Reductionism and Holism in the History of Aging and Longevity Research: Does the Whole Have Parts? Part 1. The Building of Reductionism

Stambler Ilia Stambler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Abstract: The research of aging, rejuvenation and life extension has been notoriously characterized by a multitude of often contradictory approaches, both in terms of theoretical concepts as well as possible practical interventions. This work will explore a general taxonomy of these approaches that seems to be ubiquitous in the history of aging and longevity research. The taxonomy will juxtapose between reductionist/therapeutic and holistic/hygienic approaches to potential rejuvenating and life-extending interventions. Both approaches sought to achieve biological equilibrium and constancy of internal environment, yet emphasized diverging means and diverging perceptions of what constitutes equilibrium and constancy. The reductionist approach saw the human body as a machine in need of repair and internal adjustment and equilibration, seeking to achieve material homeostasis by eliminating damaging agents and introducing biological replacements, in other words, working by subtraction and addition toward balance. The holistic approach, in contrast, focused on the equilibration of the organism as a unit within the environment, strongly emphasizing the direct sustaining and revitalizing power of the mind and hygienic regulation of behavior. In the holistic approach, internal equilibrium was sought not so much through calibrating intrusions, but through resistance to intrusions. The apparent relative weight of each approach in academic and public discourse will be shown to change with time, in several western countries, with a special focus on France, Austria and Germany, in the first half of the 20th century. This work (the first part in a sequence of two) will demonstrate the initial fascination with reductionist rejuvenation and life extension attempts, in this time and area, that were encouraging, yet eventually came short of the original promise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-8
Number of pages5
JournalAdvances in Gerontology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2023. ISSN 2079-0570, Advances in Gerontology, 2023, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 4–8. Pleiades Publishing, Ltd., 2023.


  • aging
  • history of gerontology
  • holism
  • life extension
  • longevity
  • reductionism
  • rejuvenation
  • therapeutic activism
  • traditionalism


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