Reductionism: That's No Way to Treat a Lady!
And yet, like its retarded cousin, ideological Darwinism, it was still taught as if it were objectively true. Why? Why can't we just teach children the truth -- that science has no freaking idea how life arose; or, for that matter, what consciousness is, or how such an exquisitely ordered cosmos came into being, or why human beings have so many extravagant abilities that are inexplicable on any Darwinan basis?
In short, why the mania for reductionism? I mean, I understand the appeal, because I understand that human beings are afraid of the dark. We are born into a world which we do not understand, and which we (super)naturally wish to understand. But few things interfere more with understanding than premature closure of the psychic field, or placing arbitrary boundaries on the subjective horizon -- which is why Bion's favorite adage was the answer is the disease that kills curiosity.
It is not possible to repudiate and discredit philosophical reductionism any more than it already has been. After all, how many times can you prove that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts? In point of fact, you have only to prove it once in order to falsify any scientific theory that claims that the whole is nothing but the sum of the parts (I believe it was Alan Watts who called this the philosophy of "nothing buttery"). And yet, we still have these radical secularists, atheistic simpletons, and bonehead materialists who worship at the horizontal church of perpetual reduction.
There is nothing wrong with reductionism per se, specifically, so long as it is simply a part of the scientific method. But if you conflate method and ontology, you, sir, have beclowned yourself. You may call yourself a "philosopher" -- a lover of wisdom! -- but in fact you love wisdom like Andrew Sullivan loves women and Jews. You cannot have real intercourse with Sophia if your philosophy a priori reduces her to an inflatable party doll. (Seen at right, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Johnson --->)
Reductionism "always buys clarity and certitude at the price of mutilating reality, in a sophisticatedly seductive way of course" (Jaki). This is a key point, because if you exclude any reality above matter, then of course you can be certain that nothing but matter exists. Duh!
But that is not a statement about reality, nor is it any way to treat a lady. In fact, it's not even a statement about matter (or mater), for if lifeless matter is pregnant with life, than matter is not what scientists think it is. Indeed, one would think that the capacity to conceive life would be its most shocking property -- at least until one confronts the biggest cosmic surprise of them all, which is that it can also think -- and create, and love, and laugh, and ridicule. Charles Johnson.
Nothing is easier -- and more simplistic -- than reducing quality to quantity by abstracting the former and assigning it a number. But just because you've assigned a number to something doesn't mean it really is a number. You can't be reduced to your social security number (that is, unless Obamacare passes).
Of course there are fields that reveal virtually no qualitative aspects, for example, mathematics. And yet, even that isn't really true at all, for any first rate mathematician will tell you that they are motivated by a sense of mathematical beauty. Where does this beauty come from? Is it really just the sum of the parts? How can that be, when one of the fundamental characteristics of beauty is wholeness (along with harmony and radiance)?
Any hope of explaining life in reductionistic terms was rendered impossible by Gödel. If one takes a broad view of his theorems -- which I do -- the bottom line is that a system can be either complete or consistent, but not both. Or, to be precise, consistency will be purchased at the price of completeness (and vice versa). Thus, as Jaki mentions above, reductionism is ruthlessly consistent, but at what cost in terms of completeness? What must it exclude and even mutilate in order to maintain its consistency and its certitude?
Only everything. That is, only everything that defines us as human and confers meaning and purpose upon our lives.
But real science -- as we have been harping on lately -- steers that middle course between empiricism and idealism, between the extreme below of matter and the extreme above of the nominalist God who makes everything happen directly. Ours is in fact the approach of that father of modern science, Newton, who not only knew how to treat a lady (in this case, mother nature), but
"was driven back again and again by his scientific creativity" to the "explicit conviction about the validity of going mentally from the realm of phenomena to the existence of God. Such a mental process for him was not a hackneyed exercise in syllogisms but an unquenchable urge to secure a consistent basis for intelligibility and being" (Jaki).
Hey, that's no lizard, that's my wife!