, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 313-328,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 03 Sep 2010

The Downs and Ups of Mechanistic Research: Circadian Rhythm Research as an Exemplar


In the context of mechanistic explanation, reductionistic research pursues a decomposition of complex systems into their component parts and operations. Using research on the mechanisms responsible for circadian rhythms, I consider both the gains that have been made by discovering genes and proteins that figure in these intracellular oscillators and also highlight the increasingly recognized need to understand higher-level integration, both between cells in the central oscillator and between the central and peripheral oscillators. This history illustrates a common need to complement reductionistic inquiry with investigations at higher-levels. Unlike most other accounts of reduction, the mechanistic framework accommodates this complementary relationship between reductionistic and systems approaches.