Tuesday, September 1, 2015

unpredictable small atoms, small microbes... and small children

'Pop' reductionism was the real (underlying) ideology of the Era of Progress.

There was a confident expectation among almost all people in the West during that era - particularly among those with a little secondary school science under their belt - that the small were inherently 'simple', almost inert, and hence could be controlled, transformed and scaled infinitely upwards.

Simple meant stable and predictable, definitely either this or that.

Reductionism, the reducing of reality down to a few simple stable rules and categories, is a boon comfort, in any age, to a significant fraction of us.

All of us who are basically born with (or develop from early family circumstance) the psychological propensity to be very uncomfortable and frightful of any sort of significant ambiguity.

But reductionism was never more of a comfort historically then when the Era of Progress's process of modernization presented some unique mental conflicts to the people living in the western civilizations that created it.

If people in what we today call the Third World resented many many of the things that late nineteenth century modernization suddenly introduced into their culture and economy, they at least knew who to blame --- the West.

They had plenty of conflicts with the West but were untroubled by internal mental conflicts as to where to direct the blame and their anger.

But almost all the people in the West, while they loved much what modernization had brought them, were at least as overwhelmed by the plentitude of new objects, new experiences, new ideas, new people as were the peoples of the Third World.

But they couldn't dare directly blame Progress, their own fabulous creation.

Even though they feared the overwhelming amount of fluidity, change and transforming of traditional category barriers that their own efforts had thrown up.

Their response was to create a very manichean concept of modernity.

Within it, the whole world was divided into two simple small and absolute categories of worthiness.

In category A at the top was the modern, the normal and the civil.

In category B at the bottom was the primitive, the abnormal, and the savage.

This schema allowed Moderns to combat overwhelming feelings of too much ambiguity in day to day life, by finding powerless (aka 'small') scapegoats they could put in category B and then safely blame them for most everything.

Without fear the small could effectively fight back.

The Mods soon found plenty of scapegoats.

Were our kids different today ? Just blame it on Negro jungle music.

Were big chain stores replacing the stores of local small business elites ? Just re-conceive chain stores as the secret fungoid growth of cosmopolitan Jewish banksters plotting to sap the national economies of the civilizations.

Were taxes too high and incomes too low ? It was all because we were spending way too much taxpayers' hard earned money on useless mouths : way too much on adult mental (and physical) defectives with a mental age of about two.

Some medical scientists around the world openly advocated killing them at birth - many more said nothing publicly but quietly tried to kill them at birth if opportunities arose.

But when we look at actual small objects we don't necessarily find them to be at all simple, controllable inert and and reliably transformable by us.

For instance, the poster child of the small and the predictable, the atom, actually haa a habit of becoming naturally radioactive --- but we can't predict where or when.

Wait a minute, you say, what about the half lives of isotopes ? They're highly predictable.

They sure are - but the much quoted half life guesstimate is the product of the very antithesis of reductionism - they are predictable only thanks to reductionism's arch enemy holism.

So yes, over an entire holistic system of trillions upon trillions of atoms we can indeed reliably predict the average time of when half of them will have gone radioactive.

But each of those small supposed stable entities 'the atom' self transform at their own pace and in their own fashion.

This is one of the reasons why heavily overbuilt nuclear power plants must still be decommissioned after a relatively short time.

All because the free-willed atomic bits and bob fleeing the heart of the process eventually render the entire structure unsafely radioactive.

Similarly, those supposedly simplest possible bits of life, the microbes, amazingly turned out to be highly unpredictable in character and distinctly capable of doing sophisticated chemical and biological activities that human civilizations still can't do.

Microbes proved capable of unpredictably self-transforming themselves by way of HGT (horizontal gene transfer) and of self-transforming unwanted agricultural waste into the world's best antibiotics.

Finally any observant person should notice that two year olds can be surprisingly worldly and yet display such a innocent zest for life and exploring and learning that they quite wear their elders out !

Parents and grandparents of former two year olds often wish the kids could have remained that age forever.

And like the small atom and the small microbe, two year olds definitely have a mind of their own and a determination to do things at their own pace.

Parents of these little ones, and one can resume some of these medical scientists had to have been parents, know well that they are very far from being reduced to inert lumps that are easily malleable by adults.....

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