Complexity Brain image

Complexity, emergence and reductionism: Toward a multilevel integrative analysis of the brain and cognition

Uncovering the biological bases of mental states and processes is a major problem for the neurosciences in the 21st century. Scientists and philosophers have long considered the issue of emergence in complex systems and its implications for scientific reductionism. Although technological breakthroughs have led to fundamental advances in neuroscience, our understanding of the concepts of complexity, emergence, and reductionism has not kept pace. Theoretical considerations of philosophers and pragmatic demands of science have often led to disparate streams of discourse within and between these disciplines, with outcomes ranging from the denial of mental phenomena (eliminative materialism) to the view that we can only know our subjective reality (immaterialism or idealism). Neither of these extremes is of much help to interdisciplinary scientists who seek understands of the brain and cognition through integrative multilevel approaches, where knowledge at one level of observation (e.g., beliefs) can be informed by, and reciprocally inform, other levels (e.g., neural mechanisms). We are at a rare juncture in science for a grand leap forward in our understanding of complexity and emergence as they apply to the remarkable human brain and mind. By constituting a core group of experienced scientists involved in multilevel research and philosophers of science, the present project is aimed at promoting an interdisciplinary dialog, with the goal of outlining strategies and tactics for multilevel research and the scientific understanding of complexity, emergence and reductionism.

Program Directors

Gary Berntson
Distinguished Professor
Department of Psychology
The Ohio State University

John T. Cacioppo
Tiffany & Margaret Blake
   Distinguished Service Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Chicago