Page:Lawhead columbia 0054D 12326.pdf/150

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One is intended to contribute to the beginning of a philosophy of science that moves beyond dogmatic clinging to decomposition, but it will likely still be some time before this thinking becomes part of the philosophical mainstream.

Part of the problem is that the primary opponents of the decomposition approach to science (at least before the 1970s) were the vitalists and the strong emergentists.[1] The common criticism marshaled by these two camps was that the analytic approach championed by mainstream science was inevitably doomed to fail, as some aspect of the natural world (living things, for example) were sui generis in that their behavior was not governed by or deducible from the behavior of their parts, but rather anomalously emerged in certain circumstances. The last major stronghold for this view—life—was dealt a critical blow by the advent of molecular biology, though: the discovery of genetic molecules showed that living things were not anomalous, sui generis systems, but rather were just as dependent on the coordinated action of simpler constituents as any physical system. By the middle of the 20th century, vitalism had fallen far out of favor, and most mainstream scientists and philosophers held at least a vaguely reductionistic view of the world. While quantum mechanics was busy overthrowing other pillars of classical physics, it seemed to only reinforce this one: the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts. While the behavior of that sum may be difficult (or even impossible) to predict sometimes just by looking at the parts, there’s nothing fundamentally new to be learned by looking at systems; any higher-level scientific laws are just special cases, course-grainings, or simplifications of the story that fundamental physics has to tell.

The moral of the science’s success in the 20th century is that the mainstream scientists were

  1. See, for instance, Morgan (1921)