Sunday, August 16, 2015

Simplicity Is Not Reductionism

Every once in a while, someone I'm talking with reacts poorly to the very notion that complex concepts should or could be simplified--as if this Simple Explanation blog contributes to "dumbing down" science, philosophy, religion, and metaphysics. "Your theory is nothing but pure fantasy and speculation," I hear them say.

Well, I've got news for them-- All axioms are fundamentally unprovable. This is true in science, in logic, and in math. Fundamental propositions are assumed to be true. All of these axioms are in fact intuitive. So the criticism that the Simple Explanation is intuitive is a false criticism, as the same can be said of all science, logic, and math. According to U.C. Berkeley's Understanding Science website: 

"All of science is based on a few fundamental assumptions that transcend any individual experiment or study." 

Understanding Science goes on to explain that, while the fundamental propositions may be assumptions, they generate testable hypotheses that can verify the assumptions. The Simple Explanation is not unscientific--it verifies its hypotheses through observation and by mining other people's research findings, amply demonstrating its theoretical robustness.

I talked this over with my brother, Bill, the philosopher, and he felt it was very important to explain the difference between "simplicity" and "reductionism." So here goes.

Simplicity is not reductionism. 

Simplicity as I use the term involves stripping away layers of linguistic and cultural particulars to reveal underlying universal patterns. According to the Simple Explanation, once memes are lifted out of their familiar linguistic and cultural expressions, their universal applicability can be readily discerned.

Reductionism, on the other hand, narrows the focus of exploration by pursuing information from smaller and smaller objects, as in the way physicists look for ever smaller particles and wave forms to explain the composition of our universe. Hand in hand with this pursuit is the assumption that an object can be reduced to its tiniest components and that this will reveal its underlying nature.

I'm happy to see that according to wikipedia, Bill and I are not alone in our distrust of reductionism. Apparently reductionism doesn't go over so well with ecologists or systems theorists, because interactive systems can't be described by their smallest objects but must be described in terms of relationships and interactions. From the wiki article on reductionism: "Disciplines such as cybernetics and systems theory embrace a non-reductionist view of science, sometimes going as far as explaining phenomena at a given level of hierarchy in terms of phenomena at a higher level, in a sense, the opposite of a reductionist approach.[24]"

So, while conventional science believes itself to be thoroughly pursuing truth through reductionism, the Simple Explanation would say it is more like they are trying to describe the haystack by counting the number of its molecules. Yes, it is a measurable result, but meaningless.

Again, from wikipedia: "Methodological reductionism is the position that the best scientific strategy is to attempt to reduce explanations to the smallest possible entities. Methodological reductionism would thus hold that the atomic explanation of a substance's boiling point is preferable to the chemical explanation, and that an explanation based on even smaller particles (quarks and leptons, perhaps) would be even better. Methodological reductionism, therefore, is the position that all scientific theories either can or should be reduced to a single super~theory through the process of theoretical reduction.

Here at the Simple Explanation, simplicity means "elegance"--the simplest theory that explains the most evidence. But unlike methodological reductionism, the Simple Explanation does not restrict truth to the tiny.The simplicity pursued by the Simple Explanation is of an entirely different kind--a true theory of everything looks for the underlying reality of our cosmos, irregardless of where it is to be found.