Triholonics is a systems science based on the study of holons.

The holon

The term holon is a combination of the word Holos-, which means whole and the suffix -on, which means particle or part. Thus a holon is a whole, that is simultaneously a part of a larger whole. The term was coined by Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost in the Machine.

In the diagram below the darker dotted lines represent a holon; it is both contained as well as containing. An atom is an example of a holon as it is both a whole to other parts like protons, electrons, neutrons, quarks, etc, as well as being a part of a molecule. It’s nothing but holon turtles all the way down baby!


Systems science

A system is an abstract concept which just means a group of things that are arranged and related so that they work together to create something which is more than the sum of their parts. Anything from the computer that you’re using to read this page from through to your body and our planet are systems. A system is just a hierarchy of holons.

Systems science is an interdisciplinary field that studies the properties and dynamics of systems. The purpose of systems science is to understand different phenomenon through the lens of systems. All of the sciences; physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology etc; can be explored through the lens of systems science.

Quick aside: Holons with 2 terms

To date the holon has been exclusively explored through the lens of the reigning Cartesian worldview. This is the unquestioned, or rather assumed view of the world conceived and experienced through the lens of a dyad; a way of seeing the world by dividing things things up into 2 polar parts. The duality of mind and matter is Descartes original example of a dyad. Subject and object, true and false, right and wrong, and good and bad are other examples of unquestioned and assumed distinctions of a dyadic worldview. But lets come back to the holon.

Something new: a third type of holon

The holon is an interesting concept that has been explored by many people over the years, although its utility so far has been relatively insignificant, as evidenced by the fact that few people even know the term. I believe however that most people have missed the most radical aspect of a holon which is this; a holon is itself a holon!

A holon is any whole that contains parts, or any part that is a member of a larger whole, therefore we have 2 types of holons; whole-holons and part-holons. Whilst its easy to see this as the end of the story about holons, if we stand back a bit further we can see that these 2 types of holons are themselves members or parts of yet a larger whole. This introduces the notion of a third type of holon.


This simple change of contextul perspective transforms the holon from being an interesting but largely unproductive concept of a dyadic worldview, to the holon as a self referential and significant concept of a triadic worldview. Now this sounds all very technical and philosophical and the like, and seemingly totally irrelevant to normal people living normal lives. But its not irrelevant and in fact it might be one of the most significant ideas we’ve never heard of.

Static systems are 2 term holons; Living systems are 3 term holons

Whilst the concept of a holon is a constructed distinction I believe this triadic pattern is inherent in the architecture of living systems. Purpose, choice, and agency as well as self-referentiality and cognition are all examples of 3-term systems. None of these are possible within a dyadic system as 2-term causality (ie. simple stimulus-response pairings) is not capable of free will or novelty.

The 3 term holon integrates all

This also sheds light onto the essential relationship between 2-term static systems and 3-term dynamic ones. An example of this is an explanation of the relationship between entropy and negentropy. Both entropy and negentropy (sometimes also called syntropy) are interdependent parts of the creative and expansive phenomenon of the universe. The dyadic system is fundamentally static and habitual in nature, whereas the triadic system is dynamic and creative. Without one another, the essential ratcheting mechanism of the increasing complexity and capability of evolution would not be possible.

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