Reductionism LO1911

Doug Seeley (
03 Jul 95 04:04:20 EDT

Replying to LO1723 --

Responding to Mike McMaster's comments on reductionism in the light of the
Meaning of Holism Thread on Tuesday, 20th of June as quoted in LO1898

> A complex system is one which _is_ a whole which has emerged from the
> interaction of agents or preceding elements. In that sense, it is
> "greater than the sum of its parts".
> However, it is not "greater" than the sum of its parts,
> its _different_ from its parts.
> There is no "summing" going on. And therein lies the
> rub. By saying that something is "greater than the sum of its parts" we
> are granting the presupposition of reductionism and we are implying -
> because it can't be understood by reductionism - that something rather
> mysterious is involved.

Mike, I never thought that I might come to the defense of reductionism,
and in an important way, I am really not... but I wish to point out what
seems like another perspective to the "greater than the sum of its parts"

In complex adaptive systems, in the Santa Fe Institute sense, there is a
reduction in the sense that the emergence happens when there is a "rich"
interaction amongst the fundamental agents.... their computer simulations
always start from such primitives, and the behaviour of the "whole" which
emerges is often very different, at its level of identity, than the
interactions of the underlying fundmental agents.

[as an aside, there is often a stimulating environment with which the
network of fundamental agents interacts, as in the "mobot" studies of
Rodney Brooks at MIT, a Varela colleague....c.f. Intelligence without
Reason in Proc. of the International Joint Conference on Artificial
Intelligence, Sydney 1991, ACM Press]

Now, either we follow an anti-reductionist path and intimate there is no
final resolution to what is a fundamental agent, a parallel path to that
followed with respect to some thinkers with respect to fundamental
particles in theoretical physics having no limit in the infinitesimal.
[Although, my reading of the mainstream thought in this area, suggests
that most theoretical physicists assume that there are fundamental
particles (quantum effects strongly suggest this).] Or we could take a
"relativist" position and assume that somehow there is a complementary
relationship between the identity of an agent and its own network of
relationships, which makes this pathway turn inside out on itself, in a
seemingly never-ending relativity (is that what the Post-Modern position
is really about?)

But from my perspective, it is not the "reduction" part of reductionism
which is at fault, but rather that it is almost always posed against the
backdrop of an assumed "outside" objective reality. It is the assumed
authority of such an objective position and the manner in which it puts
conscious individuals into second-rate minor positions, along with its
assumption of separateness "out there", which I cannot accept. There is
an alternative perspective to this "objective reality" which can also be
"scientific" in its ethos. Instead of placing consciousness in a
secondary, derived position, it places the consciousness of individuals as
primary, and sees the so- called objective world as a derived
construction. Hence, there is a kind of reductionism here to fundamental
agents, Us as conscious individuals (not all of personality-ego baggage).

Although, it does appear to be difficult to argue from such a perspective
in a "scientific" manner, I firmly believe that it should be attempted.
It seems to me that the result would be that the assumed objective value
system would change from the primacy and authority of a dog-eat-dog,
objectivist position, to one in which the primacy of individual, conscious
agents and their relationships would be paramount. Would such an approach
redress many of the negatives which our current civilization seems to be
sustaining, or even worsening??

Does anyone have any ideas on whether such a shift in perspective can be made
scientific, and how We might go about it??

Doug Seeley, Ph.D.	InterDynamics Pty. Ltd. (Australia) in Geneva
			CompuServe: 100433.133  Fax: +41 22 756 3957
			"Choice and Chance are One."