Blinded by reductionism

I wrote about the weakness of reductionism about 18 months ago [see ‘Reduction in usefulness of reductionism‘ on February 17th, 2021].  Reductionism is the concept that everything about a complex system can be understood by reducing it to the smallest constituent part.  The concept is flawed because complex systems exhibit emergent properties [see ‘Emergent properties‘ on September 16th, 2015] that appear at a certain level of complexity but do not exist at lower levels.  Life is an emergent property so when you reduce an organism to its constituent parts, for instance by dissection, you kill it and are unable to observe its normal behaviour.  Reductionism is widespread in Western science and has been blinding us to what is often well-known to aboriginal people, i.e., the interconnectedness of nature.  One example is forest ecosystems that Suzanne Simard, amongst others, has shown are complex synergistic, multi-scale organisations of species. Complexity is only hard for those who have not thought about it – it is obvious to many peoples whose lives are integrated in nature’s ecosystem but it is really difficult for those of us educated in the reductionist tradition.

Reference:

Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree, Penguin, 2021.

2 thoughts on “Blinded by reductionism

  1. Tony Patey

    And it’s interesting how some academic disciplines are now benefiting from the introduction of wider-ranging, more complex narratives – in the last year or so Anthropology has been injected (invigorated?) with the “Anthropocene” concept and Geography with “Earth System Science” (at last; I had been pushing for that kind of approach for yonks!)

    Reply
  2. Pingback: The rest of the planet has been waiting patiently for us to figure it out | Realize Engineering

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