The Cosmology of Meetings

Faraway galaxies Hubble XDFAfter a particularly interminable session of the Roman Senate, the emperor Marcus Aurelius is said to have observed,

“He who does not know what the meeting is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the meeting exists, does not know who he is, nor what the meeting is.”

Indeed, philosophers and scientists have grappled with the existence, the origin, and meaning of meetings from time immemorial. Some meetings make us ask deep questions such as, “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose in this meeting?” Other meetings make us ponder, “When will this meeting come to an end?”

It seems meetings have always been with us and perhaps always will. Ancient Hindu sages taught that one cycle of meetings lasts around 311 trillion years and that the life of one meeting is around 8 billion years. This cycle of meetings is preceded by an infinite number of meetings and is to be followed by another infinite number of meetings, with an infinite number of meetings ongoing at a given time.

Scientists believe that meetings began 13.798 billion years ago with one “Big Meeting.” It was incredibly short and had an infinitely dense agenda. Attendance was mandatory but nobody attended. The Big Meeting was followed almost immediately by what is known as cosmic inflation, a rapid expansion of scope, from which all meetings are thought to have emerged. At one time it was thought that meetings existed in an unchanging state, but advanced measuring instruments have allowed scientists to observe that meetings are indeed expanding at an ever accelerating rate.

Some postulate that the structure of meetings is curved, such that if a meeting were conducted for a long enough period of time, the participants would eventually arrive at the starting point of that same meeting. Others believe that meetings exist in a foam-like structure, with each meeting being a bubble that is adjacent to the several other bubble-meetings. This view has been proposed as an explanation for how meetings can be scheduled back-to-back, without allowance for time required for attendees to change venues or reach the next meeting, after the conclusion of preceding one.

Scientists have no good answer to the question of how the first meeting was scheduled. The infinitely dense initial agenda could have been contained in a prior state of things in which theorists describe as “empty space in the calendar”. Or perhaps the first meeting emerged within a state that could not be called a “calendar” at all. The other view, held by proponents such as Stephen Hawking, is that there was no such change in conditions from the initial state, because “time” itself emerged along with meetings. In other words, time itself is a byproduct of meetings, and did not exist prior to it.

The more we learn about meetings, it seems the less we understand. In recent years the existence of something called “dark meetings” has become increasingly accepted. While dark meetings have not been directly observed, its existence can be inferred from the quantity of information, indecision, and misalignment generated, which is far greater than possible from the number of observable meetings. Dark meetings cannot be directly seen in the calendar or conference room bookings, but appear to exert a large-scale effect on the organization. It is theorized that dark meetings account for as much as 90% of the total meetings that actually take place.

The puzzling phenomena of the mismatch between meeting pre-read materials, a meeting’s stated purpose and the actual content covered has motivated scientists to investigate the behavior of agenda items, the basic building block of meetings. Here, researchers have discovered and been stymied by what is known as the “principle of meeting uncertainty”. This principle states that there is a fundamental limit to our ability to simultaneously know with any precision both the current point in the agenda and our speed of movement through the agenda. This has caused some philosophers to focus on the question, “How do we know what we know about this meeting?” Several prominent scientists including Neil DeGrasse Tyson have urged their peers to “Put most if not all of these questions in the parking lot and get on with exploration of off-site meeting space.” But this suggestion appears to have been tabled for future discussion.