Nagel’s little book concerns the place of mind and consciousness in modern reductionist science. He makes several interesting claims and arguments. But I want to step outside the domain of his book. One general message comes out loud and clear is that whilst there are many good reasons for believing certain theories, dig enough and you will find a set of assumptions which are rarely explored and rarely challenged.
I agree with Nagel on this point. That final sentence “The human will to believe is inexhaustible” is not presented in this context as a positive aspect of humanity, but a weakness or a challenge for us. If we move outside of science to many management theories, which rarely have the empirical evidence and tested rigour of a core scientific theory, we enter into a domain coloured by opinion and fad.
Management theories, tools, practices and processes provide a huge and ever growing body of knowledge – or often not knowledge, but opinion. Amongst this body are real gems that can help organizations, businesses, teams, managers and leaders to achieve a vast array of positive outcomes. But we should not fall into the trap of thinking that much of these theories are ‘the truth’. At best they are useful tools, that have a shelf life and will one day be replaced by something else. At best they are rough approximations that can be usefully applied in certain situations when the appropriate level of reasoned judgement is applied. At worst they are dangerous fads with limited evidence, but for one reason or another a high level of appeal and belief.
Next time you apply some management theory, especially in a critical situation, ask yourself are you applying reasoned judgement or just unquestioning belief? After all, the human will to believe is inexhaustible.