I was reminded again this other day that the varieties of ways that things can be “together” easily exceed the kinds of ways that even smart people will often notice or imagine are possible. The issue I have in mind here is not a matter of relationship advice but rather of logic (although more than a few relationships would profit from even a smattering of basic reasoning.) In this instance, some things can be analyzed into genuine parts that can be separated in fact, while other things can only be analyzed into abstract “parts,” which are not ever separable in reality; there is yet a third type that can only be taken as a whole, even in analysis, without doing violence to the nature and meaning of the thing in question. Failure to recognize what type of thing or idea one is dealing with can lead one into fundamental errors which, while often terribly clever are, for all of that, still just flat wrong. My interest here will be with the first two of the above three.
Various common phrases are easily recognizable in this context, most especially the old saw about, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is especially true of organic unities. For while we’ve achieved a level of surgical finesse that can, under extremely delicate and rigorously right sets of circumstances, permit us to, say, remove an organ from a living being and replace it with another, this generally cannot occur without considerable trauma, frequent enough failures, and extraordinary skill to reassemble the whole that has been torn apart by the procedure. Such holistic entities are what the Greeks referred to as a-tomos, a word that roughly translates as “uncut.” It is from this Greek root that we get our term “atom,” which originally meant an undivided unity. Continue reading