The ideal of the 17th century physicists was to be able to explain
all physical reality in terms of the movement of atoms. This idea
was extended by people like Descartes who saw the human body
itself as nothing but a machine. Chemists tried to study chemical
reaction in this light and reduce chemistry to a form of physics,
and biologists tried to reduce their science to simply chemical
reactions and then finally to the movement of physical particles.
The idea of reductionisn is innate to modern science.
--Seyyed Hossain Nasr, Professor and Author
Of course Angelina Jolie is in the news. For those who have a self-imposed blackout on television news, Jolie underwent a twin radical mastectomy because she carried a gene that supposedly gave her an 87% chance of contracting breast cancer. So as a preventive measure, she decided to have the radical surgery.
Diving deeper into the issue, we discover that the genes in question, BRCA1 and BRCA2 were apparently part of Jolie's genetic makeup as well as her mother's. Jolie's mother developed breast cancer. But there are literally thousands of slight mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2. Over 1% of the female population has some form of these genes with and without the mutations.
Lo and behold, these mutations actually reduce the chances of contracting breast cancer. Nature is ever the clever tinkerer.
But I am a businessman and write about media and marketing. What the heck does Jolie undergoing a double mastectomy have to do with my métier? Read on...
But first, a high level question. Do you believe our genetic makeup is our destiny? Are we close to the science fiction film, Gattaca? That was a film where everyone's DNA was analyzed for worthiness and potentials.
But reduction is not science fiction. In every field of human endeavor from physics, chemistry, biology and of course online marketing, the drive to reduce qualitative states to quantitative numbers is all the rage. The goal of prediction of course is what everyone covets.
But so much of the mindset belongs to a Newtonian view of the world. Nassim Taleb, author of Black Swan fame says that people view life as a washing machine rather than a cat. This is his colorful metaphor that life is reduced to treating it as if it was a machine instead of a living organism.
Jolie and her doctors have reduced the complexity of nature (genetic makeup) as well as reduce the complexity of environmental factors to arrive at a predictive "score" of 87%. That is a supposed 87% chance of Jolie contracting breast cancer. The complex interplay of thousands of variables and the emergent behavior or qualities attendant seems lost.
Jolie's decision is a "triumph" of reductionism. It has now become heroic! Angelina Jolie and our addiction to celebrity have now rubber stamped a methodology that belongs to a scientific paradigm that is a relic of the past. Quantum Theory, Heisenberg, Godel, Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory give way to the reductionism of Newton and Laplace. We are marching backwards.
As for online marketing, the data crunchers are busy trying to deconstruct the DNA of consumer buying habits. The goal? To predict what someone is going to buy before they buy it. It is the same old same old…
Jaffer Ali is CEO of PulseTV.com and Vidsense. Jaffer has been a pioneer in online media and marketing doing both since 1998. PulseTV.com is an e-commerce site that utilizes the power of video to drive sales. He is a rare blend of theory and practice. He has written over 500 essays ranging from politics and media to philosophy and marketing and delights in actually implementing the things he writes about. A collection of essays from Jaffer are available in book form and can be downloaded for free for both the Kindle and Nook:
Chasing String In The Digital Era – Kindle free version
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