The End of Reductionism
A large proportion of your body's matter is regularly replaced. Your body as well as your feelings, thinking and behaviour change a lot in the course of your life. Your psychological properties which are accessible to empirical research would have had a different development under different circumstances. Nevertheless you probably are convinced that you yourself were the baby with your name and that you would still be you yourself, if you had been kidnapped as a baby and brought up in an exotic culture.
The assumption that everyone of us remains the same experiencing subject during one's whole life is deeply rooted in our thinking. Otherwise the following reasoning would make sense: for the old miser who will develop out of me I don't save a single penny. It would also be incomprehensible that people try to trace missing persons even for decades.
Trillions of egg cells have been successfully fertilized during the transition from ape-like ancestors to us. In principle all these fertilizations can be numbered and we can attribute the number n to one having led to a reductionist R. R believes that the currently accepted physical and chemical laws are enough to transform a fertilized egg cell into a self-conscious person.
Nevertheless, the fundamental distinction between the fertilization n (and the body emerging from it) and trillions other ones remains a complete mystery to R. A reductionist explanation is impossible, because it would have to deduce this distinction from a material difference in the fertilized egg cells and such a difference is incompatible with the fact that for every reductionist another fertilization distinguishes itself.
Also a statistical explanation as used in the case of probabilistic physical events is possible only by force, as random linking up of n with R requires in some respect the pre-existence of R as a potential subject. A consequent reductionist has no choice but to deny consciousness in general or at least the difference between one's own consciousness and the one of the others.
The attempt to deduce individual consciousness from the fertilized egg cell leads to further problems. What I show here in the case of DNA is by analogy valid for the whole fertilized egg cell. In principle the DNA of one person can be continuously transformed into the DNA of another by small changes. Individual consciousness, however, is descrete insofar as it is impossible to imagine that the consciousness of one person can be transformed by continuous changes into the one of another.
Also the example of monozygous twins shows that a fertilized egg cell cannot be enough to determine individual consciousness. The twins originate from the same cell, but they experience the world as separate individuals.
A most impressive refutation of reductionism represents a thought experiment. We assume a machine capable of producing copies of everything which do not differ physically and chemically from the original. According to consequent reductionism such a copy of you would be capable of surviving, and more importantly, it would not be distinguishable from you at all. The copy would have all your memories and properties and would believe like you that it is you. Not even the question whether you are the original or the copy would make any sense.
For what follows I assume that everyone of us remains independently of the circumstances of one's life the same experiencing subject. This subject I call soul. The concept 'soul' abstains from age and current physical and psychological states. According to reductionism, no soul born after world war II could have been born without this war, since no fertilization could have happened in exactly the same way it has after the war. The souls of the majority of us would not exist. Instead, totally different souls would have been born. The question arises whether for those of us who would not have come into existence it would be possible to be born sometime under different circumstances?
Is it by chance that we have been born just in the 20th century, in the way other souls were and will be born in other centuries? If you already had lived in the times of mammoths, would it then be impossible for you to live now? Are there any sound reasons suggesting that the souls of the dead and the souls of persons not yet born must be different from all the souls living now? In the past it was often assumed that there is a limited number of (human) souls having waited or waiting until living once on the earth. Yet nowadays we know that there has been a continuous evolution and that humans do not differ in principle from animals.
Human fertility is globally decreasing. In more and more countries birth rates adjust to the death rates. Exponential growth in nature is never maintained for long periods. Animals with pronounced rare properties are often difficult to reproduce. The most intelligent laboratory rats are often frail and quite different from their litter mates even in the case of extremely inbred stocks. And it is not possible to breed with them new stocks of intelligent rats. Many inborn properties of children and pets defy every Darwinian explanation. If domestic animals become wild, already after few generations individuals with strongly reduced domestication traits can be born.
It is revealing that the chemosynthesis of urea of the year 1828 symbolizes the victory of the reductionist view on life. Whereas an urea molecule consists only of eight atoms, enzymes consist of thousands of atoms and behave in an astonishingly versatile and purposeful way. Enzymes construct and modify cells and macroscopic organisms in a similar way termites construct and modify their mounds. That enzymes also work in vitro (e.g. polymerase chain reaction) does not prove the reductionist view. For such a proof it would be necessary to explain roughly how complex behaviour of enzymes (e.g. the ability of orientating themselves in cells) could emerge from physical and chemical laws, if probabilities are estimated in a reasonable way.
The used part of human genetic information can be compressed to about 10 or 100 megabyte. This information is not enough at all to explain ontogenesis, properties and behaviour of a person and of all its parts. Furthermore, in many cases the genetic information is used in a dreadfully inefficient way. And random mutations can never be enough to explain evolution of life. Many forms of symbiosis are so complex that it is just absurd to assume that corresponding mutations have appeared by chance and independently from each other.
Final (teleological) laws of nature are not apriori less scientific than causal laws. Theorists explaining evolution without final laws of nature, are either not aware of the finality used in their explanations, or they extremely overestimate the creativity of pure chance. To be consistent, they would also have to explain scientific and cultural progress by random errors (e.g. in thinking or copying data). The hypothesis that teleological principles have always been effective in evolution is much more consistent and elegant than the hypothesis that such principles appeared only as a result of organisms having emerged themselves by pure chance.
Comments (on errors) please send to theauthor and translater of the german original, which was finished in the beginning of 1996 and published on the internet in December 1997.
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