Reductionist thinking suggests the abstract separation of a whole into its constituent components in-order-to examine the parts and their relationship with one another. The dominant discourse in human learning embeds this thinking, and as such, we cannot explain anything without reducing it to its components. When one asks how does an aeroplane fly? The answer that it does is not sufficient to satisfy the question. The explanation will include the design of the plane; why the wings in front are larger than those at the back; that the airflow over the wings reduces the atmospheric pressure on its top surface thus lifting the plane in the air; and how the design of the wings enables that to be so.

Now take, for example, the dissection of a frog in a biology class in a school. As the students dissect a frog, they are asked to point out various anatomy components that make up the body of the frog. They are also required to explain what each component does and how they are connected. Received answers satisfies the objectives of the lesson, except for one thing; they cannot point to what makes it live, to what makes it a frog, or its frogness. Granted, this is not a lesson objective. The assumption is that such explanations suggest an understanding of the whole, but the whole, while being declared as important, is, in fact, ignored. They are, in fact, being taught about the frog and its innards as if it was Vaucanson’s Duck. It suggests that knowledge is independent of one’s knowing, that it is out there, that it is objective, that it has actual existence or reality of its own. The power of this notion lies in its consensus building or the building of so-called common sense, which is the social glue for consensus. It is easier to accept or agree if culture, biases, prejudices, and socialisation are not contaminating the purity of the knowledge – echoes of Forte above.

This consensus reduces or filters out other perspectives leaving us with a very narrow level of knowledge that promotes a naive realist view, or an unreflected common sense (Vico 2001, p80). Therefore, most of us are naive realists going about our average-everydayness. Our sense-experience tells us that objects are out there composed of matter, occupying space with predicates of size, shape, texture, smell, taste, and colour, etc. Reductionism teaches us to see them the same way as everyone else sees them and declare it rational. Moreover, because numbers express Newtonian physics, where the application of mathematics to objects and their predicates, their calculations reveal predictive power through formulae use and in this naive realist world, it enables a glance into the future, and to see into the future has been a human quest since time immemorial. Today numbers rule. Positivism still hangs around.

Eminence supporting the thinking
Applying reductionism to human affairs has been the goal of those working in the scientism perspective. Keen to establish their discipline as scientific and therefore acceptance, Freud believed that he was creating a new science of psychoanalysis ‘and a natural science at that’ (Paker 1992, p42). F. W. Taylor applied science to management with techniques like time and motion studies, cost analysis, and management as an academic discipline (Waring 1991). J. B. Watson declared that ‘Psychology, as the behaviourist views it, is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science’ (Leonard 2002) coining a new term behaviourism that would dominate psychological research for the first half of the twentieth century, although its legacy bleeds into the latter half. The quest for certainty and predictability in human affairs understood as objectivity is a given; otherwise, it could not command such a banal consensus.