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reductionism, anti-reductionism and reconstructionism

September 17, 2011

Mohan, mdashf

In Physics most people talk about reductionism, they do not talk about something which we can say: anti-reductionism, I will explain. No I am not saying: reconstructionism, this one is like what we do in experimental particle physics and reductionism is from theoretical physics but anti-reductionism is something which has caught up recently eg. in String Theory (not all of it).

In this form people are addding truth with truth with truth to form a ladder and believe that will take them to some higher truth. Nature is not that kind…. I will possibly write  a longish article..

So apart from the utilitarian angles of Physics where the industrial and commercial and application oriented**  aspects of Physics are the center-stage and the mere “pristine” angles of this fundamental branch of science take at-most a sneak-peek, there is hardly any other branching of Physics that the mainstream is concerned about. When I say that, I still modify my last remark to “well we are concerned about every implication of Physics such as how many popularizer and legendary physicists shed their prime thoughts to place in record  a more acceptable format of our status of progress” but the latter is merely an interface.

The prime branchings are therefore: Fundamental Physics which is Theoretical Physics & Experimental Physics, Applied Physics which is Industrial Physics & commercial Physics. That takes us swiftly to three prominent branches of modern day Physics. It is recounted that modern Physics is counted from the days of Galileo who was a pioneer in all the branches of Physics, that is he was a polymath.

**(called applied Physics in general to take all the three I just mentioned)

I will mainly be concerned here with the Fundamental Physics: theory, experiment, phenomenology and latest understanding of all of it.

Again there is another kind of branching which is how formal training is offered in Physics or Physical science: condense matter & solid state physics, nuclear & particle physics, Applied & Industrial Physics. Electronics of the engineering studies quality and mathematics of the highest kind is exposited to the brightest and advanced students. SO all in all our progress in Physics is a well thought out marching which often do not work because “a car which got 3 wheels and 1 wheel lost is not a car” we are facing immense deals of complicated social dynamics when it comes to seeing the subject as a whole from different parts of the globe.

There are many many more branching but they are merely offshoots of one or another such as chaos theory and statistical Physics and so on. You can understand them as a program or a course of study in advanced organizations. You may have a training in one branch but if you do not have a practical overview and understanding of all these various branchings in some form or other you are possibly reading my essay or swiftly relocated to music or arts or economics or something. Also it is important that all the branches I have mentioned can form combinations such as experimental nuclear physics or say statistical physics in solid state matter and so on. SO I am not really excluding material science but given you a broad overview of what to expect.

Now let us go back to the main topic of our contention here, the three kinds of thinking trend of the most advanced progress of Physics today. Said that I have had my professional training, skills and experience and success and failures in experimental particle physics or as they also say as a needy jargon: experimental elementary particle physics, experimental elementary high energy physics and so on. I will just include experimental and theoretical and phenomenological branching of elementary particle physics or high energy physics as is used in the most formal and practical ways.

A phenomenology study is like an interface between theory and experiment. It’s a middle step.

SO the three kind of abstract thinking I have envisaged is reductionism, anti-reductionism and reconstructionism. It is easy to understand the 1st and the last. The middle is perhaps a suitable off-shoot of the first: a kind of anti-thesis.

Now reductionism can be understood as a prevalent thinking in the theoretical approach to understand our Universe. The Big Bang theory comes in it’s precint. The Big Bang says the presently vast Universe of ours is a result of an unimaginably smaller sphere or point of existence which expanded rapidly and evolved into the present state in a matter of a billion years, as is understood presently. Life formed only a million years ago and humanity a few thousand years ago, civilization only a fraction of that few years, modern science evolved half a millenia ago, a few centuries which is a fraction of civilizational time-period, SO we have understood unimaginably large amount of how our universe really works in a smaller smaller fraction of time.

Now on that scale Quantum Mechanics which is understood to be successfully explaining everything we have, given we have cultured and advanced enough, is only less than a 100 years and the branch where I expert is only half of that time. SO we have a law at work which no one has expounded upon. It is not Moore’s law, it’s an unimaginably powerful ladder of progress of scientific understanding perhaps possible because Quantum Mechanics came into picture which philosophically at-least suggested that we must give up on our inefficient and premodern notions of what kind of world we really live in. This kind of philosophy is a back-bone of science, it did not come with Quantum Mechanics but has been there as a true friend of intellectual people, intellectual people urge the community of science to change gear and look differently and  perhaps an explosion of epistemology is waiting to happen.

The law above does not have a name, because we are still trying to understand what we have in hand. You have to see this essay in that perspective.

How is Big Bang a reductionist approach? That is how, from the infinitely complex Universe we are capable of finding the base of how it all happened, it came from a fewer set of things and the only set of things that are meaningful are the ones that are self consistent. Work backwards, throw the inconsistencies away and work backwards and throw the inconsistencies away and arrive at a picture which is only a reduction  of what we see now. This goes through mindblowing amount of mind-blowing, not a corporate brainstorming exercise where you come and throw yourself to the cushion and say holla-back, hold me, the trainee or whoever is there holds you and you come up with a pre-conceived plan a little modification in line with the business policies of your enterprise.

That does not happen like that in science. There are no popes. Nobody is ready to listen to another. Every one comes up with his vegetable and ranch and wants to make the best salad in town, and it is like a sports (Science is a game: as I have written one article). There is bullying, name calling, bruises and entertainment, it is a farce. Who wins? Perhaps nobody cares. What did we get? A reduced picture of what we have which is more clearer and more acceptable unanimously, not because we are tired from the sports, but because we are seeing something which all of us are seeing like an alien on India TV or a beauty who everyone agrees is a beauty … आईला रे लड़की मस्त मस्त बड़ा आईला रे …

The Unification of fundamental physical interactions is a result of that abstract thinking, and look at it, we are successful because nature nods “agreed”. One example is how the electric fields are same as a magnetic field if you recognize that the same are not fundamental but a mere form of the more fundamental field when the speed of reference is quite ordinary. We see these fields everyday, we do not see the lightening speeds if we were to we would not be seeing these fields but their rather fundamental origin and we would see that there is only one field: the electromagnetic field, which is jumping from one state to the next releasing something we call the photon or light corpuscles.

We have from a variety of phenomena that we see everyday, of the charge, currents and magnets and their interdependet behavior reached a zenith of understanding which is just one kind of force or interaction, the electromagnetic force. Unification is a reductionism and perhaps one of the most successful approach of modern day Physics in the sense of 20th and running into early 21st century.

Now what is the 3rd approach: reconstructionism. It is something I have had my painstaking contributions to. This is an experimental tool. It’s like crime scene investigation. That is my ‘fave’ example. Bits and pieces are lying around, you take them and if you are a” sSherlock hHolmes ” you see very cleverly what leads to where. There are 100s of parameters but underlyingly “one” unified goal to reach at. This is not a reverse of the 1st approach but a complimentary to the 1st. It is just formulated in reverse so that we reach our goal of a discovery or invention. When we have it, it can be seen together with the 1st approach. The 1st and 3rd approach are buddies that worked in different directions to catch the same culprit from among  100s of suspects. But technically they are not the same. They do not invalidate each the other.

Now let us take the 2nd approach. I am not saying phenomenology has given birth to such an approach. I am saying over-enthusiasm has. It is kind of like an anti-thesis to the 1st approach of unification-reductionism (1st name last name) and since enemy of friend is enemy and not a friend anti-reductionism-unification is an enemy of experimental truth which is Mr reconstructionism. It has come out of over enthusiam and is a silly thinking, a step cousin if you may.

Anti-reductionism says reductionsim is silly but it hasn’t taken note of reconstructionism. To it’s rescue it brings Mathematics. It says if you have two truth factors you can add and multiply them in any way whatsoever as long as you produce something which mimics truth. Thus since it worked for two factors it must work for an infinite mathematical space. No harm done since we have gotten some use for mathematics at the end.  But nature does not seem to approve. AT-least it never had.

The effort to build ladders to check to see what nature is doing is like imagining building a periscope which you can use to see whatever it is that you want to see, forgetting the fact that there is not only numerous obstacles to that but a few daunting givens that makes sure the idea is faulty in the first place. In adding truth ad infinitum this simple truth is forgotten and what we arrive is therefore absurd. Some parts of string theory in my opinion belong to such an absurd approach which does not respect nature enough for it’s complexity. It is an anti-thesis to both the time tested theory and time tested experiments and no wonder we do not see intereting and practical results.

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