The Corner

Reductionism in Pictures

Several Readers passed on this to me.

Cute: but those of us who have listened to Prof. Jeffrey Kasser’s Teaching Company course on Philosophy of Science can counter this while simultaneously rewiring our toaster oven and solving chains of differential equations in our heads. To say the least of it, you need to draw in a couple more arrows going the other way (i.e. right to left), one labeled “conceptual enrichment” and the other, “epistemic accessibility.” In fact, once you start adding arrows here, it’s hard to stop. You need another one labeled “emergence,” another one for “metaphysical modesty,” another …  I refer you to Prof. Kasser’s Lecture 24 (“Reduction and Physicalism”) and Lecture 26 (“Scientific Realism”). Any questions?

It is a fact, though, that the cartoon does represent the way a lot of mathematicians think. Math undergraduates — my cohort, anyway — are terrible intellectual snobs. We were just about willing to forgive physicists for actually using our precious theorems, but heaven only knew what chemists and biologists got up to in those filthy labs of theirs, and the “soft sciences” — psychology, sociology, and the like — were beneath contempt. As for people who studied literature and history (what’s the difference?), well, they were just figures of fun. “You mean to say they’ll give you a degree just for reading novels? Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Hey, listen to this, guys …”

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