Emergence and Reductionism

Reductionism is a philosophy that provides some interesting thought exercises. When applied to science, the basic theory is that all science can be revealed as some subset of some other part of science, therefore reducing the subset into the other discipline. In short, systems are no more than the sum of their parts. Followed to its logical conclusion, we would eventually discover that there is, in fact, only a single branch of science that could explain everything.

By way of a small example (that doesn’t work fully), we can take Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Kepler explained how planets move. A few years later, Newton came up with his laws of dynamics which explain how everything moves. Newton’s laws explained how the planets moved as well as everything else, therefore Kepler’s work was “reduced” to become part of the general understanding of how things move.

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Why complicated science is not good science

As part of my undergrad studies we need to gain an understanding of what science is, what it is not, and – if it is science – how to determine if it is good science. Not all scientific theories are created equal and there are ways to evaluate how good a theory is. Some of the ways involve hard criteria such as leveraging probability and statistical analysis, and some are softer. It’s the softer ones that interest me today.

In biological science, the mother of all theories is Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species through natural selection (usually referred to as ‘evolution’). I’m going to use this theory as a framework to provide examples of what makes a good theory. The theory of evolution through natural selection is a good theory, and here’s why. Continue reading “Why complicated science is not good science”