Various philosophies have discussed the subject of what happens when a whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. We can address this from a physical angle, a business angle, a spiritual angle, or a psychological angle, the phenomenon is roughly the same.

My own bias has mostly been metaphysical or psychological.

Gestalt Therapy, Holism, Holodynamics, and Holonomics are some of the disciplines that primarily focus on this kind of idea. Here are a couple of dictionary definitions to start us off:

"HOLISM: the view that an organic or integrated whole has a reality independent of and greater than the sum of its parts."

"GESTALT: any of the integrated structures or patterns that make up all experience and have specific properties which can neither be derived from the elements of the whole nor considered simply as the sum of these elements."

Several pieces put together can form a new whole with some kind of independent existence. We can break a whole into several parts and each part will have some kind of independent existence. It is all relative to where we see it from whether we are talking about wholes or parts.

We can say that anything whatsoever is made out of the same "substance" and we can regard anything as either part of a whole or as a separate existence. I would regard the "stuff" that everything is made out of as consciousness, which is the metaphysical angle, but that is not required at all. We could just as well talk about it logically or organizationally. If we have the job of organizing "Everything" then we can look at wholes or parts in many different ways.

We can regard any portion of the universe as either a self-contained unit, or we can regard it as just an aspect of the whole universe.

If we start with any arbitrary piece of existence we can go in two possible directions with it. We can integrate it into a bigger whole, or we can fragment it into smaller parts or aspects. Or, we could leave it alone, of course.

If we take a person, we can divide him or her into smaller, somewhat autonomous units. Some people will vehemently refuse this theory, but I don't really care. It is practical to pretend that we can divide a person and it does make a lot of things easier to explain. For one thing people usually have what they call a mind. That is a part of themselves, but they pretend that it is something else. The mind can have different portions to it, such as a conscious mind and a sub-conscious mind.

Depending on how we look at things we could say that a person can leave pieces of themselves around in various locations, or times, on various subjects, or other people.

If nothing else, you leave impressions on others and on the physical environment when you go through life and interact with people, things and subjects. Those impressions you leave around are part of the whole definition of what you are. We could also say that you leave your energy around. There isn't necessarily any limited supply of "You" to leave around, though.

What if we go the other way and combine stuff into bigger wholes? See, it doesn't have to be the parts that "originally" went together. Put any set of pieces together and some kind of whole will come out of it. We can take a random collection of different people and put them together with some kind of common purpose or reality. They will then not just be some individual people, there will be a group reality that will start forming. That group reality will have a life of its own and a mind of its own.

There is such a thing a mass-consciousness. Large groups of people will together create consciousnesses or minds that are alive in themselves. They will get to influence their members beyond what can be explained by individual actions.

A body is a whole consisting of cells. Each cell is a separate unit, but when they are all together they form something much more impressive than just a bunch of cells. A billion amoebae in one place just don't form a human brain. But something can take place that makes a bigger whole out of the component parts.

An anthill full of ants becomes much more organized than one would expect from its component parts. A bunch of apparently aimless little ants running around and bumping into each other, and together they end up being this amazingly effective machine.

A specific inter-personal domain, group domain, a society, a solar system, all of them take on a life greater than the sum of their parts. And each domain represents a greater and greater whole with some kind of built-in intelligence, all the way up to the domain of All-that-is which would be basically the totality of existence, as a whole.

So there is an incredible range of consciousness, going towards ultimate wholeness at the top, and towards ultimate fragmentation at the bottom. The scale is probably infinite and it probably encompasses anything and everything. A grouping can occur on any level or combination of levels. A grouping will be an integrated whole that can function as a unit. Any such grouping will always be part of a bigger whole, and it will always have smaller parts or aspects to itself.

A name would be useful to cover all of these groupings.

Words have been used like Gestalt or Holodyne, but they are mostly addressed to the aggregate groupings and don't quite fit smaller units. The best suggestion I have heard is "Holon", a word originally coined by Arthur Koestler. It covers both the idea of being whole and of being one unit of something. It can be used about a physical phenomenon, a person, an entity, any created structure, thought form, group agreement or whatever.

A Holon is an aggregate of meaning, consciousness, or activity working in some fashion as one unit. It might consist of smaller units with independent activities. It might be part of a bigger unit. What makes the holon a holon is that it has some kind of commonality of purpose with itself, and it has a game of its own. It has a range of freedom, it has barriers or limitations, and it has purpose.

A person is a Holon, one's physical body could be regarded as a Holon, your bridge club could be a Holon, a business is a Holon, as is different departments of the business, your thoughts on a certain subject could be a Holon, Mankind is a Holon, God or the Devil are Holons, Santa Claus is a Holon.

It all depends on the viewpoint one takes. If we just say "everything is Holons" we haven't accomplished much. It is all relative to what aspect of life you are studying and what you are trying to accomplish. If we are looking at the relationship between individual people, we would probably regard each person as a Holon and their relationship as one Holon or maybe a few Holons depending on which kind of relationships they have in different situations. We wouldn't bother about the cells in their bodies or about mankind or the Andromeda galaxy.

In a way this can be regarded as a logical tool, a way of systematically studying or analyzing things. Korzybski, who invented General Semantics, talked a lot about wholes and parts and different logical levels. He was trying to get people to take the whole into consideration and to think in infinite scales. He didn't intend this metaphysically at all, it was purely in the realm of logic.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming deals a lot with different levels of logic also. One talks about "chunk size", that is how big a chunk of everything that you are dealing with at one time. E.g. "Vehicles" is a bigger chunk than "Bus" which is a bigger chunk than "Wheel". One can "chunk up" to seeing things more generally, more globally, the bigger, broader, more simple all-encompassing picture. Or one can "chunk down" to study more detail, more practical, down to earth matters, more precise intricacies, complexities, special cases, exact application, etc.

One could very well base a business consulting approach on some methodology of dealing with Holons presented in logical business language. There doesn't have to be anything metaphysical about it. One could work out what the logical conceptual units are that are involved in a business, e.g. "Customers", "Management", "Sales people", and the interesting ones would be the more hidden constructs like "The reorganization last year", "The Future", "The business climate". Holons could have been formed by significant past incidents, by some kind of common agreement, superstition or whatever. By then engineering some kind of process that aligns the relationships between these Holons one could probably create miracles.

If we regard a Holon as an alive entity of consciousness or as a logical unit doesn't really matter much. Actually it is probably best to not make too many agreements on what it IS. It is whatever it is.

Whatever we call a Holon, it is just a label attached to a certain set of associations, just words.

There is a difference between making descriptive maps of the world and looking at the real thing.

One of the ways of knowing the difference is that when you connect with the real thing it is beyond words. You might describe it with words, but it isn't words. Specific perceptions are a better approximation of what is there than precise labels are, but still, they are only approximations.

There will be degrees of that, of course. It is doubtful if we can ever say that one connects totally with what is REALLY there. The best we can probably do is to connect with the actual present time perceptions, rather than with symbols, words, memories of old perceptions and so forth. Instead of getting secondary and tertiary representations we want the first hand information.

In my own personal counseling practice I've often found use of the idea of Holons. Either to treat them as real, living entities that we can address and change. Or, to clarify how they are simply associations between different parts or ideas, and can be taken out of existence, if they aren't desired.

A client might come to me and say that he has some kind of issue with "Grandma". Even though I might know that his grandmother has been dead for 30 years, I won't just try to convince him that there is no more Grandma and he should forget about it. There might be a lot of value in dealing with the "Grandma" that exists for him now. We can contact her and talk with her and he can sort out his issues with the Grandma holon, tell her whatever he needs to and ask her whatever he wants. Typically, when the differences are sorted out "Grandma" will either disappear, or she might stay around in a different role.

The interesting thing is that it doesn't really matter if it is the REAL Grandma that he talked with or if it is just a metaphorical visualization. As a matter of fact, I would sabotage the work equally if I insisted that it was the REAL Grandma, or if I insisted that it was just fantasy.

What I AM saying is that there is use in working directly with whatever constructs appear to have existence for a person or group.

I will, metaphysically speaking, say that there is more to it than just juggling different logical models intellectually. But I also say that there is no reason to argue about it.

Let me give another example. I talked with my friend Rowland Barkley, who is a high-tech Shaman, about the subject of being an author and writing books and he put my attention on an angle of it that I had overlooked. See, I know the datum that to write a book it is a good idea if you visualize what kind of audience you are writing for. I had thought of that as just something you visualize and label, sort of a demographic profile. "New age professionals who want to be more successful" or some such description. What I realized is that there is a big difference between doing that and actually CONNECTING with an audience out there. It is not just an idea. If I want to write a book, there is a potential audience out there. They are actual beings, or Holons if you will, that are there in present time. I can emotionally or psychically connect with them, link up with them, find out what they are about and what they want. Not guess at it, or calculate it, or visualize it - actually reach them and establish a connection. There needs to be an actual exchange of energy. When I put out my perceptions I realized that there was an actual audience there and that changed my whole sense of what I was doing.

I could imagine that this could be just as applicable in a business setting. The "Accounting Department" is not just the collection of 10 people or whatever who work there, and it is not just a logical grouping either. There will be a "Spirit of the Accounting Department" that goes beyond the specific people or offices. Even if you fire all the people and put in new ones, the same Spirit of the Accounting Department would still be there, somewhat independently of what else is going on. There would be great value in connecting with it and finding out what it is about and what it wants.

There are many practical uses of this theory, which are my no means exhausted by what you find here. This is just my, rather subjective, angle on it.