1580s, “resolution of anything complex into simple elements” (opposite of synthesis), from Medieval Latin analysis (15c.), from Greek analysis “solution of a problem by analysis,” literally “a breaking up, a loosening, releasing,” noun of action from analyein “unloose, release, set free; to loose a ship from its moorings,” in Aristotle, “to analyze,” from ana “up, back, throughout” (see ana-) + lysis “a loosening,” from lyein “to unfasten” (from PIE root *leu- “to loosen, divide, cut apart”).
-(Online Etymology Dictionary)
But is there a limit to how far this “breaking up” and “cutting apart” is useful in the very act of ‘analysis’ (as it’s commonly understood)? It’s easy to have a kind of metaphysical faith in the notion that the parts themselves can be understood as the interactions of smaller parts still. However, we should remember that this is a premise that is seldom argued for, or given its necessary support. Certain things may just be irreducibly complex, and in breaking them down we lose sight of the very thing we hoped to understand. We may, through our ana-lysis, lose the ship in the harbor.
Take, for example, the form of a flower that answers to the form of an insect that pollinates it. Both of these organisms are no doubt replete with parts, and this evolutionary relation suggests ‘selfish genes’, ghoulishly disembodied stigmae, petals, pigments and proboscises, and the division of time into chapters and acts- “once upon a time there was a flower who got pollinated a little bit more…” But, in a sense, the second we break this insect here on this flower into parts, we lose what was happening. We just have a dead bug and some petals. The relation of the insect and the plant is one that just sits there, stupidly, unable to be ‘dissected’ from its original, fully embodied position that even a child can apprehend. So, what is this knowledge of ‘mutual evolution’ that doesn’t get in underneath what is just self-presently there in the phenomenon it hopes to explain? A bestowal of sense? Sure. But we shouldn’t forget that this ‘mere’ bestowal of sense, this ‘metaphorical analogy’ of fittedness, is the causal force behind this form of this bug and this form of this plant, their parts (and the parts of those parts) being arranged such before our instruments of analysis. The relation can’t precede the form, and the form is senseless without the relation. Darwin didn’t dig into the depths and slice nature into a thousand atoms, others had done that before him. He just saw what was right there, right where it was.
In this issue our writers explore these phenomena who laugh, like a boat drifting on its own, at the scalpels of the analytical instinct. Not auto-catalytic processes (as our evolutionary example suggests) but phenomena which only hold within complex arrangements. What emerges is that there is a kind of ‘infinite leap’ between the parts and the constituted whole, an impossible ontological shift. A society is necessarily composed of individuals, but n individuals does not necessarily compose a society. A life is composed of choices, but choices don’t compose a life. A perception is composed of forms, but forms don’t compose a perception. It might seem that these are just syllogistic glitches — after all, not all relations are reversible. But, there, that’s the ‘collective conclusion’ (if one would risk ‘concluding’ a collective thought — do conversations ever really end?) of this issue. Not all relations are reversible. But what’s up with that?