Holons: The Building Blocks of the Universe

Corey deVosAesthetic, Cognitive, Creative, Free, Integral Basics, Perspectives, Video, What is Integral? 20 Comments

What is it to be a single atom in a crystal? A single ant in a colony? A single starling in a murmation?

Join Corey deVos for this fun, fascinating, and far-reaching exploration of one of the essential cornerstones of integral theoryholons, or the apparently endless series of “part/wholes” that fundamentally compose reality as we know it.

Accompanied by music, imagery, and animation, this presentation will not only help you better understand what a holon actually is (and what it isn’t!) but also how this understanding can radically deepen your appreciation for the natural world, and for all of the other holonic intelligences that exist alongside us on this planet.

This is the story of the universe itself. These holons give rise to the entire “great chain” of evolutionary emergence, a legacy of incremental wholeness that runs from the very first subatomic particles to emerge after the Big Bang, all the way to your own integral mind, right now in this moment.

We should note that, while Corey emphasizes the most rigorous definition of “holons” (any whole/part that possesses its own interior), the word “holon” is also often used generically to describe any kind of whole/part we see in nature. For example, “letters, words, and sentences” — none of which actually have interiors of their own, but are rather describing a nested series of whole/parts that human beings use to communicate their interiors to each other. It is totally okay to use the word “holon” for these kinds of non-sentient components, but we should remember that “true holons” also possess their own interior realities, as Corey explains in the video.

Sections include:

What is a Holon?
A basic overview of whole/parts as the primary building blocks of the universe.

The Two Drives
Introducing Arthur Koestler, the man who coined the word “holons” in his book The Ghost in the Machine, and his observation that people are subject to two primary drives — to be a whole, and to be a part of a greater whole — and how these drives can sometimes lead to dark and violent places.

A Tale of Two Watchmakers
A parable of increasing integration, showing how the universe uses holons to maximize evolutionary efficiency.

Let’s Invent a Universe!
If you want to make a pie, or an integral metatheory, first you need to invent the universe. Here’s how.

Growth Hierarchies vs. Dominator Hierarchies
Aren’t hierarchies bad? Not so fast. Here’s why growth hierarchies are inherently anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corruption.

The Secret Life of Holons (The 20 Tenets)
The twenty rules that all holons live by, summarizing Ken Wilber’s 20 Tenets from his book, Sex Ecology, Spirituality.

What Isn’t a Holon? (Heaps, Wholes, and Artifacts)
An overview of the different kinds of holarchy (or nested hierarchy) that exist in the universe.

Inhabiting Social Holons
Taking a first-person inside perspective of various holons in a group, at multiple levels of evolution.

Finding Wholeness
How we can fulfill our drive toward wholeness — and toward being a part of greater whole — in our own lives.

We very much hope you enjoy this presentation! And be sure to keep an eye out for future “integral explainer” videos to come.

Any questions or comments? Let us know in the comment thread here!

Build Your Integral Life

This video is also included in our free Integral 101 web course, designed to teach you the basics of Integral Philosophy. It includes 24 concise and structured lessons, each designed to teach you one critical aspect of Integral thinking and more than 50 free bonus discussions, presentations, and practices to help you dive as deeply as you like into each lesson. Again, this self-directed course is available at no cost, so be sure to enroll today!

More Perspectives

In Pursuit of Wholeness: Making Room for Everything

Corey deVos and Ken Wilber

This notion of holons — the idea that the universe is fundamentally made of whole/parts within whole/parts within whole/parts, turtles all the way up and turtles all the way down — this isn’t just important in a theoretical or philosophical sense. Understanding holons also helps us make better sense of the world that we live in, and our inner worlds as well. It’s immediately relevant to any number of culture war issues that we see these days, from abortion to immigration to vaccination to the various rights and responsibilities we have as national and global citizens. And it’s an idea that helps us recognize the many different kinds of “wholeness” we can see in the universe, and that we can pursue in our own lives — in our interiors and in our exteriors, both personally and collectively — and helps guide our own growing up, waking up, and cleaning up process.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is editor and producer of Integral Life. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.