Parts and Wholes

Wholeness is real; the parts are derivative. When we speak of nature or the universe as a whole, we merely mean the universe considered as holistic field. That field is the environment of all wholes. Relativity, quantum theory, and entropy imply individual wholeness, in which the analysis of something into distinct parts is no longer relevant. Relativity and quantum theory both imply the need to regard the world as an undivided whole. Not a spectral oneness, but a diversity of the whole into many perspectives.

Gilbert White characterized nature as "one organic whole" and influenced Darwin and subsequent generations of biological scientists. E. A. Birge's early work on the heat budgets of lakes, for instance, was holistic. J. C. Smuts, in trying to synthesize the evolutionary theory of Darwin and relativistic physics of Einstein, presented the whole as a powerful organizing principle inherent in nature. L. von Bertalanffy and E. Laszlo extended holism with general systems theory. David Bohm suggests that the universe as a holomovement carries an implicit order that is undefinable and immeasurable.

Each level is real as a whole; it is a whole, or a holon, in Arthur Koestler's terms. A number of ecologists, including R. V. O'Neill, D. L. DeAngelis, T. F. H. Allen, T. W. Hoekstra, and T. B. Starr, use the concept of holon to describe the organizational levels of hierarchical systems. Given that nature is a structured and differentiated whole, the character of the organism or particle is determined as a subwhole. According to Koestler, all complex structures and processes of a relatively stable character display hierarchical organization. Levels of a hierarchy tend to be contained in subassemblies. Each subwhole behaves as a whole to its components, as a self-contained whole, and as a dependent part in context. Wholes and parts do not exist absolutely. There are intermediary structures on a series of levels in an ascending order of complexity; each subwhole faces in opposite directions. These Janus-faced subassemblies are holons, that is, paraphrasing Koestler, any stable subwhole in a hierarchy that displays rule-governed behavior and structural Gestalt constancy. The rules lend order and stability, as well as flexibility.


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