Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Physician and Social Scientist, Harvard University;

From an article on Holism
Holism does not come naturally. It is an appreciation not of the simple, but of the complex, or at least of the simplicity and coherence in complex things. Moreover, unlike curiosity or empiricism, say, holism takes a while to acquire and to appreciate. It is a very grown-up disposition. Indeed, for the last few centuries, the Cartesian project in science has been to break matter down into ever smaller bits, in the pursuit of understanding. And this works, to some extent. We can understand matter by breaking it down to atoms, then protons and electrons and neutrons, then quarks, then gluons, and so on. We can understand organisms by breaking them down into organs, then tissues, then cells, then organelles, then proteins, then DNA, and so on. 
But putting things back together in order to understand them is harder, and typically comes later in the development of a scientist or in the development of science. Think of the difficulties in understanding how all the cells in our bodies work together, as compared with the study of the cells themselves. Whole new fields of neuroscience and systems biology and network science are arising to accomplish just this. And these fields are arising just now, after centuries of stomping on castles in order to figure them out.

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