rui manuel grácio das neves
“If you can imagine it,
you can achieve it.
If you can dream it,
you can become it”.
Today we hear everywhere, people talking about ‘Holism’. This also became a new fashion!
So, it is said that we must get a more holistic perspective at the Market, at the Administration, at Politics, at Business, at Football or at Art. The word has became very common, but is used in a less precise and analytical meaning. If the use of the word is so imprecise, the challenge is that: “All is OK!”, and that word is useful for almost all the things. All people accept it, but without much comprehension of it. This can be the risk of these intellectual fashions.
Nevertheless, this word can denote also something as a “wave of thinking”, that is, as “signs of the times”, in relationship with thinking-feeling-acting of the people in the world. It is becoming more and more useful, because we have a parochialless, closeless, schematicless, less “narrow-minded” “feeling”, in front of a Reality that we feel very complex, difficult and with a lot of implications and scopes.
So, it is becoming more widespread the “impression” that we must get at total comprehension, less fragmentary, in the analysis of human and social problems, studying them as an interrelated whole.
We feel this second aspect more interesting and worthy of philosophical consideration.
That means that we must be very vigilant according to these “signs of the times”, more of cognitive type, pretending to grasp these interests and their background.
Actually, this is always the task of a good Philosophy: go to the ground of the things, trying to understand “the ultimate” (although in this case and in others, it results in a “philosophy of the penultimate”) that it is possible to say about some specific questions. We are not interested in discussing about one word, but about one style of thinking.
In other words, we need to investigate the concrete epistemology beneath/behind this “epistemological need” of searching for wholeness/ totality by human thought. It is not the first time that it does so, and perhaps it is not the last time, too. Human thought likes to reach to the depth and to say: “until here we arrived” and “we cannot overcome the beyond”. And, once we arrived there, to “the last”, and we cannot go further, we become happy analyzing, deepening…, knowing, in one word.
I can tell that all great philosophers, in the History of Philosophy, always found “the last”, which he couldn’t (or did not like) to overcome. This “last” becomes the principle of his thought, organizing them in an orderly way.
For instance, the concept of ‘life’ in Nietzsche, of ‘Idea’ in Plato, of Reality conceived as ‘matter-form’ in Aristotle (or his famous ‘primary principles’), of ‘élan vital’ in Henri Bergson, or of ‘change’ in Heraclitus. All these deep insights and thoughts when centered together, became the ‘foundation stone’ of the architecture of their philosophical systems.
The question for ‘totality’, either in thought, or in Reality (if Thought and Reality are different “things”…) is a permanent question. Perhaps, it is the question. Philosophers (and other thinkers) in answering it, articulate in different ways in their systems.
If this comes from a psychological need of human beings or not, is something that the psychology of knowledge could analyse. Anyway, our attitude to this “last” could be different: we can accept it, to reject it, or trying to go beyond. We can remember here the famous words of Ernst Bloch: “Denken heißt Überschreiten” (“To Think is to overcome, to transcend”). This is the most original tendency in dialectics. However, the question is if we can also go beyond the same dialectics.
We are in front of the goal for ‘wholeness’, something present in the contemporary culture. This objective is, however, as old as the Humanity, that could be formulated in different ways. The Holism is as old as the Humanity. But in the actual times, this tendency is emerging strongly, because of different causes. We need, therefore, a philosophical service today to mankind, studying and investigating what we are saying under the term ‘Holism’.
First of all, what does it mean by the term ‘Holism’?
We can think that Ecology, Music and Chess are ‘holistics’. But, what do we mean with this word?
Provisionally, we understand by ‘Holism’: “A specific way of thinking that stresses the priority of the whole over its ‘parts’”. We can also talk of this like: “Some model (or paradigm) of investigation searching over all, for the totalities and their relationships, more than what is specific to each part”.
In this last case, we don’t exclude any specific anylisis of the different “parts”, but we need to integrate these parts in a more extensive analysis, more integrative, of wholeness, where the different parts have a general meaning understood like the Whole.
In short, it is the Whole or the Totality that gives meaning to each of its parts. That is, the parts are parts-of-a-whole, but they are not autonomous parts. The parts configure the Whole. Obviously, we are engaged here in interesting problems of language, that we shall try to analyse during this investigation.
We are in the presence of a thought belonging to centuries –even millenia- of existence of Humanity. This thought without any doubt, expresses itself in the way the human spirit thinks, feels, acts and lives since ages. It is a different way to look at the Reality, different from what is esteemed as “normal” in western cultures. Therefore comes our interest to penetrate into it and to grasp its principal thesis, it’s strengths, and also it’s weaknesses.
We are engaged here in an investigation, and such investigation implies the need to practice an “epistemological check up” of its solidity, foundation, safety, etc. Perhaps, this could help humankind in these times of obscurity and incertitude. In any case, that must be critically analysed, if we try to do correct philosophy.
We don’t try to set up another philosophical system on the banks of the philosophically accused, but we try to search for its logic, rationality, foundation, that is, its epistemological consistency. Perhaps we can thus give something to today’s human beings. But this is other task, more sociological, that we are not attempting here in detail.
Definitively, the “author” of this investigation is the Life itself, because it teaches us a lot of things (with others, that we could not yet learn…), an enormous set of interconnections, that begins from who created us, genetically, our parents, until the cook, who prepares every day the meals, and a lot of friends who had helped us during all this time, with their care, interesting observations and also with radical criticisms.
Of course, Life itself is not to be blamed for our ignorance, mistakes of perception and of evaluation, of our ego-centric mind, using now terminology of the Holism. But, with humility, we have tried to do our best.
2. HOLISM IN WORLD PHILOSOPHY
We can mention here, in a certain chronological order, besides other things, the following philosophers: the pre-Socratics (above all Pythagoras and his school), “Plato”, the Cynic school, Stoicism, Philo of Alexandria, Epitectus, the Gnostic schools, Origen (the theologian), Plotinus and his neo-platonic school, Hermes Trimegistus, Gregory of Nysa, Proclus, Boethius, pseudo-Dionisyus the Areopagite (Acts 17,34), John the Scot Erigena (or Eriugena), Alfarabi, Ibn Gebirol, Algazel, the Victorines (Hugh and Richard of Saint Victor), Ibn Tufayl, Gioacchino da Fiore, Bonaventure, Raymond Llull, Master Eckhart, Jan van Ruysbroek, the anonymous author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, Nicholas of Cusa, Leo Hebrew (Abrabanel Jehuda), Gian Francesco Pico della Mirandola, Teophrastus Paracelsus, John of the Cross, Giordano Bruno, Jakob Böhme, Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler), Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, Arthur Schopenhauer, the American transcendentalists (over all Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau), Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Heidegger, etc.
We can also mention poets and writers like Yalal al-Din Rumi, Dante Alighieri, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke, Fernando Pessoa, Nikos Kazantzakis, Hermann Hesse, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Jorge Luis Borges…
Or psycologists like Carl G. Jung, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, Rubén Feldman González... and interestings schools like Gestalt or Transpersonal Psychology. At the same time, neurologists like K. Pribram. Physicists like David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Michael Talbot, besides big contributions to the question by the quantum physicists: N. Bohr, M. Planck, W. Heisenberg, even the same A. Einstein…, etc.
Curiously, there is in the field of Administration a so-called “Holistic Administration” and there is also a Holistic Medicine, working for millenia, with incredible results.
It is very probable that we forgot some important holistic persons. There are also other authors, not so famous as the former ones. Not all in the list, of course, are “clearly” holistic thinkers and some are only close by (almost holistic). Nevertheless, all of them have meaningful aspects to contribute to a holistic philosophy “in construction”. We study them with “positive thinking”, in an open-minded spirit.
If we add to all of these, some of the thinkers in the East, whose tendency was more predominantly ‘Holistic’ than in the West, we would be surprised with the big list of people that we can associate with Holism.
3. BASIC THESIS OF HOLISM
3.1. They are the following:
(1) Reality is a flowing Whole, dynamic and in permanent “activity” (“heraclitean principle”). However, it also exists in ‘calmness’ and ‘quietude’ in other “realms” of Reality (“parmenidean principle”).
(2) Reality is a unitarian totality. The Whole is One. “Parts” are always parts of a Whole. The Whole is more than the addition of the parts. “The Whole is in the parts”.
(3) All is in relationship with all, in inter-connectivity or absolute inter-relationship (‘ecological paradigm’: Gaia hypothesis-Lovelock). Nothing is out of this total inter-relationship.
(4) The Macro is present in the micro (‘hologramatic paradigm’). The unique difference between both is its dimensionality. Macro-micro: one unique thing. “As in up, so in down” (“hermetic principle”).
(5) The Whole is structured: because of its unity, it integrates the differences, which are not suppressed. It is a “differentiated” Whole (Multiplicity and Diversity are integrated in the Whole). Reality is a multidiversefying totality.
(6) Particular identities or individualities are not substantials, but provisionals, flexibles, interchangeables (‘physical paradigm of the “Shiva’s Dance”: F. Capra). They are changeable and mutable identities. In phenomenal World, “nothing that ‘is’, all changes” (“heraclitean principle”).
(7) There is no duality between subject and object: the observer is, at the same time, the observed, and vice versa (‘quantum paradigm’). It puts an end to the dualism between the epistemic and ontological. “Reality observes itself”.
(8) From an episteme-ontological point of view, the Whole can be considered into a phenomenal-noumenal way. ‘Phenomenally’ it is difference, multiplicity, spaciality, temporality; ‘noumenally’ it is ‘one’. Holistic vision consists of seeing both aspects interconnected (‘aristotelian principle’, but interpreted holistically). Noumenon in phenomenon, simultaneously. And vice versa.
(9) Using a Kantian schema, but in other episteme-ontological context, we can say that the human mind (‘understanding’ in Kant), only can grasp (discursively) the phenomena. To grasp the Whole in itself with its differences, the ‘noumenon’ with its ‘phenomena’, comprehensively, we need an intuitive and transcendental act (a sort of ‘intuitive Reason’, paradoxically using Kant’s terminology, but with other meaning).
(10) This intuitive act or original intuition of Reality is beyond (or behind) discursive thought. It is a pure experience, original. It is paradoxical, unthinkable (in logical categories, that work constantly in oppositions), incommunicable, unspeakable in itself. Only it could be grasped in a simultaneous, spontaneous and ruptural way, once for all (there is diversity in schools: the first ones, more ‘rupturalists’ and the second ones, more ‘gradualists’). Anyway, holistic experience is a synoptic vision of Reality. It is apophatic, but experienceable (an ‘absolute experience’, viventia), in principle and for all human beings.
3.2. In a shorter and more schematic form, we can summarize these theses in the following type, too (writing also their specifics paradigms, and, above all, organizing the thesis):
(1) Reality is a ‘fluent’ Whole and ‘in repose’ (heraclitean-parmenidean paradigm).
(2) Reality is a unitarian totality (paradigm of unity).
(3) Reality is a multidiverse totality (paradigm of diversity).
(4) The Whole is interrelated (ecological paradigm).
(5) Identities are flexible and provisional (paradigm of ‘Shiva’s Dance’).
(6) There is not duality between subject and object in an absolute way (non-dualistic paradigm).
(7) The Macro is present in the micro (holographic or hologramatic paradigm, and hermetic paradigm).
(8) The Whole is phenomenally multiple and noumenally unitarian. ‘Holistic Experience’ consists of “seeing” noumenon in the phenomenon (Aristotelian paradigm).
(9) Holistic Experience is transcendentally intuitive (intuitionistic paradigm).
(10) Holistic Experience is synoptical (simultaneous) and apophatic (negative-paradoxical paradigm).
3.3. All these affirmations can be summarized in four (4):
(1) Reality is phenomenally dynamic, but with a noumenal ‘realm’ of ‘quietitude and repose’. Both are mutually integrated and they are really “two faces of the same coin”.
(2) Reality is unitarian in the noumenal realm and multidiverse in the phenomenal realm.
(3) Reality is “substantial”-relational (inter-related).
(4) Reality only can be essentially grasped in a transcendental, simultaneous and total intuition.
3.4. Finally, in a few theses (3), they could be, onto-epistemologically, summarized:
(1) Reality is multidiverseally a unitarian totality (unitarian noumenally, multiple phenomenally), dynamic-static, inter-related.
(2) The Whole is given in the parts, the Macro in the micro. In the last expression, there is no duality subject-object and different identities are relatives, flexibles and provisionals.
(3) The HE (Holistic Experience) is intuitive (transcendentally speaking), synoptic (simultaneous) and apophatic. The HE consists of living the noumena in the phenomena.
“LET US WALK
SOFTLY ON THIS EARTH
WITH ALL LIVING BEINGS”