From reductionism to wholeness.

The methods of modern research involves dissecting and focusing in on finer and finer details. We would be forever blind to these finer details if it weren’t for instruments such as the microscope and the telescope. These tools allow specialists to focus in on the parts and gain a tremendous amount of knowledge in narrow fields.

But if researchers don’t look beyond these isolated islands of existence they will settle for a fragmented view of reality. And this causes problems for building theories about development and evolution of life. Researchers begin by looking at the parts to try to understand how they “build” bodies. Viewing things from this perspective it was expected that humans would have many more genes than turned out to be the case.. This is the type of error produced by this way of thinking Initially they did not understand the way in which the organism used its genes because they approached it from the wrong direction. Genes are in reality never isolated from the context of networks, cells and organisms.

Jaap van der Wal argues that we have become accustomed to thinking the human organism is made by a process of cells multiplication. But there is another more realistic way of thinking about it. From conception to adulthood a human being has always been a complete organism with a form and function suited to its environment. A machine is assembled from parts and it can only function as intended when all the parts are in place. Organisms are not like this. Where the organism is concerned the cell or cells of which it is composed serve the whole organism throughout its existence. It is not gradually built from parts. Machines are always built from the parts to the whole but organisms are never anything but complete wholes.

It is time to start paying more attention to how the whole determines the parts within it and luckily this view is becoming more prevalent.

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362 thoughts on “From reductionism to wholeness.

  1. Kantian Naturalist: …it re-shapes the kinds of thoughts that one can have.

    Sure, that’s evolution! Apologies for drive-by but political situation currently is too mesmerizing.

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  2. Kantian Naturalist: More Than a Scaffold: Language is a Neuroenhancement

    Thanks for this, KN. I was not familiar with Dove’s work on this topic, which fascinates me. Good set of references to explore as well.

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  3. Barfield was a philologist. He maintained that words were fossils of consciousness and could be studied over cultural history in like manner to the way palaeontologists study fossils over archaeological time.

    There is no evidence that language developed from simple grunts and sounds signifying external objects. Early languages did not have sharp distinctions between literal and metaphorical interpretations but the use of words was no less complex than at present.

    And with the arrival of writing words become more rigid and language lose their musical quality by being turned into text.

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  4. Corneel: Do you really expect them to have the authority to lecture others on what meaning can be found in nature?

    They have the authority to share with others their lived experience. All of us live within nature and should be free to make our experiences and views available for others if we so wish.

    It is not a criticism but a fact to say that a prominent feature of modern science is that it has tried to exclude the first person as much as possible. The experimenter is to remain an onlooker distinct from the object under study.

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  5. Neil Rickert: Science doesn’t make meaning go away.If anything, it enriches meaning.

    If you look at science as just providing mechanical technological toys,perhaps that could result in a loss of meaning.But there are many other ways of becoming detached from reality, and most of those don’t involve science.

    As I see it the problem with the direction in which science is heading is that it is fragmenting into extremely specialist fields in which knowledge is available only to a select few experts.

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  6. CharlieM,

    The insurmountable problem is that any entity is incapable of understanding something as complex as itself. We approach the problem asymptotically.

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  7. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,
    The insurmountable problem is that any entity is incapable of understanding something as complex as itself. We approach the problem asymptotically.

    Define understanding.

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  8. Alan Fox:
    petrushka,
    Able to reproduce.

    I’ll buy that, and I’ll also agree that we can’t produce artificial humans, and probably won’t in the next thirty years. Science fiction tends to put AI centuries in the future, and I assume that is weighted by the accelerating pace of technology.

    Unrelated trivia: Blade Runner was set in 2019. Rutger Hauer died in 2019, as he did in the movie. I don’t know if it was a dark and stormy night.

    Moving on, I see no principled obstacles to artificial intelligence. I just think it will take a while to find a path. I don’t see it yet.

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  9. petrushka: Blade Runner was set in 2019. Rutger Hauer died in 2019, as he did in the movie. I don’t know if it was a dark and stormy night.

    Me neither. It’s been so long since I watched it I needed to glance at the Wikipedia entry. I see there is a 2007 “Final cut” which by all accounts is nearest to Scott’s original vision.

    Regarding the ability to replicate intelligent entities and whether that opens the possibility of a runaway development as envisaged in Skynet (Terminator), that it hasn’t happened yet in this Universe gives me some confidence that it is not practically possible.

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