Idea: There are four good reasons for being a reductionist.

At the cellular, molecular, or quantum level, you don’t exist. But it’s those lower levels of reality that are most real. The higher levels are just manifestations of their parts — of how things at the lower levels behave and interact. This theory is called “reductionism.”

Reductionism’s Theme Song

Why believe it?

Fundamental Physics

It’s the worldview of modern quantum physics. Quantum physics refers to what it studies — the “quanta” of matter and energy — as “fundamental particles.” Everything else is “founded” on the things quantum mechanics describes. Those things are basic, while everything “higher” is derivative. Reality is built from the ground up.

Cosmology

Furthermore, the fundamental particles came first. The fundamental particles were the first to condense after the Big Bang. Everything larger (or “higher”) only coalesced later. Temporal priority implies ontological priority. (The closer you are to being first in time, the closer you are to being first in realness.)

Genetics

Your actions are controlled by a part of you. How your body looks and behaves is just a manifestation of your DNA. The DNA comes first, and you arise out of it.

Philosophy and Science in General

If you’re a Buddhist, this view is central to your philosophy. The same goes for atomism. Furthermore, reductionism seems to be key to all attempts to explain things. If you understand how and why a thing’s parts behave in the ways they do, you can explain how and why the thing itself behaves as it does.

Conclusion

These are all perfectly-respectable things to believe in our current culture. They are all versions of the belief that reality is at the bottom. But it’s also respectable in our culture to believe that reality is at the top. Many people even hold both views simultaneously.

We’ll discuss the “reality is at the top” view next time.