Reductionism in Biology: Definition & Examples

Reductionism in Biology: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:00 What Is Reductionism?
  • 0:35 Reductionism Approach
  • 1:27 Examples of…
  • 2:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Meredith Mikell
Understanding reductionism can help you better understand how things work in biology. This lesson defines reductionism, gives some examples of its uses, and finishes with a brief quiz.

What Is Reductionism?

It can be said that you have to examine the small parts that make up a whole in order to fully understand the whole. Can knowing the fine details of each puzzle piece help you better understand the picture of the completed puzzle? The concept of reductionism states that understanding the more simple parts of a system is crucial to understanding the system itself. In biology, you can think of this as a bottom-up approach, starting with the simplest level and working upward in complexity, wherein small parts make up each new level of the whole.

Reductionism Approach

In some academic arenas, it has been suggested that science can be best understood by starting at the most reduced level of describing the natural world and working upward in complexity. This would mean physics, chemistry, biology, in order. The functioning of biological systems is, at its core, chemistry, and chemical reactions are, at their core, principles of physics. While this may or may not be an effective means of learning science, it is one way that reductionism is applied in understanding biology.

Though the reductionism approach was very useful in earlier days of understanding molecular biology, it is now widely regarded as an incomplete approach, not taking into account the complexity of how higher-order systems actually work. This is where semantics and philosophy often come into play.

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