In the last few years the results of neuroscience have been so astonishing that it became almost impossible not to take them in consideration. A consequence of this is: is there a possibility that psychology will be reduced to neuroscience? As the editors of the book suggest, "things are changing" and reductionism has become fashionable again. So if you are looking for an introductory book that map the problem in all its complexity The Matter of the Mind is a good choice.
The book is divided in three parts: the first one deals with what is meant by reduction in general, the second one faces the issue about how different theories can be related, and the third one outlines the possibility of reducing psychological phenomena like consciusness or behavior to brains and nerve cells. One of the problem that the editors encounter while approaching reductionism is that on one hand "when higher-level posits cannot be related to real furniture of the world" they can't be real things "or processes in a causally closed world, can't really explain anything".
On the other hand "if a higher-level explanation can be related to physical processes, it becomes redundant, since the explanatory work can be done by physics". After having sketch out the roots of Nagel's reductionism and highlighted its problems, the editors presents the new reductionism: "we should let go our philosophers' fantasies and letting a sense of reduction emerge from the detailed investigations drawn from recent scientific practice".
Many of the authors of the book share a naturalistic view that and understanding of reductive explanation should start in science. The good side of this book is that contributors are not only philosophers but also psychologists and cognitive scientists which makes "The Matter of the Mind" a nice interdisciplinary work. Part I. The first paper is by Andrew Malnyk that argues for psychological reductionism, a kind of reductionism in which psychological phenomena are reducible to non-psychological phenomena.
Non-psychological phenomena include neurophysiological phenomena, but also phenomena in the environment or in the history of the organism that exhibits the psychological phenomena. In this way according to Malnyk, there would be room for the "reducibility of psychological phenomena that don't supervene solely on intrinsic and simoultaneous features of the organism exhibiting psychological phenomena. After Malnyk, Thomas Polger tells us about the anxieties of reductionism saying that "both reductionism and antireductionism are acute responses to certain metaphysical worries" 51 related to metaphysics and its nature which according to him are misguided.
Gillett shows that understanding scientific composition does drive to a novel and plausible form of ontological reduction as Kim says. The first part ends with Lawrence Shapiro 's threaten about the disintegration of psychology. If, as some researchers of embodies cognition have stated, "psychological processes are embodied in the sense that they intrinsecally comprise bodily processes" then psychology could no longer "generalize over differently embodied organisms if these differences are constitutive of differences in psychology".
Part II. The second part of the book is about philosophical accounts of reductionism, mechanism and co-evolution. The philosopher underlines differences and similarities arguing for a reductionism which is more focused on dynamics rather than the structures. Ronald Endicott brings us to another kind of reductionism which begins with the 'General Reduction-Replacement' concept expressed by Kenneth Shchaffner's, then turns to the 'New Wave' approach developed by Paul and Patricia Churchland and the ends up in a proposal of expanding the picture in a way that "is more receptive to the role that otherwise and in other respects irreducible and irreplaceable theories play in a process of partial reduction, specifically, their token reduction".
The second part continues with William Bechtel who claims that the "reductions achieved through mechanistic explanations are in fact compatible with a robust sense of autonomy for psychology and other special sciences". Part III. The last part of the book is in my opinion the most exciting one since it is closely related to the latest results in Cognitive Science. As Andy Clark underlines in his paper "an emphasis on emergent phenomena is highly characteristic of much of the most recent, challenging, and exciting work in Cognitive Sience".
Following the line of the debate, Cory Wright wonders if psychological explanation is a fossil record while John Bickle argues for the possibility of a "molecular biology of consciusness" Last but not least, the interesting article by Huib Looren de Jong and Maurice Shouten deals with the difficult issue of reducing mental states and processes to neural states.
The Matter of the Mind is a well organized book which hosts contributions on the main subjects about philosophy of mind and it is definitely worthwhile reading. Martina Orlandi is an M. We feature over in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.
Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review. Reductionism is strongly related to a certain perspective on causality. In a reductionist framework, phenomena that can be explained completely in terms of other, more fundamental phenomena, are called epiphenomena.
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Often there is an implication that the epiphenomenon exerts no causal agency on the fundamental phenomena that explain it. Reductionism does not preclude emergent phenomenon but it does imply the ability to understand the emergent in terms of the phenomena from and process es by which it emerges.
Reductionism dates back to ancient Greek philosophy in which some philosophers, notably Democritus , viewed the world as a mechanistic, material machine. It was introduced later by Descartes in Part V of his Discourses Descartes argued the world was like a machine, its pieces like clockwork mechanisms, and that the machine could be understood by taking its pieces apart, studying them, and then putting them back together to see the larger picture. Descartes was a full mechanist , but only because he did not accept the conservation of direction of motions of small things in a machine, including an organic machine.
Newton's theory required such conservation for inorganic things at least. When such conservation was accepted for organisms as well as inorganic objects by the middle of the 20th century, no organic mechanism could easily, if at all, be a Cartesian mechanism. The distinction between the processes of theoretical and ontological reduction is important.
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 is the position that the best scientific strategy is to attempt to reduce explanations to the smallest possible entities.
Theoretical reductionism is the position that all scientific theories either can or should be reduced to a single super-theory through the process of theoretical reduction. Finally, ontological reductionism is the belief that reality is composed of a minimum number of kinds of entities or substances. This claim is usually metaphysical , and is most commonly a form of monism , in effect claiming that all objects, properties and events are reducible to a single substance.
A dualist who is an ontological reductionist would presumably believe that everything is reducible to one of two substances. Reductionist thinking and methods are the basis for many of the well-developed areas of modern science , including much of physics , chemistry and cell biology. Classical mechanics in particular is seen as a reductionist framework, and statistical mechanics 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 can be understood to imply 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 are based in physics , and microbiology is rooted in chemistry, similar statements become controversial when one considers larger-scale fields.
For example, claims that sociology is based on psychology , or that economics is based on sociology and psychology 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 can impact and inform economics. The limit of reductionism's usefulness stems from emergent properties of complex systems which are more common at certain levels of organization.
For example, certain aspects of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are rejected by some who claim that complex systems are inherently irreducible and that a holistic approach is needed to understand them. Daniel Dennett defends scientific reductionism, which he says is really little more than materialism , by making a distinction between this and what he calls " Greedy reductionism ": the idea that every explanation in every field of science should be reduced all the way down to particle physics or string theory.
Greedy reductionism, he says, deserves some of the criticism that has been 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 by being based on genetic biology, and on the systematic study of culture cf.
Dawkins's concept of memes. In his book The Blind Watchmaker , Richard Dawkins introduced the term "hierarchical reductionism"  to describe the view that complex systems can be described with a hierarchy of organizations, each of which can only be described in terms of objects one level down in the hierarchy.
He provides the example of a computer, which under hierarchical reductionism can be explained well in terms of the operation of hard drives, processors, and memory, but not on the level of AND or NOR gates , or on the even lower level of electrons in a semiconductor medium.
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Both Dennett and Steven Pinker 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 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 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 as a framework to study propensities in natural systems. In mathematics , 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 was one of the major advocates of such a view, and he was also responsible for the development of 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 as a foundation for certain aspects of mathematics. 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.
Ontological reductionism denies the idea of ontological emergence , 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. 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. The most known form of reductionist constructed language would be Esperanto Also See Basic English and the constructed language Toki Pona. A contrast to the reductionist approach is holism or emergentism. Holism recognizes the idea that things can have properties as a whole that are not explainable from the sum of their parts emergent properties.
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 , coined by Daniel Dennett , is used to criticize inappropriate use of reductionism. Other authors use different language when describing the same thing. The concept of downward causation poses an alternative to reductionism within philosophy.
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.
Phenomena such as emergence and work within the field of complex systems theory pose limits to reductionism.