Reductionism

Reductionism

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Reductionism can mean either (a) an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or (b) a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents. This can be said of object
Object (philosophy)
An object in philosophy is a technical term often used in contrast to the term subject. Consciousness is a state of cognition that includes the subject, which can never be doubted as only it can be the one who doubts, and some object or objects that may or may not have real existence without...

s, phenomena, explanation
Explanation
An explanation is a set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequencesof those facts....

s, theories
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

, and meanings.

Reductionism strongly reflects a certain perspective on causality
Causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

. In a reductionist framework, phenomena that can be explained completely in terms of relations between other more fundamental phenomena, are called epiphenomena. Often there is an implication that the epiphenomenon exerts no causal agency on the fundamental phenomena that explain it.

Reductionism does not preclude the existence of what might be called emergent phenomena
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

, but it does imply the ability to understand those phenomena completely in terms of the processes from which they are composed. This reductionist understanding is very different from that usually implied by the term 'emergence', which typically intends that what emerges is more than the sum of the processes from which it emerges.

Religious reductionism generally attempts to explains religion by boiling it down to certain nonreligious causes. A few examples of reductionistic explanations for the presence of religion are: that religion can be reduced to humanity's conceptions of right and wrong, that religion is fundamentally a primitive attempt at controlling our environments, and that religion is a way to explain the existence of a physical world. Anthropologists Edward Burnett Tylor
Edward Burnett Tylor
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor , was an English anthropologist.Tylor is representative of cultural evolutionism. In his works Primitive Culture and Anthropology, he defined the context of the scientific study of anthropology, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Lyell...

 and James George Frazer employed some religious reductionist arguments. Sigmund Freud's idea that religion is nothing more than an illusion, or even a mental illness, and the Marxist view that religion is "the sigh of the oppressed," providing only "the illusory happiness of the people," are two other influential reductionist explanations of religion.

There is a certain degree of reductionism in the social sciences, which often try to explain whole areas of social activity as mere subfields of their own field. As an example, Marxist economists often try to explain politics as subordinated to economy, and sociologists sometimes see economy and politics as mere sub-spheres of society.

Theoretical reductionism


Theoretical reduction is the process by which one theory absorbs another. For example, both Kepler's
Johannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican...

 laws of the motion of the planets and Galileo
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

’s theories of motion worked out for terrestrial objects are reducible to Newtonian theories of mechanics, because all the explanatory power of the former are contained within the latter. Furthermore, the reduction is considered to be beneficial because Newtonian mechanics is a more general theory—that is, it explains more events than Galileo's or Kepler's. Theoretical reduction, therefore, is the reduction of one explanation or theory to another—that is, it is the absorption of one of our ideas about a particular thing into another idea.

Methodological reductionism


Methodological reductionism is the position that the best scientific strategy is to attempt to reduce explanations to the smallest possible entities. Methodological reductionism would thus hold that the atomic explanation of a substance’s boiling point is preferable to the chemical explanation, and that an explanation based on even smaller particles (quarks and leptons, perhaps) would be even better.

Methodological reductionism, therefore, is the position that all scientific theories either can or should be reduced to a single super-theory through the process of theoretical reduction.

Ontological reductionism


Ontological reductionism is the belief that reality is composed of a minimum number of kinds of entities or substances. This claim is usually metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, and is most commonly a form of monism
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

, in effect claiming that all objects, properties and events are reducible to a single substance. (A dualist
Dualism
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

 who is an ontological reductionist would believe that everything is reducible to two substances - as one possible example, a dualist might claim that reality is composed of "matter
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

" and "spirit
Spirit
The English word spirit has many differing meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body.The spirit of a living thing usually refers to or explains its consciousness.The notions of a person's "spirit" and "soul" often also overlap,...

".)

Reductionism and science


Reductionist thinking and methods form the basis for many of the well-developed areas of modern science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, including much of physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 and cell biology
Cell biology
Cell biology is a scientific discipline that studies cells – their physiological properties, their structure, the organelles they contain, interactions with their environment, their life cycle, division and death. This is done both on a microscopic and molecular level...

. Classical mechanics
Classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major sub-fields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...

 in particular is seen as a reductionist framework, and statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics or statistical thermodynamicsThe terms statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics are used interchangeably...

 can be viewed as a reconciliation of macroscopic thermodynamic laws with the reductionist approach of explaining macroscopic properties in terms of microscopic components.

In science, reductionism implies that certain fields of study are based on areas that study smaller spatial scales or organizational units. While it is commonly accepted that the foundations of chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 are based in physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, and microbiology
Microbiology
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, which are defined as any microscopic organism that comprises either a single cell , cell clusters or no cell at all . This includes eukaryotes, such as fungi and protists, and prokaryotes...

 is rooted in chemistry, similar statements become controversial when one considers less rigorously defined intellectual pursuits. For example, claims that sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 is based on psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, or that economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 is based on sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 would be met with reservations. These claims are difficult to substantiate even though there are clear connections between these fields (for instance, most would agree that psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 can affect and inform economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

.) The limit of reductionism's usefulness stems from emergent properties of complex systems
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

, which are more common at certain levels of organization. For example, certain aspects of evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

 and sociobiology
Sociobiology
Sociobiology is a field of scientific study which is based on the assumption that social behavior has resulted from evolution and attempts to explain and examine social behavior within that context. Often considered a branch of biology and sociology, it also draws from ethology, anthropology,...

 are rejected by some who claim that complex systems are inherently irreducible and that a holistic approach is needed to understand them.

Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

 defends scientific reductionism—which he says is really little more than materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

—by distinguishing between this and what he calls "Greedy reductionism
Greedy reductionism
Greedy reductionism is a term coined by Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, to refer to a kind of erroneous reductionism...

": the idea that every explanation in every field of science should be reduced to particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

 or string theory
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

. Greedy reductionism, he says, deserves some of the criticism heaped on reductionism in general because the lowest-level explanation of a phenomenon, even if it exists, is not always the best way to understand or explain it.

Some strong reductionists believe that the behavioral sciences should become "genuine" scientific disciplines based on genetic biology, and on the systematic study of culture (see Richard Dawkins's concept of memes). In his book The Blind Watchmaker
The Blind Watchmaker
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design is a 1986 book by Richard Dawkins in which he presents an explanation of, and argument for, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. He also presents arguments to refute certain criticisms made on...

, Dawkins
Dawkins
Dawkins is an English surname. It is a compound of 'Daw', a common diminutive of 'David' during the Middle Ages, and Kin; literally "the kin of David".It has also been linked with the Keynes family as a derivative name.It may refer to:...

 introduced the term "hierarchical reductionism" to describe the view that complex systems can be described with a hierarchy of organizations, each of which is only described in terms of objects one level down in the hierarchy. He provides the example of a computer, which under hierarchical reductionism is explained in terms of the operation of hard drives, processors, and memory, but not on the level of AND OR gates, or on the even lower level of electrons in a semiconductor medium.

Both Dennett and Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
Steven Arthur Pinker is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author...

 argue that too many people who are opposed to science use the words "reductionism" and "reductionist" less to make coherent claims about science than to convey a general distaste for the endeavor, saying the opponents often use the words in a rather slippery way, to refer to whatever they dislike most about science. Dennett suggests that critics of reductionism may be searching for a way of salvaging some sense of a higher purpose to life, in the form of some kind of non-material / supernatural intervention. Dennett terms such aspirations "skyhooks," in contrast to the "cranes" that reductionism uses to build its understanding of the universe from solid ground.

Others argue that inappropriate use of reductionism limits our understanding of complex systems. In particular, ecologist Robert Ulanowicz
Robert Ulanowicz
Robert Edward Ulanowicz is an American theoretical ecologist and philosopher who is best known for his search for a unified theory of ecology. He was born September 17, 1943 in Baltimore, Maryland....

 says that science must develop techniques to study ways in which larger scales of organization influence smaller ones, and also ways in which feedback loops create structure at a given level, independently of details at a lower level of organization. He advocates (and uses) information theory
Information theory
Information theory is a branch of applied mathematics and electrical engineering involving the quantification of information. Information theory was developed by Claude E. Shannon to find fundamental limits on signal processing operations such as compressing data and on reliably storing and...

 as a framework to study propensities in natural systems. Ulanowicz attributes these criticisms of reductionism to the philosopher Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 and biologist Robert Rosen.

Reductionism in mathematics


In mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, reductionism can be interpreted as the philosophy that all mathematics can (or ought to) be built off a common foundation, which is usually axiomatic set theory. Ernst Zermelo
Ernst Zermelo
Ernst Friedrich Ferdinand Zermelo was a German mathematician, whose work has major implications for the foundations of mathematics and hence on philosophy. He is known for his role in developing Zermelo–Fraenkel axiomatic set theory and his proof of the well-ordering theorem.-Life:He graduated...

 was one of the major advocates of such a view; he also developed much of axiomatic set theory. It has been argued that the generally accepted method of justifying mathematical axioms by their usefulness in common practice can potentially undermine Zermelo's reductionist program.

As an alternative to set theory, others have argued for category theory
Category theory
Category theory is an area of study in mathematics that examines in an abstract way the properties of particular mathematical concepts, by formalising them as collections of objects and arrows , where these collections satisfy certain basic conditions...

 as a foundation for certain aspects of mathematics.

Reductionism in psychology


In Psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 there is a strong tendency to offer explanations in terms of Physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

 or Neurology
Neurology
Neurology is a medical specialty dealing with disorders of the nervous system. Specifically, it deals with the diagnosis and treatment of all categories of disease involving the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their coverings, blood vessels, and all effector tissue,...

. While such explanations offer additional evidence for the theories they support, they are not fundamentally superior to the evidence provided by Empirical research
Empirical research
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively...

 and theoretical development within the science of psychology itself.

Ontological reductionism


Ontological reductionism is the claim that everything that exists is made from a small number of basic substances that behave in regular ways (compare to monism
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

). Ontological reductionism denies the idea of ontological emergence
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

, and claims that emergence is an epistemological phenomenon that only exists through analysis or description of a system, and does not exist on a fundamental level.

Ontological reductionism takes two different forms: Token ontological reductionism is the idea that every item that exists is a sum item. For perceivable items, it says that every perceivable item is a sum of items at a smaller level of complexity. Type ontological reductionism is the idea that every type of item is a sum (of typically less complex) type(s) of item(s). For perceivable types of item, it says that every perceivable type of item is a sum of types of items at a lower level of complexity. Token ontological reduction of biological things to chemical things is generally accepted. Type ontological reduction of biological things to chemical things is often rejected.

Michael Ruse
Michael Ruse
Michael Ruse is a philosopher of biology at Florida State University, and is well known for his work on the creationism/evolution controversy and the demarcation problem in science...

 has criticized ontological reductionism as an improper argument against vitalism
Vitalism
Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is#a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions...

.

Reductionism in linguistics


Linguistic reductionism is the idea that everything can be described in a language with a limited number of core concepts, and combinations of those concepts.

Limits of reductionism


A contrast to the reductionist approach is holism
Holism
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

 or emergentism
Emergentism
In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind, and as it contrasts with reductionism. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is in some sense more than the "sum" of the properties of the system's parts...

. Holism is the idea that things can have properties, (emergent properties), as a whole that are not explainable from the sum of their parts. The principle of holism was concisely summarized by Aristotle in the Metaphysics: "The whole is more than the sum of its parts".

The term Greedy reductionism
Greedy reductionism
Greedy reductionism is a term coined by Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, to refer to a kind of erroneous reductionism...

, coined by Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

, is used to criticize inappropriate use of reductionism. Other authors use different language when describing the same thing.

In philosophy


The concept of downward causation poses an alternative to reductionism within philosophy. This view is developed and explored by Peter Bøgh Andersen, Claus Emmeche
Claus Emmeche
Claus Emmeche is a Danish theoretical biologist and philosopher. He is associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, and is head of the Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies at the Faculty of Science .His research interests are in philosophy of science, especially...

, Niels Ole Finnemann, and Peder Voetmann Christiansen, among others. These philosophers explore ways in which one can talk about phenomena at a larger-scale level of organization exerting causal influence on a smaller-scale level, and find that some, but not all proposed types of downward causation are compatible with science. In particular, they find that constraint is one way in which downward causation can operate. The notion of causality as constraint has also been explored as a way to shed light on scientific concepts such as self-organization
Self-organization
Self-organization is the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning...

, natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

, adaptation
Adaptation
An adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. An adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation....

, and control.

In science


Phenomena such as emergence
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

 and work within the field of complex systems
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

 theory pose limits to reductionism. Stuart Kauffman
Stuart Kauffman
Stuart Alan Kauffman is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth...

 is one of the advocates of this viewpoint. Emergence is strongly related to nonlinearity
Nonlinearity
In mathematics, a nonlinear system is one that does not satisfy the superposition principle, or one whose output is not directly proportional to its input; a linear system fulfills these conditions. In other words, a nonlinear system is any problem where the variable to be solved for cannot be...

. The limits of the application of reductionism become especially evident at levels of organization with higher amounts of complexity
Complexity
In general usage, complexity tends to be used to characterize something with many parts in intricate arrangement. The study of these complex linkages is the main goal of complex systems theory. In science there are at this time a number of approaches to characterizing complexity, many of which are...

, including culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, neural networks
Neural Networks
Neural Networks is the official journal of the three oldest societies dedicated to research in neural networks: International Neural Network Society, European Neural Network Society and Japanese Neural Network Society, published by Elsevier...

, ecosystems, and other systems formed from assemblies of large numbers of interacting components. Symmetry breaking
Symmetry breaking
Symmetry breaking in physics describes a phenomenon where small fluctuations acting on a system which is crossing a critical point decide the system's fate, by determining which branch of a bifurcation is taken. To an outside observer unaware of the fluctuations , the choice will appear arbitrary...

 is an example of an emergent phenomenon. Nobel laureate
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

 P.W.Anderson
Philip Warren Anderson
Philip Warren Anderson is an American physicist and Nobel laureate. Anderson has made contributions to the theories of localization, antiferromagnetism and high-temperature superconductivity.- Biography :...

 used this idea in his famous paper in Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

 in 1972, 'More is different' to expose some of the limitations of reductionism. The limitation of reductionism was explained as follows. The sciences can be arranged roughly linearly in a hierarchy as particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

, many body physics, chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

, molecular biology
Molecular biology
Molecular biology is the branch of biology that deals with the molecular basis of biological activity. This field overlaps with other areas of biology and chemistry, particularly genetics and biochemistry...

, cellular biology, physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

, psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

. The elementary entities of one science obeys the laws of the science that precedes it in the above hierarchy. But, this does not imply that one science is just an applied version of the science that precedes it. Quoting from the article, "At each stage, entirely new laws, concepts and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology nor is biology applied chemistry."

Disciplines such as cybernetics
Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

 and systems theory
Systems theory
Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research...

 strongly embrace a non-reductionist view of science, sometimes going as far as explaining phenomena at a given level of hierarchy in terms of phenomena at a higher level, in a sense, the opposite of a reductionist approach.

Free will and religion


Philosophers of the Enlightenment worked to insulate human free will from reductionism. Descartes separated the material world of mechanical necessity from the world of mental free will. German philosophers introduced the concept of the "noumenal" realm that is not governed by the deterministic laws of "phenomenal" nature, where every event is completely determined by chains of causality. The most influential formulation was by Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

, who distinguished between the causal deterministic framework the mind imposes on the world—the phenomenal realm—and the world as it exists for itself, the noumenal realm, which included free will. To insulate theology from reductionism, 19th century post-Enlightenment German theologians moved in a new direction, led by Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl
Albrecht Ritschl
Albrecht Ritschl was a German theologian.Starting in 1852, Ritschl lectured on "Systematic Theology". According to this system, faith was understood to be irreducible to other experiences, beyond the scope of reason. Faith, he said, came not from facts but from value judgments...

. They took the Romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 approach of rooting religion in the inner world of the human spirit, so that it is a person's feeling or sensibility about spiritual matters that comprises religion.

Benefits of reduction



An ontological reduction reduces the number of ontological primitives that exist within our ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

. Philosophers welcome this, because every ontological primitive demands a special explanation for its existence. If we maintain that life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

 is not a physical property, for example, then we must give a separate explanation of why some objects possess it and why others do not. This is more often than not a daunting task, and such explanations often have the flavor of ad hoc
Ad hoc
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this". It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes. Compare A priori....

contrivances or deus ex machina
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

. Also, since every ontological primitive must be acknowledged as one of the fundamental principles of the natural world, we must also account for why this element in particular should be considered one of those underlying principles. (To return to an earlier example, it would be extremely difficult to explain why planets are so fundamental that special laws of motion should apply to them.) This is often extremely hard to do, especially in the face of our strong preference for simple explanations. Pursuing ontological reduction thus serves to unify and simplify our ontology, while guarding against needless multiplication of entities in the process.

At the same time, the requirements for satisfactorily showing that one thing is reducible to another are extremely steep. First and foremost, all features of the original property or object must be accounted for. For example, lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

 would not be reducible to the electrical activity of air molecules if the reduction explained why lightning is deadly, but not why it always seeks the highest point to strike. Our preference for simple and unified explanations is a strong force for reductionism, but our demand that all relevant phenomena be accounted for is at least as strong a force against it.

Alternatives to reductionism



In recent years, the development of systems thinking
Systems thinking
Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish...

 has provided methods for tackling issues in a holistic
Holism
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

 rather than a reductionist way, and many scientists approach their work in a holistic paradigm
Holism in science
Holism in science, or Holistic science, is an approach to research that emphasizes the study of complex systems. This practice is in contrast to a purely analytic tradition which aims to gain understanding of systems by dividing them into smaller composing elements and gaining understanding of the...

. When the terms are used in a scientific context, holism and reductionism refer primarily to what sorts of models or theories offer valid explanations of the natural world; the scientific method of falsifying hypotheses, checking empirical data against theory, is largely unchanged, but the approach guides which theories are considered. The conflict between reductionism and holism in science is not universal—it usually centers on whether or not a holistic or reductionist approach is appropriate in the context of studying a specific system or phenomenon.

In many cases (such as the kinetic theory
Kinetic theory
The kinetic theory of gases describes a gas as a large number of small particles , all of which are in constant, random motion. The rapidly moving particles constantly collide with each other and with the walls of the container...

 of gases), given a good understanding of the components of the system, one can predict all the important properties of the system as a whole. In other cases, trying to do this leads to a fallacy of composition
Fallacy of composition
The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole...

. In those systems, emergent
Emergent
It may also mean:* Emergent , Neural Simulation Software* Emergent , a 2003 album by Gordian Knot* emergent plant, a plant which grows in water but which pierces the surface so that it is partially in air...

 properties of the system are almost impossible to predict from knowledge of the parts of the system. Complexity theory
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

 studies such systems.

Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead, OM FRS was an English mathematician who became a philosopher. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education...

 set his metaphysical thinking in opposition to reductionism. He refers to this as the 'fallacy of the misplaced concreteness'. His scheme set out to frame a rational, general understanding of things, that was derived from our reality.

The reductionist strategy or any method of simplification in scientific disciplines risks overlooking or negating awareness that already exists. Chaos theory
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

, the concept of entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

 in study of chemistry, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

, all indicate the awareness and cognition of the world becomes more complex as the level of awareness of it increases.

Scientists who use reductionist methods often take an approach that relies on contradicting previous contributions in their own context to science in order to validate a new theory, when sometimes there is no need to disprove existing theories in order to provide new insight. Proving a theory to be invalid and proving a new assumption to be true must both take place on their own merits. Scientific theories that are half-valid and half-invalid can be entirely brushed aside with reductionism, whereas with a holistic paradigm such as additivism, one can add the half-valid parts to updated assumptions. A reductionist would be less likely to view currently invalid theories as valid contributions in the context in which they were observed, utilized and presented, whereas a complexity theorist would be more likely to.

Sven Erik Jorgensen, an ecologist, lays out both theoretical and practical arguments for a holistic approach in certain areas of science, especially ecology
Ecology
Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

. He argues that many systems are so complex that it will not ever be possible to describe all their details. Drawing an analogy to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, he argues that many interesting and relevant ecological phenomena cannot be replicated in laboratory conditions, and thus cannot be measured or observed without influencing and changing the system in some way. He also points to the importance of interconnectedness in biological systems. His viewpoint is that science can only progress by outlining what questions are unanswerable and by using models that do not attempt to explain everything in terms of smaller hierarchical levels of organization, but instead model them on the scale of the system itself, taking into account some (but not all) factors from levels both higher and lower in the hierarchy.

See also


  • Antireductionism
    Antireductionism
    Antireductionism is a reaction against reductionism, which instead advocates holism. Although "breaking complex phenomena into parts, is a key method in science," there are those complex phenomena where some resistance to or rebellion against this approach arises, primarily due to the perceived...

  • Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

  • Eliminativism
  • Emergentism
    Emergentism
    In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind, and as it contrasts with reductionism. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is in some sense more than the "sum" of the properties of the system's parts...

  • Holism
    Holism
    Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

  • Materialism
    Materialism
    In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

  • Multiple realizability
    Multiple realizability
    Multiple realizability, in philosophy of mind, is the thesis that the same mental property, state, or event can be implemented by different physical properties, states or events...

     was used as a source of arguments against reductionism.
  • Philosophy of Mind
    Philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

  • Physicalism
    Physicalism
    Physicalism is a philosophical position holding that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties; that is, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things...

  • Physical ontology
  • Scientism
    Scientism
    Scientism refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the systematic methods and approach of science, especially the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints...

  • Systems theory
    Systems theory
    Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research...

  • Symmetry breaking
    Symmetry breaking
    Symmetry breaking in physics describes a phenomenon where small fluctuations acting on a system which is crossing a critical point decide the system's fate, by determining which branch of a bifurcation is taken. To an outside observer unaware of the fluctuations , the choice will appear arbitrary...

  • Theology
    Theology
    Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...


Further reading

  • Dawkins, Richard (1976), The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press; 2nd edition, December 1989.
  • Descartes (1637), Discourses, Part V.
  • Dupre, John (1993), The Disorder of Things. Harvard University Press.
  • Jones, Richard H. (2000), Reductionism: Analysis and the Fullness of Reality. Bucknell University Press. (For the general reader.)
  • Laughlin, Robert (2005), A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Basic Books.
  • Nagel, Ernest (1961), The Structure of Science. New York.
  • Ruse, Michael (1988), Philosophy of Biology. Albany, NY.
  • Dennett, Daniel. (1995) Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Simon & Schuster.
  • Fritjof Capra
    Fritjof Capra
    Fritjof Capra is an Austrian-born American physicist. He is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and is on the faculty of Schumacher College....

     (1982), The Turning Point.
  • Alexander Rosenberg
    Alexander Rosenberg
    Alexander Rosenberg is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University.Rosenberg was educated at Stuyvesant High School, the City College of New York and Johns Hopkins University...

     (2006), Darwinian Reductionism or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology. University of Chicago Press.
  • Steven Pinker
    Steven Pinker
    Steven Arthur Pinker is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author...

     (2002), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Viking Penguin.
  • Stephen Weinberg (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature, Pantheon Books.
  • Steven Weinberg
    Steven Weinberg
    Steven Weinberg is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles....

     (2002) describes what he terms the culture war among physicists in his review of A New Kind of Science.
  • Eric Scerri The reduction of chemistry to physics has become a central aspect of the philosophy of chemistry. See several articles by this author.
  • Lopez, F., Il pensiero olistico di Ippocrate. Riduzionismo, antiriduzionismo, scienza della complessità nel trattato sull'Antica Medicina, vol. IIA, Ed. Pubblisfera, Cosenza Italy 2008.

External links