Talk:Reductionism

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Expand reductionism = oxymoron. — Unsigned, by: 82.44.143.26 / talk / contribs 16:54, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

Criticisms[edit]

I learn things as I hit "random" articles - but I had a question that might de-stub this page. Are there criticisms of reductionism? Not the psuedo-criticism of anti atheist idiots, but real criticism of the way it's applied, and if it misses the forest for the trees. Is there a point, I guess, in seeing the forest, not as a distinct set of living organisms each playing a micro part in the overall ecosystem but rather seeing the forest in its entirety? It seems that "mind" and "cognitive identity" might be something where more is learned by seeing a single product than the chemical processes.Pink mowse.pngGodotI smell roasted chestnuts. droollllllll. 14:51, 10 November 2011 (UTC)

Depends on how literally you want to define "reductionism". If you do take it literally then clearly it is absolute nonsense. Take a Möbius strip for a second, an actual physical one made of paper and then cut a segment out of it. Does that segment explain the properties of the strip? No. The Möbius strip is an emergent property of scope of how the sheet of paper is twisted and attaches to itself. If you assume reductionism is just saying "this piece of paper is made of molecules, they're made of atoms, they have these properties and that explains how it is formed and the properties of the paper and why it can be bent out of shape to form the strip" then it's clearly a more acceptable proposition, but somehow a far less interesting idea. Scarlet A.pngpostate 15:00, 10 November 2011 (UTC)
"then it's clearly a more acceptable proposition, but somehow a far less interesting idea." You would think so, but if think this through a second, it shows that miracles don't exist, that the human brain is merely a physical computer thereby destroying the idea of a soul - and thus an afterlife too. It destroys the entire theist worldview. It is precisely this point that is under contention between theists and atheists, and it is also precisely this point which matters. To remind us of Pascal's wager, if there is a good afterlife and a bad afterlife, and our actions in this world affect which we get, and we know how these are correlated, then it would (probably) be foolish to not spend time now to get reward in the future. However, precisely because there is no "real magic" - precisely because the world is just physics playing out - the plausibility of an afterlife is suspect, and we don't know what kinds of actions may get us a "good" afterlife. Thus, people are wasting this life now on delusions of future reward, harming themselves, and harming others, in the process.LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:19, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
There are different flavors of reductionism. Some are obviously false. Some are (IMHO) obviously true. I remember watching one Beyond Belief video, and standing in outrage at the horrible science being presented, which was a unique time as I was actually qualified to call the presenter full of shit. He was spouting nonsense in the facade of theory of computation. He argued that you cannot effectively use a reduction from human behavior to physics (of the brain, etc.) because the computation would take longer than the lifetime of the universe. This is more or less correct. This is also (almost) correct for protein folding - calculations for protein folding are one of the foremost uses of supercomputers. Does that mean protein folding is not "reducible" to physics? Does this mean that the behavior of the human brain is not "reducible" to physics? I'd argue we have more than enough evidence that protein folding is merely physics playing out. I would similarly argue that we have plenty of evidence that the observable behavior of the human brain is merely physics playing out. From the single cell that you started from, to you today, every step along the way is just physics. I commonly challenge creationists et. al. to point out exactly where they think that biology and chemistry stopped being merely physics and "magic" (e.g. soul) entered into the equation. This kind of materialistic reductionism is what I wholly support. It's also except what the silly theists cannot abide, because it destroys the plausibility of a soul, of miracles, of an afterlife, and so on. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:11, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
You don't need magic to think that there's a difference between physics and chemistry. You're also conflating materialism and reductionism here. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 03:26, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
I do not understand what you are saying. This is the logical positivist side of me coming out. Could you pick out a specific claim and explain how it is false, preferably with examples of experiments? Or are we simply quibbling over definitions and what it means for there to be a "difference between physics and chemistry"? To be clear: I did not claim physics is chemistry. I did not claim that chemistry is useless because we have physics. I made the very specific and narrowly tailored claim that all of the claims of chemistry could be made in the "language" and models of physics - that in a certain sense chemistry is redundant (with sufficiently powerful computers, "magic" measuring devices, etc.). This is a falsifiable claim. Do you know of a result of chemistry which cannot be accurately modeled solely with physics? This reduction from one model to another is exactly what I wish to defend w.r.t. reductionism. Also, I do apologist for throwing the word "materialist" in there. Do you know of a better term by which I could refer to this scientific hypothesis/theory? I do not mean to conflate materialism and reductionism. Those are two very different things. How about "physics reductionism"? LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 03:54, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
So you can spring for different kinds of reductionism: Token, type, or epistemic. I think you're mixing the first and third together. Or am I wrong on that? Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 04:43, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Sorry that I'm not very familiar with these formal definitions, and the brief definitions here lack enough substance for me to identify with one over another. I don't feel comfortable embracing any of those definitions because they don't say anything. They're vague enough that I have a hard time thinking of what would count as falsification, and if you can't falsify a factual assertion then I'd claim it's a meaningless drivel (ala Logical_positivism). If anything, I'd have to go with this definition on wikipedia: Theoretical Reductionism. I believe that there is a theoretical reduction from all accurate models of "real" things, aka "observable" things, to physics. This is not some a priori reasoning. It is inductive reasoning on the available evidence ala the scientific method. I think I'm an ontological reductionist, but I don't know what it means to "[deny] the idea of ontological emergence". What does that even mean? Do some people think that atoms stop behaving according to basic physics when they're in a human brain or some other "complex" system? Is that what "ontological emergence" is? I don't understand. I also completely fail to grok the difference between "type" and "token" reductionism from your link and the wikipedia reductionism page. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 05:05, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Well, you've still got some things mixed up -- tell me if this makes any sense. First on logical positivism, it was based on the principle of verification, not falsification. Falsification was actually what Popper used to refute positivism. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:25, 3 July 2012 (UTC)LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:19, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
That's some pretty fine word mincing. If there is a functional difference between verifiable and falsifiable, I'm not sure I care. Both are standard scientific method inductive reasoning. I may hold this position because I'm in the mainstream who rejects Popper's naive falsification. Falsification is much more nuanced. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:21, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Also, Popper never claimed that unfalsifiable statements were totally meaningless, but that they were scientifically meaningless. Also, not such a great idea to be taking cues from logical positivism, as it's generally considered dead as a doornail in philosophy of science. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:25, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
I will state it stronger than Popper: if you make a factual, aka empirical, claim that doesn't present a way to verify or falsify, then you have meaningless drivel on your hand. (Perhaps (?) unlike a logical positivist, I recognize there are other meaningful claims besides "empirical" claims.) LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:19, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Second, on ontological reductionism vs. ontological emergence -- when we talk about ontology, we're talking about things as they really are. So you can be ontologically reductionist (i.e., everything's quarks at bottom) but epistemically emergentist (i.e., everything might be quarks, but it makes no sense to explain, say, the war of 1812 in terms of quantum mechanics). However, ontological reductionism forces you to deny ontological emergentism because the latter posits that the patterns of interaction are separate things in and of themselves and so cannot be reduced in any way. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:25, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
I'm an odd duck. When people talk about "things as they really are", I tune out. It's a factual unfalsifiable claim, and thus meaningless. In trite example, The Matrix. What is relevant and objective is whether atoms in a human brain operate based on the same rules (physics) as they do on every other circumstance. More specifically, are there "special" rules for atoms in human brains? I say the evidence says no. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:19, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Third, on the type-token distinction, TOW has a page on it. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:25, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Oh god - type theory. As I hinted at earlier, I'm a computer science grad, so I know plenty of type theory. Or at least I know enough to know that it's a huge hairy ball best left to pedants who care about such things. So annoying when I'm trying to teach someone basic programming online in C or C++ or Java, etc., and some SmugLispWeenie comes along and starts a type theory argument. ... Coming back, I think this is largely irrelevant to my evidence-based belief in "model reduction", specifically "all models of empirical, factual things are reducible to physics". This is what wikipedia calls "theoretical reduction". This is very analogous to a formal reduction in computation theory. PS: When does the indenting get silly and we start it back at 0 indenting? LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:19, 3 July 2012 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────(Silly indenting ends here.) "When people talk about "things as they really are", I tune out. It's a factual unfalsifiable claim, and thus meaningless." Ah, so you're a non-realist/pragmatist/quietist then? Welcome to the club. :) Re: theoretical reductionism, that would imply that all explanation can be reduced in the end to a Theory of Everything. I don't know if that's what you're getting at though. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 06:31, 3 July 2012 (UTC)

Sort of... but not quite. Suppose there was no "underlying theory" uniting gravity with the electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces - my stance would not be affected. There is still the "theory of everything" known as physics. That it has 4 "base forces" instead of 1 is irrelevant. My stance is that the same basic rules that govern rocks in orbit are the same rules that govern solid state transistors which are the same rules that govern the human brain, and that this is an evidence-based scientific belief. Regarding souls, miracles, magic, emergence, etc., "I have no need of those axioms". LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 06:37, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
If you mean that everything is supervenient on physics, I'd say that's trivially true. (If you're a materialist, at least.) Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 06:45, 3 July 2012 (UTC)
Ok. I think I can agree wholeheartedly now. I think that's a very good way of putting it. "All differences in human behavior have a corresponding difference in the physics of their brains". I'll have to save that. Thanks. It is a "materialist" position, but some materialist positions allow for nontrivial emergence, and I believe against "nontrivial" emergence. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 07:06, 3 July 2012 (UTC)

Logical Positivism[edit]

You know, I just reread the other wiki page, and I finally got what you were saying w.r.t. verification and falsification. My bad. Sorry. I was wrong. Still, that leaves me with a quandary: I want a good term for the philosophy that rejects as meaningless those claims which: 1- purport to talk about physical or observable reality, and 2- offer no conceivable method to test whether it is true and false, now or in the future, nor even in principle. I could not find that term after spending some time looking for it. Logical positivism appeared to be it, but it more or less fails by denying the basic scientific method (ala verificationism), so that seems sunk. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:42, 10 July 2012 (UTC) (Ack, didn't sign earlier comment. I'm such a newb.)

Naturalism: two different kinds? Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 02:07, 10 July 2012 (UTC)
1- Definitely not philosophical naturalism. "Philosophical naturalism is the doctrine that the observable world is all there is." Definitely no. I think it's not reasonable to claim that, precisely because it's meaningless ala logical positivism. How could you test it? What would it to mean if it were true? What would it mean if it were false? It's straddling the line between a tautology and a meaningful claim, but it can't quite make up it's mind. It reminds me of Dan Dennette's Deepities. Also, it fails to capture the quite useful point from logical positivism, which is that untestable factual claims are silly, empty, and ("cognitively") meaningless drivel - hell, it stands in stark contrast to that. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:42, 10 July 2012 (UTC)
2- As for methodological naturalism, I'm not sure I even understand what it means. At face value, it says "Don't pursue or use supernatural explanations", but I largely reject natural vs supernatural as an artificial and useless distinction. What is supernatural besides "the not real"? If God were to come down next Thursday and start regrowing limbs, would we still call it "supernatural"? This reminds me too much of one of my favorite quotes: (Siegel's book Net Of Magic, p. 425:) “I’m writing a book on magic,” I explain, and I’m asked, “Real magic?” By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. “No,” I answer: “Conjuring tricks, not real magic.” Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic. What is the supernatural besides that which doesn't exist? In this context, "supernatural" is possible codespeak for several concepts. "Supernatural" could mean all things which aren't testable. If this is what supernatural means, then I'm all on board with methodological naturalism. "Supernatural" also could merely mean whatever unproven religious claims are popular that day, such as miracles, souls, etc. As long as those are untestable or demonstrated false, then I'm similarly onboard with methodogical naturalism. "Supernatural" could also mean the things which are not theoretical-reducible to physics. I think the evidence is that all of observable "reality" is theoretical-reducible to physics, but I don't want to close our inquiry into the matter. If this is what methodological naturalism means, then I'm not on board. Finally, no matter how I sliced it, methodological naturalism doesn't really capture or emphasize the useful point from logical positivism, which is that untestable factual claims are silly, empty, and ("cognitively") meaningless drivel. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:42, 10 July 2012 (UTC)
Dennett would disagree with you on that considering that he is a philosophical naturalist. Maybe SEP will help with more precise definitions. Because it seems to me like you want to eliminate metaphysics altogether, as the logical positivists did. The problem there is, of course, you're always going to come down to some statement that is untestable, i.e., metaphysical in nature. Which is why logical positivism is self-refuting -- that only verifiable statements are meaningful is not itself verifiable. Naive falsification suffers from the same issue. The principle of falsification cannot itself be falsified. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 03:18, 10 July 2012 (UTC)
Also, the section on the possibility of metaphysics might be of use. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 03:26, 10 July 2012 (UTC)

(Well, let me try breaking down this wall of text.) Out of curiosity, do you have a source where Dennett says that he is a philosophical naturalist? I hope in such a source he would explain what he means. Likely I agree with him. I think Dennett is closer to my position than you realize. He takes a similar tact when talking about p-zombies. He dismisses the "hard problem of consciousness" as not a problem at all, AFAIK precisely because any sort of discussion about the problem is meaningless. It's untestable and unobservable, and yet purports to talk about "objectively real" things, and thus it's ("cognitively") meaningless. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 04:00, 10 July 2012 (UTC)

For the rest, I don't think you're getting me. To demand justification for every claim is obviously silly. The logical positivists who claimed this are obviously "wrong". Obviously the only sane way is with an axiomatic belief system. However, one problem I do see is people talking about (purported) "factual" or physical or material claims which cannot be tested, even in principle. I want to call such claims ("cognitively") meaningless, in the full sense of the words. If you make a claim about reality and you cannot distinguish what it means for it to be true or false, then you're not saying anything. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 04:00, 10 July 2012 (UTC)

And what do you mean by "metaphysics"? The study of the untestable, but still purportedly "objectively real"? Of course I want to kill that dead. It's a waste of time and effort. Unless, of course, you enjoy inventing ideas out of thin air and studying them, e.g. the Platonic Ideal bunny rabbit. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 04:00, 10 July 2012 (UTC)

Now, on to your second edit. From your linked page, we have: Let us briefly examine an example of the strong form of the thesis that metaphysics is impossible. The logical positivists maintained that the meaning of a (non-analytic) statement consisted entirely in the predictions it made about possible experience. They maintained, further, that metaphysical statements (which were obviously not put forward as analytic truths) made no predictions about experience. Therefore, they concluded, metaphysical statements are meaningless—or, better, the ‘statements’ we classify as metaphysical are not really statements at all: they are things that look like statements but aren't, rather as mannequins are things that look like human beings but aren't. That seems like an apt description of my views at the moment. Note that I'm not completely up to date, nor in agreement with, the fine pedantics involved, such as analytic vs synthetic whatever. Also, you could argue me down to the weaker form if you were so inclined; I'm not sure what real difference it makes. I am also unimpressed by the rebuttal on that page that "the claim denies itself". It's like saying "inductive reasoning is not self-justifying" and/or "self-justification is silly". Of course I won't use inductive reasoning to justify inductive reasoning. The use of inductive reasoning is axiomatic. It's also definitional: we might define "meaningless" as those claims which have absolutely no impact on our lives (our experiences). In that case, the logical positivist claim is trivially true. If you prefer, I could phrase it as: "Anyone who makes a claim that purports to talk about material / physical / objective reality which is untestable, even in principle, is spouting drivel and bullshit". This vulgar formulation gets away from any preconceived notions of what "meaningless" means. Instead, it focuses on the brunt of what I wish to claim, and that is any such speaker is doing something "bad". We should correct such speakers whenever they say such silly things by reminding them that they're not saying anything useful or meaningful or relevant, etc. This vulgar formulation also gets us away from this rather pedantic arguments that the claim is self defeating. Next are you going to complain when I casually state "I want evidence for all of your material claims"? Those arcane arguments entirely miss the point IMHO. (You could make the argument that I carefully included "material et. al." qualifiers in every claim here, whereas the logical positivist claim in the link does not, and that's the crucial difference.) LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 04:00, 10 July 2012 (UTC)