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MarsColony_in10years comments on Reductionism - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 05 March 2015 06:53:29AM 1 point [-]

But this is just the brain trying to be efficiently compress an object that it cannot remotely begin to model on a fundamental level. The airplane is too large. Even a hydrogen atom would be too large. Quark-to-quark interactions are insanely intractable. You can't handle the truth.

Less Wrongs "The Futility of Emergence" article argues against using the word "emergence", claiming that it provides no additional information. The argument went that literally everything is an emergent property, since everything can be boiled down to more fundamental components. (I would argue that it is never actually used in this broad sense, but rather to indicate cases where relatively simple circumstances, when iterated enough times, give rise to much more complex interactions in ways which are difficult to fully model.)

Isn't this article using "reductionism" in exactly the same sense as "emergence" in the broad sense? It isn't actually using "reductionism" as a curiosity stopper, though. It isn't saying "airplanes work because of quarks", and leaving it at that, which is what "The Futility of Emergence" was warning against. Still, this highlights an interesting exception to the rationalists rule against statements which are always true. In terms of Bayes theorem, a statement which excludes nothing proves nothing. But if we aren't trying to provide new insights into specific phenomena, but only to make facts about the universe more explicit, then such statements can still serve such a purpose. This only holds true if the statement is falsifiable, though. If you make some generalization such as "free will is an emergent property" or "free will can be reduced to more fundamental components", such statements can still be falsified.

I guess the takeaway message from the two articles is not to accept things like "because quarks" as answers, but also to understand that "because quarks" is in fact correct. It's the answer (or one of the answers) that you'd eventually get if you just kept asking "why" until you got to the most fundamental underlying principles. We shouldn't look for our explanations only in terms of fundamentals or only in terms of more broad terms. If we want a full understanding, we need to examine all of the layers of the onion.