If anything restores confidence that truth is within our grasp, it is that we can divide and conquer. Although “real” is sometimes equated with “fundamental,” each of the multiple levels of description in science has an equal claim to be considered real. Therefore, even if things vanish at the roots of nature, we are perfectly entitled to think of things in daily life. Even if quantum mechanics is mystifying, we can build a solid understanding of the world on it.

Source: Scientific American Sep.2020

I understand "divide" here as "cut into small parts (and then solve them one by one/or "conquer them all together")." Am I on the right track?

  • In the exact context, I think it might be a sort of pun. From some perspectives, when theoretical physicists get right down to the smallest level of physical reality, it seems there's actually nothing there at all (nothing of substance, just probabilities). Thus, the "entities" that physicists think they're studying seem to "vanish" when examined closely (if there's nothing there to understand, does that mean we've conquered / solved the mystery of existence? :) Jul 1 at 12:10

The phrase divide and conquer is a common English idiom. Just like you said, it means to break a problem or task down into small pieces and then solve them one by one so that they feel more manageable than one big task.

Alternatively, it can mean to divide work between members of a team so that no one has to do an overwhelming amount.

Etymology: "Divide and Conquer" comes from a history of armies and imperialism. If you (a military general) are facing a larger and stronger army, you might win by splitting the other army up and beating it in small pieces instead of all at once.

  • 1
    I just copied the first four words of your final paragraph and pasted them into a google search. The first returned block of text included This expression is a translation of the Latin maxim, Divide et impera (“divide and rule”), and began to appear in English about 1600. Jul 1 at 13:22

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