Traditional western science and technology is strongly influenced by rationalism and logical empiricism that can be traced back to Plato. A good summary of this paradigm can be found in [WF85]. When faced with the problem of trying to understand a system, the rationalistic tradition indicates that three basic steps are taken:
Characterize the whole system in terms of identifiable sub-components with well defined properties.
Understand each sub-component by finding general rules that describe their behavior.
Combine the sub-components into the whole system, applying the rules of the sub-components, to draw conclusions about the behavior of the whole and to establish the understanding of the whole.
The rationalist approach requires complete knowledge of sub-components and their actions and interactions. Decomposition of complex systems into simpler parts is a natural scientific paradigm in the rationalist approach.
The rationalist approach is in contrast to hermeneutics [Hei68]. Here the components of a whole system are defined as an interpretation in the context of the whole and the environment. There is no full and explicit understanding of neither the components nor the whole system. The understanding is never complete.
The whole system defines to exists a hermeneutic circle where there are no absolute facts but only interpretations of content within a context.
For example, try looking up a word in the dictionary. A word is defined in terms of other words which eventually have definitions which circle back to the original word. From Webster [Rei92] the verb, to move, is defined as to go from one place to another with a continuous motion while the verb, to go, is defined as to move on a course. Each word is defined in a circular fashion having each other's word used in each other's definition. The two words together form a noemic concept associated with motion. Of course, there are many meanings of these two words, each dependent on a context. These two words participate in many noemic concepts.
Hermeneutic circles are like fast spinning toy top. An external observer, one outside the toy top, is given the tasks of riding, or understanding, the toy top. His first attempt is to step onto the toy top and is immediately thrown off. To be successful, first the observer must gain momentum, and match the motion of the toy top, and then, step onto the toy top. One can't understand the hermeneutic circle without first understanding the whole.
Edmund Husserl called the Hermeneutic circle paradigm a Noema [Dre79]. Noema is an antiquated Greek word for an intellect.
A Noema has the following characteristics:
The implicit beliefs within a Noema and assumptions cannot all be made explicit.
Practical operational understanding of a Noema is more fundamental than detached theoretical understanding.
A representation of a thing cannot be complete.
Understanding is fundamentally in the context of the whole and cannot be reduced to activities of individual sub- components.
A sub-component cannot avoid its interactions with the whole.
The effects of the sub-components cannot be absolutely predicted.
All representations of the current state are ephemeral at best.
Every representation of a sub-component is an interpretation with respect to the whole.
Every action of the sub-component affects the whole, even non action. The presence of the sub-component affects the whole.
The so-called hard sciences have discovered that absolute knowledge is not possible. As an example, consider Gödel's incompleteness theorem of mathematics where he proves that there is no finite axiomization of arithmetic and that there are unprovable theorems in arithmetic. Heisenberg showed that in physics there are no absolutely accurate measurements and that all measurements are only known to with in an uncertainty. Even the act of obtaining a measurement changes the system that is being measured and thus affects the measurements. Einstein showed that velocity can only be known with respect to a relative reference frame.
The traditional hard sciences have carved a very small domain out of the universal Noema. The actions of one component affects the whole and cannot be taken in isolation.