What is “reductionism?”

What is “reductionism?”
By, Afua Osei-Bonsu

Reductionism according to “Reductionism: A Beginner’s Guide” by AM Rae clearly illustrates how things break down into their constituent parts and how these break downs can be governed by common fundamental laws.

In the political realm,  the reductionist model may be employed in another context perhaps to reduce a competitor, a reputation or an idea.  In the workplace perhaps a reductionist model has to do with when looking for a solution, you break down or reduce a problem into pieces.

In the scientific process, reductionism according to Rae plays a “central role in almost every scientific statement.”[1]  For example Rae describes “how a chemist may take a molecule and break it into atoms; how an atomic physicist may go further to look at atoms and then look at the nucleus surrounded by electrons-which Rae states obeys the laws of quantum physics.”[2]

Rae describes how scientists were looking for a “Theory of Everything.”[3]  It is as if atoms  could have been a universal starting point of for example “the dot matrix,” or relating to the digital realm and perhaps everything is made of dots-everything.

A common definition for a dot matix found online (Wikipedia) “A dot matrix is a 2-dimensional patterned array, used to represent characters, symbols and images. Every type of modern technology uses dot matrices for display of information, including cell phones, televisions, and printers. They are also used in textiles with sewing, knitting, and weaving.”[4]

Could dots that make up all dots, then be pixels, or atoms?  Everything, it has been said, “may be reduced to some kind of dot and make up a larger image or dot matrix.”[5]

Rae’s book made key points in regards to Reductionism  that included 1) falsification, 2) simplicity and 3) emergence.

Rae highlighted a book by Karl Popper, “The Logic of Scientific Discovery,” in which it is detailed “the problem of induction.”  In Rae’s first example in regards to “falsification,” she quotes Popper:  “In Poppers view the purpose of a scientific investigation is not evidence that supports a theory but to carry out experiments that disprove it.”[6]

Reductionism relates directly with the scientific method in the areas around induction or with a falsification model.  A quote from Rae said that, “good tests kill flawed theories, we remain alive to guess again.”[7]

In a video where Brain Scientist, Eric Kandel, lectured about his experience with reductionism, it was as if reductionism was essential not to overwhelm his experiments, but also to break them down to molecular levels, inclusive of for studies of behaviour.  In the same video, Kandel magically describes cells as having unique identities where one can come and go and return to the same cell.[8]

Rae goes on later to write about “Occam’s Razor” and its role in terms of simplicity in Reductionism:

“A good theory should involve no more assumptions (entities) than are necessary to explain all the facts.” Alastair Rae[9]

Rae states that “the fundamental physical laws such as in gravity are the same everywhere at all times.”[10]

Rae’s last key point had to do with “emergence” of new laws and the governance of the “same fundamental physical laws.”[11]

The applications of reductionism are diverse and are primarily useful when making “high precision calculations of atomic properties whose results can be compared in experiments.”[12] Reductionism may be used for things such as “Quantum Field Theory”, or molecular science, or material science, or biological science, or quantum physics.

[1] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 1

[2] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 1

[3] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 2

[4] Claus Kühnel (2001). BASCOM Programming of Microcontrollers with Ease: An Introduction by Program Examples. Universal Publishers. pp. 114–119. ISBN 978-1-58112-671-6.

[5] Random conversation sometime in 2016 with an unknown MIT Scientist.

[6] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 3

[7] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 3

[8] Video: How Reductionism Uncovered Secrets of Long-term and Short-term Memory | Eric Kandel

[9] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 9

[10] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 10

[11] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 11

[12] RAE, AM. Reductionism : A Beginner’s Guide. London : Oneworld Publications, 2013. (Oneworld Beginners’ Guides). ISBN: 9781780742540, Page 12

 

 

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