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Analysis :: 1 of 2

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I have remarked in other writing that the great(est) shock of twentieth century science is that complex systems cannot be properly understood by analysis.


You heard me right. As counter-intuitive and awkward as it might seem. The very thing that an analyst typically seeks to understand is the relationships between the parts of a system. But by disassembling a system into parts - qua by doing analysis to gain an understanding of the system - you destroy the relationships between those parts, and hence the very thing you're trying to understand.

But analysis is fundamental!

Yes, it is. Our brains are biologically hardwired for analysis. They've been programmed by millions of years of evolution to be supremely good at categorisation and pattern-matching. It's a human given, a fundamental part of our pyschology, and almost impossible to imagine doing without.

But that doesn't change the truth of my statement, that complex systems cannot be properly understood by analysis, when the understanding being sought necessarily requires an appreciation of relationship, of connection, of "the pattern which binds".


Yes. Not least because "parts" are an artifice of analysis in the first place. Slice something up differently, and it has different parts. There are no "right" parts, or "primitives". Or rather, there are many kinds of "right" part; many species of "primitive" with which to populate an ontology.

Remember, parts are not fundamental.

On the contrary, relationships are fundamental.

This is precisely the issue that has (is) causing headaches for particle physicists exploring the nature of reality.

What is analysis for, then?
Analysis should be used for slicing things apart; for decomposition; for facilitating the enumeration and inspection of simpler components, in turn making categorisation and taxonomy easier and better. But analysis should not be mistaken for "greater understanding" or even "understanding" in a deep qualitative sense. Remember: grasping relationships between parts (at multiple levels) is central to understanding in complex systems, and analysis destroys those precious, binding relationships.

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