More Is Different

Sumayya B. Sharaf

Jun 9, 2015
More Is Different

Can we understand the meaning and poetry of Shakespeare using just the letters of the alphabet? Can we comprehend the size of the moon within the larger universe using just 9 digits? Can we think of a laboratory where the wind rules and makes flawless chemical compounds? With our bare eyes, can we deduce all the chemical compounds on the periodic table of elements? Can we look at the colors on a plate and see Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt?

The collaboration and the order of the letters are where human consciousness reveals its thoughts and sentiments. The digits testify to an astronomical incident in mathematical language so that the human brain can comprehend unimaginable measures and distances. As such, one material as little as an atom becomes as complex as larger physical systems through the same mechanism: the collaboration of elements and their order. Complexity is as simple as a choice made through the order of things. Or the choice is as complex as the collaboration among letters, digits, and elements.

The choice from limited letters, digits, colors, and the order the artists and scientists put them in, or the natural cycles in which that choice and order are determined, reveal the complexity. In scientific literature, the interaction of elements in various systems are named complex systems. On the one hand, this action requires the collaboration of many experts to examine one sample. On the other hand, this action develops a sub-atomic view of the universe that is shaped through the collaboration between and the communication of diverse particles. The ecological cycle, biology, and the economy are only a few examples of such complex systems.

One of the most remarkable articles in the latest issue of The Fountain (Complexity Or Cooperativity?) concludes by saying that we are forced to agree with both Aristotle that, "the whole is more than the sum of its parts," and Paul W. Anderson, Noble Laureate in physics, that, "more is different." Apparently there has been a continuous and pervasive change in scientific thinking long after Thomas Khun defined this as a paradigm shift in 1962. Accordingly, when a thought is challenged in the scientific community, such as quantum mechanics vs. classical mechanics, a paradigm shift takes place in scientific thinking and the way people approach scientific and philosophical questions.

This paradigm shift in early 20th century scientific thinking reveals itself also in social sciences. The quest for either the whole or the smallest part of the whole increased. Both the demand for quantitative research and data on the individual emerged. For instance, some discuss how entries to search engines about health issues in specific locations can be turned into a mass survey to offer future medical solutions. Quantum mechanics changed the way we think. Individualism became a much larger debate and society has been re-read from the perspective of individual lenses. Eventually, trends such as history from below, sub-altern studies, and intersectionality were developed. Each of these theories sought more peripheral narratives of the same incidents. Some scholars, such as Pekka Hamalainen, raised a further question of examining the borderland - the wave where material and anti-material meet. These scientific trends reveal that the more things in the humanities are less definable in scientific terms, the more they can only be achieved through numerical enumeration. Thus data sciences in social sciences and individual samples in the humanities became the new scientific trends.

The patterns that allow us to name the poetry of Shakespeare, the compositions of Bach, the paintings of Osman Hamdi Bey, and the scientific patterns in classical vs. quantum mechanics also reveal the choices, the performances, the imagination, and the foresight of their thinkers. Of course, it can only reveal so much. Their whole process still has an element of mystery, much like the natural processes that veil many secrets of the Infinite.

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