown”? Well, that’s where imagination comes in, which Einstein says is more important than knowledge. See how complementarity works?

In I.T., you cannot discount the old economics from the new economics of the digital world because it complements each other, says the authors of Information Rules. You cannot discount the brick-and-mortar business from the long tail phenomenon of Chris Anderson. You cannot discount the offline domain from the online universe. You cannot discount the mass market from the mass of niches (from Jeff Jarvis, What Would Google Do?). You cannot discount desktop computing just because there’s a proliferation of laptops, tablets, netbooks, and whatnot. You cannot discount the print media just because electronic media is popular and more efficient. In technology, it’s either

  • extinction (pager)  OR
  • evolution (telephones, cellphones, iPhone)

You cannot discount the parts because it might affect the outcome of the system (chaos theory).

And for every individual, the brain doesn’t operate as left brain or right brain only. John Medina (Brain Rules) says that the brain uses both, the left brain is concerned with the details while the right brain discerns the entire picture.

In life, in order to get the right answer, you have to ask the right question. The evil dichotomy of right-and-wrong being taught in schools is one of the problems. There is no right or wrong in absolute terms. It all depends on context.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. But that’s in business. You may fail and it’s part of a learning experience. There is no more sweet than your own success.

Reality does not work in parts. It works as one integrated whole. To sum it up, our viewpoints may complement each other. But then, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff.


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