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Part vs Whole

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

Knowledge as we commonly understand it is, to a large extent, a process of differentiation. This is a dog and this one a cat. This is Mars, not the Moon, not the Milky Way. A proton is different from an electron. The land, the sky and the ocean. One thing is love, another is hate. This is Britain, beyond Mexico and even further Chile. That's yours, this one is mine. Knowledge is seeing the limits in the world. And the more categories, the more detailed the description, the more we know.

The past is also segmented. We have yesterday, last month, the 80s, the nineteenth century. The day you were born, summers on the beach; the fall of the Roman empire and Maradona's goal. We have a time mapping that divides the continuum into digestible events or periods. You ask me the age of the stars and I confidently say millions and millions of years.

The great time and space are broken into small portions, separating the pieces of a colossal puzzle to allow us to play with them. Didn't someone say: divide and conquer? The world (the universe!) at your fingertips.

On the other hand, in this euphoria to divide everything, we easily forget that one of the original motives was to understand how the pieces work in harmony, as a whole, and not simply to take advantage of those small bits. By focusing on the fragments and describing them down to the smallest detail, we will not necessarily be able to capture the whole. In this way we are faced today with the urgency of understanding how systems work: it is not only fossil fuel pollution or the destruction of the Amazon, it is how the entire planet's climate is altered; it is not just how a drug affects a pair of cells, it is how neurons interact to shape brain function and behavior; she is not just an isolated person, it is how she can spark an entire revolution. In different areas we can see how this desire to understand integrated systems is changing what we understand by knowledge. It is not simply how we use, and in extreme cases exploit, but also how we harmonize. How we join the symphony.

Perhaps we were trying to ignore the fact that we also play a role, that we are a part like all the others. Maybe we wanted to silence that voice reminding us the attempt to conquer everything could leave us empty. But if we see ourselves honestly, we realise, neither we nor anyone is an orphan piece.


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