The New Antireductionism: Its Components and Its Significance

Studia Philosophica Wratislaviensia 18 (2):7-37 (2023)
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Abstract

Beginning in the 1970s and culminating in the first two decades of the 21st century, there has been a marked shift in the sciences from a predominantly reductionist and mechanistic approach to a broader and more holistic viewpoint. It goes without saying that such a shift in point of view will have significant implications, not only for the sciences but for our concepts of nature and of human beings. The present essay is an attempt to assess the significance of this change in the focus of the sciences and to describe the nature of its components. Originally, it had a far more limited scope, that of comparing two of the parts of the new nonreductionist stance: brain plasticity and biological systems theory. Unfortunately, my understanding of one of these factors (systems theory) turned out to be incorrect, while the section on brain plasticity was incomplete. The result of this dual realization is an essay of far greater scope, taking in both new developments in the sciences far beyond that of plasticity, and reassessing the content and impact of systems theory, which is greater than I had thought. I will begin with a study of systems theory, dealing first with the unexpected mathematics which made its present status possible. Then I will deal with its history, which reaches back over a century. One of the confusions into which we are liable to fall is to fail to distinguish the old systems theory from the new. This is even more likely because the two versions of the theory have many features in common.

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