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Reduction and Emergence in the Sciences

Through the reduction of one theory or discipline to another, the results of the reduced theory or discipline can be obtained from the reducing one. In contrast, a theory that describes emergent phenomena is ostensibly autonomous: no other theory can be understood as providing a reducing basis. Questions of emergence and reduction determine how much one discipline can borrow from another, and, to a certain extent, what structures scientific theories in various disciplines can have. Successful reductions increase the epistemological importance of the reducing theories, and arguably their claim to research funding as well. If it is shown that a phenomenon is emergent, on the other hand, the discipline concerned with the emergent phenomenon is unlikely to be replaced by research in other fields, and thus requires its own funding. Furthermore, stronger relationships between the disciplines make it difficult to cast doubt on a small number of selected theories without affecting the rest of the sciences. This is important, for example, in the politically motivated, selective doubt of the theory of evolution, climate research, or genetic technology.

The central problem of the discussion about emergence and reduction is that neither term, and particularly not emergence, has been clearly defined. Within the CAS research focus, therefore, the relationships between scientific theories will be analyzed without predetermined definitions of reduction and emergence. These relationships will then suggest definitions that are applicable in the sciences. Unfortunately, the interrelationships of the various scientific disciplines, and even the relationships of individual theories within these disciplines, are extremely complex. For this reason, the CAS research focus will place each year particular emphasis on a selected branch of science alongside general questions concerning reduction and emergence. In the first year, the focus will be on physics, followed by economics and the social sciences, and later by cognitive psychology and neurosciences. This focus on inter-theory relationships will allow for direct results concerning the fundamentals of the respective sciences, independent of the debate on reduction. This in turn will lead to results relevant to the reduction debate in general and in the respective scientific disciplines in particular.


  • Prof. Dr. Stephan Hartmann
    (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftstheorie und Religionswissenschaft, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP), Fakultät für Philosophie, LMU)

Cooperating Researchers

  • Prof. Dr. Erwin Frey
    (Lehrstuhl für Statistische und Biologische Physik, Fakultät für Physik, LMU)
  • Prof. Dr. Benedikt Grothe
    (Lehrstuhl für Neurobiologie, Fakultät für Biologie, LMU)
  • Prof. Dr. Dieter Lüst
    (Lehrstuhl für Mathematische Physik, Fakultät für Physik, LMU und Direktor am MPI für Physik in München)
  • Prof. Dr. Klaus Schmidt
    (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftstheorie, Volkswirtschaftliche Fakultät, LMU)
  • Prof. Dr. Paul Thurner
    (Lehrstuhl für Empirische Politikforschung und Policy Analysis, Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politische Wissenschaft, LMU)

Working Group

  • Dr. Catherine Herfeld
    (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftstheorie, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP), Fakultät für Philosophie, LMU)
  • Dr. Sebastian Lutz
    (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftstheorie, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP), Fakultät für Philosophie, LMU)
  • Dr. Karim Thébault
    (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftstheorie, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP), Fakultät für Philosophie, LMU)

Visiting Fellows



CAS<sup>Video</sup> – LogoPlease find video recordings of this Research Focus here: CASVideo – Reduction and Emergence.