“In the existing sciences much of the emphasis over the past century or so has been on breaking systems down to find their underlying parts, then trying to analyze these parts in as much detail as possible . . . But just how these components act together to produce even some of the most obvious features of the overall behavior we see has in the past remained an almost complete mystery.”
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Many of science’s triumphs over the past few centuries are rooted in Isaac Newton’s principles. Newton’s world is a mechanical one, where cause and effect are clear and systems follow universal laws. With sufficient understanding of a system’s underlying components, we can predict precisely how the system will behave. Reductionism is the cornerstone of discovery in the Newtonian world, the basis for much of science’s breathtaking advance in the 17th-19th centuries. As scientist John Holland explains, The idea is that you could understand the world, all of nature, by examining smaller and smaller pieces of it. When assembled, the small pieces would explain the whole. In many systems, reductionism works brilliantly. But reductionism has its limits. In systems that rely on complex interaction of many components, the whole system often has properties and characteristics that are distinct from the aggregation of the underlying components. Since the whole of the system emerges from the interaction of the components, we cannot understand the whole simply by looking at the parts. Reductionism fails.
His point? It’s all reflected in the price.
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