Philosophia Scientiae 17 (2):89-113 (2013)

John Bickle
Mississippi State University
Kari Theurer
Trinity College
We introduce a new model of reduction inspired by Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model [Kemeny & Oppenheim 1956] and argue that this model is operative in a “ruthlessly reductive” part of current neuroscience. Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model was quickly rejected in mid-20th-century philosophy of science and replaced by models developed by Ernest Nagel and Kenneth Schaffner [Nagel 1961], [Schaffner 1967]. We think that Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model was correctly rejected, given what a “theory of reduction” was supposed to account for at that time. But their guiding insights about what constitutes scientific reduction—increases in explanatory scope and systematization—reflect actual practices of current reductionistic neuroscience. The key rehabilitative step to make their insights fit current scientific details is to restate them using resources from recent work on causal-mechanistic explanation. We begin with a scientific case study, drawn from the relatively new field of “molecular and cellular cognition”. It provides an explanation of the well-known Ebbinghaus spacing effect on learning and memory in terms of interactions between a transcriptional enhancer protein and its inhibiting phosphatase in neurons recruited into the memory trace. Next we briefly describe some popular models of reduction from mid-20th-century philosophy of science. We point out how these models fail to illuminate key features of our scientific case study. Finally we present our causal-mechanistically updated Kemeny and Oppenheim-inspired model and argue that it nicely accounts for the details of our scientific case study. We close with a remark that will hopefully undercut the surprise many may feel to learn that a long-rejected philosophical account of reduction actually is at work in one of the most prominent reductionistic endeavors in current science.
Keywords reduction  reductionism  mechanism  explanation  memory  scope
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DOI 10.4000/philosophiascientiae.856
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Reduction as an a Posteriori Relation.Joshua Rosaler - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70 (1):269-299.
Reduction Redux.Lawrence Shapiro - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 68:10-19.
Redefining Physicalism.Guy Dove - 2018 - Topoi 37 (3):513-522.

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