Reductionism in Science



Many advances have been made in the field of biology since the reductionist pattern of thought has become a crucial part of modern science. For example, progress began to be made with Schleiden and Schwann's establishment of the cell theory of biological tissue which was a direct result of analytical-reductionist thought, for the cell exits beneath the visible level on a 'lower', more fundamental level. Later, this theory was broken down to even lower levels with the discovery of the chromosome (Strassburger) as well as RNA and DNA, "the builing blocks of the gene itself" (I). Most recently, the concept of reductionism has lead to Watson and Crick's discovery of the double-helix.
(Click on picture to find out more about proteins)


The field of chemistry has also had its share of discoveries and concepts based on reductionism. These include Lavosier's establishment of elements underlying compounds, Dalton's chemical atomic theory ("all elements are made of small indivisible particles called atoms"), and Rutherford, Bohr and Mosley's model of the atom made of subatomic particles called neutrons, protons and electrons.

Reductionism in Art

Modern Art portrays the concepts of reductionism in processes such as abstraction and fragmentation.
matisse "Most significant painting...since Matisse's Joie de Vivre has been reductive, [for the artist's] analysis breaks the original complete scene into parts or separate dimensions of visual experience; reductionism is the concentration on or the preoccupation with the refinement of one dimension or aspect" (I).

Abstraction: Modernist art is distincive, for it marks the switch from a "preoccupation with portraying recognizable scenes or images" (I) to a period of abstract style. Works by Matisse, Leger, Kandinsky, and Mondrian portray this new abstraction. Above, for example, is Matisse's Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge which demonstrates an abstract view of the human face and figure. To the Right and Below: Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie (which our class saw at the Museum of Modern Art) reveals the modernist tradition of the portrayal of minimal information and removal of distinct objects. broadway

In general, abstraction involves "extreme reduction or preoccupation with more elementary levels of perception" (I).

seurat Fragmentation: This style of reductionism is found in many works from the periods of Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism when artists studied the theories of color for analytical use in their paintings. To see more on how reductionism relates to this area of modern art, click here.

Article: Jennifer King
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May 25, 1996.