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Understanding Holism: How it May Form a Basis
for Understanding Many Other Things

By Dr Paul Freinkel


Holism, a term coined by South African Statesman Jan Smuts in 1926, refers to an understanding of reality in terms of integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units1 or stated as process, "the fundamental factor operative towards the creation of wholes in the universe2 . These "wholes" are complex systems far from equilibrium. They are self organizing, adaptive in that they assimilate and respond to environmental stimuli, and interact to form a hierarchy of levels of complexity3 with each level representing an increase in complexity that brings into being a new manner of being of matter in system4 . There appear to be at least four major complex systems: material systems, living (material) systems, conscious (living material) systems and self-conscious (living material) systems4 . Other thinkers add the levels of social / environmental, moral, spiritual and divine5 , which (perhaps6 or perhaps not7 excluding the dimension of the divine) would form subsystems within the self-conscious (living material) systems strata of organization. Implicit in this understanding is that each level of organization consists of less complex integrated wholes (individuals) interacting with self and others to negotiate a shared environment. This increases the nett complexity of the system from which emerges the next whole.