Fake Reductionism

Followup toExplaining vs. Explaining Away, Fake Explanation

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
        —John Keats, Lamia  

I am guessing—though it is only a guess—that Keats himself did not know the woof and texture of the rainbow.  Not the way that Newton understood rainbows.  Perhaps not even at all.  Maybe Keats just read, somewhere, that Newton had explained the rainbow as "light reflected from raindrops"—

—which was actually known in the 13th century.  Newton only added a refinement by showing that the light was decomposed into colored parts, rather than transformed in color.  But that put rainbows back in the news headlines.  And so Keats, with Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth and Benjamin Haydon, drank "Confusion to the memory of Newton" because "he destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism." That's one reason to suspect Keats didn't understand the subject too deeply.

I am guessing, though it is only a guess, that Keats could not have sketched out on paper why rainbows only appear when the Sun is behind your head, or why the rainbow is an arc of a circle.

If so, Keats had a Fake Explanation.  In this case, a fake reduction.  He'd been told that the rainbow had been reduced, but it had not actually been reduced in his model of the world.

This is another of those distinctions that anti-reductionists fail to get—the difference between professing the flat fact that something is reducible, and seeing it.

In this, the anti-reductionists are not too greatly to be blamed, for it is part of a general problem.

I've written before on seeming knowledge that is not knowledge, and beliefs that are not about their supposed objects but only recordings to recite back in the classroom, and words that operate as stop signs for curiosity rather than answers, and technobabble which only conveys membership in the literary genre of "science"...

There is a very great distinction between being able to see where the rainbow comes from, and playing around with prisms to confirm it, and maybe making a rainbow yourself by spraying water droplets—

—versus some dour-faced philosopher just telling you, "No, there's nothing special about the rainbow.  Didn't you hear? Scientists have explained it away.  Just something to do with raindrops or whatever.  Nothing to be excited about."

I think this distinction probably accounts for a hell of a lot of the deadly existential emptiness that supposedly accompanies scientific reductionism.

You have to interpret the anti-reductionists' experience of "reductionism", not in terms of their actually seeing how rainbows work, not in terms of their having the critical "Aha!", but in terms of their being told that the password is "Science".  The effect is just to move rainbows to a different literary genre—a literary genre they have been taught to regard as boring.

For them, the effect of hearing "Science has explained rainbows!" is to hang up a sign over rainbows saying, "This phenomenon has been labeled BORING by order of the Council of Sophisticated Literary Critics.  Move along."

And that's all the sign says: only that, and nothing more.

So the literary critics have their gnomes yanked out by force; not dissolved in insight, but removed by flat order of authority.  They are given no beauty to replace the hauntless air, no genuine understanding that could be interesting in its own right.  Just a label saying, "Ha!  You thought rainbows were pretty?  You poor, unsophisticated fool.  This is part of the literary genre of science, of dry and solemn incomprehensible words."

That's how anti-reductionists experience "reductionism".

Well, can't blame Keats, poor lad probably wasn't raised right.

But he dared to drink "Confusion to the memory of Newton"? 

I propose "To the memory of Keats's confusion" as a toast for rationalists.  Cheers.


Part of the sequence Reductionism

Next post: "Savanna Poets"

Previous post: "Explaining vs. Explaining Away"

43 comments, sorted by
magical algorithm
Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:05 PM
Select new highlight date
Moderation Guidelines: Reign of Terror - I delete anything I judge to be annoying or counterproductiveexpand_more

Sorry for the random reminiscence if you'd rather not read it, but this post reminded me so much of an incident that happened in my 10th grade english class. The grey-bearded teacher turned out the light and lit two candles. He began to speak in a breathy, mysterious voice, "Colridge's metaphor of two candles which burn more brightly when brought together is so beautiful because it is also an optical reality." He brought the candles together, "See how they reach higher and burn brighter when they are near, like the two souls..." "That must be because of incomplete combustion!" I excitedly blurted out, "We just learned about this in chemistry! If you limit the amount of oxygen to the flame, you can't completely oxidize the hydrocarbons in the wax, so some carbon is released that reflects light. The candles have less access to oxygen when you bring them..." "Damn it Laura this is an english class! You've RUINED the effect!" I actually felt quite proud that I could "ruin" S.T. Colridge...

"But I'd agree that if a scientific understanding destroyed Keats's sense of wonder, then that was a bug in Keats"

If Keats could turn his wonder on and off like a light switch, then clearly he was being silly in withholding his wonder from science. Since science is clearly true, in order to maximize his wonder Keats should have pressed the "off" button for wonder based on ideas like rainbows being Bifrost the magic bridge to Heaven, and the "on" button for wonder based on science.

But Keats, and the rest of us, can't turn wonder on and off like that. Certain things like bridges to Heaven, or gnomes, naturally induce wonder in most people, without any special choice to take wonder in them. Certain other things like optics don't. It's not just a coincidence that there are more Lord of the Rings fanboys than Snell's Law fanboys out there. I don't know enough to say whether that's cultural or genetic, but I'm pretty sure it's not under my immediate conscious control.

Maybe with proper study of optics, some people will find it just as wonderful as they found the magic bridge Bifrost. But "With enough study, optics will become at least as wonderful as divine bridges are, and this is true for every single person on Earth regardless of variations in their personal sense of wonder" is a statement that needs proving, not a premise.

And if that statement's false, and if there are some people who really would prefer the possible world containing Bifrost to the possible world containing optics, then those people are perfectly justified in feeling sorrow that they live in the world with optics and no Bifrost. To be a good rationalist, such a person certainly has to willingly accept the scientific evidence that there is no Bifrost, but doesn't gain any extra rationality points by prancing about singing "Oh, joy, the refraction of light through water droplets in accordance with mathematical formulae is ever so much more wonderful than a magical bridge to Heaven could ever be."

Shouldn't he have just left it on, all the time?

This seems to be reasonable account - but I'm somewhat bothered by the fact that it is an unflattering account of people who are not here to defend themselves.

You know who else is not here to defend himself? Hitler! :-)

I agree with Robin that that indeed seems the weak point. It is far from clear to me, and I suspect it is not the case, that Keats here is doing something along the lines of actually trying to convey that, oh, there's nothing special about rainbows, science has explained them, or whatever. Rather, he's invoking and playing with that sort of trope, for a sophisticated poetic purpose.

I think the main point or points of Eliezer's post here are sound, but even suggesting that that sort of thing could be pinned on Keats is a needless distraction. Obviously serious poetry isn't Eliezer's strong point, as I'm sure he'd be the first to agree. The introductory quote could still be used to good effect though.

I think that Keats is not trying to convey fake reductionism, but he is trying to convey "scientists believe in fake reductionism".

The fact that he doesn't believe it himself doesn't change his misunderstanding of it.

I don't see any reason to think he's trying to convey that scientists in general, or good ones, or anything like that, believe in fake reductionism. Some people do, and it's more charitable to Keats to presume he was just alluding to them.

Mark Twain was a very different author from Keats. He did learn to understand the Mississippi very deeply, from the perspective of a riverboat captain and of an author on the topic. In his book "Life on the Mississippi" he claims that while knowing the river as he did has its own pleasures, some of the more generally accessible pleasures of gazing at the river as a naive person were lost in becoming an expert. I don't know if they were still available from other rivers. If you watch a toddler it's also clear that we no longer experience the pleasures of walking or grasping as non-experts, nor do we remember them to compare them to those of adult concentration on physical activity. More trivially, one only gets to hear a joke or read a book for the first time once. None of this goes very far towards justifying Keats's suggestion that we never hear the joke, as it were, but it does give us some reason, possibly mitigated by the prospect of transhuman recall but probably not eliminated, for some qualms at the prospect of immortality as a superior alternative to cycling the population, and of course a lesser reason for ambivalence about our departure from Malthusian rates of reproduction.

This reminds me of a lesson that I learned, I'm embarrassed to admit, from Tom Brown Jr. (who later threw me out of his school for trying to verify his autobiographical claims).

If you're walking through the woods with a child, and they're interested in all the different plants that they see, they'll ask you what each one is. And, often, they lose interest in each plant after you tell them its name. They still don't know anything about the plant, but they think they do, and it's no longer mysterious and exciting to them.

This is the fault of the child, not the fault of the person who gave the plant its name.

"but I'm somewhat bothered by the fact that it is an unflattering account of people who are not here to defend themselves."

So is every history textbook. More usefully, there are still plenty of people around who see "science" as replacing the Earth's beauty with "boring stuff". If any of them are reading OB, they are quite welcome to comment.

"The man should have investigated the rainbow scientifically and then feel wonder when he understood the physics behind it."

But surely a sense of wonder doesn't necessarily have to come from scientific understanding? But I'd agree that if a scientific understanding destroyed Keats's sense of wonder, then that was a bug in Keats, not a bug in scientific understanding.

I wonder that he didn't stop to wonder how amazing it was that light reflecting through a bunch of water droplets could create such a beautiful image in your mind.

That's roughly what I think when I see a rainbow. Same with things like sun dogs, or a gorgeous blood-orange sunset.

Just because I understand what is happening doesn't mean I find them any less beautiful. And besides, suppose I'm watching such a scene with someone who doesn't understand what they are seeing? I get to explain how such a thing can be, and in some cases how easy they are to reproduce.

I dunno, I find that pretty awesome myself. I honestly don't think Keats could have actually understood how rainbows formed and still feel cheated.

I'm bothered by the tactic of explaining a groups' qualms by postulating they don't really understand the material. It's just a shade shy of "Anti-reductionists are dumb."

The thing abut reductionists is that they think they're right.

Therefore, anti-reductionists are wrong.

Which means that anti-reductionists either don't have all the facts, or are choosing to ignore the facts, or are succumbing to other belief-in-belief-type biases.

When you're talking about someone you know to be wrong, the kindest thing that you can say about them is that they didn't have all their facts right.

Reminds me of the part of Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut where a couple of people in a bar are talking about how scientists have discovered the secret to life, which turns out to be "proteins." If memory serves though, the characters aren't rueful about this fact and resentful toward science for spoiling the mystery of the "rainbow" of life; rather, they're just casually disinterested, as they would be if "scientists" had discovered a planet millions of lightyears away, since all they really know is that the password is "proteins." I think their attitude may be more healthy than Keats's, because if you're going to not understand something, it makes more sense to be indifferent than resentful.

Banality's a recurring Vonnegut theme. Reading that exchange, I got the impression that he's using the science-destroys-wonder meme as a way of expressing it, just like manipulating human history in order to deliver a minor spaceship part or tagging the firebombing of Dresden with "so it goes". We shouldn't read too much into the fact that the characters aren't resentful of it; Vonnegut's characters never are.

I'm not sure we have enough evidence to say that Vonnegut thought we should be resentful towards science for spoiling the beauty and terror of the unknown, but I'm pretty sure he didn't regard that kind of spoiler -- or indifference to it -- as a positive thing. And that seems to me like it maps pretty well to "the dull catalogue of common things".

I haven't read as much Vonnegut as I'd like to, but I read that theme of Cat's Cradle as being closer to the disconnect "normal" people feel from scientists who are seen as not just inscrutable creators of technology but also moral authorities (reflected in characters like the secretary and general IIRC).

Mainly though, it's less science-destroys-wonder and more directionless-science-destroys-everything, which no one will prevent if they don't know they should. (I just read Three Worlds Collide today and the plot point introduced near the end about what happened with the mathematical constant is a more optimistic version of events for a similar discovery.) From what I have read of Vonnegut, the non-resentful characters are still non-resentful in order to convey part of the message, even if they are common.

Interestingly, I thought of the same scene when I read Wrong Questions. It's definitely useful for exploring a handful of LessWrong concepts.

I'm in the middle of reading a wonderful fantasy. It's John Crowley's four-volume series Aegypt (not to be confused with his one-volume book Aegypt published a decade or two ago.) It is about a man who discovers that (here's the fantasy) there is more than one history of the world. Only a few hundred years ago, the Earth was at the centre of the universe. It was when people started to realise this wasn't so that the universe changed. Before that, the Earth was at the centre of the universe, and always had been so. After that the Earth wasn't at the centre, and had never been there.

This book excites my sense of wonder, even though I know it isn't so.

I'm also reading articles on how category theory is applied to quantum mechanics, and how this brings with it a whole set of nonclassical logics -- logics in which proof by contradiction fail, and in which 'and' and 'or' don't distribute (which I believe plays havoc with Bayes' theorem). Fascinating stuff.

In the sixties I was drunk on Cantor's theories of transfinite numbers, just intoxicated with an appreciation of their sheer, unimaginable hugeness. Don't tell me that mathematics is dry, and there is no sense of wonder there.

In the seventies I became a constructivist. Gone were all those transfinite objects. But the sense of wonder remains, and I keep finding new things to amaze me -- the sheer intricate details of finite things, and of merely countable infinity. The boundary between finite representations of the infinite and the infinite things represented is wonderfully intricate in detail.

The sense of wonder is innate. It attaches itself to things that exist and things that don't. There's no need to give it up merely because you've felt the divine in things that are unreal. It's still there, even if the things aren't. It's still there, even if the things are.

But is it important to distinguish what is real and what is not.

Once you understand a system at a given level, you can no longer derive information from it by observing it on that level - you have nothing more to learn from it, and so it has nothing more to offer to you.

Which do you find more interesting: chess or Tic-Tac-Toe?

People who derive pleasure from the act of understanding 1) often fail to grasp why people who derive pleasure from not-understanding are hostile to them and 2) usually don't recognize that their happiness depends upon having a rich and unfamiliar world to learn about.

Why do you think Borgstrom is so popular?

Did Keats ever actually find out what rainbows "really are", or just that the fact that someone somewhere knows what they really are?

The question may have once been which poet gets quoted when rainbows are brought up. If Keats isn't adding to the discussion in a meaningful way anymore since his metaphors will play second fiddle to the ones that of Newton, which were wonderful and exciting enough that Newton was driven to poking himself in the eye with a needle over them. I don't know if Keats even in his heyday could have claimed that. It may have been that his views on rainbows were propagated in some ingroup, until someone from that ingroup quoted them to someone in an ingroup with exposure to Newton's ideas on the same. They would have looked bad when that happened, but they would likely bring up the same thing to a person who might quote Keats to them, and so on until Keats himself was bested at his own game.

The problem isn't that Science is taking away from Rainbows, the problem is that Science is taking the power of controlling perception and justifying belief (mostly in other people) from Keats. No kidding he's going to be unhappy about it.

Science changes the poetry dynamic Keats' is used to because suddenly there's competition for what gets associated with what idea in such a way that poets don't necessarily get first dibs in the minds of people that they care about. Similar to how Galileo got in trouble for changing the scope of mathematicians from strictly below philosophers, this may be another instance of Newton changing how we view things by raising the social position of those who participate in science to where it is acceptable to challenge the status of a poet. Poets were important enough in Keats' day that the heads of governments had their own poet on staff.

Keats just could not keep up with what was actually still wonderful to the people he would have seduced with his ideas: Darwin came later, and found wonder still left:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. " - Charles Darwin

Of course this dynamic may be changing yet. This framing of the problem leaves open the possibility that our personal ability to perceive wonder can get very broken when our computer systems produce the models for us, as described by radiolab (tl; dr when you have computer systems that can derive laws describing phenomena better than we can understand the reason behind those laws, but which nevertheless describe those systems that generate the phenomena, we may be at something of a loss when it comes to our 'right' to perceive wonder). Being unable to physically train your brain to assign wonder to wonderful thing seems to be a different problem than this one, more of a disability rather than anything.

I suppose we must quote back Millay: "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare"

Let me suggest a mechanism which explains Keat's (and my own - and every adult's [?]) "loss of wonder."

Part of what we do in using language is pointing to things and making noises so that other people who are experiencing the same thing (presumably) associate the noise to the thing. Now we have a nice way to refer to the "same thing."

The word "rainbow" then corresponds to more than just the visual input - it is all things associated with the rainbow. It is many things not explicitly associated with. It is a -loose- association. It feels free. It allows room for imagination. It is not serious. The point is that the word "rainbow" is like an arrow pointing straight into our emotional centers at THAT THING which is important (whatever it is) and that we love.

"Reducing" the rainbow to knowledge of light interacting with water droplets has a lot of effects:

1.) Some part of you always thinks of the science, the actuality, the existent when you think "rainbow" from now on. You can't help it. You can't just shut it off.

2.) Everything that you -didn't- know (the wonder, etc.) dissipates since you have reduced the phenomenon to an explanation with a bumper sticker (the qualia associated with the explanation).

3.) Your focus shifts from the experience of the colors, the relation of the colors, etc. to the words associated with the colors.

Words are boring. Experience is great. Get these words Off my plate!

I'm bothered by the tactic of explaining a groups' qualms by postulating they don't really understand the material. It's just a shade shy of "Anti-reductionists are dumb."
Maybe they are. In that case it is fine to say so, although we would like some support to go along with it.

Cyan, what you describe sounds a bit mystical, but there is an observable tendency for people to seek some magic bullet, some simple underlying factor which explains everything. Single underlying factor theories are usually wrong, of course, and phenomena often involve a lot of complex relationships which need to be taken into account; some who call themselves reductionists are enamored of over-simplified single factor views (the way certain evolutionary psychologists talk about genes comes to mind), and it is likely that anti-reductionism is partly motivated in some cases by opposition to those single factor views. However, understanding objects as wholes is not the way to recognize their true complexity; it's just another way to hide that complexity.

Really, all we have to do to deal with anti-reductionists is ask them whether they treat the universe as an unbroken whole. (Spoiler: they don't!)

Reduction of perception is the only way we can process the incoming sense data. Reduction of conception is the only way we can think about and understand that data. Reductionism is the inevitable consequence of any attempt to understand the world - breaking the world down into discrete parts that can be understood on their own terms, instead of trying to deal with an effectively infinite system of inestimable complexity.

From Wikipedia;

Reductionism can either mean

a) an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or

b) a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents

You're right of course that everyone makes use, in some form, of reductionism as described in definition a. However, 'anti-reductionists' are more likely to be defining a philosophical position in opposition to the philosophical position described in definition b.

Anti-reductionists are aware that complex things can be easier to understand by breaking them into parts and their interactions, but they also dispute the idea that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts. This may take the form of some kind of supernatural, or something vague like 'emergence'.

Acknowledging that breaking things down can make them easier to understand does not imply that all things can be fully explained by that method.

A better example of an anti-reductionism argument would be the behavior of supercooled helium. I am not a solid state physicist myself, but I have been told by an anti-reductionist that superfluidic helium behaves non-reductionistically. I do not know if this is true. The person also told me that solid state physicists tend to be non-reductionists. I also don't know if that is true, but if I needed to know if reductionism were true, I would immediately go study solid state physics, since superfluidic helium seems to me to have the highest probability, out of any phenomenon I've observed, of being a counterexample.

This alleged person knows absolutely nothing about solid state physics, and is parroting back the opinions of other, better esteemed anti-reductionists.

To label anything that can be described by the laws of Quantum Mechanics as Anti-reductionist is so far borderline ludicrous. QM is our current best theory for how the parts in the sum-of-parts behave. The math is settled, the science is done, the rest is technological minutiae.

EDIT: I Apologise for my hyperbole.

I know that is a very extraordinary claim, and I must confess that is somewhat hyperbole.

Let me give an analogy: What we know now of solid state physics, is like knowing Hamiltonian Classical Mechanics, compared to reality being General Relativity and QFT. We know the answer to the tenth decimal place.

We have located the Hypothesis Region pretty accurately. That much I know. The Rachet of Science Turns, But Never Backwards., I am no expert in solid state physics. I am knowledgable of QM phenomena and have rewritten my intuitions thoroughly. To give an example, I actually draw little scribbles on paper of wavefunctions in 1d and 2d and try to intensely visualize fields. On the rigorous side, I try for all my life to escape the tyranny of classical notions like "points" and use more topoligical methods.

I have accepted that I live in a quantum/relativistic universe with a classical brain. And I am putting my excellent mathematical reasoning skills to work at weeding out whatever doesn't fit.

I dream of solving the problems inherent in the Anthropic Principle one day, and I intend to make a stab at that title. But enough about me.

CONCLUSION: This person, saying "Solid State Physics does not have Reductionism Nature" is spouting semantic nonsense, as I see it.

Sure they might have a vague idea, but they are most probably Professing an argument from someone else.

That someone else has probably misunderstood what Reductionism even means. As I see it, how can Solid State Physics possibly be anything but reductionistic! It's a really simple system compared to, say, a Brain!

It is like saying we haven't reduced fluid flows, while looking directly at the Navier-Stokes equations. The Maths are written. The Experiments have pushed our credence to 99.5%. The rest is crunching a lot of numbers and making experiments for those pesky edge cases, you know, like Electroweak Theory was brilliantly correct and relied on Higgs and then we made the LHC to find it.

How much do you know of solid state physics. You claim that there is noting more to learn, and I find that a very extraordinary claim.

Edited to explain my position more closely; thank you for calling me on hyperbole.

No problem; I was on the verge of calling you out as parroting the opinions and conclusions of others. The fact that their opinions and conclusions are correct enough for all practical and most impractical purposes does not excuse an appeal to authority.

Allow me to provide some insight, as an erstwhile "anti-reductionist" in the sense that Eliezer uses it here. (In many senses I am still an anti-reductionist.) I think that what is at work here is the conflict between intuition and analysis. However, before I remark on the relevance of these concepts to the experience of a rainbow, I would like to clarify what I mean by the terms "intuition" and "analysis".

The way I understand the mind, at the very deepest level of our consciousnesses we have our core processes; these are the things we have carried with us from the dawn of our evolution. And somewhere around there is our emotions and our gut reactions. Because these are such fundamental processes, and because they are ingrained in us so deeply, we feel them especially strongly. Emotions add richness and depth to experience.

As I see it, emotion is deeper than intuition, but not much deeper. Because our intuitive thought processes are so close to our emotional thought processes, intuitive thoughts are more likely to inspire emotional experiences. And as I see it, analysis is at the very surface level of our minds: it is our verbal reasoning, to which we have full conscious access. Because analysis is further from emotion than intuition is, it is less likely than intuition to inspire an emotional response. I suspect that it's for this reason that verbal, rational, conscious analyses are often seen as dry and lifeless and lacking any emotional resonance.

Here is what I believe Keats experienced. Before he knew the scientific explanation of the rainbow, he experienced rainbows intuitively and they caused in him a powerful emotional response. When he saw a rainbow, it did not trigger conscious verbal thought, and instead it triggered intuition which triggered emotion. But after he knew the scientific explanation, that verbal experience of the rainbow overrode the intuitive experience. Now, when Keats saw a rainbow, it triggered the conscious analysis level of his mind, and did not trigger intuition or emotion, and thereby were rainbows made less beautiful.

It could also be possible that before Keats knew the scientific explanation of rainbows, he had a very different verbal understanding of them. After all, Keats was a poet, so one would expect him to have been a very verbal thinker. But there are some verbal descriptions which are closer to intuition than others. The more concrete a description, the closer to intuition it is (at least, this is my hypothesis). Intuition is very symbolic, as is well-known from dreams. Abstract concepts are represented by simpler, concrete symbols. Thus, I believe that the more concrete a description is, the more intuitive it is, and the more likely it is to incite an emotional response. Whoever explained the rainbow to Keats probably did so in abstract scientific terms, and thus this description probably did not trigger such an emotional response, and Keats therefore did not think it was beautiful.

I suspect that the reason we scientifically-minded types find scientific explanations beautiful is because we understand them intuitively. Much of learning involves gaining an intuition for a subject. Those who have studied science have gained the intuition required to understand it. What this means, in terms of my model of cognition, is that the words for scientific explanations now activate symbolic, intuitive concepts, which in turn activate emotion. According to my model, then, those who have learned a subject deeply would be more likely to feel emotions when hearing about that subject, than those who have not been exposed to it. From my own experiences and from talking to others it seems like this is largely true.

A final alternative presents itself. Perhaps Keats does feel emotion when presented with the scientific explanation of the rainbow. Perhaps this emotion is negative. When he hears the scientific words he recalls tedious days in science classes that failed to capture his imagination and he then associates rainbows with this tedium. Rainbows then become less beautiful because they have been explained in a way that is negative to Keats.

Anyway what I think is that we need better education, which teaches kids the beauty of scientific ideas. Actually, I suspect science fiction novels would be better for this than textbooks and classes; good writers have a way of infusing ideas with beauty, and reading science fiction as a kid seems to enhance enthusiasm for science.


Before Keats found out about what rainbows "really are" he experienced wonder while looking at them. After, he didn't.

What else is the man supposed to do? He's got to try to investigate his experience, right? Where did he go wrong?

I think the point Eliezer is trying to make is: The man should have investigated the rainbow scientifically and then feel wonder when he understood the physics behind it.

I actually don't understand your point at all.

Before Keats found out about what rainbows "really are" he experienced wonder while looking at them. After, he didn't.

What else is the man supposed to do? He's got to try to investigate his experience, right? Where did he go wrong?

You are reducing his cognitive processes to those of a bumbling fool. They're complex, you just don't understand them. It doesn't seem like you're making enough of an effort.

Cyan, this post's use of the word "anti-reductionist" didn't jive completely with me either. I know quite a few self-proclaimed scientists that claim to have problems with reductionism (at least in certain topics, e.g. free will). To them, holding a prism up to the mind continues to reveal a soul (as well as all that brain stuff).

Maybe this is a tangential observation, but I wonder if to some people "reductionism" is a stop-sign word.

There's another kind of anti-reductionist: one who says that there is something (e.g., a field, a resonance, etc.) which influences the whole of an object and cannot be studied by reducing a complex object to easier-to-understand constituents. This is different from "science robs the rainbow of its beauty" reductionism -- as near as I can understand, the contention is that a better scientific understanding can be obtained by considering the object as a whole. I'm still not sure if this anti-reductionist position is a claim about the map or a claim about the territory.


Quite right. I figured Robin was talking about anti-reductionists generally, but I suppose he could have been referring to Keats and friends. To be clear, in my commentary I was referring to the former, and I presumed Robin was as well.

Scott and Tom,

You need to distinguish between "Keats, with Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth and Benjamin Haydon" and modern 'fake reductionists.'


Robin's fear was that they're not reading OB.