Incompleteness / Notes / Philosophy / Thoughts

Notes on Reductionism, Part 1 – Extensibility

File:Backlit keyboard.jpgIf you look at WordPress (or other parts of the internet) you may notice the following: on the one hand, it is an electronic system, consisting of computers and networks and their components; so on some level, every process inside it is simply a physical process.

Despite that, however, what you perceive when you interact with the system cannot be derived from the laws of electronics (which are, in turn, derivable from, or part of, physics). The simple reason is that the “behavior” of the system depends on information put into it from the outside (by users like you and me) and this information cannot be derived from the properties of the electronic parts as they were before the information was entered, e.g. before you added your last blog post.

Of course, once you have added the blog post, it is stored in the system in the form of some physical property of some components, like the magnetization of particles on a hard disc, for example. The data of the blog post can then be derived from the physical properties of the system, and that is actually what happens each time somebody accesses that blog post, but before you put it there, it could not have been derived from what was already there (presuming some creativity on your side, of course).

So everything in the system is implemented in terms of physical properties and physical processes at any given time. But it is not possible to reduce the system to the laws of electronics beforehand because it is influenced by its environment. Each single process inside the electronic system is a physical process, but the entirety of these processes cannot be derived from the physical properties of the system. The applications of computers cannot be derived from the underlying electronics. A complete theory about everything that will happen in a site like WordPress is impossible.

And that is one of the reasons why we keep coming back here: there is always something new.

(The picture is from

7 thoughts on “Notes on Reductionism, Part 1 – Extensibility

  1. “New” is a tricky thing. It’s all relative. Conceptually, I don’t know if there’s been anything really new for a long time.

    • I think “new” is always relative to some body of knowledge. Once the new thing is integrated, it is no longer new.

    • No, you are right. This series is not yet finished and so far, this was just the discussion of a small example. I hope I have time for it next week…

    • … something along the line of, applying these ideas to human culture and mind. But I want to break it up into little steps. I also want to distinguish between “implementational reductionism” i.e. everything is implemented in terms of physical properties and processes at any time, and the (impossible) “descriptional reductionism”, i.e. you cannot come up with a complete description. These are just working titles.

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