A holon (Greek: ὅλον, holon neuter form of ὅλος, holos "whole") is something
that is simultaneously a whole and a part. The word was used by Arthur Koestler
in his book The Ghost in the Machine (1967, p. 48) and the phrase to hólon is a
Greek translation from the Latin word universum, in the sense of totality, a
whole. Koestler was influenced by two observations in proposing the notion of
the holon. The first observation was influenced by Herbert A. Simon's parable of
the two watchmakers—in which Simon concludes that complex systems evolve
from simple systems much more rapidly when there are stable intermediate
forms present in the evolutionary process than if they are not present. The
second observation was made by Koestler himself in his analysis of hierarchies
and stable intermediate forms in non-living matter (atomic and molecular
structure), living organisms, and social organizations. He concluded that,
although it is easy to identify sub-wholes or parts, wholes and parts in an
absolute sense do not exist anywhere. Koestler proposed the word holon to
describe the hybrid nature of sub-wholes and parts within in vivo systems. From
this perspective, holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation
to their sub-ordinate parts, and as dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction.
Koestler also says that holons are self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and can handle contingencies without
asking higher authorities for instructions. I.e. they have a degree of autonomy. These holons are also simultaneously subject to
control from one or more of these higher authorities. The first property ensures that holons are stable forms that are able to
withstand disturbances, while the latter property signifies that they are intermediate forms, providing a context for the proper
functionality for the larger whole.
Finally, Koestler defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function first as autonomous wholes in supra-
ordination to their parts, secondly as dependent parts in sub-ordination to controls on higher levels, and thirdly in coordination
with their local environment.
In multiagent systems
A fractal is close to the idea of holon,
as it is a part that represents a whole
at the same time. Do seeds contain
trees or do trees contain seeds? We
could say both are true, because
'trees and seeds' is an example of a
A holon is a system (or phenomenon) that is an evolving self-organizing dissipative structure, composed of other holons, whose
structures exist at a balance point between chaos and order. It is sometimes discussed in the context of self-organizing holarchic
open systems (or, SOHO systems). A holon is maintained by the throughput of matter–energy and information–entropy
connected to other holons and is simultaneously a whole in itself and at the same time is nested within another holon and so is a
part of something much larger than itself. Holons range in size from the smallest subatomic particles and strings, all the way up to
the multiverse, comprising many universes. Individual humans, their societies and their cultures are intermediate level holons,
created by the interaction of forces working upon us both top-down and bottom-up. 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, similar to sign in regard of semiotics. In 2013 Australian academic JT Velikovsky proposed the holon as the structure of
the meme, the unit of culture, synthesizing the major theories on memes of Richard Dawkins, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, E. O.
Wilson, Frederick Turner and Arthur Koestler. Defined in this way, holons are related to the concept of autopoiesis, especially as
it was developed in the application of Stafford Beer to second-order cybernetics and the viable system model, but also Niklas
Luhmann in his social systems theory.
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 as well as rhizomatic contagion. 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 may be understood as such a
breakdown in the biological realm.
A hierarchy of holons is called a holarchy. The holarchic model can be seen as an attempt to modify and modernise perceptions
of natural hierarchy.
Ken Wilber comments that the test of holon hierarchy (holarchy) is that if all instances of a given type of holon cease to exist,
then all the holons they were part of must 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, in a strict sense
would cease to exist. Wilber's concept is known as the doctrine of the fundamental and the significant. A hydrogen atom is more
fundamental than an ant, but an ant is more significant.
The doctrine of the fundamental and the significant is contrasted by the radical rhizome oriented pragmatics of Deleuze and
Guattari, and other continental philosophy.
A significant feature of Koestler's concept of holarchy is that it is open ended both in the macrocosmic as well as in the
microcosmic dimensions. This aspect of his theory has several important implications. For example, if we take string theory to be
legitimate, the holarchic system does not begin with strings or end with the multiverse. Those are just the present limits of the
reach of the human mind in the two dimensions. Humans will cross those limits eventually, because they do not encompass the
whole of reality. Karl Popper (Objective Knowledge, 1972) teaches that what the human mind knows and can ever know of truth
at a given point of time and space is verisimilitude—something like truth—and that the human mind will continue to get closer to
reality but never reach it. In other words, the human quest for knowledge is an unending journey with innumerable grand sights
ahead but with no possibility of reaching the journey's end. The work of modern physicists designed to discover the theory of
everything (TOE) is reaching deep into the microcosm under the assumption that the macrocosm is eventually made of the
microcosm. This approach falls short on two counts: the first is that the fundamental is not the same as significant and the second
is that this approach does not take into account that the microcosmic dimension is open ended. It follows that the search for TOE
will discover phenomena more microcosmic than strings or the more comprehensive M theory. It is also the case that many laws
of nature that apply to systems relatively low in the hierarchy cease to apply at higher levels. M theory might have predictive