Archive for June 11th, 2015

June 11, 2015

Greedy Reductionism


Greedy reductionism [ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uhm] is a term coined by cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,’ to refer to a kind of erroneous reductionism. Whereas ‘good’ reductionism means explaining a thing in terms of what it reduces to (for example, its parts and their interactions), greedy reductionism occurs when ‘in their eagerness for a bargain, in their zeal to explain too much too fast, scientists and philosophers … underestimate the complexities, trying to skip whole layers or levels of theory in their rush to fasten everything securely and neatly to the foundation.’

Using the terminology of ‘cranes’ (legitimate, mechanistic explanations) and ‘skyhooks’ (essentially, fake—e.g. supernaturalistic—explanations), Dennett states: ‘Good reductionists suppose that all Design can be explained without skyhooks; greedy reductionists suppose it can all be explained without cranes.’

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