Everything is the whole in itself, at the same time, the part of the whole in the next level. Arthur Koestler called this concept holon. Holon signifies a hierarchical component that can be simultaneously both part and whole depending on the context of each layer. And he defines this hierarchical relationship among all holons as a term called a holarchy.
Ken Wilber emphasized the importance of holarchy in his integral approach. For example, in seeking truth among conflicting theories and perspectives, the holarchy model represents that everything is truthful yet partial. We can never confirm the state of 100% true or false as everything is forever partially true and has value in the particular context.
One possible mathematical formula for holarchy could be a fractal design called the Mandelbrot set developed by Benoit Mandelbrot. It is infinitely unfolding repetitive patterns of self-similarities. The fractal model can be a possible image of the holarchy that everything is the whole and the part.
All these approaches could be under an overarching concept called a part-whole model. Even intuitively, we can notice that everything is the whole and the part from various examples in our everyday lives.
Our physical body consists of organs made of cells. Each cell contains various components for the respective functionality to keep its system intact, and these components consist of multiple molecules. Each molecule combines multiple particles made by sub-particles in the quantum domain.
Our body is part of the whole such as families, tribes, communities, societies, organizations, institutions, corporations, nation-states, civilizations, and more. It is part of the group of mammals, which is still part of the vertebrate species, as part of the animal kingdom. That is part of the entire biosphere that thrives on the earth.
The earth is part of the solar system with other planets. The solar system is a tiny piece of the Milky Way, which is merely one of the countless galaxies in the cluster. That is one of the numerous super-clusters, part of the entire universe with the overwhelming majority of the dark matter.
Is the whole universe part of the larger whole? It could be. As it starts from the Big Bang, we can’t stop imagining the possibility of the countless numbers of the plural Big Bangs. Is the entire universe one possible outcome of the numerous Big Bangs? Nobody knows.
The holarchy also covers chronological perspectives. Facing many decision-making processes, we inevitably generate overwhelming what-if possibilities at every moment of our lives. One possible choice we made would be only one tiny option of the group of the larger probabilities. Therefore, the multiverse and block universe concepts should embrace these clusters of all possibilities. Is the whole blog universe part of the larger whole? It could be. Nobody knows.
The same holarchy still exists in the micro perspectives. Can the sub-particle of the quantum domain be the whole entity of the specific consolidated subsets? Can this single subset be the whole of the lower level subsets? We hear that the shortest time is a plank unit. But then, as it is measurable, we can’t stop imagining diving the plank scale into smaller units. Is it possible? Nobody knows.
As the fractal design demonstrates eloquently, the directions of both micro and macro (both part and whole) perspectives are inevitably endless. We can’t ensure the final part and the ultimate whole as the “final part” can never diminish its probability of becoming the next whole, and the “ultimate whole” can never remove the possibility of becoming the next part. Thus, the holarchy by itself represents its constant dynamism of both upwards and downwards infinitely. We can never reach the destination of both.
If we see the destinations as the “final part” and the “ultimate whole,” the holarchy is no longer dynamic but rests on the static end. We immediately face the paradox of asking questions like what could be outside the whole and inside the tiniest part. There should be neither outside nor inside as the holarchy keeps its dynamism intact. Instead, it can show the infinity of the continuous movement of outside-in and inside-out. It is no boundary by itself in the infinitely moving fractal images.
The holarchy tells us that everything is always both whole and part. This duality is consistent from the entire universe to the tiniest quantum particle, including everything in our daily lives. It is indeed everything. If you face any challenge in your life, you can always see it as part of the bigger context and perspective. At the same time, you can divide it into small manageable pieces. There is nothing that we can never divide into smaller portions. There is nothing that we can never see in the larger context.
Breathe mindfully. We can meditate on each breathing that should be a tiny, indispensable piece of the unfolding universe endlessly and infinitely. And we can meditate on each breathing that should be the whole universe by itself, embracing countless parts down even to the quantum particles endlessly and infinitely. Likewise, we can meditate on each step of our walking and each moment of our lives. Everything is precious as it is as the part, simultaneously as the whole. So we are.
Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski