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We live in a life full of reductionism. It shapes our world view, it shapes our faith, and it shapes our technology. It is a way of analytical thinking that helps us to break down the sum of a product into it’s individual parts. It enables us to understand, and to create. It is in large part responsible for the world we live in today. The dictionary defines it as:

“the practice of analyzing and describing a complex phenomenon, esp. a mental, social, or biological phenomenon, in terms of phenomena that are held to represent a simpler or more fundamental level, esp. when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.”

What I have discovered through medicine and through life though, is that reductionism is the seductive temptress of poor analysis. We as humans instinctively take a reductionist approach to most things in our lives, and the result can in many ways be helpful, but in a lot of ways is also really destructive in how we think about and approach issues that arise in our lives. Reductionism leads us to and ‘either/or’ approach. We like to reduce issues to dichotomous subsets, rather than place them on a spectrum.

Life is complex. Issues are often a multi-factorial interaction of contributing factors. Very rarely are we able to actually successfully and accurately reduce and idea to an either/or scenario. Take my diagnosis for example. It is instinctive to look for a black and white answer why I have cancer. Drinking too much V, bad genetics, exposure to something somewhere unknown; all explanations that get thrown around that try to explain the end result.. cancer. The reality is though, that the likely answer lies in an interaction of all of those explanations, plus some more that we don’t know about. In medicine in general, very rarely are we able to pinpoint a single gene, or single event, that leads to any particular disease. The more we learn and research, the more we realize that most diseases are complex interactions of a number of factors, both genetic and environmental, both avoidable and spontaneous. Furthermore, human body function is increasingly being understood as a very complex interaction of systems rather than simplistic break downs of single factor action and reaction explanations.

The point of this being that reductionism creeps into many aspects of life, forcing us to take simplistic views on complex ideas. The result is a very black and white view on aspects of life that are actually made up of various shades of grey.

To suggest that there is single magic bullet for cancer is far too simplistic for what is actually a diverse and complex variety of disease, often each unique to the individual that carries it.

Politics, sociology, medicine, and theology all fall victim to the oversimplification of ideas. When a relationship breaks down, be it friendship or marriage. It is unlikely that any single factor is responsible for it, rather a number of factors all interacting and contributing to the final result. When a left leaning, or right leaning government is elected, why does either side have to be right or wrong. I personally believe there are aspects of both views of politics that are salient, and I can’t see why they have to be mutually exclusive viewpoints. When bad things happen to a good person, why do we try to reduce it to a single behaviour or reason, rather than look at the bigger picture and take into account all the confounding factors.

What I often find on this cancer journey, is that people respond both to me, and to situations in their life with this reductionistic mindset. The oversimplification of problems, be they relationship breakdowns, mental health struggles, struggles with addiction, or struggles with health, ends up destroying their ability to be able to rationally address what confronts them. Again this goes back to asking the wrong question, which I have previously discussed. Asking the wrong question inevitably leads us to the wrong answers. Over simplification of our day to day life leads us to over simplified solutions that rarely address what they were meant to solve.

This post is a little different from my previous posts, but I hope it gives some insight into how I approach the situation I find myself in. This way of thinking has allowed me to see the bigger picture of my reality with respect to both physical and spiritual worlds that I live in. Cancer is a multifactorial disease, and as such, deserves a multifactorial approach.

Life is a multifactorial journey, and it too deserves more attention than the oversimplification reductionism offers. Let us be open to the possibilities around us rather than beyond the box we like to place things in. Let us open our mind and heart to the infinite possibilities and strength that God can offer us. Let us take life on in it’s fullest, regardless of our circumstance and stop letting our mindset limit us to mediocrity.

Let us be the Humans that God designed us to be.

Taken from Toothpaste for Dinner

Categories: Blog
  1. Lynn
    March 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Very interesting post, Jared.

    PEI Canada

  2. Catherine
    March 18, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    So enjoy your blogs! I love your chart-reduced to basics! Can I be a realist and a bit of an idealist at the same time?
    BTW- how can we know what we don’t know? Surely we don’t know what we don’t know and that is our problem. Trusting in an Omniscient Being who has good will towards us is our best defence.

  3. Debbie
    March 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Deep stuff Jared, I guess to simplify stuff, is a way of coping with the complexities of life – which seems only to get more complicated the longer I am on this planet!! Go figure πŸ™‚

  4. Maree
    March 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Jared,

    Thank you for your honesty in sharing your thoughts and insights. I think we all need a reality check every so often otherwise we are liable to fall into the “human trap” way of thinking which can be a tactic of the enemy to keep us from being honest with ourselves and others, and can also keep us in a false “comfort zone” which would hold us back from moving forward into all that God has for us. Really appreciated this post – love and God’s blessings, Mx πŸ™‚

  5. Maree
    March 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    By the way….love the chart and drawings!! M:-)

    • Debbie
      March 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      me too πŸ™‚

  6. March 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Great post, humans seem to like to reduce everything to black and white, right and wrong as if everything in between is horrible. It’s just life.

  7. Jared
    March 21, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I should point out that the cartoon wasn’t actually mine. I have corrected my error and referenced it now πŸ™‚

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