Reductionism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductionism ) and Quantum Mechanics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mechanics ) do not seem to be compatible. Is this true? If so, which one is better at describing reality?

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  • This question is unclear. You haven't stated in what respect you think quantum mechanics is incompatible with reductionism. – alanf Sep 11 '16 at 0:05
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    In general, in reductionism all items can be reduced to smaller and simpler components. In quantum mechanics there are limits to how far things can be reduced. – D. Wade Sep 11 '16 at 0:14
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    "Smaller and simpler" is in the eye of the beholder. One can take QM as fundamental, then there is no need to reduce it to anything, only to reduce everything else to it. This wouldn't satisfy Einstein, who wanted a deterministic fundamental theory, "God doesn't play dice". As a matter of fact, that is doable too, but not in a manner Einstein would have liked for other reasons (locality of interactions has to be violated). The point is, unless one piles on additional requirements they are perfectly compatible. – Conifold Sep 11 '16 at 0:20
  • More specific please. Do you mean quantisation? – alanf Sep 11 '16 at 0:56

Quantum mechanics is a supposed to be a fundamental theory, the question isn't whether it is compatible with reductionism, but whether other theories can be reduced to QM or not.

Moreover, Quantum Mechanic's success is usually ascribed to the fact that other theories have been successfully reduced to QM. The text book example of successful scientific reductionism is usually the reduction of chemistry to QM.

You say in the comments:

In general, in reductionism all items can be reduced to smaller and simpler components. In quantum mechanics there are limits to how far things can be reduced.

Two thoughts:

  • Reduction happens between theories, not between objects, chemistry is reduced to QM, thermodynamics is reduced to statistical mechanics, biology is reduced to biochemistry, etc....often this leads to reductions from higher levels of description to lower levels of description, and from larger objects to smaller objects. But the key question of reductionism is the reduction of scientific theories, for example celestial mechanics reduces to Newton's law of motion. Supposedly if reductionism succeeds, than all theories will be reduced to one fundamental theory of physics, which will have the additional feature of explaining the behavior of all the objects of the universe in terms of their constituent particles (or superstrings).
  • If in QM "there are limits to how far things can be reduced" this actually serves as an arguent in favor of reductionism (sort of) because it supports the notion that the objects of QM a irreducible and everything else reduces to the fundamental particles of QM.

You are using the wrong interpretation of Reductionism. The correct one to use here, is that a given theory gets "absorbed" into a new theory, not that a given theory has a particular limit(limits). Think of Reductionism as a process and a theory as an object. So what you are asking is, "is a process compatible with an object"? You would need to define "compatible".

Lets say you have a machine that "squishes" (the process), and the object is oranges. Then you ask, is the process this machine provides compatible with the oranges, the answer would be yes, if you define "compatible", as capable of producing orange juice.

Now lets say you define the process as being able to divide an object in half, and the object is matter. Then we define "compatible" as being able to apply the process indefinitely to a given matter sample? Then the answer would be no, because there is a limit as to how small an object can be. But, this process would be compatible, until the last division.

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