Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Broke Down On The Road From Albuquerque To Seattle--I Need A Quantum Mechanic

More action from the Dennett thread, and more of me beating the anti-reductionist drum. Reducing isn't explaining.

Although it’s true, the quirks of quarks
Are what we find when we reduce
The laws of rocks, of tuning forks,
Of cats, of cars, of orange juice,
The truth is, if I know the quirks
Of quarks, and qualms of quantum states
They don’t tell how my pencil works
Or what to do with roller skates.
If (knock on wood) my car should stall
And leave me stranded in a panic
There’s many folks whom I could call,
But none of them a quantum mechanic.
Explosive oxidation of
The hydrocarbon molecules
Is many many leaps above
The quantum tale of fossil fuels;
If, at my car, some stranger spoke
Of many-worlds hypotheses
Instead of just: “your fuel pump’s broke”
He might as well speak Japanese.
Indeed, if one is told a tale
Of how an engine burns its gas,
Of how exhaust comes out the tail,
Of how they make the windshield glass,
Of shock absorbers, front disc brakes,
All sorts of automotive prattle
It would not tell which road one takes
From Albuquerque to Seattle—
Which, if that was what one needs,
Is how the answer should be phrased;
Reductionism here impedes,
And only leaves ones eyeballs glazed.

The actions of a single nerve
Or even of a given piece
Of one, we clearly may observe—
Say, neurotransmitter release—
Where ACH or dopamine
Released in the synaptic cleft
By vesicles, which we have seen,
A process at which cells are deft;
The process may be understood
At many different levels, such
As cell, or body, or a good
Example of a chemist’s touch;
An organ’s function, or perhaps
A function in some social act—
Each level different, each one maps
A different view of one same truth.
The quantum level cannot say
The others now do not exist;
Reducing won’t explain away
A higher explanation’s gist.
Your quantum invocation means
You simply wish our current views
Left something there behind the scenes—
Some agent, with the power to choose.
Alas, there’s nothing there to find;
This entity does not exist—
No moral agent, causal mind
That all of science must have missed.
The science shows no secret curse,
No need to travel back in time
To save Cartesian minds—and worse,
We’ve done it, once again, in rhyme.


Podblack said...

...I just tried to find the Thomas Dolby video for 'Quantum Mechanic' and although it's not online, discovered something amusing about the vocalist on that song: Dr. Fiorella Terenzi.

Monado said...

Indeed, the first hit for Fiorella Terenzi is the site of the author herself, offering multimedia science.

P.S. You've got a couple of spambots the comments; please delete the freeloaders.