The elephant analogy

A meaningful definition of holistic must itself be holistic. The limitations of language make this impossible, but here are some clues. None of them is the whole story.

Holism “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.” Jan Smuts, who originated the term in his 1926 book Holism and Evolution
Wholeness “An undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting.” The Free Dictionary. Wholeness is all-encompassing, transcending the dualistic nature of mundane world, and cannot be reduced to parts. Neither can it be reduced to a pithy definition or distilled into an elegant concept.
Read more: Transcend the mundane, enter primal world and channel intent
“Vedanta views reality as a wholeness, not divided into inner and outer domains as if they are separate kingdoms.”

Deepak Chopra, Will the “Real” Reality Please Stand Up?

“In psychology, holism is an approach to understanding the human mind and behavior that focuses on looking at things as a whole. It is often contrasted with reductionism, which instead tries to break things down into their smallest parts.

Holism suggests that people are more than simply the sum of their parts. In order to understand how people think, holism suggests that you need to do more than simply focus on how each individual component functions in isolation. Instead, psychologists who take this approach believe that it is more important to look at how all the parts work together.”

Verywell Mind

“Holistic thinking is the new way of thinking needed to (dis)solve the problems created by reductionist thinking. But we should not over-swing the pendulum and favour holistic thinking in all circumstances over reductionist thinking. We should regard reductionism as a useful method to be applied if and when appropriate and within a whole-systems context that acknowledges the valuable contributions of diverse perspectives, as well as the limits to our knowing. We might prefer definitive answers and solutions, but what if they simply cannot be given?”

Daniel Christian Wahl, From the ‘crisis of perception’ to the ‘systems view of life’

“Ultimately, the entire universe (with all its ‘particles,’ including those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments, etc.) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental status.”

David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (pdf; 306pp)

“If we are to move from relating to the world as fragmented parts to systemic wholes, we must change our basic way of thinking.

Not just what we think, but how we think. The change is:

from abstract and symbolic conception…to acute and profound observation;

from metaphorical thinking…to original and direct inquiry;

from the habit of not looking freshly…to the discipline of finely tuned investigation; and

from reliance on concepts to bring a sense of order to the world…to an open quest to see what’s really there, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable, unsure, insecure, and mystified.

To make this shift, we must move from presuming to know before we look, to looking freshly without the limitation of a concept, metaphor, theory, or history of previous experiences.

Another way to say this is: start with nothing, e.g., without an idea of what we might find.”

Robert Fritz, in Reflections, The SoL Journal of Knowledge, Learning and Change, Vol. 5, Number 7 (no longer available online)

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

John Muir, wilderness explorer

“Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance — second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole.”
Dr. Iain McGilchrist
Iain McGilchrist
Creative thinking, holistic thinking, strategic thinking, systems thinking, critical thinking and other kinds of thinking are inventions. Our thinking faculty is not divided into departments, like Harrods or France.
“System is illusory. All systems we fancy we observe in nature are merely constructions of the observer, and the ‘interconnected web’ or ‘system’ view of the universe is no more than a fairy tale.”

James Wilk, unpublished manuscript

“It is important to maintain the awareness that the systems view itself is also just another map that, as Alfred Korzybski put it, should not be confused with the territory. We can reduce the world to a whole just as easily as we can reduce it to a collection of parts.”

Daniel Christian Wahl, [6 Key Questions in] Whole Systems Thinking, an excerpt from this book, Designing Regenerative Cultures

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

Original source: Tao te Ching, by Lau Tzu

Evolution of worldviews, by Jack Martin Leith
Read more in the article How our worldviews are evolving
“Construct-Aware folks are the first who potentially realize the illusion of ‘knowing’ and the futility of trying to make ever better maps of reality.”

Susanne Cook-Greuter, The Construct-Aware Stage of Ego Development and its Relationship to the Fool Archetype, in Integral Review, August 2018. Vol. 14, No.1 (pdf; 11pp)

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