Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena, which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical position that interprets a complex system as the sum of its parts.

A classical example is that the foundations of chemistry are based in physics, and molecular biology is based on chemistry.

Reductionism in psychiatry

In psychiatry, reductionism has been a dominant view traditionally with an emphasis on Germ theory of disease where psychiatric disorders can be broken down into brain abnormalities → signal system alterations → genetic changes affecting development and function. The RDoC framework proposed in Insel2015 - Brain disorders Precisely champions this idea with underlying systems at various levels of investigation.

But the Network theory of psychopathology refutes reductionism by saying we can’t really go further than to the symptoms, because they interact in complex ways and the answer to psychiatric illness is to be found in those interactions.


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