The quandary of reductionism: relevance to Alzheimer disease research

J Alzheimers Dis. 2002 Dec;4(6):531-7. doi: 10.3233/jad-2002-4610.


Modern science has embraced reductionism, seeking ever-smaller parts to explain the whole. Although reductionistic approaches are successful in very simple biological modelling, they are not necessarily appropriate for systems of increasing complexity. Drawing on famous historical examples of how non-reductionist thinking has benefited mankind, and of how reductionism has sometimes led to erroneous conclusions, we call attention to the need to move away from purely linear reasoning in order to succeed in addressing many of the problems we face with the predicted demographic increase in seniors, and the increase in numbers of those afflicted with Alzheimer disease. The time has come to reconsider and seriously question our most basic assumptions and beliefs surrounding what we believe Alzheimer disease to be, without which we run the risk of missed opportunities and failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Research
  • Risk Factors