Holism vs Reductionism (was: Is cryopreservation a solution?)

Mark Crosby (crosby_m@rocketmail.com)
Thu, 11 Sep 1997 09:52:57 -0700 (PDT)

Anders Sandberg wrote:
< It is funny to notice that the idea of holism is in some sense
deeply conservative. It claims that we can (and must) understand the
whole system without looking at the parts, and that attempts to do so
anyway will fail. >

I think that second sentence, especially the "WITHOUT looking at the
parts" is a VERY extreme position (what Damien Broderick recently
called ‘Black Holism’). It also seems to be the position of some
mystically-inclined practitioners of systems science (c.f., the
International Society for the Systems Sciences and Thomas Mandel’s
essay at ftp://lumina.ucsd.edu/pub/.../lst_dir/TMandel.GenSys ).

But, I also think that ‘bottom-up reductionism’ ONLY is also a fairly
extreme position. The self-organizing properties of interacting
components (especially functional rather than structural aspects), the
emergent "complex and abstract properties’, are not always apparent
when one deals with individual components IN ISOLATION from a
bottom-up approach. It is only over time, as the models for
individual components are linked and the ‘whole system’ becomes
approachable that some of the more ‘global’ characteristics become

But maybe we’re just mixing up the empircal and theoretical approaches
here. As I quoted Peter Cariani recently: "Keep your hands wet but
your mind dry".

Mark Crosby

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