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Pragmatic Holism - Bruce Edmonds

1 Introduction

It appears to me that the reductionist/holist debate is a poor debate. Many of the participants appear not to be seeking truth or useful models about modelling or understanding phenomena but are solely concerned with supporting previously decided positions in the matter, leaving any search for truth solely within their chosen paradigm. The two camps have adopted distinct languages, styles, journals, conferences and criteria for success and thus are largely self-reinforcing and mutually exclusive.

Here I will argue that the concentration on such dogmatic positions centred around largely abstract arguments is unproductive and fairly irrelevant to practical enquiry. In this way I hope to play a small part in refocussing the debate in more productive directions.

I will start by reviewing some of the features of the debate, the versions of reductionism (Section 2.1), some weaknesses in the two sides which make it unlikely that there will be a resolution to the abstract debate (Section 2.2 and Section 2.3) and some irrelevances to it (Section 2.4). I briefly look at some of the general practical limitations to modelling (Section 3) before introducing an illuminating analogy between ordinals and complexity (Section 4). I will argue that the usual definition of computability is too strong (Section 5). Throughout all of the above we see the abstract questions of reducibility coming back down to pragmatic questions which leads me to reject the extreme positions for a more pragmatic approach (Section 6) which will hopefully open up more important and productive questions asked in the conclusion (Section 7).

Pragmatic Holism - Bruce Edmonds - 22 FEB 96
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