Sunday, July 04, 2004

Foundational Theories and Science

Cracking open Edward O. Wilson's Consilience, I find myself thinking about unity of science. Oddly, I am now finding myself of the opinion that unification of science is really not the desirable of a goal that I once held as an ideal. Today, I think diversity of thought processeses is far more important than the establishment of a single school that has an answer to all problems.

Now, I admit, my current opinions are different from those a few years back. For many years, I lamented the hundreds of different sciences with fundamentally different belief systems and foundational theories. The world of science was clearly separating people into difference camps with different sets of jargon...completely incapable of communicating with each other.

Clearly, there is only one reality. The world I wonder around in is the same world as doctors, lawyers and physicists. Each person has a different point of view, but neither the structure of the universe, nor the real human history that built the status quo is different between us. There are fundamental differences between what I see and what others see...but there is not a difference between our shared reality. Our view points are different and we have different models for processing that data. Smart people realize this and know that listening attentively to others can expand their view point.

Time after time, I see a people, or groups of people take to one model...assume, somehow, that their model offered more than it did, then lose the ability to communicate with different people accepting different models.

The wise revel in the fact that different people see things differently and take advantage of diversity to expand their point of view. The Socrates we learned in school always one upped the person he questioned. A real Socrates would actually learn from questions...and not simply devastate his opponent.

Back to the question of foundational theories.

There is one reality. So there is a vain hope that there will be one foundational theory that can explain everything (like Set Theory ... which I dislike).

However, the very idea of a foundational theory is opposed to the true structure of human language and physical reality. Foundational theories, by their very nature, establish a single point of view for reality.

The fracturing that occurred in science is not because we lacked a unified theory of everything, but the sad historical fact that we have had so many people trying to build such foundational theories. The contention we see between sciences is the result of the friction between foundational theories.

The intellectual community is dominated by adherents clinging to foundational models without acknowledgement that there are many different perspectives, and that there are many different valid models that we can use to help navigate through our lives.

In otherwords, the unification of knowledge really should be built on the acceptance of diverse view points...and not on the illusion that a Noam Chomsky, General Authority or other guru will create the school with with universals that unite all knowledge.

Perhaps the true unification of knowledge is simply an acceptance that complex systems tend to find ways to organized themselves...and all of the different, wonderful but disjoint, observations that people have is really just part of this overall process of the accumulation and distribution of knowledge. Acceptance of diversity is itself the unifying principle.

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