Life as a Holon

What is a Holon?

The idea of the “holon” was introduced by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and was presented again at the Alpbach Symposium (1968) in a paper titled: Beyond Atomism and Holism - the concept of the holon.

notes to “Some general properties of
self-regulating open hierarchic order”

Koestler defines holons as something that is simultaneously a whole and a part, thus reconciling popular ideas of the day: atomism (one-ness) and holism (whole-ness). He presents holons as building block of self-regulating open hierarchic order as found in biological organisms.

My alternative definition of a holon is simple and recursive: a holon is either an atom (non-reducible) or a set of holons.

Examples of Holons

Holons are not theoretical, in fact nature is the composition of layers of inter-connceted holons, so let’s better understand them through nature.

Take bee or ant colonies, for example. These creatures are actually what led my thoughts about these sorts of networks, which at the time was a concept I simply called hives. You see, individual bees and ants are incredibly useless on their own. It isn’t until they are together as part of a whole colony that they truly come to life and exhibit forms of intelligence.

As another example, consider the human body. We are each an organism, which is composed of organs, which are composed of tissues, which are composed of cells, which are composed of organelles, which are composed of molecules, which are composed of atoms, which are composed of subatomic particles, and so on.

diagram of an organism holon

Holon Networks: Holarchies

Let’s take the human example again, but in the other direction. Humans are not only composed of holons, we ourselves are holons and are parts within even larger holons.

In modern society, we are individuals, which are parts of families, which are parts of communities, which are parts of cities, which are parts of counties, which are parts of states, which are parts of nations, and so on.

diagram of a nation holon

In this way, holons form the backbone of networks, where parts become wholes become parts of other wholes and so on.

Human Holarchies

Now let’s consider the human example one last time, to understand the core ethos of human networks.

At the root, there is each of us, a single person.

With our family, we form a group.

With our community, we form a group.

With our region, we form a group.

With our biosphere, we form a group.

binary tree

Rather than hierarchical structures, holons allow for nested structures that better suit distribution of information, money, and control.

small world random graph

We are holons. We are all as one.

If you are reading this, you’re awesome. <3 I’d really appreciate your thoughts, so if possible: discuss this publicly or contact me privately.




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