Molecular reduction: reality or fiction?

Synthese 172 (3):437-450 (2010)


Neurophysiological research suggests our mental life is related to the cellular processes of particular nerves. In the spirit of Occam’s razor, some authors take these connections as reductions of psychological terms and kinds to molecular- biological mechanisms and patterns. Bickle’s ‘intervene cellularly/molecularly and track behaviourally’ reduction is one example of this. Here the mental is being reduced to the physical in two steps. The first is, through genetically altered mammals, to causally alter activity of particular nerve cells, i.e. neurons, at the molecular level and then, under controlled experimental conditions, to use generally-accepted rules of behaviour within psychology to monitor the results of these manipulations. In this article, we argue that Bickle’s case example for molecular reduction, i.e. the reduction of long-term memory to its cellular-molecular mechanisms, cannot support his claims, because it turns out that his chosen molecular pathway is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for the memory consolidation switch, and thus, instead of rejecting the multiple realization argument, Bickle’s argument actually speaks in favour of it. Therefore the idea of reductive connections between our mental life and the activity of particular nerves is, at present, still more fiction than reality.

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