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Holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, whole, entire, total) is the idea that natural systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) and their properties, should be viewed as synergetic wholes, not as collections of parts.


Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. ~ Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin
These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration. ~ Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin
  • At base, every story, every song, every ceremony tells the Indian that each creature is part of a living whole and that all parts of that whole are related to one another by virtue of their participation in the whole of being. In American Indian thought, God is known as the All Spirit, and other beings are also spirit—more spirit than body, more spirit than intellect, more spirit than mind. The natural state of existence is whole. Thus healing chants and ceremonies emphasize restoration of wholeness, for disease is a condition of division and separation from the harmony of the whole. Beauty is wholeness. Health is wholeness. Goodness is wholeness. The Hopi refer to a witch—a person who uses the powers of the universe in a perverse or inharmonious way—as a two-hearts, one who is not whole but is split in two at the center of being. The circle of being is not physical, but it is dynamic and alive. It is what lives and moves and knows, and all the life forms we recognize—animals, plants, rocks, winds—partake of this greater life.
  • This is how one puts an end to totality. If all information can be found in each of its parts, the whole loses its meaning. It is also the end of the body, of this singularity called body, whose secret is precisely that it cannot be segmented into additional cells, that it is an indivisible configuration, to which its sexuation is witness (paradox: cloning will fabricate sexed beings in perpetuity, since they are similar to their model, whereas thereby sex becomes useless—but precisely sex is not a function, it is what makes a body a body, it is what exceeds all the parts, all the diverse functions of this body). Sex (or death: in this sense it is the same thing) is what exceeds all information that can be collected on a body. Well, where is all this information collected? In the genetic formula. This is why it must necessarily want to forge a path of autonomous reproduction, independent of sexuality and of death.
  • The entire universe must, on a very accurate level, be regarded as a single indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as idealisations permissible only on a classical level of accuracy of description. This means that the view of the world being analogous to a huge machine, the predominant view from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, is now shown to be only approximately correct. The underlying structure of matter, however, is not mechanical. This means that the term "quantum mechanics" is very much a misnomer. It should, perhaps, be called "quantum nonmechanics".
  • The new paradigm may be called a holistic world view, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term "ecological" is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical process of nature.
    • Fritjof Capra, as quoted in Steering Business Toward Sustainability (1995) by Gunter A. Pauli, p. 3
  • Holism traditionally says that a collection of beings may have a collective property that cannot be inferred from the properties of its members.
  • Enterprise architecture is a holistic representation of all the components of the enterprise and the use of graphics and schemes are used to emphasize all parts of the enterprise, and how they are interrelated."
    • Gordon Bitter Davis, in The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Management Information Systems‎ (1999), p. 72
  • Teachers have three main tasks: first, to train both hemispheres — not only the verbal, symbolic, logical left hemisphere, which has always been trained in the traditional education, but also the relational, holistic right hemisphere, which is largely neglected in today's schools; second, to train students to use the cognitive style suited to the tasks at hand; and third, to train students to be able to bring both styles — both hemispheres — to bear on a problem in an integrated manner.
    • Betty Edwards, in The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (1979)
  • Kratz's design is to show that certain New Age themes or mere buzz-words (e.g. "holism") were already used by fascist or otherwise rightist people, and then to deduce the grim warning that if we let New Age people continue to do their thing, we will all land up in Auschwitz... Thus, "holism" was a term launched by the Afrikaner politician Jan Christiaan Smuts in his book Holism and Evolution, 1925, a worthy precursor of the New Age recuperation of modern science by spirituality, e.g. Frithjof Capra: Tao of Physics, 1975. Smuts was a racist in the paternalistic sense (Rudyard Kipling's "white man's burden"), like most non-Nazi Europeans then were, but not in the destructive Nazi sense. Contrary to Kratz's claim, Smuts was an opponent of the Afrikaner Nasionale Party which was to institute Apartheid after its election victory in 1948.
    • About Jan Smuts who coined the term holism. Elst, Koenraad, "New Age fascism": review of an exercise in Marxist defamation [1], quoting P. Kratz.
  • Much of philosophy concerns man's search for holistic concepts which will help him see a meaningful pattern in the complexity with which his perceptual world confronts him. What is new is the rapidly growing intensity of the quest, and the modern context of the search. Plato's Republic is from a world quite different from that of Boguslaw's. The New Utopians.
  • People rag on western medicine a lot for its disregard of indirect causalities and holism, for its antisceptic deconstructivism, for its blindness to things like the union of mind and body, and for its proclivity for post-facto treatment.
  • Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration.
  • Finiteness is a holistic property. The sphere as a whole has a character different from that of a plane. A spherical surface made from rubber, such as a balloon, can be twisted so that its geometry changes. ...but it cannot be distorted in such a way as that it will cover a plane. All surfaces obtained by distortion of the rubber sphere possess the same holistic properties; they are closed and finite.
  • In all the previous cases of wholes, we have nowhere been able to argue from the parts of the whole. Compared to its parts, the whole constituted by them is something quite different, something creatively new, as we have seen. Creative evolution synthesises from the parts a new entity not only different from them, but quite transcending them. That is the essence of a whole. It is always transcendent to its parts, and its character cannot be inferred from the characters of its parts.
  • There is a strong current in contemporary culture advocating ‘holistic’ views as some sort of cure-all... Reductionism implies attention to a lower level while holistic implies attention to higher level. These are intertwined in any satisfactory description: and each entails some loss relative to our cognitive preferences, as well as some gain... there is no whole system without an interconnection of its parts and there is no whole system without an environment.
    • Francisco Varela, in "On Being Autonomous: The Lessons of Natural History for Systems Theory", in Applied Systems Research (1977), edited by George Klir, p. 77
  • The basic thesis of gestalt theory might be formulated thus: there are contexts in which what is happening in the whole cannot be deduced from the characteristics of the separate pieces, but conversely; what happens to a part of the whole is, in clear-cut cases, determined by the laws of the inner structure of its whole.
    • Max Wertheimer (1920/45), Productive thinking. Harper & Row Publishers. p. 84

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