Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Can something be more than the sum of its parts?

  1. Feb 8, 2006 #1
    Here's one for you:

    Can things be more than the sum of their parts?

    I'm going to share my answer later but for now I'm interested to here your thoughts.

    If you stop and think about it, it gets really tricky.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2006 #2
    You have to be more specific. Are you refering to matter or something more metaphysical? If it's matter, it would be more appropriate in the physics threads. As for something metaphysical or non-physical the question is mute because they have no "parts" to add together.
  4. Feb 9, 2006 #3
    work together

    If you are a designer and you create a site alone, you are going to earn X dollars a month. If you are a programmer and you create a site alone, you are going to earn X dollars a month. If a designer and a programmer work together, the site is going to be worth more than 2X.

    We are splitted to work together!
  5. Feb 9, 2006 #4
    help me

    I need a better example (for the last post).
  6. Feb 9, 2006 #5
    Of course.
    Stripped down, you're water, carbon, metals etc. Rebuild these elements in any way, shape or form you wish and they'll never have a mind like yours.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2006
  7. Feb 9, 2006 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You should be more explicit about what you're trying to get at. What is meant by "sum of the parts"? That's an ambiguous phrase that could have several interpretations. And what exactly would it mean to be "more" than the sum of the parts?
  8. Feb 10, 2006 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Any old steamig pile of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and some trace elements is not going to compose 'Beethoven's 9th' or write 'I Sing the Body Electric' anytime soon.
  9. Feb 10, 2006 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Well, that's one way to think of the "sum of parts": a mere numerical total of a bunch of atoms and molecules and so on within some spatial boundary. On that interpretation, a human body and an unorganized pile of H, O, and C might be thought to have the same parts and the same "sum." Another interpretation of "sum of the parts" might include the spatial and causal relationships that obtain among the various atoms and molecules, though.
  10. Feb 12, 2006 #9
    A thing [A] can be the multiple of its parts, thus A = c*d*e. Thus if c=2, d=3, e=4, then clearly the answer to your question is yes, since c*d*e > c+d+e. But perhaps you do not mean mathematical things ?
  11. Feb 12, 2006 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I have always argued that contact with another intelligent race will most definitely more than double the sum of their separate knowledges.

    A sampling of 2 is way more than twice as informative as a sampling of 1.
  12. Feb 12, 2006 #11
    ok lemme take my stab at it.

    We are all formed into the basic Carbon Hydrogen etc. These make cells. and cells can make dogs. Now dogs are say instinctual.

    What if!

    you had a dog. which is made of absolutely exactly the same amount of carbons and hyrdogens as I was.

    So on a subatomic level. ME and a Dog are exactly the same. but when you bring me together(sum me up) I am worth more then the sum of parts. which is the dog. as since I am more intelligent or whatever.

    anyhow i can see a big problem.

    Prove there is any corrolation between matter and intelligence.

    so I try again. with a more chemistry example.
    Take Graphite and take diamond.
    they are EXactly the same chemically. But different through constuct of its structure.

    so the sum of its parts is exactly the same to each other. but diamonds is more then.
  13. Feb 12, 2006 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It's apparent to me that there are several interpretations floating around here of what should be meant by "part" and "sum." Without making those interpretations explicit, there is no basis for comparison for the various different responses-- they are not arguments so much as they are reflections of different implicit definitions. Let's try to be more explicit about what we mean in this thread.
  14. Mar 16, 2006 #13
    It should be intuitively obvious that nothing can EMPIRICALLY be more than the sum of its matter/energy components. However, when one introduces the components of rational reality, matter/energy can have additional attributes that result from the rational arrangement of a given amout of matter/energy.

    For example, when the parts of a car are arranged to produce a functional mode of transportation, the transportation ability of the car is more than the sum of the empirical (matter/energy) components.

    To conclude: The empirical sum of the empirical parts can never be more than the sum of the empirical parts. But the ARRANGEMENT of the empirical parts can produce attributes that are more than the sum of the empirical parts.
  15. Mar 16, 2006 #14

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Well, this issue isn't all that controversial. The concept of synergy has been around for quite awhile, and well documented. Bucky Fuller gave an example 40 years ago or so of the combination of nickle and iron. If one measures the hardness of each separately, they add up to substantially less than the hardness exhibited when they are combined.
  16. Mar 16, 2006 #15
    From John Archibald Wheeler:

    Paper in white the floor of the room, and rule it off in one-foot squares. Down on one's hands and knees, write in the first square a set of equations conceived as able to govern the physics of the universe. Think more overnight. Next day put a better set of equations into square two. Invite one's most respected colleagues to contribute to other squares. At the end of these labors, one has worked oneself out into the doorway. Stand up, look back on all those equations, some perhaps more hopeful than others, raise one's finger commandingly, and give the order "Fly!" Not one of those equations will put on wings, take off, or fly. Yet the universe "flies".
  17. Mar 17, 2006 #16
    perhaps a variation of the same question would be: Are we more than our genes?
  18. Mar 17, 2006 #17


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    The answer of molecular biologists would be yes, in that in addition to the genes that code for protein there are control genes, epistatic effects, and so far unresolved protein interactions independent of the genome. And at the macro level it has been shown that random influences in toddlerhood have a big effect on adult personality (in addition to gene effects, which are also big).
  19. Mar 17, 2006 #18
    This is basically weak emergence and strong emergence.
    I gotta go right now but look on the wikipedia for information on emergence.
    Just thought I'd help out by defining a word for what you're asking, don't have the time right now to form an essay on it.
  20. Mar 17, 2006 #19


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    To answer the original question from a totally different perspective:

    In quantum mechanics, knowing everything about A, and knowing everything about B, is not sufficient to know everything about A and B.
  21. Mar 17, 2006 #20

    i am curious what you mean by this?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook