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Shock. 2001 Oct;16(4):252-8.

Complexity and non-linearity in shock research: reductionism or synthesis?

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Department of Surgery, University of Cologne, Germany.


The various analytical techniques used to explain the many supposed mediators of sepsis and septic shock have outpaced the integrative approaches that simplify this complexity for the physiologist and the clinician. In this article we discuss the pros and cons of reductionism and its limitations in the field of shock research and emphasize the need for synthesis research. Taking account of the historical development of natural science, we will discuss the question of how far a reductionist approach can help to explain biological phenomena and conclude that reductionism, although essential to the scientific process, reduces the evidence absurdity if exaggerated. The part is never the whole, and it is impossible to understand the whole through limited dissections of its parts. The understanding of complex systems requires approaches other than those of explanatory reductionism. We emphasize a different approach-systems thinking. Systems scientists are not interested in the underlying components; they describe and characterize complex relations. Other disciplines that use systems thinking should be studied. However, to follow the concept of synthesis, reductionists must describe the components of the system. Reductionism and synthesis are therefore the two sides of a coin. Professional synthesis research is a serious challenge in shock research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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