An example of a dichotomy is the partition of a scene into figure and ground – the letters are foreground or figure; the rest is the background.
A dichotomy is any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts. It is a partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) that are:
The term comes from the Greek διχοτομία dichotomia "dividing in two" from δίχα dicha "in two, asunder" and τομή tome "a cutting, incision".
The above applies directly when the term is used in mathematics, philosophy, literature, or linguistics. For example, if there is a concept A, and it is split into parts B and not-B, then the parts form a dichotomy: they are mutually exclusive, since no part of B is contained in not-B and vice-versa, and they are jointly exhaustive, since they cover all of A, and together again give A.
In set theory, a dichotomous relation R is such that either aRb, bRa, but not both.
In statistics, dichotomous data may only exist at first two levels of measurement, namely at nominal level of measurement (such as in case of "British", "American", "Australian" etc. when measuring nationality) and at ordinal level of measurement (such as in case of "tall" vs "short", when measuring height).
A false dichotomy is an informal fallacy consisting of a supposed dichotomy which fails one or both of the conditions: it is not jointly exhaustive and/or not mutually exclusive. In its most common form, two entities are presented as if they are exhaustive, when in fact other alternatives are possible. In some cases, they may be presented as if they are mutually exclusive although there is a broad middle ground (see also undistributed middle).
In economics, the classical dichotomy is the division between the real side of the economy and the monetary side. According to the classical dichotomy, changes in monetary variables do not affect real values as output, employment, and the real interest rate. Money is therefore neutral in the sense that it cannot affect these real variables.
In biology, a dichotomy is a division of organisms into two groups, typically based on a characteristic present in one group and absent in the other. Such dichotomies are used as part of the process of identifying species, as part of a dichotomous key, which asks a series of questions, each of which narrows down the set of organisms. A well known dichotomy is the question "does it have a backbone?" used to divide species into vertebrates and invertebrates.
In botany, a dichotomy is a mode of branching by repeated bifurcation - thus a focus on branching rather than on division
In computer science, more specifically in programming-language engineering, the term dichotomy can denote fundamental dualities in a language's design. For instance, C++ has a dichotomy in its memory model (heap versus stack), whereas Java has a dichotomy in its type system (references versus primitive data types).
Perceived Dichotomies are common in Western thought. C. P. Snow believes that Western society has become an argument culture (The Two Cultures). In The Argument Culture (1998), Deborah Tannen suggests that the dialogue of Western culture is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side has truth (like a trophy). Such a dialogue virtually ignores the middle alternatives.
The I Ching and taijitu represent the yin yang theories of traditional Chinese culture. However, these do not represent a true dichotomy as the symbol incorporates a portion of each in the other, representing a dialectic.
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a treatment shown to have some success in treating some clients with Borderline Personality Disorder, an essential tool used is based on the idea of dichotomy. Dichotomy, in this case, is a self-defeating behavior using "all-or-nothing" or "black-and-white" thinking. The therapy teaches the patient how to change the dichotomy to a more "dialectical" (or "seeing the middle ground") way of thinking.