Monday, August 12, 2013

The strange paradox of the reductionist individualist

Those who cling to the ideology of reductionism and yet hold to a libertarian or semi-libertarian position really present a strange paradox: They are insisting upon the importance of individuals in politics while at the same time holding that individuals don't really exist at all. After all, nothing bad happened to the electrons and protons and neutrons that made up Alexander Solzhenitsyn when he was thrown in the gulag. So what was the big deal?


  1. Do you think you could pass a reductionist Turing test calibrated to the same level as an Idealist Turing test that you'd impose on someone else?

    1. I don't understand this remark at all. Philosophical thinking consists, in large part, in examining systems of ideas for consistency. That is what I am doing. I don't understand what that has to do with "imposing" Turing tests on others!

    2. And yes, certainly idealist thought should be subjected to the same sort of critical scrutiny. And it has been, often by other idealists.

    3. Or perhaps you think I am trying to "impose" idealism on others, like the founders of QM? That imposition is not necessary:

      "As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." -- Max Planck

  2. I think Daniel is referring to the "ideological Turing test"; i.e. could you represent the opposing viewpoint in a manner indistinguishable from an advocate thereof.

  3. Judging by his posts on the topic, no. Take the latest on genes. No one denies that the existing chemistry of the cell carries information, so that you cannot correctly read dinosaur DNA in a chicken egg. But as other comments note that just mean the interplay is complex.

    1. And complex = not reducible.

    2. There's your error. Simple components can interact in complex ways. Even simple systems can have chaotic behavior for example but the chaos isn't introduced by a new magical element.

    3. "There's your error"

      From a 1999 symposium in Science on complex systems:

      "we have taken a “complex system” to be one whose properties are not fully explained by an understanding of its component parts"

      So there's your evidence you don't know what the f$&k your talking about.

    4. "but the chaos isn't introduced by a new magical element."

      Riiiight. Everyone who doesn't agree with your metaphysics thinks that pixies or witches are involved. If you're going to act like an idiot, perhaps you could do it elsewhere.

  4. Huh? Argument by definition. You define complex a special way but then don't prove there are any examples. So all you have is empty definitions.

    1. Oh boy. *I* define it a special way? I quoted a definition from one of the leading science journals in the world!

      *Of course* if we want to say if complex phenomena are consistent with reductionism, we need a friggin' definition of complex phenomena! The one I offered is fairly standard, as shown by the source I used.

  5. You've trimmed out a few key words. That quote begins
    " Being anxious to move beyond the semantic debate, we have taken a “complex system”..."
    So they clearly acknowldege they are not using a standard definition, but one appropriate for the purpose at hand.

    Second that deosn't mean the systems discussed ARE complex that way, just that the papers presented say they are. Your argument doesn't need "not" explained but "cannot be" explained. Otherwise all you are pointing to is a flawed underlying theory. There are and have bneen lots of those. Genes a blueprints is a flawed theory, but genes as recipes seems to work pretty well. And Kepler as Newton in action works perfectly but the solar system may well be a chaotic ie complex system.

    There may be complex systems in the sense of that quote but just quoting it, from 1999, doesn't prove it.

  6. "So they clearly acknowldege they are not using a standard definition..."

    It doesn't mean that at all. It just means they're using definition with which some might disagree.

    "Second that deosn't mean the systems discussed ARE complex that way, just that the papers presented say they So they clearly acknowldege they are not using a standard definition, but one appropriate for the purpose at hand.

    "Second that deosn't mean the systems discussed ARE complex that way, just that the papers presented say they are. "

    Well, duh. I would've admitted this from day one, if you would only gotten to the point instead of clowning around. Of course, these are a bunch of leading scientists writing in a leading science journal saying the complexity in this sense exists.

    1. Not quite. Presenting preliminary examples where they think that's the case. it takes a lot of time and investigation for this to become established.
      As an aside, if it had been there'd be more recent links.

      As for proving a negative, to some extent that's right, but it's par for the course. No-one can prove smoking causes cancer, but we've disproven all the reasonable alternatives. That's how the game is played. You certainly cannot just cite preliminary possible examples and claim proof.

      Repeated failures? I cited Newton and Kepler. You disagree? All of thermo and kinetic theory. All of chemistry is expalined by the atomic model. Quarks might explain protons and electrons. Lots of successes.

      And of course darwinism and adaptation.

    2. Okay bodybuilder, you're new here, so I'm giving you one last chance, but you're really testing my patience.

      First of all, I gave a site for 1999 because it was the first thing that popped up in the Google search. There are literally thousands of similar later citations possible. There are entire journals devoted to these topics. I sit on the board of one of them.

      (Since blogger repeatedly crashes from an iphone, I continue in a second comment.)

    3. ogger keeps crashing Safari on my iPhone. Part two will have to wait for tomorrow.

    4. "No-one can prove smoking causes cancer,"

      That is proving a positive, btw.

      But the example is a complete muddle anyway: we certainly have NOT proved that nothing but smoking causes cancer! And it's not as though we have reduced almost every science to physics and just have one or two stubborn examples left to handle: NO other mature science has been reduced to physics!

      "All of thermo and kinetic theory."

      Hilarious! Thermodynamics is a good example of a science that CAN'T be reduced! A single atom has no temperature.

      "All of chemistry is expalined by the atomic model. "

      No it isn't. Ask any chemist. Or just note that we still have departments of chemistry.

      "Quarks might explain protons and electrons."

      Do you actually no anything about science? Electrons are not composed of quarks.

      "And of course darwinism and adaptation."

      Again, here is a great example of ANTI-reductionism working: the characteristics of the single organism is explained by its species entire history in the context of the entire history of the environment in which it exists.

      I have gleaned that you have no idea what reductionism even is.

  7. "Your argument doesn't need "not" explained but "cannot be" explained"

    So anti-reductionists need to prove a negative, do we? How convenient that reductionists can keep excusing the repeated failures of their program with the excuse "we will get there someday"!


Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews