From the first article in this series we saw the long way that Science has travelled from its origins. Some of the principles of research, including the scientific method, as is popularly known, have since then run into some paradoxes.
The Origin of Reductionism
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|Tree of Knowledge by Gregg Henriques|
This idea that all the sciences are unified has not been universally adopted. Jerry Fodor is the most famous critic of it.
Although many believe that this kind of Positivism has fallen into disuse in the sciences, we do not agree. We will list some of the tenets of what Hillary Putnam called the "received view."
A focus on science as a product, a linguistic or numerical set of statements;
A concern with axiomatization, that is, with demonstrating the logical structure and coherence of these statements;
An insistence on at least some of these statements being testable, that is amenable to being verified, confirmed, or falsified by the empirical observation of reality; statements that would, by their nature, be regarded as untestable included the teleological; (Thus positivism rejects much of classical metaphysics.)
The belief that science is markedly cumulative;
The belief that science is predominantly transcultural;
The belief that science rests on specific results that are dissociated from the personality and social position of the investigator;
The belief that science contains theories or research traditions that are largely commensurable;
The belief that science sometimes incorporates new ideas that are discontinuous from old ones;
The belief that science involves the idea of the unity of science, that there is, underlying the various scientific disciplines, basically one science about one real world.This sounds very much to us as the view of most working scientists today. The wikipedia article on Positivism goes on to say that, "By the end of the twentieth century, nearly every one of those claims or beliefs had been severely criticized or put into question, so much so that they can be regarded now as being untenable, or at least in need of many qualifications and caveats." Although we believe this statement is true, we do not think that this information has filtered down to the average science lab or science instruction. Our view is echoed by this same article when it glibly states, that this view is, "...still alive among many scientists and others who are not well-versed in, or knowledgeable about, what has occurred in technical philosophy since the 1950s."
The ultimate expression of this idea of the unity of science is in what has been called the "Theory of Everything" (TOE). This approach attempts to unify all events in the entire universe to certain basic physical principles, represented by grand unifying mathematical formulas. From Archimedes to Hawking, scientists have been trying to find this grand unifying theory to no avail.
The typical view of a reductionist nature is reflected in the view towards "variables." The view espouses that the closer one gets to the most basic components the less "noise" or variables there will be. These variables are seen as anomalies that do nit in the model or prediction. Normally, they are associated with improper measurements in the experiment, or some other form or operator error. At times, it is thought that with more precise measurements, more understanding of the MOST basic components of the thing being studied, these anomalies will disappear.
The whole point assumes that one does not wish variability in any experiment. Thus the answer to this problem is seen as a further reductionist approach to be able to understand the missing, detailed components that will eliminate the noise in the experiment. This is usually displayed in the desire for better instruments of measure, more powerful microscopes, huge colliders, etc. The noise is seen as a distraction from what is really happening.
In our next part of this series we will mention some of the classic problems which are bringing down a reductionist approach in favor of complex systems.