A little humility cannot hurt

A little humility can't hurt

My wife is from Indonesia. And she is Catholic. So at Easter I was in church with her. Since the sermon was mostly delivered in Indonesian, I let my thoughts run wild. And of course I thought about cybernetics. About cybernetics and about faith.

Although I am an atheist myself, I see an analogy between the way believers and myself are in life. If you sincerely believe in God, you accept the existence of a supreme being more powerful than yourself. You accept that you do not control your life, at least in part. Part of your destiny is in the hands of a higher power.

I myself believe in science. I believe that the scientific method is perhaps the most important invention of man. It is a way in which the knowledge of all mankind increases step by step. Science does not give us the truth, but it gives us “the best truth yet”. And that has brought us unprecedented prosperity, especially in the past two centuries.

As a scientist, I also believe in natural laws. And just like God, natural laws are a higher power. Some of those natural laws are so mundane that we don't even think about it: for example, you don't expect an apple to "fall" up in your hand if you hold your hand above the fruit bowl. However, other natural laws are more invisible and in many cases even go against our “common sense”. But invisible natural laws also determine your fate, whether you believe in it or not.

The history of science is full of discoveries that emphasize our own insignificance. We have had to accept that the earth is not the center of the universe, nor is the sun. We had to accept that our DNA is 98% equal to that of a chimpanzee. And if we are to believe Richard Dawkins, we are slaves to our selfish genes. Cybernetics adds some disconcerting insights to this, and our culture resists it just as hard as the church ever tried to keep Galileo in check.

Ever heard of entropy? Or from autopoiese? Almost no one will say yes to that, yet these are essential concepts to better understand and steer the functioning of our organizations and society. But our lack of humility stands in the way of the investigative attitude necessary to delve deeper into this. Instead, we value every opinion, are guided by naive philosophical ideas about reality and have misplaced confidence in the malleability of the world. We have subordinated the willingness to learn to the value of our beliefs.

Our highly individualized society compels struggles in many areas. The fight for the customer in the free market, the fight for attention on social media, the fight for the top positions within organizations. Humility does not fit that well. But please realize that all those fights are not always healthy for a human. And that they do not automatically lead to the best possible results for all of us. The survival of the fittest has more victims than victors. A little more humility therefore doesn't hurt. By believing in God. Or in science of course.

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And oh yes, if you want to know more about entropy and autopoiesis and why that is so important for your organization, you can of course always read my book: “Why do things never happen a bit by themselves? And why that is the wrong question. "I am not so humble now that I think I have nothing interesting to tell you ...