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. Holism – the woolly kumbaya crutch of a hyper-individualized Goethean ‘spiritualist’ who turned away at the door instead of opening it?

    “Let’s just think more complicated & from a ‘god’s-eye view’ than we are able & call that ‘spiritual’?

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  2. 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.

    There is an even more practical way of thinking about it, in which both viewpoints are valid and other more reductionistic viewpoints (molecular level) as well as higher levels of organisation (families, species) might be considered as well.

    Which viewpoint is most useful depends on the questions you wish to have answered. For example, cancer cells do not “serve the whole organism” but act against its interests. How is one going to explain the proliferation of cancer cells once one has abolished the cellular viewpoint in favor of a holistic organismal view?

    I submit that, by committing yourself exclusively to a holistic interpretation, you did not escape a narrow view of reality. Quite the contrary.

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  3. People who rail against reductionism are committing a false dichotomy. Science is all about viewing things at multiple levels, and appreciating the hierarchy with its associated emergent properties. Researchers generally know that some aspects of a phenomena are best studied at a low level, while others are best studied at higher levels.

    Accusing someone of being a “reductionist” is almost as much of a red flag as calling them a “Darwinist”. It indicates an ignorance of much of science.

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  4. This thread seems to be saying the thing said. that beings are more then the sum of thier parts. In other words inflrmation is not just the glue but, like glue, has mass. So information is the essence of beings. the parts is secondary. Gods spirit is evidenced by this invisable information concept.
    reductionism, if accurate, will discover this invisible glue. there is nothing wrong with reductionism except human incompetence about it

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  5. Neil Rickert:
    I’m not sure what is the point here.

    To get feedback and hopefully stimulate reasoned discussion.

    In my experience, researchers are never as reductionist as the critics assert.

    IMO anyone is a reductionist who thinks that life emerged from simple chemical precurers and evolved because of natural selection acting on DNA copying errors. It is generally a good thing to reduce specimens to their component parts in order to analyse them (unless it involves needlessly destroying life or causing suffering), but in so doing we tend to be focusing on dead matter and not living processes.

    For example if researchers concentrate too much on the structure of proteins and lose sight of their dynamic, fluidic qualities then the researchers become stuck in a reductionist mindset. The more sophisticate the research methods become the more obvious it is becoming that dynamic processes are a more important feature in understanding life than static structures are. It’s just that some people are slower at realising this than others.

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  6. Gregory:
    Holism – the woolly kumbaya crutch of a hyper-individualized Goethean ‘spiritualist’ who turned away at the door instead of opening it?

    “Let’s just think more complicated & from a ‘god’s-eye view’ than we are able & call that ‘spiritual’?

    That’s why I used the term wholeness; to try to avoid the connotations the word holism invokes. Certain words invoke strong feelings in some people.

    “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” 🙂

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  7. Corneel: There is an even more practical way of thinking about it, in which both viewpoints are valid and other more reductionistic viewpoints (molecular level) as well as higher levels of organisation (families, species) might be considered as well.

    That’s okay so long as we realise that it is the higher levels which control the lower levels and not the other way round. Organisms, organs and cells control their inner processes according to the environment that they are in.

    Which viewpoint is most useful depends on the questions you wish to have answered. For example, cancer cells do not “serve the whole organism” but act against its interests. How is one going to explain the proliferation of cancer cells once one has abolished the cellular viewpoint in favor of a holistic organismal view?

    Did you watch any of the video I linked to?:

    Jaap van der Wal:
    Sometimes it goes wrong and then the particles, the cells take over and then its cancer. It is very pathalogical. Cancer is quantitative growth, it is usually called growth, you know, multiplication, more of the same, that is cancer. But the cancer way of growing is very pathological for living organisms. Living organisms orchestrate that multiplication of cells.

    The holistic view does not ignore cellular processes it includes them. It is not a top down only view, it is an inclusive view.

    I submit that, by committing yourself exclusively to a holistic interpretation, you did not escape a narrow view of reality. Quite the contrary.

    I am not arguing against a reductionist view. It has its benefits as long as it is understood in the right context.

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  8. Fair Witness:
    People who rail against reductionism are committing a false dichotomy.Science is all about viewing things at multiple levels, and appreciating the hierarchy with its associated emergent properties. Researchers generally know that some aspects of a phenomena are best studied at a low level,while others are best studied at higher levels.

    Accusing someone of being a “reductionist” is almost as much of a red flag as calling them a“Darwinist”. It indicates an ignorance of much of science.

    In The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings Stephen L. Talbott writes:

    I will avoid as far as possible the use of devil-terms such as “vitalism” and “reductionism” — words that philosophers of biology today generally reject as too ideologically burdened to be of much use. Better to say what one means directly than to lob undiscriminating verbal explosives onto the field of conversation.

    On the other hand I hope to get the discussing going and to get participants to let their feelings be known.

    I also think that Talbott’s piece is relevant and worth reading. He brings up some excellent points.

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  9. Robert Byers:
    This thread seems to be saying the thing said. that beings are more then the sum of thier parts. In other words inflrmation is not just the glue but, like glue, has mass. So information is the essence of beings. the parts is secondary. Gods spirit is evidenced by this invisable information concept.
    reductionism, if accurate, will discover this invisible glue. there is nothing wrong with reductionism except human incompetence about it

    Yes, there is nothing wrong with reductionism as long as it is seen in its proper context which is always related to the whole.

    Even machines and their parts must be seen in the context of their origins in the minds of their designers and creators if we are to gather as much information about them as we can. It all depends on whether we want to use them or to understand them.

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  10. CharlieM,

    Misuse of that quote among non-religious is widespread. Please stop talking nonsense & wake up about the cool aid you got served with woolly Steinerism.

    “That’s why I used the term wholeness; to try to avoid the connotations the word holism invokes. Certain words invoke strong feelings in some people”

    No, it’s because the Steinerist ‘spiritual’ terminology you are promoting is incoherent & determines your choice of language. You pitch an ideology (reductionism) against a noun (wholeness) because of confusion, not clarity.

    Trust in God, not foxy Goethe.

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  11. Jaap van der Wal as quoted by CharlieM:
    Sometimes it goes wrong and then the particles, the cells take over and then its cancer. It is very pathalogical. Cancer is quantitative growth, it is usually called growth, you know, multiplication, more of the same, that is cancer. But the cancer way of growing is very pathological for living organisms. Living organisms orchestrate that multiplication of cells.

    What nonsense! Cancer is not “quantitative growth” or “more of the same”. It is a transformation of cells that involves progressive accumulation of oncogenic mutations and the selection of malignant clonal lineages. See what nonsense you get if you narrow your perspective to the holistic view only?

    CharlieM: I am not arguing against a reductionist view. It has its benefits as long as it is understood in the right context.

    No, you are arguing that “researchers” have in some fields inappropriately adopted a reductionist view. So far, I haven’t seen you produce any example that convinced me that this is the case.

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  12. I guess my only real complaint with the OP is that holism isn’t a new concept. It wasn’t even new when Goethe emphasized holism in his work on morphology of plants.

    (Incidentally the intellectual lineage from Goethe to Talbott is by way of Coleridge. Coleridge helped introduce German Idealism to English speakers, and Idealism — esp Hegel — has pretty deep roots in Goethe. Talbott acknowledges Coleridge as a major influence in his philosophy of life.)

    Arguably the first philosopher to emphasize holism was Aristotle, insofar as Aristotle’s biology concerns the organism-level dynamic structures that integrate a variety of biological processes that collectively realize the goals of the organism. (But one also sees a kind of holism at work in Plato’s moral psychology, since the question he’s posing in Republic is about how, if the soul is a composite of different and sometimes opposing tendencies, it is able to function as a unity.)

    The first reductionists, if you want to call them that, were probably the atomists Leucippus and Democritus. There is a story that Democritus was called ‘the laughing philosopher’ because of his teaching that everything that we are most concerned about in our everyday life has no ultimate reality, since ultimate reality is just ‘atoms and void” (“By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.”)

    So this debate between reductionists and holists goes way back to the post-Parmenidean Greek philosophers; it’s not a recent invention. The dialectic advances.

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  13. I think CharlieM is being just a bit cute.
    CharlieM: why not just lay your cards on the table ?

    … its god, isn’t it ? hmm ?

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  14. graham2:
    I think CharlieM is being just a bit cute.
    CharlieM: why not just lay your cards on the table ?

    … its god, isn’t it ? hmm ?

    Maybe, maybe not. CharlieM’s continual references to Steiner and Barfield indicate a spiritual teaching known as anthroposophy. It’s a really wild picture of things that doesn’t have any obvious analogues with anything in mainstream Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

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  15. Kantian Naturalist,

    So how does one get past this conclusion that reality is only really atoms and the void?

    It seems impossible without invoking the meta physical, which seems inevitable.

    The materialists are always saying just give them proof. Well what more do you want. You have ideas, emotions, math… all made up of only atoms and the void. And you want more proof then that of the supernatural. I think a whack to the head with a metaphysical wooden paddle would be less obvious.

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  16. Gregory:
    CharlieM,

    Misuse of that quote among non-religious is widespread. Please stop talking nonsense & wake up about the cool aid you got served with woolly Steinerism.

    “That’s why I used the term wholeness; to try to avoid the connotations the word holism invokes. Certain words invoke strong feelings in some people”

    No, it’s because the Steinerist ‘spiritual’ terminology you are promoting is incoherent & determines your choice of language. You pitch an ideology (reductionism) against a noun (wholeness) because of confusion, not clarity.

    Trust in God, not foxy Goethe.

    I wasn’t contrasting reductionism with wholeness. My meaning was that the reductionist stance prompts its holders to focus in on the details. But in so doing they reveal the integrity of the whole. For example, if we look at the details within the genome it becomes clear that instead of nice linear causal relationships there is much more to it. Networks, single genes being rearranged to code for multiple proteins, various epigenetic factors, these all point to the need for overarching control. Organisms organise the processes within them and maintain the equilibrium of their inner systems. The parts are under the control of the whole and illness results when this arrangement is disrupted. Cancer is a prime example.

    It was through the efforts of reductionistic science that the well integrated, intra, inter and extra-cellular activities have been revealed to us.

    So through reductionism we come to appreciate wholeness in nature. (From reductionism to wholeness)

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  17. Corneel: Jaap van der Wal as quoted by CharlieM:

    Sometimes it goes wrong and then the particles, the cells take over and then its cancer. It is very pathalogical. Cancer is quantitative growth, it is usually called growth, you know, multiplication, more of the same, that is cancer. But the cancer way of growing is very pathological for living organisms. Living organisms orchestrate that multiplication of cells.

    What nonsense! Cancer is not “quantitative growth” or “more of the same”. It is a transformation of cells that involves progressive accumulation of oncogenic mutations and the selection of malignant clonal lineages. See what nonsense you get if you narrow your perspective to the holistic view only?

    And here we have a clear picture of your reductionist position contrasted to van der Wal’a holistic thinking. You go straight to the individual details, the mutations of nucleotides. Whereas when van der Wal talks about quantitative growth and more of the same he is talking about the overall form. Normal cell proliferation is controlled so as to produce a definite form. Cancer is uncontrolled cell proliferation which will continue without resulting in any recognisable form. That is what van der Wal means by more of the same, it never results in the production or maintenance of form. You are homing in on the details (nucleotides) while he is looking at the overall picture. (form)

    CharlieM: I am not arguing against a reductionist view. It has its benefits as long as it is understood in the right context.

    No, you are arguing that “researchers” have in some fields inappropriately adopted a reductionist view.So far, I haven’t seen you produce any example that convinced me that this is the case.

    The most blatant example of being stuck in a reductionist view is Dawkins with his statement to the effect that we are lumbering machines under the control of our genes. But it’s usually more subtle than that.

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  18. Kantian Naturalist:
    I guess my only real complaint with the OP is that holism isn’t a new concept. It wasn’t even new when Goethe emphasized holism in his work on morphology of plants.

    In what way does that impact on my stance? Do you think that modern science began from a more reductionistic or a more holistic position?

    (Incidentally the intellectual lineage from Goethe to Talbott is by way of Coleridge. Coleridge helped introduce German Idealism to English speakers, and Idealism — esp Hegel — has pretty deep roots in Goethe. Talbott acknowledges Coleridge as a major influence in his philosophy of life.)

    Not forgetting Steiner and Barfield.

    Arguably the first philosopher to emphasize holism was Aristotle, insofar as Aristotle’s biology concerns the organism-level dynamic structures that integrate a variety of biological processes that collectively realize the goals of the organism. (But one also sees a kind of holism at work in Plato’s moral psychology, since the question he’s posing in Republic is about how, if the soul is a composite of different and sometimes opposing tendencies, it is able to function as a unity.)

    The first reductionists, if you want to call them that, were probably the atomists Leucippus and Democritus. There is a story that Democritus was called ‘the laughing philosopher’ because of his teaching that everything that we are most concerned about in our everyday life has no ultimate reality, since ultimate reality is just ‘atoms and void” (“By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.”)

    So this debate between reductionists and holists goes way back to the post-Parmenidean Greek philosophers; it’s not a recent invention. The dialectic advances.

    And, in this regard, where do you think the generally accepted modern scientific position stands now compared with the answer you (hopefully) gave to my question above?

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  19. graham2:
    I think CharlieM is being just a bit cute.
    CharlieM: why not just lay your cards on the table ?

    … its god, isn’t it ? hmm ?

    I wouldn’t want to get into the impossible task of defining god here in this thread.

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  20. CharlieM: Cancer is uncontrolled cell proliferation which will continue without resulting in any recognisable form. That is what van der Wal means by more of the same, it never results in the production or maintenance of form. You are homing in on the details (nucleotides) while he is looking at the overall picture. (form)

    No, I wasn’t talking about nucleotides, I was talking about the cells. Jaap van der Wal claimed that cancer was nothing more than growth (“multiplication, more of the same”), as opposed to differentiation in embryonic development. This is false, since cells are transformed in cancer and yes, this affects cell morphology as well.

    I was amused by you slipping in the recognisable form. Tumors don’t count I suppose? What you are getting at, is that the cancerous cells do not result in an organism, ammiright?

    Alas, biology is quirky enough to produce exceptions to everything. I present to you Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a contagious form of cancer that afflicts Tasmanian devils. DFTD is transmitted through biting. The disease originated in the Schwann cells of a single individual devil, and through major genomic rearrangement has evolved to become stably transmitted. Could you please explain to me how the continuation of this lineage benefits the long-dead organism whence it came? Or perhaps you could explain how mere proliferation has resulted in a cell lineage that, for all intents and purposes, is a fully independent pathogen?

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  21. CharlieM: The most blatant example of being stuck in a reductionist view is Dawkins with his statement to the effect that we are lumbering machines under the control of our genes.

    I don’t think he ever said that. Do you have a quotation?

    CharlieM: But it’s usually more subtle than that.

    Such as?

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  22. Corneel: I don’t think he ever said that. Do you have a quotation?

    Such as?

    When you’re stuck in a whole, keep digging.

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  23. phoodoo: You have ideas, emotions, math… all made up of only atoms and the void.

    So what’s missing?

    phoodoo: And you want more proof then that of the supernatural.

    Things exist, therefore other undefinable things _must_ exist?

    Are there poodoo-like beings in the supernatural realm saying the same as you?

    You have ideas, emotions, math… all made up of only whatever the building blocks of the supernatural are and the realm where this realm is considered supernatural.

    You see, more sophisticated thinkers have realized that by adding such an element (the supernatural) all you have done is put the problem in a box and hidden it under the bed. In a similar way insisting that all things have a cause except, well, one thing in particular which I can just define as not needing a cause.

    You’ve really solved nothing, except definitionally.
    If that’s sufficient for you, great. For many other people it’s not.

    You see phoodoo, the thing is your insistence that the supernatural is real is comparable to your insistence that Uri Geller really does have supernatural powers. And given the latter is demonstrably untrue…..

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  24. Kantian Naturalist: I guess my only real complaint with the OP is that holism isn’t a new concept. It wasn’t even new when Goethe emphasized holism in his work on morphology of plants.

    I’d want to distinguish:
    – discredited views like vitalism: eg anything which contradicts physics in some relevant sense, eg violating conservation of energy

    – fundamental holism in QM entanglement
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physics-holism/

    – complexity theory where non-linear dynamics leads to top-down causation of a sort; something which could be construed as a property of the whole (though it emerges from the dynamics governing the parts).

    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/12214/1/bechtel.explicating%20top-down.4.0.forpreprint.pdf

    Aeon hagiography of CS Peirce which was written by linguist and so emphasizes his seminal work on semiotics
    https://aeon.co/essays/charles-sanders-peirce-was-americas-greatest-thinker

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  25. phoodoo: So how does one get past this conclusion that reality is only really atoms and the void?

    It seems impossible without invoking the meta physical, which seems inevitable.

    If the question is about how the ancient Greek and Roman atomists constructed their arguments, I’m happy to engage with it. But I’d like to be clear that ancient atomism is quite different from modern materialism, because ancient atomism was driven entirely by logical considerations — not by empirical considerations. The first atomists did not even regard the senses as a reliable source of information about the world!

    CharlieM: In what way does that impact on my stance? Do you think that modern science began from a more reductionistic or a more holistic position?

    I think that there are both reductionist and holistic tendencies in the history of modern science, often within the same discipline. Likewise in modern metaphysics.

    Even the most austere and purest version of atheistic metaphysics — Spinozism — can be understood in reductionistic or holistic terms, depending on whether one emphasizes the indefinite multiplicity of modes or their causal inter-dependence.

    Here’s a fun fact that complicates the historical narrative: I have recently learned that in the early 20th century, there was a debate amongst behaviorists in psychology between reductionistic behaviorists — Watson and Skinner most importantly — and a group of less well known but quite fascinating holistic behaviorists — Edwin Holt, Edward Tolman, and James J. Gibson. Holt distinguishes these as “molecular behaviorism” (Watson and Skinner) and “molar behaviorism” (his own view and that of his students, esp. Tolman and Gibson). The ‘molar behaviorists’ get their holism from William James, who argued (contra Hume and Kant) that we have direct experience of relations and not just of quasi-atomic sensations as relata.

    Some sciences were emphatically holistic from the start — ecology, for example. Others were emphatically reductionistic from the start — molecular biology. (It is a nice question whether “molecular biology” is an oxymoron.)

    It’s probably true that fundamental physics was reductionistic for a long time. I have no idea to what extent it still is, but the only work in philosophy of physics that I’ve read (Every Thing Must Go) is weirdly anti-reductionistic. And anti-reductionism has been the dominant view in philosophy of biology and philosophy of mind for a long time.

    This is because — it turns out — that it is actually extremely difficult to specify what exactly reduction is. Most philosophers who have thought about this since the 1960s have concluded that reductionism doesn’t make any sense. (Alex Rosenberg is probably one of the few hold-outs.)

    And, in this regard, where do you think the generally accepted modern scientific position stands now compared with the answer you (hopefully) gave to my question above?

    Well, in cognitive science the debates between reductionists and holists have mostly fizzled out once people decided that a multi-level hierarchy of mechanisms gives us genuine explanatory purchase on cognitive and affective phenomena. In biology, the autopoiesis view of Maturana and Varela, which for a long time was regarded as silly, is slowly making its way into the mainstream. Here’s a nice article that defends autopoiesis without mentioning it by name: “Is the Cell Really a Machine?“.

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  26. Maybe science works because lots of different people, competing for attention, grant money, and fame, look at problems from lots of different perspectives and levels.

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  27. Hey everyone, my real name is Dave Hawkins, which is how some people know me from other fora and my username stands for Holistic Management Guy because I feel that Holistic Management of grazing animals like cattle, sheep and goats is important for Sustainable Agriculture. I manage a small homestead flock of hair sheep and dairy goats under what I call Ultra High Density Holistic Managed Grazing. My concept of “holistic” in this context is to not only provide for the needs of the sheep and goats (which I would call reductionist), but also provide for the needs of the other organisms in the ecosystem — the pasture grasses and forbs, the soil organisms, and the humans. My animals move to a new paddock every half hour or so all day long thanks to a “RoboPen” that moves automatically across the pasture. This high density disturbance followed by long rest benefits the pasture grasses and soil organisms significantly and also makes for healthier animals and healthier humans that eat the animal food products – meat and milk currently – might add eggs at some point.

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  28. Corneel: No, I wasn’t talking about nucleotides, I was talking about the cells. Jaap van der Wal claimed that cancer was nothing more than growth (“multiplication, more of the same”), as opposed to differentiation in embryonic development. This is false, since cells are transformed in cancer and yes, this affects cell morphology as well.

    You were talking about DNA mutations weren’t you? And in your opinion what does “clonal lineages” mean?

    I was amused by you slipping in the recognisable form. Tumors don’t count I suppose? What you are getting at, is that the cancerous cells do not result in an organism, ammiright?

    Normal cell growth and degeneration build organs and structures which cooperate to maintain a viable organism. Cancer grows uncontrollably whilst destroying the organs and structures of the body. You are homing in on individual phrases that he uses in order to criticise them while ignoring the overall picture that he is painting. You might as well criticise a pointillist painting for being nothing but small splodges of paint.

    Alas, biology is quirky enough to produce exceptions to everything. I present to you Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a contagious form of cancer that afflicts Tasmanian devils. DFTD is transmitted through biting. The disease originated in the Schwann cells of a single individual devil, and through major genomic rearrangement has evolved to become stably transmitted. Could you please explain to me how the continuation of this lineage benefits the long-dead organism whence it came? Or perhaps you could explain how mere proliferation has resulted in a cell lineage that, for all intents and purposes, is a fully independent pathogen?

    He was talking about proliferation within individual organisms. How the cancer originates is another matter.

    An interesting excerpt from your link states

    Due to the decreased life expectancy of the devils with DFTD, affected individuals have begun breeding at younger ages in the wild

    If we are to believe this as it is written then it means that the organisms know some how that their time is short and they must begin breeding while they still can!

    I found this
    But the disease has shown us a glimpse of remarkable devil behaviour. Evidence has emerged that, in response to the decimation of their numbers, devils have tended to become semelparous: males are breeding when much younger – so taking the place of older males dying while still in their mating prime – but as a result are themselves dying after their first and only litter is weaned.Previously seen only in mammals in the related antechinuses and possible quolls, it appears to be a natural response to prevent the reproductive cycle from being fatally broken. In human terms we might salute these as acts of supreme self-sacrifice for the greater good. And there is another aspect of the devil’s behaviour operating in its favour. Time after time, field biologists dealing with sick and dying devils report a tanacious individual will to survive, including emancipated, cancer-ridden mothers weaning to the point of death. Tasmanian devils don’t give up.

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  29. Corneel:

    CharlieM: The most blatant example of being stuck in a reductionist view is Dawkins with his statement to the effect that we are lumbering machines under the control of our genes.

    I don’t think he ever said that. Do you have a quotation?

    I did say, “to the effect”.
    Here is a similar quote:

    Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators?

    They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.
    They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.”
    Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

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  30. CharlieM: If we are to believe this as it is written then it means that the organisms know some how that their time is short and they must begin breeding while they still can!

    No actually, it does not. Can you figure out an alternative explanation, one that does not require the young Devils to have any conscious foreboding of their imminent demise?
    [If you cannot, then you do not understand evolution AT ALL.]

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  31. Alan Fox:
    HMGuy,

    Hello, Dave. What brings you here?

    This topic is interesting to me. Also, I’m a skeptic. This IS The Skeptical Zone, right? Also I’m acquainted somewhat with that famous penguin and I’m curious to see how good she is at moderation / forum admin / etc. What about you? What brings you here?

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  32. HMGuy: This topic is interesting to me.

    Well, sure. But how did you find TSZ?

    Also, I’m a skeptic.This IS The Skeptical Zone, right? Also I’m acquainted somewhat with that famous penguin…

    I know.

    …and I’m curious to see how good she is at moderation / forum admin / etc.

    Well, that won’t be satisfied currently and, in my view very unfortunately. We live in hope.

    What about you? What brings you here?

    A quiet weekend near the end of summer! Also, I have observed your internet presence over many years.

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  33. Alan I’ve known about TSZ for some time now. I don’t know how I first heard about it. Probably Pingu mentioned it at some point.

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  34. HMGuy:
    Hey everyone, my real name is Dave Hawkins, which is how some people know me from other fora and my username stands for Holistic Management Guy because I feel that Holistic Management of grazing animals like cattle, sheep and goats is important for Sustainable Agriculture.I manage a small homestead flock of hair sheep and dairy goats under what I call Ultra High Density Holistic Managed Grazing.My concept of “holistic” in this context is to not only provide for the needs of the sheep and goats (which I would call reductionist), but also provide for the needs of the other organisms in the ecosystem — the pasture grasses and forbs, the soil organisms, and the humans.My animals move to a new paddock every half hour or so all day long thanks to a “RoboPen” that moves automatically across the pasture.This high density disturbance followed by long rest benefits the pasture grasses and soil organisms significantly and also makes for healthier animals and healthier humans that eat the animal food products – meat and milk currently – might add eggs at some point.

    That looks like the perfect place to get whole milk!
    Welcome to TSZ, Dave

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  35. HMGuy:
    Alan I’ve known about TSZ for some time now.I don’t know how I first heard about it.Probably Pingu mentioned it at some point.

    And I see you are in conversation with her now. 🙂

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  36. dazz: That looks like the perfect place to get whole milk!

    Dave’s goats may not necessarily agree. 😉

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  37. Alan Fox: Dave’s goats may not necessarily agree.

    Hey Alan! hope you’re doing fine in the scorching heat of yet another insufferable summer.

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  38. BruceS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0hvh4NqgpE

    I was interested in watching this.

    About the only thing for certain after watching it though is that their coherent opinions most certainly don’t exist. Despite the moderator trying his best to get the panelist to actually answer something, anything, alas he was wholly unsuccessful. The very first physicist, when asked, during a discussion panel about what exists, says his only opinion is it is not worth discussing. Well, gee, then here’s a great idea, go home! Did no one tell you what the talk was going to be on? It only went downhill from there.

    I guess the other thing you can learn from this video -if people who are supposedly smart about physics try to talk sensibly about anything void of numbers, they end up making game show hosts look like savant geniuses.

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  39. petrushka: When you’re stuck in a whole, keep digging.

    Very punny.

    When our kids were very young, one of the poems in a favourite book of their’s was:

    DIGGORY DIGGORY DELVET!
    ⁠A little old man in black velvet;
    He digs and he delves—
    You can see for yourselves
    ⁠The mounds dug by Diggory Delvet.

    That’s an interesting concept, digging mounds. There are two sides to hole digging. As the vacant space is created you are also building up a structure.The whole is the activity, the hole, and the mound. Rather than being stuck in a hole (those who cannot see beyond reductionism) I much prefer to be stuck in the whole (experiencing the wholeness).

    We can thank Alan for linking to the book “Mama’s Last Hug…”. In it Frans de Waal writes,

    Looking beyond the central scene is key. If one male chimpanzee intimidates another by throwing rocks or charging closely past the other, you need to deliberately take your eye of them to check the periphery, where new developments arise. I call it holistic observation: considering the wider context.

    Sound advice.

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  40. phoodoo: The very first physicist, when asked, during a discussion panel about what exists, says his only opinion is it is not worth discussing.

    But that’s precisely your position regarding the supernatural.

    phoodoo: . Well, gee, then here’s a great idea, go home!

    Precisely so. If you have nothing to say go home.

    I’ll be waiting.

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  41. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM: In what way does that impact on my stance? Do you think that modern science began from a more reductionistic or a more holistic position?

    I think that there are both reductionist and holistic tendencies in the history of modern science, often within the same discipline. Likewise in modern metaphysics.

    Even the most austere and purest version of atheistic metaphysics — Spinozism — can be understood in reductionistic or holistic terms, depending on whether one emphasizes the indefinite multiplicity of modes or their causal inter-dependence.

    Here’s a fun fact that complicates the historical narrative: I have recently learned that in the early 20th century, there was a debate amongst behaviorists in psychology between reductionistic behaviorists — Watson and Skinner most importantly — and a group of less well known but quite fascinating holistic behaviorists — Edwin Holt, Edward Tolman, and James J. Gibson. Holt distinguishes these as “molecular behaviorism” (Watson and Skinner) and “molar behaviorism” (his own view and that of his students, esp. Tolman and Gibson). The ‘molar behaviorists’ get their holism from William James, who argued (contra Hume and Kant) that we have direct experience of relations and not just of quasi-atomic sensations as relata.

    Some sciences were emphatically holistic from the start — ecology, for example. Others were emphatically reductionistic from the start — molecular biology. (It is a nice question whether “molecular biology” is an oxymoron.)

    It’s probably true that fundamental physics was reductionistic for a long time. I have no idea to what extent it still is, but the only work in philosophy of physics that I’ve read (Every Thing Must Go) is weirdly anti-reductionistic. And anti-reductionism has been the dominant view in philosophy of biology and philosophy of mind for a long time.

    This is because — it turns out — that it is actually extremely difficult to specify what exactly reduction is. Most philosophers who have thought about this since the 1960s have concluded that reductionism doesn’t make any sense. (Alex Rosenberg is probably one of the few hold-outs.)

    And, in this regard, where do you think the generally accepted modern scientific position stands now compared with the answer you (hopefully) gave to my question above?

    Well, in cognitive science the debates between reductionists and holists have mostly fizzled out once people decided that a multi-level hierarchy of mechanisms gives us genuine explanatory purchase on cognitive and affective phenomena. In biology, the autopoiesis view of Maturana and Varela, which for a long time was regarded as silly, is slowly making its way into the mainstream. Here’s a nice article that defends autopoiesis without mentioning it by name: “Is the Cell Really a Machine?“.

    I was thinking of the birth of modern science with the likes of Bacon and the inductive method of observing and examining the parts in order to understand the whole. And I don’t see anything wrong with this method as a way of gaining knowledge.

    It appears you see a holistic view as being restricted to a top down view. I would disagree with this and say that holism embraces all levels. It is a “multi-level” view.

    Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading it.

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  42. petrushka:
    Maybe science works because lots of different people, competing for attention, grant money, and fame, look at problems from lots of different perspectives and levels.

    And to try to understand things from multiple different perspectives and levels is a way of perceiving the whole. Perceiving with the senses and the thinking mind.

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  43. HMGuy:
    Hey everyone, my real name is Dave Hawkins, which is how some people know me from other fora and my username stands for Holistic Management Guy because I feel that Holistic Management of grazing animals like cattle, sheep and goats is important for Sustainable Agriculture.I manage a small homestead flock of hair sheep and dairy goats under what I call Ultra High Density Holistic Managed Grazing.My concept of “holistic” in this context is to not only provide for the needs of the sheep and goats (which I would call reductionist), but also provide for the needs of the other organisms in the ecosystem — the pasture grasses and forbs, the soil organisms, and the humans.My animals move to a new paddock every half hour or so all day long thanks to a “RoboPen” that moves automatically across the pasture.This high density disturbance followed by long rest benefits the pasture grasses and soil organisms significantly and also makes for healthier animals and healthier humans that eat the animal food products – meat and milk currently – might add eggs at some point.

    Hi Dave, welcome to TSZ.

    Does your produce qualify as being labelled organic? Do you have any views on this either way? I’d be interested in your answers but don’t feel obliged to answer if you would prefer your views on this to remain private.

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