- Oct 6, 2008
- Basic Beliefs
Oh, I think they do. At least no one has developed even partial theory of social behavior much further along than that of Kurt Lewin from the early 1900s which is pretty qualitative and iffy. Yet we do know that every one of the mechanisms underlying social interactions are executed by systems made up of molecules and atoms governed by physical forces.Not so. The laws governing social interactions do not cover the interactions between electrons, even though the laws governing electrons may cover (in excruciating detail), social interactions.Now for an a lesson in reductionism.The Laws of Nature come in three Volumes.
Volume 1: The Laws of Inanimate Objects, whose behavior is governed by physical forces.
Volume 2: The Laws of Living Organisms, whose behavior is affected by physical forces but is governed by biological drives.
Volume 3: The Laws of Intelligent Species, whose behavior is affected by physical forces and biological drives, but is governed by deliberate choosing.
The physical laws only govern the behavior of inanimate objects. So Volume 1, The Laws of Inanimate Objects, is not going to help us to modify the behavior of the bank robber.
Book two reduces to book one, book three reduces to book one. Why? Because, as your titles explicitly demonstrate all behavior is governed by physical forces. All biological drive reduces to physical forces. All choosing reduces being governed by physical forces. The same set of laws cover all behavior.
There's a hypothetical set of laws that "cover all behaviour", which physicists call a "Grand Unified Theory" (GUT), but if these laws exist, we don't yet know them.
Which would, if the foundational laws were the only path to an understanding of more complex systems built from them, be a huge problem. Because the absence of a GUT would then imply the impossibility of our understanding or predicting anything.
Fortunately, the reductionist approach is far from the only option. Newton was able to derive classical mechanics from his observations of reality, despite being completely oblivious to the quantum mechanics that underlies it all, and despite being unaware of the relevance of reference frames in the calculation of relative motions between objects. He didn't even know that light travels at the same speed regardless of the motion of the observer, and yet he was able to produce a set of rules that very accurately described large parts of reality.
Of course, they didn't perfectly describe reality; But they didn't need to. Classical mechanics works. And, importantly, it's easy. You can determine whether your artillery shell will hit the target, without having to calculate the quantum states of every particle in the universe.
Similarly, you can observe human behaviour and say that it's less likely that they will rob banks, if they are threatened with long jail sentences for doing so; That you could, hypothetically, make the exact same prediction by applying quantum field theory to every particle and force involved (and it turns out the whole universe is involved) is possibly true, but certainly useless, as it would take at least billions of years, and likely trillions, to do those calculations.
Reductionism is a useful way to grasp how high level rules are ultimately an expression of lower level rules; But it's completely useless and stupid as an actual approach to understanding complex, high level, systems.
I don't need to think about atoms, much less subatomic particles, in order to jump out of the way of a speeding car. That the car is more accurately described in terms of the atoms, and their electrons, hadrons, etc., than as an aggregate macroscopic object obeying Newton's Laws, is true; but completely irrelevant.
At no time has there ever been a theory attributing top level principle causing physical forces. Is it reasonable to reject reductionism when at at the most fundamental levels we find physical forces attributed to every part of every potential social law?
I never posited reductionist modelling for social laws. For instance, we use such as association and inhibition to describe interactions among sensory neurons in processing specific location and extent of neural response to inputs. Those can be traced to chemical and electrical changes. So I'm aware of limitations of the extent to which we can currently ascribe physical forces to on-going nervous activity theory.
I just used a reductionist approach to find that all behavior ultimately is caused by whatever is the most elemental description of physical forces. There is continuity of forces from bottom to top of whatever we will find to be GUT, if we do find there is such. I'm using reductionism as sort of a tool for finding parsimony among things used to describe behaviors in the world. I'm pretty sure that descriptions for reactions to threats will at every level involve physical forces, whether they be in systems, functions, or even populations of behaviors.