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Holon (philosophy)

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A holon (Greek: holos, "whole") is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. The word was coined by Arthur Koestler on p. 48 of his book The Ghost in the Machine (1967).

A holon is a system (or phenomenon) that is a whole in itself as well as a part of a larger system. It can be conceived as systems nested within each other. Every system can be considered a holon, from a subatomic particle to the universe as a whole. On a non-physical level, words, ideas, sounds, emotions—everything that can be identified—is simultaneously part of something, and can be viewed as having parts of its own.

Since a holon is embedded in larger wholes, it is influenced by and influences these larger wholes. And since a holon also contains subsystems, or parts, it is similarly influenced by and influences these parts. Information flows bidirectionally between smaller and larger systems. When this bidirectionality of information flow and understanding of role is compromised, for whatever reason, the system begins to break down: wholes no longer recognize their dependence on their subsidiary parts, and parts no longer recognize the organizing authority of the wholes. Cancer is a good example of this breakdown in the biological realm.

A hierarchy of holons is called a holarchy. It is a natural hierarchy in the sense that it is objective rather than subjective.

Ken Wilber comments that the test of holon hierarchy is that if a type of holon is removed from existence, then all other holons of which it formed a part must of necessity cease to exist too. Thus an atom is of a lower standing in the hierarchy than a molecule, because if you removed all molecules, atoms could still exist, whereas if you removed all atoms, molecules would cease to exist. Wilber's concept is known as the doctrine of the fundamental and the significant. An hydrogen atom is more fundamental than an ant, but an ant is more significant.

The same test holds for letters and words, or people and countries. This natural hierarchy contrasts with other types of hierarchy (such as human leadership) which are dependent upon consensus and may be subject to dispute or change.

Philosphy of historyEdit

In the philosophy of history, a holon is a historical event that makes other historical events inevitable. A holon is a controversial concept, in that some reject the inevitability of any historical event. A special category of holon is technology, the view that technology dictates history.

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