On reductionism and emergence in geomorphology

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Much geomorphological enquiry has been devoted to the understanding of landscapes via the construction of models based on the relationships between process and form. This paper examines the philosophical, theoretical and practical problems involved in bridging the gap between studies of geomorphological processes and explanations of landscape development. It argues that process geomorphology is essentially reductionist and discusses the practical and logical limitations of such an approach to science. It suggests that landscapes are emergent phenomena and, by drawing from the philosophical and practical lessons derived from the physics of non-linear systems, demonstrates that they are not amenable to reductionist explanations.

Keywords: emergence; landscape; physics; process; reductionist

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-5661.00025

Affiliations: Centre for Quaternary Science, Coventry University

Publication date: September 1, 2001

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