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First published January 1, 2008
“REDUCTIONISM” (to the pseud): The claim that complicated or immeasurable things do not exist.
“SYSTEMS THEORY” (to the pseud): The only way of understanding things: as a whole. Everything else omits and so isn't full.
REDUCTIONISM (ontology): The claim that complicated things are made of simpler things. Only the simplest of them are physically real; the rest are mental models of their interactions.*
REDUCTIONISM (methodology): The attempt to isolate causes and treat phenomena in terms of their most basic units (whether quark, string, person, transaction).
SYSTEMS THEORY: When things get together, they exhibit features the individual things don’t.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Western society has benefited from science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. Psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is “out there,” rather than “in here.” It’s almost irresistible to blame something or someone else, to shift responsibility away from ourselves, and to look for… the technical fix that will make a problem go away.
Serious problems have been solved by focusing on external agents — preventing smallpox, increasing food production, moving large weights and many people rapidly over long distances. Because they are embedded in larger systems, however, some of our “solutions” have created further problems… Hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for example, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them. No one deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless.
That is because they are intrinsically systems problems – undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them. They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.
PHYSICALISM: Everything is made of physical things. (However, the physical may be stranger than you think.)