Monday, August 26, 2013

Reduced to absurdity

Many if not most scientists seek to reduce things into smaller pieces and try to understand the interactions between these pieces in order to comprehend the larger system that these pieces constitute. This is no doubt useful one or a few steps removed from the larger system ultimately in question. As you break down the system iteratively however, it's easy to lose sight of the original question or miss the opportunity for a slight turn of the head to significantly alter the landscape and manifest clues lost in reductionism's myopic view.

This missing of the forest for the trees is apparent in the artificial world of my engineering work. Oftentimes I get fixated on a particular detail and then get bogged down working out the components of that detail. After a while, the investment I have in this one approach is large enough to justify continuing it until lest I waste all that effort (sunk cost fallacy). Unfortunately, the complexity increases exponentially as I recurse through the subcomponents. I end up spending 5 hours to create a generalized solution when a 5 minute one-time fix would've done fine. The need for the solution and its details to be comprehensively characterized just slows me down in satisfying my original requirement.

Although engineering is a man-made domain, this problem can apply to the natural sciences as well. The scientific community puts on a pedestal the study of the building blocks, calling physics a "hard science" and sociology and psychology "soft sciences" in an almost derogatory manner. Sure, it is easier to control for variables in the smaller scale, but focus on the minutiae can derail the conversation of the bigger issues in life, the ones that matter for our happiness.

Just as perusing through ones and zeroes on a hard drive won't give you insight on what the computer is doing or supposed to be doing, neither will smashing atoms or mixing chemicals make serious headway in uncovering the workings of our mind and how to act in our collective and individual best interests. In computer programming, you look at the source code written by humans who think like humans in order to fruitfully use, maintain, and modify the behavior of the computer. What if the mechanically interacting particles in materialist science were code compiled from tiers of higher order thought forms? Analyzing to shreds transistors or subatomic particles will only hint at the how of certain processes, not the why. We must take care not to lose sight of the meaning while we chase down the means.

"There's more to life than increasing its speed." -Mohandas Gandhi

The danger of our times is that we're so intoxicated by our progress in understanding the mechanics and so neglected study of the source code of life that we've come to believe life is ultimately meaningless. The concomitant despair of nihilism leads us to use this same progress against ourselves, building weapons of more and more efficient annihilation. With a god like the Big Bang, it's no surprise that we sacrifice life and limb praying to atomic bombs for salvation.

As we look deeper and deeper into makeup of things, we are shocked to find nothing, that is, no thing that is the ground of all things. No elementary particle. Just a vast network of instantaneously interacting and inseparable aspects. This is only frightening to our investment in separation. Recall that the scientific Enlightenment was a reaction against the ostentatiously unifying force that major religions preached about but ironically undermined through their divisiveness. Religions preached oneness but practiced separation. Materialist science dismembers oneness, conflating it with religion. Quantum physics rediscovers oneness and freaks out incumbent materialists still sore from the Crusades and Inquisition.

Perhaps in this hologram of a universe we find ourselves in, we are no longer served by elaborating on the ways the light reflects and refracts to form the images we see. Maybe we're better off questioning the programs we're running, maybe even writing our own. Instead of laboring over the movement of individual pixels on a monitor, let's lay down some words and pictures that move us.

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