Holism in science

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Holism in science, or holistic science, is an approach to research that emphasizes the study of complex systems. This practice is in contrast to a purely analytic tradition (sometimes called reductionism) which aims to gain understanding of systems by dividing them into smaller composing elements and gaining understanding of the system through understanding their elemental properties. The holism-reductionism dichotomy is often evident in conflicting interpretations of experimental findings and in setting priorities for future research.

Overview[edit]

Holism in science is an approach to research that emphasizes the study of complex systems.[citation needed] Two central aspects are:

  1. the way of doing science, sometimes called "whole to parts," which focuses on observation of the specimen within its ecosystem first before breaking down to study any part of the specimen.
  2. the idea that the scientist is not a passive observer of an external universe; that there is no 'objective truth,' but that the individual is in a reciprocal, participatory relationship with nature, and that the observer's contribution to the process is valuable.

The term holistic science has been used[who?] as a category encompassing a number of scientific research fields (see some examples below). The term may not have a precise definition. Fields of scientific research considered potentially holistic do however have certain things in common.[original research?]

First, they are multidisciplinary. Second, they are concerned with the behavior of complex systems. Third, they recognize feedback within systems as a crucial element for understanding their behavior.

The Santa Fe Institute, a center of holistic scientific research[dubious ] in the United States, expresses it like this:

The two dominant characteristics of the SFI research style are commitment to a multidisciplinary approach and an emphasis on the study of problems that involve complex interactions among their constituent parts. "Santa Fe Institute's Research Topics". Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 

Science journalist John Horgan has expressed this view in the book The End of Science 1996. He wrote that a certain pervasive model within holistic science, self-organized criticality, for example, "is not really a theory at all. Like punctuated equilibrium, self-organized criticality is merely a description, one of many, of the random fluctuations, the noise, permeating nature." By the theorists' own admissions, he said, such a model "can generate neither specific predictions about nature nor meaningful insights. What good is it, then?"

One of the reasons that holistic science attracts supporters is that it seems to offer a progressive, 'socio-ecological' view of the world, but Alan Marshall's book The Unity of Nature offers evidence to the contrary; suggesting holism in science is not 'ecological' or 'socially-responsive' at all, but regressive and repressive.

In the holistic approach of David Bohm, any collection of quantum objects constitutes an indivisible whole within an implicate and explicate order.[1][2] Bohm said there is no scientific evidence to support the dominant view that the universe consists of a huge, finite number of minute particles, and offered in its stead a view of undivided wholeness: "ultimately, the entire universe (with all its 'particles,' including those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments, etc) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental status." [3]

Writers on holistic science[edit]

The following have written influential books which treat non-reductionist or holistic science:

  • Marc Bekoff, American biologist and cognitive ethologist, author of Species of Mind (with philosopher Colin Allen)
  • Henri Bortoft, physicist who did postgraduate research on the problem of wholeness in quantum physics with David Bohm, wrote The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe's Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature on Goethean Science
  • Kenneth E. Boulding, economist and system scientist
  • Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), French paleontologist, biologist, philosopher
  • Laurence W. Evans, Author of Nature's Holism that looks at holism through the coevolutionary process
  • Murray Gell-Mann, physicist and Nobel laureate, wrote The Quark and the Jaguar, Adventures in the Simple and the Complex on complexity
  • Richard Lewontin biologist supporting the theory of group selection and that evolutionary theory must include the feedback loop where the organism actively creates its own ecological niche.
  • James Lovelock, scientist and writer
  • Alan Marshall, who wrote at great length about all of those listed here in his 2002 book titled 'The Unity of Nature' (Imperial College Press).
  • Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela Chilean biologists which developed the concept of autopoiesis
  • Ilya Prigogine, Belgian physicist, chemist, and writer, 1977 Nobel laureate in chemistry
  • Alexander Rosenberg philosopher of science
  • Rolf Sattler, biologist, author of Biophilosophy: Analytic and Holistic Perspectives and other publications on holism.
  • Francisco Varela (1946–2001), Chilean biologist
  • Alfred North Whitehead mathematician, physicist, and philosopher
  • Stephen Wolfram, author of A New Kind of Science
  • Robin Wilding, author of " Holistic Science- A Wider Landscape" which is a series of essays including the origins of order.
  • F. David Peat, holistic physicist and author

Degree programs[edit]

Perhaps due to the inherent multidisciplinary nature of holistic science, academic institutions have been slow to come forward with degree programs for it.[original research?] Those that have done so include Schumacher College in the UK, which offers an MSc degree program in Holistic Science. Several universities have set up centers dedicated to one or more scientific fields where holistic approaches are common. These include the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Complex Systems, Princeton University's Global Consciousness Project, Rice University's Cognitive Sciences Program, the London Metropolitan University's Centre for Postsecular Studies, and the Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies in Sheffield.

There are also several non-university academic institutions and societies that are dedicated to holistic science or open to holistic ideas. For example, Santa Fe Institute, the Scientific and Medical Network (in Europe), the Pari Center for New Learning (in Italy), and the System Dynamics Society in Albany, New York. There is also the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. Brazil has its Willis Harman House in São Paulo.

Criticism[edit]

Holistic science is controversial. One opposing view is that holistic science is pseudoscience because it does not rigorously follow the scientific method despite the use of a scientific-sounding language. Bunge (1983) and Lilienfeld et al. (2003) state that proponents of pseudoscientific claims, especially in organic medicine, alternative medicine, naturopathy and mental health, often resort to the “mantra of holism” to explain negative findings or to immunise their claims against testing. Stenger (1999) states that "holistic healing is associated with the rejection of classical, Newtonian physics. Yet, holistic healing retains many ideas from eighteenth and nineteenth century physics. Its proponents are blissfully unaware that these ideas, especially superluminal holism, have been rejected by modern physics as well".

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Richard Healey: Holism and Nonseparability in Physics (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), first published July 22, 1999; substantive revision December 10, 2008, Stanford Encycopledia of Philosophy. Section: "Ontological Holism in Quantum Mechanics?" (retrieved June 3, 2011)
  2. ^ David Bohm, Basil Hiley: The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-415-06588-7.
  3. ^ David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge, 2002, p.221

References[edit]

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