Editor's comment

This short article by a well known scientist has had great influence in reorienting the thinking of scientific research and philosophical thought.



Anderson, P.W., “More Is Different” in Science, 4 Aug. 1972 Vol. 177 No. 4047 [abridged– 375 words]— quantitative differences become qualitative ones

The reductionist hypothesis may still be a topic for controversy among philosophers, but among the great majority of active scientists I think it is accepted without question. The workings of our minds and bodies, and of all the animate or inanimate matter of which we have any detailed knowledge, are assumed to be controlled by the same set of fundamental laws, which except under certain extreme conditions we feel we know pretty well.

It seems inevitable to go on uncritically to what appears at first sight to be an obvious corollary of reductionism: that if everything obeys the same fundamental laws, then the only scientists who are studying anything really fundamental are those who are working on those laws. In practice, that amounts to some astrophysicists, some elementary particle physicists, some logicians and other mathematicians, and few others…

The main fallacy [of] the reductionist hypothesis [is that it] does not by any means imply a “constructionist” one: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society.

The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. The behavior of large and complex aggregates of elementary particles, it turns out, is not to be understood in terms of a simple extrapolation of the properties of a few particles. Instead, at each level of complexity entirely new properties appear, and the understanding of the new behaviors requires research which I think is as fundamental in its nature as any other…[and will show] how the whole becomes not only more than the sum of but very different from the sum of the parts…

With increasing complication… we expect to encounter fascinating and very fundamental questions in fitting together less complicated pieces into a more complicated system and understanding the basically new types of behavior that can result… Quantitative differences become qualitative ones.