John Mikes wrote (in part):

Your example "...a hydrogen atom is made up of an electron and a proton,
..." is asking for the question: "and an electron? and a proton?" and so
on - but the main deficiency of your (reductionist) statement is to consider
for the alleged material(?) particles as to 'making' a model whithout also
including functional aspects, total ambience-connections in an interrelated
totality - dynamism.
I (as a colloidal chemist) used another example:
there is no such thing as "water = H2O" except for the primitive conclusion
of 'destroying' water and getting measurement results resembling those on
H2 and O2 (not H and O) with the proportion describable as in the water
formula-weights. None of such "ingredients" allowing for a surface tension,
the 4C max density, or hydrodynamics etc., so characteristic for 'water'.

Reductionistic model-view resulted in an unimaginable edifice of the
scientific knowledge-base, all balanced by applied math. As it turned out
½century ago, it does not contribute easily to a 'deeper' understanding of
the world. We realize complexities within models, between models and
unrelated to models. Finite and infinite ones.
This is why I slant my speculations away from the reductionistic model-view.
Alas, I am not to far ahead with it.

You asked the m$ - I replied the 2c.
John M

You seem to be against what Daniel Dennett has called "greedy reductionism", or trying to explain too much with too little. More simply, one can call this scientific hubris. But I don't think there are many scientists who come out and say "I'm a reductionist", any more than there are scientists who come out and say "I know everything". It is always a working assumption that scientific models are approximate and tentative, even if this is not actually stated; otherwise, it isn't science, it's religion.

With your example of water, it is clear that it has special properties which are not obvious from knowing the properties of hydrogen and oxygen. It is possible that we do, in fact, have enough information to work out the properties of water from first principles - from quantum mechanics - but at present this is an extremely difficult task computationally, which is why the chemists are safe from takeover by the physicists. The other possibility is that we don't have enough information, because there is a fifth fundamental force we haven't yet discovered, or because we need a complete theory of quantum gravity, or whatever. Am I perpetuating reductionist thinking by making these statements? If so, what would a non-reductionist theory of water look like?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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