Einstein in Athens

Benjamin Liebeskind at The New Atlantis:

The answer is that the last century of science has partially recapitulated Aristotle’s teachings on nature, for the most part unwittingly. Since roughly the turn of the twentieth century, the scientific enterprise has focused not only on the elemental, but increasingly also on large-scale phenomena: solids, fluids, organisms, ecosystems, human behavior, and computing machines. Scientists have often maintained that these systems cannot be understood solely in terms of action at the lowest levels of organization. Thus one hears of “systems theory” or “the theory of complex systems,” of “holism,” “irreducibility,” “downward causation,” “information theory,” and other musings from scientists that assert, to quote the physicist Philip Anderson, that “more is different” — that “the ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.”

These challenges have unknowingly echoed Aristotle. For Aristotle’s science was concerned primarily with the difficulties that arise when we try to discern the causes of beings, of wholes. A return to his ideas, then, is no mere conceit of the fusty halls of academic philosophy, but a clamor coming from science itself. Seen in this light, the claims in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science do not seem quite so radical. Indeed, one could claim that the authors are attempting to make more explicit what many scientists have been dancing around for a century.

more here.