Re: Reductionism (was: future of human evolution)

From: Marc Geddes (
Date: Wed Oct 06 2004 - 21:20:23 MDT

 --- Stephen Tattum <> wrote:

> Physics is testable. Anyone anywhere in the world
> could follow
> instructions for an experiment in physics and find
> out exactly the same
> results as anyone else, understanding an explanation
> relies upon
> understanding language which is vague at the best of
> times - and most
> concepts, like the concept of wetness depend upon
> previous experience of
> the concept itself. Hopefully the idea that to
> understand wetness one
> has to have experienced it, helps you understand the
> force of something
> empirical as oppose to just an explanation. The
> reason that even
> concrete experience of 'wetness' for example is
> still inadequately
> reliable is that everyone has a different instrument
> to measure it with
> - their body (including their brain and therefor
> their mind). Physics is
> only superior to simple explanations because of
> instruments used in
> experiments, and maths is another fine example of a
> standardised
> instrument.
> Steve, A Philosopher.....

Empiricial data-Explanation is a continuum, not a
clear-cut division. The philosopher of science Karl
Popper once famously asked students in a lecture to
simply sit and 'observe'. Of course they had no idea
what it was they were meant to be observing.

It would be impossible to set up an experiment at all
without some theoretical understanding of what one was
doing, and what one was looking for. Then the
interpretation of results also requires theoretical

Exactly how are measuring devices to be used? How are
the results to be interpreted? The most rabid
empiricist cannot escape the need for theory.

In the case of reductionism versus holism, there are
various levels of organization and explanation, and
it's not clear why we should the bottom level as being
somehow 'fundamental reality' whilst dismissing upper
levels as simply 'cheapo explanations arising from
intractability and existing only in the mind'.

For starters, how can we be sure we know what the
'bottom' or 'fundamental' level is? We can't. For
example early philosophers thought 'atoms' were the
fundamental level of matter, and then it transpired
they were divisible into electrons and protons. And
later still it appears that even the protons may be
still further divisible into quarks. Who is to say
that what we currently think of as 'fundamental
physics' doesn't have some still deeper physical level
beneath it? And would the discovery of a deeper level
then make current physics simply 'unreal' or a 'cheapo

Further, in many instances it simply doesn't make
sense to regard higher level concepts as 'cheapo'
mental constructs. For example take the concept of a
'Mind'. We do not regard minds as cheapo constructs
to help us understand complex electrical firing
patterns in brains. We regard a 'Mind' as an actual
*real* entity. So it appears that some higher level
concepts are just as real as lower level ones.

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