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Scientific Problems with Reductionism

Subutai
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8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I consider myself to be a reductionist, but recent reading has made me question that. Science is often considered to be the bastion of reductionism, simply because science often works using reductionism, and produces reductionistic theories, notably in fields like thermodynamics. But there are two things I have found in science that cannot simply be derived from examining their parts.

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.

The second is superconductivity. Superconductivity can be described by of the BCS theory, which postulates that the electrons in the current behave as cooper pairs at low temperatures because that is their lowest energy state through interaction with the crystal lattice structure of the solid metal. Individually, these electrons cannot explain why superconductivity occurs.

I'm simply looking for your thoughts on reductionism, and specifically if you support it, especially on scientific grounds, on how you would reconcile reductionism with these scientific theories.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.
Sidewalker
Posts: 3,713
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8/3/2014 8:24:38 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:
I consider myself to be a reductionist, but recent reading has made me question that. Science is often considered to be the bastion of reductionism, simply because science often works using reductionism, and produces reductionistic theories, notably in fields like thermodynamics. But there are two things I have found in science that cannot simply be derived from examining their parts.

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.

The second is superconductivity. Superconductivity can be described by of the BCS theory, which postulates that the electrons in the current behave as cooper pairs at low temperatures because that is their lowest energy state through interaction with the crystal lattice structure of the solid metal. Individually, these electrons cannot explain why superconductivity occurs.

I'm simply looking for your thoughts on reductionism, and specifically if you support it, especially on scientific grounds, on how you would reconcile reductionism with these scientific theories.

Reductionism is a valuable tool but it is very clearly incomplete, it provides only a partial, and inadequate view/explanation of reality, the study of higher organizational levels in larger wholes is also essential for understanding. Reductionism, taken alone, is a narrow, one-sided, and misleading affair. As long as science stays at the level of mechanistic explanation and the particularization of the complex into some "reduced" non-reality, it becomes nothing but an exercise in the vindication of its own flawed method, and in the end, what reductionism explains, is very little indeed, in fact, it explains nothing of value.

Reductionism alone is inconsistent with an adequate multilevel view of reality and it necessarily denies the emergence of new kinds of events at higher levels of organization, two aspects of reality that are well established by science and experience. Meaning is dependent on a wider context of interpretation, to be significant, reality must be viewed dynamically and relationally rather than in purely static terms as if understanding were contained in the component parts of any whole.

Nature very clearly produces itself hierarchically, with each level establishing the ground of its own stability by using mechanisms made available by lower levels, with each level finding functional contexts at higher levels. Systems theory and information theory have proven that wholes contain more information than can be described through individual analysis of component parts, science itself demonstrates that reductionism can be at best only partially representative.

Reductionism alone provides an inadequate set of conceptual categories that leads to a constricted vision of reality, impoverishing how science understands not just the world, but also human beings.
"It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive." " C. W. Leadbeater
ClassicRobert
Posts: 2,487
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8/3/2014 9:18:50 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
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dylancatlow
Posts: 12,254
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8/3/2014 2:29:39 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Reductionism is fundamentally flawed for a simple reason: since any system is embedded in the physical universe, you cannot truly explain a system until you explain its causal limit: the universe itself. Since anything real is already part of the universe, you cannot explain the universe by appealing to its parts, since those parts owe their existence to the universe itself (to one comprehensive identity). Taking such an approach would be putting the cart before the horse.

In other words, reductionism takes for granted the mutual consistency of parts on which the existence of a given system is predicated. Without explaining the "whole", you cannot explain why something is - or even what it is (except superficially) - you can merely explain how it is self-consistent.
dylancatlow
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8/3/2014 3:25:54 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.


Even if you could "explain" the wave-like nature of light by describing light as a particle, you have not really explained anything until you have explained their connection in a larger (more general) causal framework. That is, if you appeal to one thing to explain another, then you must explain why that exists as it doesand the underlying causal framework relating them. Reductionism can at most determine correlations between aspects of reality, but it cannot actually explain them. You must ultimately explain causality itself, and reductionism is powerless to do this, since a cause is the relationship between things, and not the things themselves.
Subutai
Posts: 3,249
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8/5/2014 1:36:03 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/3/2014 3:25:54 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.


Even if you could "explain" the wave-like nature of light by describing light as a particle, you have not really explained anything until you have explained their connection in a larger (more general) causal framework. That is, if you appeal to one thing to explain another, then you must explain why that exists as it doesand the underlying causal framework relating them. Reductionism can at most determine correlations between aspects of reality, but it cannot actually explain them. You must ultimately explain causality itself, and reductionism is powerless to do this, since a cause is the relationship between things, and not the things themselves.

I understand that, and that was essentially the problem I was expressing. There's no explanation why the many particles in light act as waves macroscopically under reductionism.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.
Wocambs
Posts: 1,505
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8/5/2014 8:30:24 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/3/2014 2:29:39 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
Reductionism is fundamentally flawed for a simple reason: since any system is embedded in the physical universe, you cannot truly explain a system until you explain its causal limit: the universe itself. Since anything real is already part of the universe, you cannot explain the universe by appealing to its parts, since those parts owe their existence to the universe itself (to one comprehensive identity). Taking such an approach would be putting the cart before the horse.

In other words, reductionism takes for granted the mutual consistency of parts on which the existence of a given system is predicated. Without explaining the "whole", you cannot explain why something is - or even what it is (except superficially) - you can merely explain how it is self-consistent.

Aren't you confusing a metaphysical understanding of existence with an understanding of our universe?
Wocambs
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8/5/2014 8:44:14 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:
I consider myself to be a reductionist, but recent reading has made me question that. Science is often considered to be the bastion of reductionism, simply because science often works using reductionism, and produces reductionistic theories, notably in fields like thermodynamics. But there are two things I have found in science that cannot simply be derived from examining their parts.

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.

The second is superconductivity. Superconductivity can be described by of the BCS theory, which postulates that the electrons in the current behave as cooper pairs at low temperatures because that is their lowest energy state through interaction with the crystal lattice structure of the solid metal. Individually, these electrons cannot explain why superconductivity occurs.

I'm simply looking for your thoughts on reductionism, and specifically if you support it, especially on scientific grounds, on how you would reconcile reductionism with these scientific theories.

Well, as far as I'm aware we don't have perfect scientific knowledge, and in any case it would seem to be an example of incorrect method to question one's a priori knowledge because of unsolved empirical questions... I mean, the reductionist principle is quite clear, even obvious, is it not? 'The whole is the sum of its parts' is essentially 'A=A'.
dylancatlow
Posts: 12,254
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8/6/2014 1:31:58 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/5/2014 8:30:24 PM, Wocambs wrote:
At 8/3/2014 2:29:39 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
Reductionism is fundamentally flawed for a simple reason: since any system is embedded in the physical universe, you cannot truly explain a system until you explain its causal limit: the universe itself. Since anything real is already part of the universe, you cannot explain the universe by appealing to its parts, since those parts owe their existence to the universe itself (to one comprehensive identity). Taking such an approach would be putting the cart before the horse.

In other words, reductionism takes for granted the mutual consistency of parts on which the existence of a given system is predicated. Without explaining the "whole", you cannot explain why something is - or even what it is (except superficially) - you can merely explain how it is self-consistent.

Aren't you confusing a metaphysical understanding of existence with an understanding of our universe?

It depends on what you mean by "understanding of our universe". If by understanding you mean identification of the universe's aspects, then no. But if by understanding you mean an explanation for why things are (as opposed to other possible ways), then this ultimately requires an explanation going back to the inception of existence itself. You can't explain why something is on the basis of something that is not itself explained. Since everything is embedded in (caused by) the universe, you must explain the existence of the universe itself in order to explain why something is.
Subutai
Posts: 3,249
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8/7/2014 9:00:37 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/5/2014 8:44:14 PM, Wocambs wrote:
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:
I consider myself to be a reductionist, but recent reading has made me question that. Science is often considered to be the bastion of reductionism, simply because science often works using reductionism, and produces reductionistic theories, notably in fields like thermodynamics. But there are two things I have found in science that cannot simply be derived from examining their parts.

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.

The second is superconductivity. Superconductivity can be described by of the BCS theory, which postulates that the electrons in the current behave as cooper pairs at low temperatures because that is their lowest energy state through interaction with the crystal lattice structure of the solid metal. Individually, these electrons cannot explain why superconductivity occurs.

I'm simply looking for your thoughts on reductionism, and specifically if you support it, especially on scientific grounds, on how you would reconcile reductionism with these scientific theories.

Well, as far as I'm aware we don't have perfect scientific knowledge, and in any case it would seem to be an example of incorrect method to question one's a priori knowledge because of unsolved empirical questions... I mean, the reductionist principle is quite clear, even obvious, is it not? 'The whole is the sum of its parts' is essentially 'A=A'.

Reductionism is more complicated than a simple statement of the law of identity. Where I was going with that was that the sum of their individual properties did not equal the whole's properties. I'll take superconductivity. Individual electrons do not superconduct, so looking for an explanation for superconductivity by simply examining individual electrons will not provide the answer.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.
Wocambs
Posts: 1,505
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8/7/2014 8:30:53 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 8/7/2014 9:00:37 AM, Subutai wrote:
At 8/5/2014 8:44:14 PM, Wocambs wrote:
At 8/2/2014 10:03:27 PM, Subutai wrote:
I consider myself to be a reductionist, but recent reading has made me question that. Science is often considered to be the bastion of reductionism, simply because science often works using reductionism, and produces reductionistic theories, notably in fields like thermodynamics. But there are two things I have found in science that cannot simply be derived from examining their parts.

The first is wave/particle duality. Human perception sees light as a wave, but once it is viewed microscopically, it can be viewed in discrete packets of energy known as photons, by the photoelectric effect, which cannot be explained with light behaving like a wave. Simply using particles to describe light cannot account for the macroscopic wave-like nature of light.

The second is superconductivity. Superconductivity can be described by of the BCS theory, which postulates that the electrons in the current behave as cooper pairs at low temperatures because that is their lowest energy state through interaction with the crystal lattice structure of the solid metal. Individually, these electrons cannot explain why superconductivity occurs.

I'm simply looking for your thoughts on reductionism, and specifically if you support it, especially on scientific grounds, on how you would reconcile reductionism with these scientific theories.

Well, as far as I'm aware we don't have perfect scientific knowledge, and in any case it would seem to be an example of incorrect method to question one's a priori knowledge because of unsolved empirical questions... I mean, the reductionist principle is quite clear, even obvious, is it not? 'The whole is the sum of its parts' is essentially 'A=A'.

Reductionism is more complicated than a simple statement of the law of identity. Where I was going with that was that the sum of their individual properties did not equal the whole's properties. I'll take superconductivity. Individual electrons do not superconduct, so looking for an explanation for superconductivity by simply examining individual electrons will not provide the answer.

If this is a question of scientific approach, of 'usefulness', then you're probably right, reductionism isn't helpful. I wouldn't dare try to teach you a thing about physics. Nonetheless, philosophically, the notion of absolute 'emergence' is absurd. The only true emergence there is is that of a painting from flecks of paint, which is just our beautiful perspective on things. Superconductivity can either be explained by the properties of sub-atomic particles, or it is a completely imagined phenomenon created by a separate misunderstanding of what is actually occurring.