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Rolf_Nelson2 comments on Explaining vs. Explaining Away - Less Wrong

46 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 March 2008 01:59AM

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Comment author: Rolf_Nelson2 17 March 2008 12:53:11PM 2 points [-]

Doug S., we get the point, nothing that Ian could say would pry you away from your version of reductionism, there's no need to make any more posts with Fully General Counterarguments. "I defy the data" is a position, but does not serve as an explanation of why you hold that position, or why other people should hold that position as well.

I would agree with reductionism, if phrased as follows:

1. When entity A can be explained in terms of another entity B, but not vice-versa, it makes sense to say that entity A "has less existence" compared to the fundamental entities that do exist. That is, we can still have A in our models, but we should be aware that it's only a "cognitive shortcut", like when a map draws a road as a homogeneous black line instead of showing microscopic detail.

2. The number of fundamental entities is relatively small, as we live in a lawful universe. If we see a mysterious behavior, our first guess should be that it's probably a result of the known entities, rather than a new entity. (Occam's razor)

3. Reductionism, as a philosophy, doesn't itself say what these fundamental entities are; they could be particles, or laws of nature, or 31 flavors of ice cream. If every particle were composed of smaller particles, then there would be no "fundamental particle", but the law that states how this composition occurs would still be fundamental. If we discover tomorrow that unicorns exist and are indivisible (rather than made up of quarks), then this is a huge surprise and requires a rewrite of all known laws of physics, but it does not falsify reductionism because that just means that a "unicorn field" (which seems to couple quite strongly with the Higgs boson) gets added to our list of fundamental entities.

4. Reductionism is a logical/philosophical rather than an empirical observation, and can't be falsified as long as Occam's razor holds.