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Asking questions… where do we begin… where do we stop

All sciences essentially work by taking the subject under study apart into it’s component pieces in order to understand how the pieces interact to produce the whole.  In other words we reduce something complicated into simpler pieces so we can understand it.

In the real world the sum of the parts doesn’t always add up to the same phenomenum as the whole we started out with.  What got lost?  It’s as if we took our car apart and put it back together and it failed to run, or even look like a car.  Of course sometimes we can take something apart then reassemble it and have it be the same.   

Perhaps on the occasions where the parts don’t add up to the whole we missed something, or maybe a lot of somethings.  Maybe the somethings that we missed were not obviously part of the thing we took apart, but rather part of the external conditions. 

We can go on forever trying to find all the factors that we missed, checking for every possible variable in order to control for each.  But what’s the point?  Ultimately we need enough information to answer our question, if that answer is not complete we can ask another and another to get to the answer we need… Each new question must be reorganized for variables, level of analysis and focus, fine tuned toward the getting an answer that we can use.

We can go back to the analogy of the car.  You get in your car, and put it in gear and step on the gas.  It doesn’t move.  Hmm, the key is in place, you turned it.  You try again… you hear the starter, but the engine doesn’t turn.  You look at the gas gauge.  It is full.  You try again and again, same result.  You call for a tow truck.

Look what you did.  At each step you went to a different level and asked a different question.  If at any point the engine started you’d have your answer and be on your way; or if any step there is no answer you ask a new question.  When all else fails you send it for further analysis by someone else… but still, that final step, calling the tow truck, is holistic.  You treat the car as a whole and let another “researcher” ask questions that you don’t have the tools to ask or answer.  Of course you could chose to study the mechanics of the car and get an answer for yourself.  How far will you pursue this?  It depends on your needs and your interests.  For most of us this level of analysis of our car is too complex.

Can we reduce the world to tiny parts that explain everything?  But complex systems would have not just an unfathomalby large number of parts, but would be dependant on the ORGANIZATION of those parts so that one organization would yield the outcome we see and others would not.   

The tiny parts that make up the whole can’t explain why one type of organization survives when another which seems equally workable does not.  That answer lies in a different level of analysis, that of the environment, in which the outcome of all those tiny parts must exist. 

To go back to the analysis of the car, we call the tow truck and it arrives.  It is a spaceship and the car is on the moon, where there is no air to mix with the gas and therefore the engine has no oxygen and cannot fire.  The car works fine, but not on the moon.

It is very useful, in fact it is necessary to break phenomena into its variables, but we also have to consider the environment in which the whole thing exists, and what competition it faces, even in a favorable environment.

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