Improper Reduction is Circular

Improper reductions implicitly presuppose the prior facticity of the whole that their explanations presume to explain is wholly generated by or epiphenomenal to its parts – is “nothing but” those parts. They employ the whole as an explanatory factor of the whole. So they are circular. “The cells of the animal signal to each other thusly, and so there is an animal.” Would there be such cells in the first place, or their signals, or indeed their own constituent parts together with their intracellular signals, if there were not already an animal, of which they were constituent parts? No. There would be no cells, no signals. The entire panoply of explanatory entities then would be eliminated. You can’t obtain even a quantum of action in the life of an animal if there are no such things as animal lives, but only quanta of action.

15 thoughts on “Improper Reduction is Circular

  1. It’s like the Ship of Theseus problem. The ship is reduced to simply its boards, ignoring that the boards were formed specifically for that ship. We can suppose that your cells and my cells are arranged in very similar ways but we are both very different people. How can that be if we are all just arrangements of cells? Which cells need to be arranged differently to get “me” when starting from whatever arrangement equals “you”?

    interesting food for thought. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Scoot. The Ship of Theseus is a pretty good analogy. The difference would lie in the fact that, thanks to your DNA, your cells *must* be the cells of Scoot and only of Scoot, whereas the members of the Ship of Theseus and the members of the Ship of Aegeus might be combined without modification to build the Ship of Hippolytus – provided that all three ships had *exactly* the same design and specifications. That would have been hard to do in Bronze Age Athens, but the Arsenal of Venice in the 16th Century could have handled it. It was so far as we now know the first assembly line anywhere, and could launch a fully furnished war galley every hour.

      The analogy holds up better if we compare the members of the Ship of Theseus to the elements of which Scoot is composed. Those exact same elements – in suitable proportions (to account for the fact that different men are built differently (as to height, weight, and so forth)) – could be used to build any man. Ditto for the codons of our DNA. The very same codons could be used to code for any man, in suitable configurations.

      So it comes down to configurations of elements and codons. It is the Form of Scoot that enables the elements and codons of Scoot to be configured as Scoot, and that allows us to tell when we are dealing with Scoot and not Kristor. If the Form of Scoot is not present, Scoot isn’t present, either.

      But isn’t the Form of Scoot coded in his DNA? Not quite. The DNA molecule by itself is sort of like a book lying alone in a desert. Until the book is read, it can’t mean anything; can’t be about anything, or therefore have any effect on anything. It’s just some cellulose, ink, sinew, glue, and leather. It is inert. It is only as handled and read by a mind that a book can have any meaning, effect, or causal effect qua linguistic signal. Likewise for the DNA of Scoot. Without the environing organism of its native cell, together with its organelles and their constituent structures all delicately coordinated – that, taken together, process within the cell every second a quantity of data something like the quantity of data processed every second by New York City* – the DNA molecule would be inert.

      So, you need the cell of Scoot to start making Scoot. And even then, you’ve only begun to code for Scoot the adult. The adult Scoot is the outcome of a continuous process of feedback from his body – and, ultimately, from its environment (and in particular his social environment) – through his organs to his cells, and back again: of his epigenesis. Neural activity is one sort – one medium – of that feedback process. Metabolic and immunological activity are others. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Scoot *just is* the continuous process of such feedback, conducted in just the way that Scoot characteristically conducts it. The Form of that process, taken as a whole, and involving all its factors, is the Form of Scoot.

      NB: a huge factor of that process is the cosmic environment of Scoot, from the beginning of his worldly career to its end. The cosmos is a function of Scoot, and vice versa. This by the way is why the Resurrection of the Body (Job 19:26) must involve Making All Things New: the Resurrection of the whole cosmos (Revelation 21:5).

      So, the Form of Scoot is *not* entirely coded in the DNA of Scoot. It is not entirely coded in his entire body. It is not entirely coded in his entire life, or in his entire society and its life with him. Nor even is it entirely encoded in the entire precedent history of Scoot’s cosmos, that led up to his life; for, if it were, Scoot would be an exact reiteration of something that had already happened, and there would in him and his life be no novelty whatsoever. There is constantly such novelty added to the history of Scoot and his cosmos, at every moment thereof. So stuff is being added to the cosmos and to Scoot her member that, while formed, had no previous presence anywhere in her.

      If there are cosmoi that environ ours, in which things transpire, the same goes for them.

      So we see that the Form of Scoot cannot be entirely coded even in the entire created order, of all worlds and all heavens.

      I have not even mentioned yet the mitochondrial DNA of Scoot. Or the DNA of the fantastically complex ecology of symbiont organisms that live in Scoot, and make their own contributions to his form and character. And so forth.

      The members and factors of Scoot, from the quanta of action out to all the heavens, could not be what they are – mutual involutions of Scoot with everything else – without Scoot. Scoot is the key to the whole shooting match. One of them, anyway. That’s why he is so precious. Without him, the whole thing would be a different shooting match altogether. So, Scoot cannot be lost sight of without the whole enterprise running off the rails wildly. Ditto for the sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

      So: Scoot, my man, a *lot* is riding on you. Don’t mess up!

      +++++++++++++++++++++

      * I read this somewhere years ago. I can see a lot of problems with it – for one thing, there are untold trillions of cells in NYC – but you get the point: the cell handles a *ton* of data every split second. Perhaps the analogy was to the telephone system of NYC. Can’t remember.

      • Your wisdom is matched only by your thoroughness and I really appreciate this reply! There are a couple things which have stuck out to me:

        1) You say:

        The Form of that process, taken as a whole, and involving all its factors, is the Form of Scoot.

        Can forms be processes? You’ve talked about occasions of becoming and indeed your recent response to Hambone on Worship has helped clarify the concept of forms. But in all this discussion of forms i’ve always thought of them, for lack of a better word, as nouns. There is a form for chairs that embodies all of chairness. Are you suggesting that there is a form for verbs like, say, running? When I run am I participating in the perfection of running? Likewise other things–it’s an oversimplification to reduce forms to parts of speech but while i’m here I may as well continue: a chair can be blue, or brown, or stained wood–does this chair participate both in the form of Chair and in the form of it’s adjectives, like color? Is there a form for prepositions?

        2) You say:

        The cosmos is a function of Scoot, and vice versa.

        From your other articles I came to another oversimplification of this process. For whatever reason it came to me while looking at a game of connect-four. If we imagine the connect-four grid is the Cosmos then if I place a red marker in, I have not changed just that one space, but the entire Cosmos, and done so instantaneously. Another way i’ve described this is with a post-it note. If a post-it is the entire cosmos, and I put a mark on it, I have changed the entire cosmos, taken as a whole. So when you say the cosmos is a function of Scoot, and vice versa, I am a mark on the universe, and my non-foreordained existence modifies the entire cosmos instantaneously, and because I am a component part of that cosmos, the cosmos then and henceforth cannot be conceived without some idea of Scoot, likewise any other constituent part. Is this a reasonable understanding of what you mean here?

        Taking it just a little further: When I put a mark on a post-it note, most of it remains the same. If I were to randomly sample square micrometers from within the post-it, it might be difficult to tell what, if anything has changed, yet it has. This is a finite change on a finite universe. Original sin is an infinite change on an infinite universe. One way I’ve wrapped my head around Original Sin is to think of it as the inception point for entropy:

        Sin is inherently disordered. The propensity of the universe to become more disordered is Entropy. Entropy is always increasing. That is another way of saying that nature tends to disordered, or that nature is fallen. Original sin is the first sin, or the first disorder. Original Sin had the consequence across all of creation, that entropy will always increase.

        Again, Original sin was an infinite mark on an infinite cosmos. Is this why the entire cosmos was affected? That is to say, when we look into space with a telescope, we do not see pockets of un-imperfected cosmos, unlike the post-it where randomly sampling square micrometers might not reveal any change to that micro-cosmos.

      • Forms are not processes, but there are forms of processes – including the process of running. Likewise, forms are not substances, but there are forms of substances. A substance is a completed process.

        Again, forms are not properties (of substances or processes) like redness or solidity, but there are forms of properties. And, yes: forms are not relations such as are denoted by prepositions or cases, but there are forms of relations.

        You are on the right track in your second item, although I would add a qualification.

        First, the metaphor of the Connect Four grid is dead on. That’s a keeper. Not only is the whole grid changed by the move with the counter, but the whole game is changed, and the players, and the evening, and so forth.

        Ditto with the Post It, although there it’s harder to see than with the Connect Four. So:

        I am a mark on the universe, and my non-foreordained existence modifies the entire cosmos instantaneously, and because I am a component part of that cosmos, the cosmos then and henceforth cannot be conceived without some idea of Scoot, likewise any other constituent part. Is this a reasonable understanding of what you mean here?

        Yes.

        I’m also on board with your notion that concupiscence arising from our subjection to the causal effects of Original Sin is a tendency to disorder – to sin, to the effection of evil – and so with your suggestions about entropy. When the Lógos has made all things new, there shall be no more pain, death, crying, sorrow (Revelation 21:4); there shall be no more entropy. So it would seem that the tendency of our cosmos toward disorder is a sequela of the Fall. I incline to think that the Fall of our cosmos, and then Adam’s Fall by his Original Sin, were sequelae of the prior angelic Fall, and that Adam’s Fall – man’s Fall – was into that already Fallen entropic cosmos.

        Now, as to the qualification: the effects of the Fall were indeed universal. But while a cosmos can be everlasting, no cosmos is infinite in extent at any given moment in its life. Worlds must be bounded to be worlds.

    • They would. But, *not as parts.* Qua mere men, they could play no part in any explanation of Rotary Clubs unless they were also members of such clubs. But in the absence of such a club, they could nowise be members thereof. No Rotary Clubs, no Rotarians to help explain how Rotary Clubs work. Men, yes; but mere individuals not coordinate with each other as Rotarians.

      • Well, in a bottom-up sort of way, you have men first, and then assemblages of men, such as Rotary Clubs. Rotary Clubs don’t account for the existence of men, certainly, but you cant say that there wouldn’t be men without there already being Rotary Clubs, which is the sort of thing I take this passage to mean:

        “Would there be such cells in the first place, or their signals, or indeed their own constituent parts together with their intracellular signals, if there were not already an animal, of which they were constituent parts? No.”

        You could have unicellular life, and then later on complex assemblages of cells, which is indeed how the boffins tell us the whole thing got rolling. (It may or may not have happened that way, but the idea isn’t obviously self-contradicting, as far as I can see.)

        But perhaps I am just misreading you!

      • That is indeed pretty much what I’m getting at.

        … you can’t say that there wouldn’t be men without there already being Rotary Clubs …

        Of course not. But there could not be *Rotarian* men without there being already Rotary Clubs. Men who are nowise Rotarian give us no explanatory traction whatever in respect to Rotary Clubs. To think that they might is a category error.

        You could have unicellular life, and then later on complex assemblages of cells, which is indeed how the boffins tell us the whole thing got rolling.

        There is a certain sly sleight of hand at work in what the boffins are telling us. They often – not always, but more often than they think, or than anyone else notices – adduce the prior operations of populations (such as multicellular organisms) as factors of the existence of … just such populations. They adduce population genetics as a source of the phenomena of population genetics. They take the history of the population as a factor of the population. Now, to be sure, once a population has got going as a coordinate enterprise, that is a completely legitimate move. Indeed, it is unavoidable. But you can’t ascribe the origin of a population to that very population.

        Almost no one ever notices this. It’s shocking.

        … any reduction that tries to explain that [retinal] cell without mentioning the animal [of which it is a cell] is indeed a myopic reduction.

        Exactly. And, a fortiori, any reduction that tries to explain an animal by way of the activities of its cells without mentioning the animal of which they are cells is a failed reduction – an *improper* reduction. A proper reduction says something like, “Here’s how the parts of a lion cooperate in the lion.” On improper reduction, there is really no lion at all, but rather only its constituents – which are all then, still, inexplicably, leonine.

        In practice, all improper reductions presuppose and invoke the prior reality of their explananda. They must, in order to seem like explanations. So crucial are explananda to the procedure of explanation – of, i.e., understanding experience – that we invoke them automatically, thoughtlessly. So, improper reductionists almost never even notice that they are doing likewise; that they are taking untoward advantage of a radical exception to their avowed methodological principles.

    • In context of the example in the text: the cells of the animal might or might not exist without the animal (n.b. they wouldn’t), but they wouldn’t be the cells of the animal if the animal didn’t exist.

      • Just so. On improper reduction, the animal vanishes, not just as an explanatory factor, and not just as a common character of the cells in question, but *completely.* Thus it vanishes *as an explanandum.* There remains nothing to explain; nothing even to notice, or therefore to discuss or to consider. There is only an assemblage of cells, that have some properties in common the way pebbles on the beach are all pebbles on the beach. A heap, i.e.

        NB: cells of animals are themselves animals. On improper reduction, they too vanish.

      • Even more damning, such improper reductions throw away the object to be explained in lieu of providing an explanation. It is quite proper to tell a man trying to convince you that your dog doesn’t exist that he’s the crazy one, not you. This goes double if he puffs himself up about empiricism.

  2. The proper, glib response that immediately points this out, for the example you gave in the main posts, is simple.

    “The cells of the what now?”

  3. Just to be clear – an animal’s retinal cell, for example, certainly has no place in the world except as a retinal cell of that animal., and so any reduction that tries to explain that cell without mentioning the animal is indeed a myopic reduction.

    If Rotary Clubs got to the point of breeding members in vats in their basement, whose entire lives were utterly devoted to the Club, and who would quickly die if booted out, then it would be similarly wrong to try to describe such men merely as individual men, without talking about the telos of the Club, to which their existence is subordinated. That wouldn’t be an account of how men appeared in the world, or how men assembled themselves, in history, into Rotary Clubs, but I’d agree it would be an erroneous reduction.

    Perhaps that’s all you’re getting at here. Forgive me if I seem to be belaboring this point.

    • The tie doesn’t need to be as close as it is for the biology of animals, but basically, yes.

      If you are describing a bunch of men who are members of a Rotary club, and you intentionally describe them to in no way mention they are members of a Rotary club, you have given an incomplete description of these men. This is OK; all descriptions are incomplete of necessity.

      However, if you intentionally describe these men without reference to their Rotary club membership and then claim that your intentionally excised description proves that Rotary clubs don’t exist (possibly with some rhetorical handwaving about ‘epiphenomenae’ without understanding what that means as an attempt to get ahead of quite natural objections), your interlocutor is quite within his rights to point out that Rotary clubs do exist, they can be seen and interacted with in the real world, and the problem lies with your model, not his perception of reality.

      • Rhetocrates, thanks. You add to my response above – blast these nested comments in WordPress – most usefully, and most concretely.

        The outrageous and forthright claim of eliminative reduction – the most consistent, most economical, and so most alluring sort of its species – is that the explananda *simply do not exist.* There is of them *nothing but* their constituents. But, on that account, *there simply are no such constituents.* So, there being no such thing as x, there is nothing about x that we can know.

        But if x simply does not exist, then it has no properties whatever. Then among the other things we cannot ascertain about x is the truth of the proposition that x does not exist. If x does not exist, then we can have no warrant for the suggestion that x does not exist; for, what does not at all exist cannot anywise be known.

        Eliminative materialism devours itself.

        It is shocking to me that so few eliminative materialists notice this fundamental defect in their entire scientific project, which in so many other ways is so clever – and, indeed, so truthful, so insightful, and so enlightening.

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