The Holonic Lens

Mark Allan KaplanAesthetic, Article, Cognitive, Free

The first Integral lens I will explore is the HOLONIC lens. This lens helps us look upon everything we perceive as a HOLON; a whole that is part of another whole. Holons are the essential building blocks of our reality. A whole atom is part of a whole molecule, which is part of a whole cell, which is part of a whole organism


Holons in nature

We, as sentient beings, are holons as well, being a whole individual organism made up of whole individual cells, molecules, and atoms. We, as individual holons, are also members of social/systemic holons, which include familial, cultural, social, species, and ecological systems. Everything is a holon, sentient and non-sentient aspects of reality. In architecture, a whole room is part of a whole floor, which is part of a whole building. In languages, a whole letter is part of a whole word, which is part of a whole sentence.

In the cinematic arts, a whole frame is part of a whole shot, which is part of a whole scene, which is part of a whole scene sequence.

Holons in Film

Holons in Film

Holons evolve through a process of transcend and include. A whole atom is transcended and yet still included in the development into a whole molecule, etc., etc., etc. This is called holonic or holarchic development; and this holarchic development creates a holarchy. A holarchy is different than a hierarchy in that while each stage of development has greater depth and span, no stage is considered better or inferior than another; we would never say that an atom is inferior to a molecule.

In the cinema, compelling stories, well-developed characters, and potent visual and auditory journeys need to evolve holonically. Like an unbroken chain, every word, action, event, image, and sound must rise out of what has come before it, simultaneously birthing something new while holding traces of all that has preceded it. In addition, this holonic chain must extend beyond the confines of the cinematic work; characters, story events, and audiovisual thematic patterns must have roots in the unseen world before the first onscreen image appears and must have a sense of potential resonance extending beyond the final frame.

While most audience members are not consciously aware of this holonic process, the viewer naturally senses when there is something missing in this developmental structure: We consciously or unconsciously notice when a character does or says something that seems “out-of-character;” or when a story event seems to come out of nowhere; or an image or a sound seems out of place. These holonic breaks always “take us out of” the cinematic experience and reduce the level of immersion by some degree.

By using the holonic lens, cinematic artists can shape richer, deeper, and more immersive cinematic visions, by more accurately and completely creating holonic evolutionary cinematic structures within the text, image, and sound streams of a cinematic work. When used in a masterful way, holonic cinematic structuring can produce great cinematic experiences, from Hitchcock’s classic shock-and-horror-inducing shower scene in Psycho (1960) to the profound ah-ha moment in The Sixth Sense (1999) when the final piece of the story puzzle gives the film an entire new meaning. In the case of Psycho, Hitchcock used numerous shot fragments, wholes unto themselves, each one strung together to transcend and include the previous ones, to build a whole experience that transcends the pieces themselves.

Psycho (1960) Shower Scene Shot Stream

In The Sixth Sense the entire film is essentially two complete holonic streams, one on the surface that takes us through the entire film holding a certain perspective; then in the final scenes, a missing or hidden whole/piece (holon) of information is given us, and suddenly we see a whole new dimension of the story we had not seen before, and a whole other holonic story stream flashes before our minds in an instant. When viewed a second time, we can see that this other dimension or holonic story stream was always there. Here the filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, uses the missing or hidden holon in a positive and masterful way to create a profound surprise moment at the end of the film.

The Sixth Sense (1999) and Mystery of the Hidden Story Stream

As The Sixth Sense demonstrates, the revelation of missing cinematic holons is an essential device in the creation of multi-dimensional cinematic storytelling, which appears to be on the rise with integrally-informed cinematic works like The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003) and integrally-informed television series like Lost (2004-2010). In these and other Integral cinematic works we find stories that have multiple complex layers that are revealed one by one, increasing both the depth and span of the cinematic work as it unfolds. In The Matrix Trilogy, these layered revelations range from Neo taking of the red pill and discovering his world is a computer program to his discovery that he has taken the same quest many times before.

The Matrix (1999) and Taking the Red Pill

In the TV series Lost, layer upon layer of realities are peeled away through its six seasons, culminating with the final revelation that we have been on a journey through the bardos between life and death itself. This type of multi-dimensional cinematic structuring, created by multiple layered chains or streams of information, character, and story building holons progressively revealed by the emergence of purposely hidden holons, can produce both a highly immersive and repeatable viewing experience.

Lost TV Series (2004-2010) Final Episode

In addition to information, character, and story building holons, and missing or hidden holons, those employed for a useful purpose or those that create holes or gaps in the cinematic experience, there are also question and answer building holons which are essential to cinematic narrative and audiovisual expression. The question can be as simple as will the character survive a certain challenge and the answer as simple as a yes or no. Usually the question must be answered by the end of the scene, sequence or complete cinematic work for closure; but the question can also be left open if the non-answer sparks a deeper existential question to be left for the viewer to answer.

Cinematic holons also have positive, neutral, or negative charges, much like atomic particles. At the level of text an example of positive and negative charges can be illustrated by the energetic difference between moments of affinity and conflict between characters. Neutral holons are elements that impart neutral information, like an establishing shot of a location. Of course these can be turned into positive or negative streams by juxtaposing them with positive or negative elements (i.e., a neutral shot of a city at night juxtaposed with foreboding music…this is a combination of a neutral visual holon and a negative auditory holon). The rule here is that when a neutral holon is juxtaposed with a negative or positive holon the neutral holon takes on the attributes of the opposing holon.

Like all lenses of perception, the holonic lens has the capacity to offer us a deeper and/or fuller perspective. When directed at cinema, this integral lens could potentially deepen and clarify our understanding and appreciation of cinematic structure and narrative form, and increase the creative and expressive capacities of the cinematic artist.

Related Media

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Defining characteristics of what may constitute an integral cinematic work are mapped out and developed into a set of evaluation criteria using the works of Dulac, Gebser, and Wilber. A test of these evaluation criteria with the viewing of several motion pictures is summarized; the results suggest that several past and recent films demonstrate qualities that could be said to constitute an integral cinematic work.

Integral Cinema Studio: A Comprehensive Guide to the Cinematic Experience

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Mark Allan Kaplan has been curating a groundbreaking integral project, something he calls the Integral Cinema Studio. In this remarkable exploration, Mark and Ken walk us through all of the main elements of Integral theory, using some of our favorite movies to illustrate the basics of the Integral approach while noting how each of these elements has shaped the cinema experience since the invention of film itself.

Mark Allan Kaplan

About Mark Kaplan

Mark Allan Kaplan, Ph.D. is a Transdisciplinary Artist, Filmmaker, Researcher, Consultant, Educator and Media Psychologist focusing on Integral, Transpersonal, and Transformative approaches to Art, Media, and Spirituality. Mark is currently exploring various applications of Integral Theory, including the research and development of an Integral approach to cinematic media theory and practice.