Not seeing the forest

Not seeing the forest (text)
A parody rendition of Israeli chemist Addy Pross' perspective that he and American complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman "see so many trees", such as catalysis, synthetic biology, RNA, metabolic pathways, DNA, molecular machinery, ATP, biosynthesis, etc., but that he and Kauffman "have no real view of the forest" which is solution to the question "what makes a cell alive?" [2]
In phenomena, not seeing the forest, or "forest blind", is a figure of speech referring to individuals who being extensively knowledgeable about divisions of modern knowledge—the trees—are not able to grasp or see the big picture—the forest—in respect to the overall picture of who the various branches of knowledge fit together to comprise one nature.


The following quote seems to well-capture the issue, in respect to the origin of the blindness effect:

“The trend towards the already mentioned diversified society of ‘specialists’ and the related danger of narrower way of thinking (idiot savant) necessarily leads to a growing helplessness of the individual. Related to this is a growing blind belief in science. Since Leibnitz, probably the last universal genius, we know more and more about a shrinking area of knowledge. Biology and physics, chemistry and medicine are divided already today into dozens of individual disciplines, which like a ‘hydra’, keep dividing into other individual disciplines.”
— Hans-Wolff Graf (1995), “We Need a New World View” [1]

Thinkers who are unable to see the forest, or rather those unwilling to become polymathic, or those who spend too much time spent specializing in a narrower field or narrower way of thinking, might well be classified as "tree theorists", as compared to, conversely, "forest theorists" who tend to be after a vision of the big picture view of nature.

What is life? | Example
The following is a related quote by Israeli chemist Addy Pross, in commentary about statements from Stuart Kauffman's 2000 Investigations, about not being able to see the forest: [2]

“We see so many trees, yet we have no real view of the forest.”
— restatement of Kauffman’s 2000 “life remains shrouded from view” perspective

The issue here is that Kauffman and Pross have many “trees” (molecular machinery, metabolic pathways, membrane biosynthesis, molecular biology, etc.), to look at and study, but they cannot see the “forest” (or as Kauffman states: “what makes a cell alive is still not clear to us”). The forest that they cannot see in this case is the defunct theory of life and subsequent life terminology upgrades—a very difficult forest to see, to say the least.

John Diggins

Crank or prophet?
Henry Adams ns

In 1995, American historian John Diggins incorrectly classified American physical science historian Henry Adams (IQ=195), noted for his 1885 social chemistry of human molecules in relationships theory, for his 1895 first and second laws of thermodynamics applied to the rise and fall of civilizations, and for his 1909 phase rule applied to history—whose two cultures genius is near to on par with that of Goethe (IQ=230)—as “more of a crank than a prophet”, which is but the result of the growing dividedness and fragmentation of the body of modern knowledge, the totality of which few are able to presently hold in one mindset. [3]

Human chemical thermodynamics | Crank theory or trees not seen?
For many a modern scholar abruptly put in contact with human chemical thermodynamics, a combination of "ships not seen" and "forest not seen" are common mental vision problems, possibly reaction symptoms akin to someone with what might be called intellectual color blindness: not able to see the meaning of formulas and equations directly in front of them. The following 2011 reaction commentary by Irish openly atheist biochemistry student Ryan Grannell is an example of someone not able to "see" through to the immensity of what results when one applies chemical thermodynamics to humans in their behaviors,wherein relationship formations and changes are described as chemical reactions and their nature quantified via free energy changes:

“This is all just a horrendous analogy. Chemical laws apply to humans, but our behavior is more complex than something that can be modeled with a couple of thermodynamic equations. A + B → AB is just a pretentious way of stating something we already know; it tells us absolutely nothing new.”

The newcomer to this new point of view will often times be quick to label the theory as "crackpottery" and the theorist as a "crank", an example of which being when in 1995 American historian John Diggins penned an entire chapter on American physical science historian Henry Adams (IQ=195) and his physical history theory, after which he classified Adams as follows: [3]

“On the matter of science, consensus of conventional wisdom in Adams scholarship regards him as more of a crank than a prophet.”

Adams' physical history theory is comprised of firstly his 1885 social chemistry of human molecules in relationships theory, which would seem to be likely have been culled, in seed idea, from his nine years spent in Germany and England, 1859 to 1867, where he became acquainted with the works of Goethe, Schiller, and Voltaire, and hence likely the 1798 Goethe-Schiller discussion on human chemical theory (see: Goethe timeline). [4] Adams' personal library, in latter years, likewise, contained a large number of books in French and German on science, with, as Diggins notes, contained penciled queries written in the page margins on the author's description of things such as the: [3]

Flow of electric current or the behavior of molecules or the gravitational relation of the moon to terrestrial waves."

Why would a history professor be studying current flow, molecular behavior, and gravitational influence on lunar induced tidal waves? The answer is that Adams correctly considered people to be "molecules" hence a study of "molecular behavior" is the key to the understanding of human behavior and hence the nature of human history—though, to note, he got the specific term “human molecule”, not from, it seems, Goethe and Schiller, but from his 1873 reading of a review of French philosopher Hippolyte Taine's 1869 On Intelligence, wherein people are referred to as molecules, specifically, according to Taine, as follows:

“The historian notes and follows the general transformations presented by a certain human molecule, or a certain peculiar group of human molecules; and, to explain these transformations, he writes the psychology of the molecule or its group.”

Secondly, human molecular behavior theory aside, Adams' physical history theory is comprised also of his 1895 first and second laws of thermodynamics applications to the explanation of the rise and fall of civilizations, and thirdly his 1909 phase rule, culled from his reading of the the chemical thermodynamics work of American engineer Willard Gibbs, applied to history. In this respect, Adams' two cultures mindset genius is near to on par with that of Goethe (IQ=230). American physical science historian Morris Zucker, noted for his 1945 Adams-inspired 1,764-page "historical field theory", pure and applied, might be the only comparable example of genius near to that of Adams, in this regard. Hence, to conclude, Diggins, like many modern scholars caught up in the "consensus of conventional wisdom", is an example of one not able to see the forest amid the trees.

Terrence Deacon

Wacko or prophet?
Libb Thims (2013) 145px

In 2013, American neurological anthropologist Terrence Deacon called American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims and his Goethean-Adams based chemical thermodynamics of human molecules point of view as "wacko", seemingly believing, conversely, in his "consensus of conventional wisdom" mindset, that his own emergent chemical teleology is the correct view point and solution to the question of desire, purpose, and intentional feelings in modern philosophies of mind debates.

A more recent example is American neurological anthropologist Terrence Deacon, noted for his 2011 emergent chemical teleology theory, who in 2013 classified American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims as a "wacko" as follows:

Libb Thims [is] self-published wacko angry at the world for not taking his theories seriously.”

Here, the issue at hand is verbatim to that of Diggins classifying Adams as more of a crank than a prophet. Thims is near duplicate in mindset to Adams. Not only has Thims penciled in notes on the flow of electric current, but he obtained a degree in electrical engineering; not only has penciled in noted on the behavior of molecules, but he obtained a degree in chemical engineering, not only has Thims studied the gravitational relation of the moon to terrestrial waves (e.g. one of Thims favorite books is Arnold Lieber's 1996 How the Moon Affects You); not only does Thims consider people to be molecules, but he was the second person to independently calculate the human molecular formula and the first to write a book (The Human Molecule, 2008) on the history of the human molecular hypothesis; not only has Thims theorized about the first law and second law, through the chemical thermodynamics works of Willard Gibbs, applied to humans, historically, presently, and futuristically, but he is presently attempting to write the first textbook on Chemical Thermodynamics: with Applications in the Humanities, something that has never been done before. Deacon, like Diggins, is an example of one caught up in the "consensus of conventional wisdom" and thus not able to see the forest amid the trees.

See also
Glass walls
Ships not seen
Reverse engineering

1. Graff, Hans-Wolff. (1995). “Conclusion: We Need a New World View” (pgs. 228-36), in The Path Toward Global Survival: A Social and Economic Study of 162 Countries (editor: Hans-Wolff Graf) (pg. 229). Gordon and Breach Publishers.
2. Pross, Addy. (2012). What is Life?: How Chemistry becomes Biology ("so many trees", pg. 114). Oxford University Press.
3. Diggins, John P. (1995). The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority (§2: Who Bore the Failure of the Light: Henry Adams, pgs. 55-107; §§: Science and the Fate of the Universe, pgs. 67-80; quote, pg. 84; thermodynamics, 9+ pgs). University of Chicago Press.

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