Things Lost By Analysis

According to the thinking of Francis Bacon and those like him (which include a great many of those who consider themselves to be modern or even post-modern philosophers), in order to be understood, something must be analyzed, broken up into its constituent parts, and then subjected to rigorous testing that seeks quantifiable information about it. It is not hard to think of how this sort of approach does violence to those things whose vitally important qualities are in fact the fact that they are wholes and not merely the sum of their parts. This is most obviously evident when we look at living things, because the process of analysis requires their destruction as living things so that we might break them apart to understand them, the way that bodies are slit open during vivisection so that people might look at the health of their component parts after the person is already dead.

Yet it is also true that it is not only living things that are destroyed by analysis, only that the destruction to the wholeness of the living being is most obvious, because something cannot remain alive after the process of analysis has taken place. Indeed, the death of the life is necessary for the living being to be subject to analysis in the first place, much less for it to be completed, but even begun. When we think of the wholeness of what we create and what we enjoy, even that wholeness is destroyed by analysis. We can break a house apart to analyze different parts of the house, including such qualities as the distance to exits, the path that one takes to various rooms, and so on, but if we subject it to analysis thinking that we can only know about a house that way, we will forget those aspects that make it a beloved home, because we will only be looking at parts of it, and those parts simply cannot combine into a whole that is enjoyed any more than the parts of a doll can be analyzed apart from their wholeness as a doll.

It must be admitted that not everyone ignores the importance of the whole that is often lost when we look only at the parts. In criticizing trends that are popular or even dominant within a culture, we need not exaggerate the condition of thinking and understanding, for there are at least some people who recognize that not all that can be understood is to be understood in a reductionistic fashion. Yet it is quite true that there are a great many people who think that things can only be known if they are known quantitatively, and that which cannot be analyzed and counted and turned into data is not valid knowledge at all. Yet most of what we value from the world around is not information, certainly not data, but rather is enjoyment. Enjoyment is not something that we prove to ourselves by collecting data, but rather something that comes from the way that our whole beings interact with wholeness around us, and it cannot often be understood except to recognize when we like being in certain places or around certain places.

We ought to appreciate the insights we can gain from data and analysis, from the insights that come from the knowledge of things that are broken up and recombined in novel ways, or at least visualized in ways that might not be immediately obvious to us. An appreciation for wholeness need not lead to a rejection of the enjoyment of analysis, yet we must place things in their proper perspective. The biggest and most essential questions of our lives are those about which we can analyze the least and which depend the most on factors that are difficult to recognize, much less to understand. There is much that can be understood from parts, and this is a good thing to know and to recognize, but we cannot neglect that which cannot be known in such a complete fashion, because we are beings made up of that which is easy to grasp and define and segment, and also much that is far harder to grasp. The elusive is as much what makes us who we are as those things which can be counted and measured, and someone who only knew our measurements would still miss a lot about us as human beings, try as one might.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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