What are the physical laws explaining how convection ovens operate? How do hurricanes form in such a predictably orderly (and deadly) pattern? You might be surprised scientists cannot fully explain these phenomena. Thus the metaphysical topic of Holism.
Holism itself makes the basic assertion that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, implying something non-material affects the outcome of certain systems. The closely related concept of non-separability generally asserts that the state of the whole is not constituted by the states of its parts. Both terms try to address a phenomena involving the spontaneous generation of degrees of order well outside predicted causality.
Examples of holism are often found in dissipative systems, in which an open system is operating outside of thermodynamic equilibrium. Specific examples of dissipative systems include convection, turbulent flow, cyclones, hurricanes and living organisms. These systems exchange energy and entropy with their environment in order to maintain a high degree of internal order in the system.
The basic question about these dissipative systems is whether a “bottoms-up” causality drives the apparent order of the system, or do “top-down” constraints restrict the action of the system. Causality could come from the still mysterious mechanisms at the quantum level, including entanglement. Constraints could come from a physical law we have yet to discover, or influence from another undiscovered dimension(s).
Another example of holism is the observed spontaneous generation of order in computerized models of logical networks. To illustrate this example scientists use an array of light bulbs, each with only an on and off option. The array starts off in a random pattern of illumination and then evolves in steps according to some simple rules, which express the logical structure of the network. If 10,000 bulbs are in the array, a limit of about 300 states of the system is observed, instead of the trillions of possibilities. The deterministic nature of logical networks implies the observed holistic order is generated from the bottom-up, even if the phenomena can best be described from the top down.
There are multiple approaches addressing these phenomena, which include methodological, metaphysical and property/ relational holism; state, spatial and spatial-temporal non-separatism.
Why is all this important? Well, for a few reasons that impact our fundamental understanding of reality. The “open future” Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics is the reason for so many theories about holism. The alternative deterministic interpretation of Bohm explains holism due to hidden information embedded within wavelengths. So if you believe in an open, indeterminate future, then you need to explain the phenomena of holism.
Holism is also important because subjects that focus on complex systems like thermodynamics rest on assumptions about how these systems should operate. If these basic assumptions prove inaccurate, the science behind these systems may lose some of their explanatory power. Lastly, metaphysical theories about time rest partially on thermodynamic theories and thus may impact these theories as well.
I know, I’m going deep on some of this stuff but I’m seeking to understand what is real in this world, and then apply it to the world in Evolved. Since I “chose” a Bohm explanation for the world in Evolved, implying the perceived three spatial dimensions of reality are deterministic, holism is largely explained.
A Few Theories on Holism and Non-separatism
Methodological holism argues some systems are better analyzed as a whole, rather than its counter-point the more typical methodological reductionism. Scientists instinctively fall in the reductionism camp as they seek to explain the “how” of quantum physics.
Methodological Holism: An understanding of a certain kind of complex system is best sought at the level of principles governing the behavior of the whole system, and not at the level of the structure and behavior of its component parts.
Methodological Reductionism: An understanding of a complex system is best sought at the level of the structure and behavior of its component parts.
Moving past methodological arguments, metaphysical holism argues the nature of some wholes are not determined by its parts. In other words, metaphysical argues we are missing something outside our scientific theories. There are three theories as to why this may be true.
Ontological Holism: Some objects are not wholly composed of basic physical parts.
Property Holism: Some objects have properties that are not determined by physical properties of their basic physical parts.
Nomological Holism: Some objects obey laws that are not determined by fundamental physical laws governing the structure and behavior of their basic physical parts.
Assuming our existing scientific theories capture the reality of these systems, Property Holism basically argues the theories are incomplete. This approach takes us into central issues of quantum physics. Property Holism breaks down into two opposing camps:
Physical Property Determination: Every qualitative intrinsic physical property and relation of a set of physical objects from any domain D subject only to type P processes supervenes on qualitative intrinsic physical properties and relations in the supervenience basis of their basic physical parts relative to D and P.
Physical Property Holism: There is some set of physical objects from a domain D subject only to type P processes, not all of whose qualitative intrinsic physical properties and relations supervene on qualitative intrinsic physical properties and relations in the supervenience basis of their basic physical parts (relative to D and P).
There are many more theories that consider the issue from multiple angles. For further reading, I suggest reviewing Stanford’s Philosophy reference.