QOTD: Rosen on Elsasser on reductionism

Elsasser pointed out that in the phase space of any organism, considered as a purely physical system, is in general of very high dimension. He argued further that the states in this phase space which are compatible with life will generally tend to be sparsely distributed in such as phase space; specifically, they will form a set of zero volume. Hence “almost all” states, and “almost all” trajectories in this space, will be incompatible with life. Furthermore, any attempt to form averages over the entire phase space will inevitably discard the biologically relevant states. Consequently, Elsasser argued, insofar as physics must deal entirely with such averages at the macroscopic level, biology is in principle irreducible to physics. It further follows that the laws governing the behaviour of biological systems are not inferrable from physical laws although they are compatible with them.

Robert Rosen, Anticipatory Systems, second edition (2012), published posthumously, p. 236

To which I would add: as physics is to biology, so too biology (and also neurology and psychology) to social systems.


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