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Looby - the sin of reductionist thinking  RSS feed

 
Dan Grubbs
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Hi Looby and thanks for any thought you lend to this if it catches your eye ... or others' eyes, too!

I have come to the realization that too much of our world is stuck in reductionist thinking. I get the whole idea that one way of understanding something is to break it down into more manageable components. But, I have observed with careful contemplation that those who rely on reductionist thinking to understand the world around them never seem to reconstruct the thing they’re trying to understand, and then move forward in action with only the reductionist view and not the holistic view.

Though I see reductionist thinking all around me, one place I observe it taking place to the detriment of the planet is in agriculture. The industrialization of agriculture was followed hotly by the reductionist approach. As the chemists, botanists, geneticists, bureaucrats, et. al., broke agriculture into parts they thought they could deal with and control, they never seemed to put agriculture back together as a whole in its natural context in the biosphere -- to observe its vast interconnections. Proponents of industrial reductionist agriculture never used what they learned through reductionist thinking to help inform a holistic perspective, but instead, used their limited views to drive policy and practice. Thus they introduce practices that are motivated by production goals rather than building life.

Coming at this from the other direction is agriculture that is based on local observation and context-sensitive solutions. This is what I see in permaculture and its cousins. Though we might want to scientifically examine the physical and chemical processes of plant guilds; we don’t have to in order to apply them effectively and beneficially.

To me, observation and repetition is a far, far better means of practicing agriculture than reductionism. Thoughts?
 
Looby Macnamara
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hi Dan,
I certainly agree that reductionist thinking has led us to denying the effects of our actions and to feelings of seperation and isolation. This is evident on many levels including agriculture. The opposite way of thinking is systems thinking which is one of the seven ways. Seeing ourselves as part of a connected whole enables us to see our actions as meaningful.
One of the first steps to systems thinking is observation of the systems around us and those we are part of.
thanks Looby
 
Burra Maluca
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This is going to be a bit vague and rambly, and I haven't read your new book yet Looby so I hope nothing I write is going to clash, but I'm reminded of a few things.

One is the symbology used in this card, which is used as the 'alchemy' card in a set of druid inspired tarot cards.



From what I remember, the alchemist (or in these cards the fferyllt, which is based on the welsh word) is atempting to mix fire and water to discover the holy-grail, or 'ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything' according to how you look at things. The symbol on the skin thing hanging above her head is what we normally think of as a star of David, but in celtic mythology it represents two ways of thinking. The 'downward pointing' triangle represents male, reductionist thinking, breaking everything down to its component parts. The complementary 'upward pointing' triangle, which makes the star complete and functional, represents female (um, what is the opposite of reductionist? any suggestions?) thinking, putting ideas back together to create new ways of understanding the world.



I'm also reminded of Fritjof Capra's book The Turning Point, but it's so long ago that I read it that I don't really feel able to say very much about it. I'll have to dig it out and have a look...

Are you familiar with this book Looby? Are any of your ideas similar?
 
Sebastian Köln
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Dan Grubbs wrote:I have come to the realization that too much of our world is stuck in reductionist thinking. I get the whole idea that one way of understanding something is to break it down into more manageable components. But, I have observed with careful contemplation that those who rely on reductionist thinking to understand the world around them never seem to reconstruct the thing they’re trying to understand, and then move forward in action with only the reductionist view and not the holistic view.


I do not share exactly the same realization, I would rather suggest that the people are stuck with the fantasy that reality and their reduced view are equal.
You could call me a reductionist, as I have spend a few years at university reducing the world to principles that I can understand and write down (aka. physics).
Yet I knew this was a model and would only describe one part of the reality under very narrow circumstances.
And every time one would look more at the details new phenomena appeared and some of the previously important laws lost their importance.
When one would look at the greater scale these details transformed into new phenomena and previously minor correlations would began to dominate the whole behavior.
Then with the understanding of the different phenomena, relations at the different scales one could understand how some strange relations arose.

Dan Grubbs wrote:To me, observation and repetition is a far, far better means of practicing agriculture than reductionism.

I guess we need both. The "female" holistic view that is based on observing and repeating nature and the "male" reduction and "local optimization".
And both of them have to be aware that they are very limited when used alone, and that they are equally important.
 
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