Go Forth and Reify, part II
In this video talk by Richard Darkins he gives some good food for thought on reification when he talks about Steve Grand’s views on things like whirlpools, electromagnetic fluctuations and walking sand dunes. The most powerful example is this one (quoting Grand):
Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that took place…Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn’t make your hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.
We humans have this “mundane preoccupation of matter”, as Dawkins points out because we are evolved to live in a world primarily of matter (at a particular scale). This doesn’t mean that whirlpools and market forces are any less real than rocks, just that we are evolutionarily predisposed to grok rocks as real things because we can touch them with our hands, feel their solidity, and track them with our eyes as we throw them. But the reality (of rocks and whirlpools and you) is in the patterns information content and flow. So when I say things like complex systems defend themselves, I don’t mean it metaphorically, I mean it really and literally.
On the short list of things to reify:
- memes and temes (fitting since Dawkins coined “meme”)
- group selection
- social contagion
- self-fulfilling prophecy
- emergent causality
On the flip side, there do exist reifications that need to be dispelled, such as God and the gene, one of which Dawkins would wholeheartedly agree with, and the other of which he may not.