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simplicio comments on Reductionism - Less Wrong

40 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 March 2008 06:26AM

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Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 07:24:32PM 0 points [-]

Why is it silly to say that higher level phenomena reduce, in principle, to ontologically fundamental particle fields?

Comment author: timtyler 15 August 2010 07:30:58PM *  0 points [-]

This discusssion is about the term "reductionism" - which is obviously some kind of philosophy about "reducing" things - but the cited definitions differ on the details of exactly what the term means.

The first meaning just states the obvious, IMO. Also, other terms have that kind of nonsense covered. There is no need to overload the perfectly useful and good term "reductionism" with something that is only useful for the refutation of nonsense. It just causes the type of mix-up that you see in this thread.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 07:33:54PM 0 points [-]

I understand, I just don't get why you object to reductionism as exemplified by the second definition. It seems to me a fairly reasonable philosophical position.

Comment author: timtyler 15 August 2010 07:42:02PM *  0 points [-]

I object to that terminology because it overloads a useful term which is used for something else without having a good excuse for doing so. Call the idea that invisible pixies push atoms around "irreducibility" - or something else - anything!

IMO, "Reductionism" and "Holism" should be reserved for the Hofstadter-favoured sense of those words - or you have a terminological mess:

http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l76/orestesmantra/MU.jpg

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 08:03:40PM 1 point [-]

Oh, I see. Thanks for clarifying.

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 07:49:55PM 0 points [-]

You are confusing me, Tim. Above you seemed to be criticizing the usefulness of the second meaning. Now, you seem to be criticizing the usefulness of the first.

Which do you find useless: the label for a methodology, or the label for a hypothesis about the possibility of hierarchical explanations?

Comment author: timtyler 15 August 2010 08:06:09PM *  0 points [-]

a) - good; b) - not needed. (Ref for a and b: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductionism)

Reductionism and Holism should be the names of strategies for analysing complex sysytems by reducing them to the interactions of their parts - or considering them as high-level entities - respectively.

The other terminology - the kind used in this post - is very bad. People should not overload such useful terminology - unless there really is no other way.

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 08:24:19PM 2 points [-]

One windmill I try to avoid attacking is the dictionary. I would suggest you spend a few extra syllables and refer to a. as "methodological reductionism" and b. as "philosophical (or ontological) reductionism". I understand the badness of needless overloading, but I'm not sure I agree that b. is "useless" simply because its validity is obvious to you. Would you also advocate abandoning the term "atheism"?

My problem with philosophical reductionism is I don't know whether it is a claim about the territory or a convention about maps. If it is a claim about the territory, I certainly remain unconvinced, having not yet glimpsed the territory.

Comment author: timtyler 15 August 2010 08:30:00PM 0 points [-]

One can't just let dictionary authors rule language. When they get scientific things wrong, responsible individuals should put up a fight. Look at what is happening to "epigenesis" - for example. Or "emergence".

Comment author: timtyler 15 August 2010 08:32:03PM 1 point [-]

Would you also advocate abandoning the term "atheism"?

That is likely to lead off topic. If the atheists and agnostics could sit down and decide what those terms actually meant, it would certainly help. Meanwhile, call me an adeist.