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Posts Tagged ‘integral theory’

Have you ever heard of a “holon”? It’s an idea first circulated by Arthur Koestler (read more detail here), summarised as –

1.2 The organism is to be regarded as a multi-levelled hierarchy of semi-autonomous sub-wholes, branching into sub-wholes of a lower order, and so on. Sub-wholes on any level of the hierarchy are referred to as holons.

1.3 Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domains of life. The concept of the holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approaches.

1.4 Biological holons are self-regulating open systems which display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts. This dichotomy is present on every level of every type of hierarchic organization, and is referred to as the “Janus phenomenon”.

So, taking this idea as a starting point, we can consider the whole universe to be made up of holons. I really like this idea. It reminds us that nothing exists in isolation, and nothing can be fully understood without understanding it’s relationships as well as it’s “surface properties”. Ken Wilber, in particular, has picked up the idea and elaborated further with this his four “drives” of every holon. (“A Brief History of Everything” is a good place to start if you want to read more, and here‘s an interesting summary)

Ken Wilber’s “drives” are interesting. He describes two pairs – a horizontal pair and a vertical one. The horizontal pair are “agency” and “community”. Every holon needs agency, or autonomy, to preserve its uniqueness and its individuality. We humans need that. Our immune systems are designed to quickly recognise what is “not me” and our sense of self also strengthens our feelings of uniqueness. However, we also need community, in that we also need to connect and to belong. We love and are loved. One of the most severe punishments in any jail is “solitary confinement”. We are wired to connect to others and to our environments. We need both agency and community.

The vertical pair are “self-dissolution” and “self-transcendence”. Self-dissolution is that disintegration of the whole into parts (or more correctly into sub-holons, as all holons are made of holons!). This is something we experience as illness. When things fall apart, when our systems go out of balance, in essence when we experience dis-integration, we are experiencing “self-dissolution”. The opposite of this is growth and development. The fairly new biological term for this would be “emergence” – which is the development of characteristics and behaviours previously unseen in this organism or system. Wilber terms this “self-transcendence” which is a nice counter to that of dissolution. We have the capacity to literally transcend our current state through creative growth and evolution.

Of course none of us stay the same. We all experience continual change – some of it dissolution and some of it transcendence. (I’m reminded here of the biological processes of catabolism and anabolism).

This idea – the idea of a holon, (both as seeded by Koestler, and developed by Wilber) – is, I think a wonderful one. Once you grasp it, you’ll start to understand reality differently.

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