Original Paper


, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 313-328

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

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

  • William BechtelAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Center for Chronobiology, and Interdisciplinary Programs in Science Studies and Cognitive Science, University of California Email author 


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.