Friday, July 12, 2013

What It Is That I Do (as an interdisciplinarian)

As an interdisciplinarian, I reject reductionist world views. I  reject 19th century scientism (the attempt to reduce everything to simple physics), postmodernist reduction of everything to power, the tendency (left and right) to reduce everything to politics and government, the tendency of too many libertarians to reduce everything to market interactions, reduction of everything to psychology, to language, to religion, to philosophy, to aesthetics, etc. This tendency toward reductionism on the part of, perhaps, most people, makes these people tend to accuse everyone of reductionism if they have the audacity to argue from a different perspective from that person.

The world is made up of a variety of spontaneous orders, and thus of a variety of ways of understanding human social interactions (there being different kinds, they should be understood differently). There is reductionist science and emergentist science -- each requires different ways of understanding, and when the emergentist science reaches the level of human psychology and social interactions, the differences are so wide that the equation of the social sciences with the physical sciences almost appears bizarre. The physical sciences require knowledge; the social sciences require understanding. Knowledge and understanding are quite different things. The social sciences thus come much closer to philosophy and literary theory than the kinds of things we find in the physical sciences -- even as the physical sciences are finally starting to produce theories, such as the constructal law and self-organizing complexity and strange attractors and network theory, that are increasingly applicable to the social science. Still, these theories of emergent complexity require more understanding than simple knowledge.

If there are a variety of spontaneous orders in which we necessarily interact -- math, the physical sciences, technology, money/finance, the economy, the social sciences, democratic government (or the non-spontaneous order versions of government), philanthropy, philosophy, religion, and the arts -- there are a variety of ways of understanding the world, all of which are right and all of which are wrong. They are right, when taken together with the rest; they are wrong when used as the only lens through which to interpret the world. Of course, reductionism is simple and easy; understanding our complex social reality as a set of interacting spontaneous orders and organizations is, well, complex and difficult. It is far easier to be a reductionist of some kind than to even acknowledge the true complexity of the world.

Of course, those of us who are interdisciplinarians have to live with the fact that we are going to be misunderstood by the reductionists, who are always going to accuse us of reductionism when we provide evidence from an other other than the one they most prefer. The libertarian reductionist of all to market economics is going to look on me with distrust when I suggest there are political economies and gift economies as well as market economies. The postmodernist power reductionist who politicizes everything (in the worst sense of the term) can make no sense of my objection that not everything is power. They are also not too keen on scientific explanations. And the scientific reductionists, who reduce everything to math and physics, don't really think emergentist science is in fact real science. And philosophers, who are the ultimate in pursuing understanding, are the most stringent in rejecting knowledge-based science. Sadly, they equally misunderstand the social sciences, which are forms of understanding and, thus, more similar to philosophy than to the physical sciences.

All of this makes one-on-one conservations difficult for an interdisciplinarian. We are going to draw on evidence and understanding from a variety of disciplines and areas of life, and those who view things through one or even a few narrow perspectives are always going to object to those outside their perspectives and accuse the interdisciplinarian of having a narrow perspective when they do not, just because they offer arguments from outside the reductionists' perspective. The interdisciplinarian does somewhat better in writing, where they can bring scientific knowledge and philosophical understanding and mathematical idealism and real world evidence and artistic presentation together into a single work more easily. This, however, does not prevent some people from objecting that they simply don't know what it is that you do.
Post a Comment