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A Different Universe

After discussing David Bohm's thoughts on fragmentation and wholeness here, it was interesting to come across The New York Times' recent review of Robert Laughlin's book "A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics From the Bottom Down." Laughlin, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, criticizes science's emphasis on reductionism — the dividing of the world into smaller and smaller objects of study. The Times' reviewer describes Laughlin's concerns:

By breaking matter into atoms, subatomic particles and subatomic forces, and by disassembling living organisms into such discrete elements as cells, genes, enzymes and so forth, scientists have learned much about how nature works, and how we can make it do our bidding.

Inevitably, reductionism has been overused. Not everything can be reduced to cosmic nuts and bolts. In the emerging sciences of the 21st century, many researchers are dusting off an old saying: ''The whole is more than the sum of its parts.''

Laughlin's book echoes David Bohm's thoughts twenty-five years prior. In his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order" (1980), Bohm observed:

Science itself is demanding a new, non-fragmentary world view, in the sense that the present approach of analysis of the world into independent elementary parts does not work very well in modern physics. It is shown that both in relativity theory and quantum theory, notions implying the undivided wholeness of the universe would provide a much more orderly way of considering the general nature of reality.

I haven't read Laughlin's book, but I would guess that his analysis doesn't extend as deeply as Bohm's in its examination of reductionism's roots in thought, and the complementary problem of the psychological fragmentation of the human mind. In a future entry or two, I'll wrap up the discussion of Bohm (whose work is implicitly connected to an inquiry into meditation) for the time-being.

June 26, 2005 | Science | Permalink


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