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Reductionism vs Holism

Reductionism vs Holism encapsulates contrasting worldviews applicable to many academic disciplines.  “Holistic” medicine may be the best known application but the term applies to the sciences in general, nonlinear mathematics and philosophy.

Rainfall to Groundwater is most concerned with their application to ecohydrology, but recognizes inherent connections with mathematics and philosophy.

Essentially, reductionism focuses on individual components of a structure that functions  predictably, like a machine, and thus is often associated with a mechanistic worldview.  

While the Google definition of reductionism includes the tag “derogatory” (after “noun”), this worldview has been foundational in the history of science, where an alternate, less derogatory term, “analytical” is more commonly applied.

Holism recognizes the synergy inherent to especially living (including human) systems, wherein the whole is observably greater than the sum of its parts.  

Attributes emerge from the whole.  

Emergent properties.

Holism is essential to systems theory, increasingly applied to many disciplines since the late 20th century, though the forthcoming Rainfall to Groundwater: History of the Science documents the works of earlier practitioners.  

Alternate terms include “systemic” and “integrative”.

Holistic landscape ecology should be based on a transdisciplinary systems view of the world as an autopoietic, self-organizing and self-regulating, irreducible Gestalt System.  

 (Naveh 2000)

The thing is, analytical approaches can be, and are, profitably nested within a larger systemic perspective, whereas the reverse seems unlikely.  

So these two approaches need not be mutually exclusive.


Further Reading:

Holling, C. S. 1998. Two cultures of ecology. Conservation Ecology 2:4.

Saner, M. A. 1999. Two cultures: Not unique to ecology. Conservation Ecology 3:r2.

Naveh, Z. 2000. What is holistic landscape ecology? A conceptual introduction. Landscape and Urban Planning 50:7-26.