Science is often said to be reductionistic. Reductionism is the idea that macroscopic entities can be explained in terms of their parts. If everything can be so reduced, we seem to be left with a world in which only fundamental elements really exist. Physicalism is a reduction in which physical parts are considered fundamental and it is often alleged to conflict with our ordinary way of thinking about ourselves.
In this presentation we will discuss whether or not any sense can be made of physicalism. We’ll discuss the reduction of chemistry to physics and examine where such reductions leave us. What might a world of physics, or worse yet, only math, look like? This will include a discussion of some of the objections which are commonly raised to this sort of theory. For example, if only the physical world exists, there seems to be something major left out of our description of human life—namely consciousness (soul, god, etc.) Furthermore, some claim that the proper realm of science is explaining how events occur, but not why they occur. Therefore, I will present some solutions—a reconciliation. I will then discuss existentialism—which is apparently at odds with reductive physicalism, but is actually compatible—and resultant moral implications. I conclude that upon thoughtful analysis, most concerns with physicalism dissipate. They are in fact replaced by hope—hope that someday our scientific understanding will yield a satisfying worldview. At a minimum, we are assured progress toward a less convoluted understanding of ourselves.
Jai Pattur, ’05 Castle Rock, CO
Majors: Chemistry (ACS), Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Philosophy
Sponsor: James White