I’m reposting this short note from Taliesan here. I was thrilled to see someone write a coherent thought about epistemology. It’s a difficult topic to say something useful about.
There is an ancient distinction between the synthetic and analytic operations of the intellect. The synthetic operation builds parts into wholes, the analytic operation breaks wholes into parts. The distinction seems to have lost its usefulness among sophisticated people, as thought becomes a mess of mush. But reductionisms flourish from this amnesia, as minds forget that one mind cannot do both operations at the same time on the same object.
So synthetic assertions always melt away under analytic scrutiny. This is normal; it says nothing about the synthetic assertion itself. You can’t see wholes with a parts-instrument; likewise, you can’t see parts with a wholes-instrument. That wholes are more than the sum of parts is not a confirmable proposition, because you can’t validate decibel measurements with a spectroscope.
You get that? It’s normal for “big picture” ideas to fall apart under an analysis of the pieces. But that analysis may in fact be illegitimate because of this divide in how our minds work. A large idea can still be true, even if some of the pieces are found faulty. Likewise, a bunch of true pieces cannot necessarily be assembled together into a working big idea. To the logician shaking his head right about now – the only thing I can say to you is that even now, you’ve already reduced things down too far and thrown out important information. We are sloppy with this all the time.