Reductionist versus Holistic Approaches

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Cadell Last:

"In the reductionist approach phenomena are separated and isolated into their component parts in order to understand the mechanisms unique to that level of reality. In contrast, in the holistic approach phenomena are connected and linked into networks or groups in order to understand the qualitative properties that emerge at higher level orders of reality. From the reductionist approach higher level phenomena are reducible to lower level phenomena, and from the holistic approach higher level phenomena can only be understood on the terms of their own emergent properties."



Brendam Graham Dempsey:

"Wholes are made not only of parts, but of the relations of those parts. How one part works in concert with another part, and that one with another, and all of them together—those are dynamics that matter as much as the stuff of the parts themselves.

Wholes aren’t just things—they’re also processes.

Unfortunately, these inter-related dynamics are precisely what get lost when you break apart a whole and just consider its parts in isolation. Just as you’d destroy the life of an organism if you dissect it, so do you destroy some of the most vital aspects of genuinely novel wholes when you cut them up. Separation into parts destroys the connections, and the connections are what make it what it is.

In this way, the full truth of things lies, it turns out, in precisely what the early scientists did their best to systematically remove: relationality, interconnectivity—that is, complexity.

This is why it would take a science of complexity to fill in the gaps left by the reductionistic paradigm and fix the errors it introduced, even as that paradigm was itself an advance over the confused holism of traditional religion. But this would take some time to… well, emerge.

Eventually, though, as modern science progressed, and certain phenomena remained doggedly immune to reductionistic analysis (particularly life and mind), some influential thinkers began to take notice and theorize along the relational lines expressed above. They recognized that there was something that a consideration of parts alone failed to provide, and that reductionism had been missing a bigger picture."


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