A Software-Inspired Constructive View of Nature

  • Russ AbbottEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 134)


In their review article on “Scientific Reduction” Van Riel and Van Gulick (Scientific reduction. In: Zalta EN (ed) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2016 edition). Stanford University, Stanford, 2016) write,

Saying that x reduces to y typically implies that x is nothing more thany or nothing over and abovey.

The y to which an x reduces consists most often of x’s components. But virtually nothing can be reduced if to be “nothing more than” or “nothing over and above” its components means to have no properties other than those of its components, individually or aggregated. An atom has properties other than those of its quarks and electrons. A protein, a biological cell, and a hurricane—not to mention such man-made entities as houses, mobile phones, and automobiles—all have properties over and above their components. The properties of most entities depend on both those of the entity’s components and on how those components are put together. (That would seem obvious, but perhaps it’s not.)

One of the defining characteristics of what might be referred to as the creative disciplines—computer science, engineering, the creative arts, etc.—is a focus on understanding and using the effects of putting things together. They ask what new (and in human terms interesting and useful) properties can be realized by putting things together in new ways. Using software as an example I explore software construction, and I ask what, if anything, one gains by thinking of it reductively.

Reduction as nothing-more-than-ism tends to blind one to nature’s constructive aspects. I discuss nature’s tools for creating new phenomena, including negative interactive energy, means for creating and tapping stores of usable energy, autopoiesis, and biological evolution.


Reductive explanation Creative construction Negative interaction energy Evolution Causation 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA

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