More Is Different – the End of Reductionism?

Don’t you just love it when a Physics Professor and a Nobel Prize Winner say (at least part of) the very thing you were just trying to get across – only far more eloquently… Note Marcelo Gleiser‘s recent NPR blog post from which I quote this:

Nobel prize winner Philip Anderson wrote a prescient essay in 1972, More is Different, where he argues for this layering of physical laws, which are irreducible: we can’t deduce laws from a higher layer from going upwards. The reductionist program met a brick wall. So are the days of reductionism over? Not at all. But there is a clear need for a complementary approach based on this new vision for how Nature works.

Also, from Anderson’s paper:

Surely there are more levels of organization between human ethology and DNA than there are between DNA and quantum electrodynamics, and each level can require a whole new conceptual structure.

The wonder of it all, perhaps, is that even 40 years on from Anderson’s paper so few scientists are actually saying this, let alone working on it. And what of the levels of complexity above and beyond the level of human ethology? As much as the assumption that human ethology could be deduced from the standard model of particle physics is clearly absurd, is it not also presumptuous to assume that human behavior is the highest level of complexity and the pinnacle of existence?


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