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Summary Outline of Wimsatt's Article,

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A Summary Outline of


Thesis Statement:

(This is what I understand the article to be stating in one sentence):

The whole is more than the sum of its parts, but it is in knowing the parts and the relationship between the parts, that the whole is better understood.

I. Prolegomena:

A. Important Terms to Know:

1. Aggregativity: To come together, or bring different things together, into total, mass, or whole; sum-total, forming a total. Wimsatt defines aggregativity this way, Ð'ÐŽÐ'§the non-emergence of a system property relative to properties of its partsÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё or Ð'ÐŽÐ'§the whole is nothing more than the sum of its partsÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё (372).

2. Amplification Ratio: Is the increase in the magnitude of a signal produced by an amplifier (Encarta).

3. Compositional Sciences: Combining simply objects into one object (e.g., chemistry is a composition science that examines the makeup of a particular portion of a substance; computer science combines types and subroutines into more complex ones; geology examines the crystal structure of a substance).

4. Connectionist modeling: an approach found in neuroscience, philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science that considers Ð'ÐŽÐ'§mental or behavioral phenomena as the emergent processes of interconnect networks of simple unitsÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё that utilize neural network models [Meta-Encyclopedia of Philosophy].

5. Decomposition: reduction of or breaking down of a property into pieces or constituent parts.

6. Deduction: The process of deriving statements (conclusion) that follow necessarily from an initial set of statements [Philosophy of Science, 776].

7. Emergence: The act or process of coming out, appearing, or coming about. Philosophically, emergence may be stated this way. It is a system that exhibits emergent properties when those properties are more than the sum of its parts' properties (e.g., mental properties that emerge from physical properties of a mind). Wimsatt states that Ð'ÐŽÐ'§an emergent property is- roughly-a system property which is dependent upon the mode of organization of the systemÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s partsÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё (372). Wimsatt later states that emergence involves some kind of organizational interdependence of diverse parts, but there are many possible forms of such interaction, and no clear way to classify them (375).Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ё

8. Heuristics (Gr. heuriskein, Ð'ÐŽÐ'§to discoverÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё): Ð'ÐŽÐ'§Serving to find out, helping to show how the qualities and relations of objects are to be soughtÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё [Meta- Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. In the field of computer science heuristics is a technique designed to solve a problem that ignores whether the solution can be proven to be correct, but which usually produces a good solution or solves a simpler problem that contains or intersects with the solution of the more complex problem. Interestingly, in continental philosophy, heuristics, is used when an entity A exists to enable understanding of or gain knowledge of entity B [Wikipedia].

9. Multiple-Realizability: This theory contends that a single mental kind (property, state, event) can be realized by many distinct physical kinds. E.g., pain: a wide variety of physical properties, states, or events, sharing no features in common at that level of description, can all realize the same pain [Meta-Encyclopedia of Philosophy].

10. Physicalism: An ontological doctrine that holds that the world is entirely composed of physical phenomena. Physicalism is often understood as the stronger, reductionist thesis that the world can be entirely described in the vocabulary of physics [Philosophy of Science, 779].

B. Summary of Article:

1. Reduction and Emergence: CanÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦t we all be right?

He begins his paper by discussing reductionism vs. emergence. Those who adhere to emergence believe that the whole is more than the sum of its parts (e.g., traffic jams; its always turns out to be more than you thought it to be Ð'Ñ"Ð'Ñ"). On the other hand, reductionists believe that the whole is merely the sum of its parts. Wimsatt suggests that maybe we donÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦t have much of a battle between these two notions as we are led to believe simply because reductionism can sometimes better explain emergence. In other words, why canÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦t we use the results of reductionism to better explain emergence (373)? To be sure, a reductive analysis of emergence doesnÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦t satisfy some philosophers; they want more. For example, emergent philosophers want to reject all of reduction but it is because they use a very limited deductivist notion of reduction. But Wimsatt does not agree with that notion or the use of multiple-realizability as the alternative. Rather, Wimsatt believes that reductionism is more compatible with multiple-realizability than is widely assumed. He is confident that the scientists in the complex sciences would agree.

Much of the article is given to various methods of decomposition (e.g., the rearrangement of the properties of the system; the rearrangement of the properties of the properties themselves; the rearrangement of the actual system). The method of decomposition used for a particular system will reveal details of the systemÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s organization. In essence, we shouldnÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦t rule out reduction because decomposition is not possible at one level. Rather, we should see its failure as informative, revealing aspects of the mode of organization of the parts of the system. This should please any anti-reductionist. Why?--Because the antireductionist is concerned with the organization of the individual parts in its current state. In other words, by placing different levels of decomposition onto the system, weaknesses in the system are not the goal. Rather, strengths of its organization



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