Notes and Thoughts

An experiment to spark conversation


Is the whole really an eternally elusive state?

Structure mappings can drastically reduce the cognitive overhead related to understanding or forming a mental representation of a concept in ways that only a few representational models ever do, but the problem with such mappings is that it can also be used to manipulate people using a carefully crafted path that presents the analogy in an altogether different light. One such example lies at the heart of complexity science i.e., the idea of (w)holism.

Although the main idea behind (w)holism is to prefer whole over parts in systems(a.k.a emergent systems) where the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the modern-day (w)holists("anti-parochialists"?) instead twist it and take the route of promulgating (w)holism as the panacea for all philosophical ills. The real trick of theirs lies in their use of structure mapping in tactically discrediting the value of parochialism. In fact, you won't even notice that their analogies or metaphors are incorrectly aligned until you engage with them and realize that they keep using the same metaphors and analogies to move the goalpost by attributing flaws in your arguments, against (w)holism as a cure-all, to the self-referential nature of wholeness.

I mean take the example of "Elephant and the Blind Men". This is a metaphor that is generally used against fields like medical science, where the developments are targeted at a specific component. Cardiologists study the heart, neuroscientists the brain, hepatologists the liver, etc. Now if you take the metaphor at its face-value, it is not very difficult to see that studying just the heart doesn't address the issue of causation(note that I am not talking about causality) when looking at diseases like a heart attack. And the same goes for the brain, in that, you can't really say why we chose to think and act the way we do by merely studying the functional and structural aspects of the brain. But the problem with this is that even if you concede that their objections are right and that we must climb a level up to get a much better perspective, they will try to trap you by restating the degree of wholeness as part of a larger whole. See the problem? This is exactly what I am trying to understand here: Is it really an eternally elusive state as they make it out to be? Or is it just the verb-centric/process-centric nature of self-referentiality that makes it look like one?

As a (critical?) rationalist myself, I carry the view that all problems are by nature parochial, which is to say that the solutions can be universal but even those are far and few between. So, how is it that we are playing this game of hide-and-seek? Are we talking past each other? Is there something that I am missing here? I don't know, but this is something I definitely want to resolve, if not to end the debate, but just to preserve my sanity.