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Jon Cleland Host


Thanks, Michael! 


A lot of the stuff that Ursula and I thought was unhelpful had to do with making claims that go beyond the evidence, and with the use of reductionism as a reason to reject science.  Regarding reductionism, it’s important to be aware of the difference between methodological reductionism and ontological (or philosophical) reductionism.


Methodological reductionism (MR) is simply the use of a reductionist approach as a first line of investigating a problem. In other words, to say “*if* this thing were the sum of its parts, *how* could I test what those parts are and how they work?”   Most science uses methodological reductionism because it is helpful in finding experiments to better understand the subject being studied.  We all use it every day, or else we would not be able to function in our daily lives.  We all agree that it is useful, and has helped give the astounding success of science.


Philosophical reductionism  (PR) is the belief that things really are simply the sum of their parts.  That’s what Duane, and myself, and many others, disagree with.  We are on the same page there – we all agree that it is not valid to claim that everything is simply the sum of it’s smallest parts (atoms, quarks, etc.).


Where I’ve perceived a mismatch is when someone cites the fact that science uses methodological reductionism as proof that scientists are actually philosophical reductionists, and uses that to either reject science or to oppose science.  For instance, such an argument could go MR -> PR -> “scientists are unfairly biased against x idea” -> “x idea is actually true” .


If one is to object to reductionism, or accuse this or that person of being a reductionist, it could go a long way toward having a fruitful discussion to be clear about whether that “reductionism” is MR or PR.  


Equinox (Jon Cleland Host)