What is holarchy?

In 1967, Arthur Koestler put forward a theory of holarchy (The Ghost in the Machine) that seemed to underpin how natural systems are organized. He coined the term “holon” for an entity that was whole in and of itself and also part of a greater whole; a whole-part. He suggested that we are organized, in embedded or nested degrees of increasing complexity.  Each whole becoming part of a greater, more complex whole. As letters make up words, and words make up paragraphs, and paragraphs make up pages, and pages make up books, so too are we organized psychologically, physically and socially in ever increasing complexity. Something unique and powerful happens at each level of complexity, which is more than the sum of the parts, an important observation in terms of development or environmental sustainability theory.  The simplest rule of holarchy is that if you take away holons of lesser complexity the more complex ones disappear. No letters and there are no words, no words means no sentences, and so on. Conversely, if individual social change agents are skilled leaders, organizations tend to be strong. Healthy networks are the product of active, engaged and healthy organizations. There is a direction and development to the embedded or nested holons.  Some elements depend on others. It is not possible to have a healthy organization or network unless there are strong individuals on whom to rely. Ken Wilber, an American philosopher, later developed the concept and expounded on twenty tenets of holarchy that underpin the theory.


How does this relate to our web page?  Note that One Sky is a holon… an organization made up of many individuals.  But One Sky is also in partnership and in networks that make it a part of a greater whole.  Ultimately these partnerships and networks are part of a global movement toward sustainability.  Why is this important and why did we structure our web page this way? Well, it all starts with “you” or “I” and from you and I we move to the concept of “us” and when we realize that “we” are part of a greater “we” it all starts to make sense that we “all live under One Sky”.  But remember the rule of holons...if you take away holons of lesser complexity the more complex ones disappear.  That is why individuals are so important to the functioning of One Sky and hence you will note an underpinning philosophy within our organization on personal ecology, personal health and the need for personal leadership.  That is why “we” at One Sky thought it was important to include a section on “you” on our webpage.

If you would like to read more on holarchy we were particularly inspired by the work of Ken Wilber and his exquisite writings on integral theory.