Monday, 25 April 2011

The limitations of reductionism

I've written on this before, but this quote from Martin Rees reinforces what I was trying to say:

Everything may be the outcome of processes at the subatomic level, but even if we know the relevant equations governing the micro-world, we can't, in practice, solve them for anything more complex than a single molecule. Moreover, even if we could, the resultant 'reductionist' explanation would not be enlightening. to bring meaning to complex phenomena, we introduce new 'emergent' concepts. (For example, the turbulence and wetness of liquids, and the textures of solids, arise from the collective behaviour of atoms, and can be 'reduced' to atomic physics, but these are important concepts in their own right; so, even more, are 'symbiosis', 'natural selection', and other biological processes.)

From Just Six Numbers

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