A basic technique of modern science is to explain various aspects of objects or phenomena by reducing them to their parts and the interactions between those parts. We are told that what we saw this morning was, in fact, not a “sunrise” but merely a turning of our planet. This is also done in psychology, anthropology and religious studies. Freud and Marx tell us that religion is merely a coping mechanism for our fears and attempts to make sense of our environment and our mortality. Morality, we also learn, is merely the human herd’s social adaptation. Merely, for all its humble appearance, turns out to be a very powerful idea.
Let’s see how a common notion fares when this reductionism is applied:
I have a “pet”
By pet I mean dog
By dog, of course, I mean an animal
By animal I mean an organism
By organism we know that we are talking about a collection of chemicals
By chemicals we mean various molecules
When speaking of molecules, we really are talking about arranged atoms
Those, we learn, are groups of sub-atomic particles
Which can easily be accounted for by strings
It turns out that I don’t have a pet….I merely have strings.
“Sit!” Good Strings.
But you cannot go on `explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on `seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to `see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To `see through’ all things is the same as not to see.
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis