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holonHolon (ger.)

  • A subsystem at any level in a system hierarchy.  
    wholeness environ

    I.1 The organism in its structural aspect is not an aggregation of elementary parts, and in its functional aspects not a chain of elementary units of behariour. I.2 The organism is to be regarded as a multi-levelled hierarchy of semi-autonomous sub-wholes, branching into sub-wholes of a lower order, and so on. Sub-wholes on any level of the hierarchy are referred to as holons. I.3 Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domain of life. The concept of the holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approaches. I.4 Biological holons are self-regulating open systems which display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts. I.5 More generally, the term ‘holon’ may be applied to any stable biological or social sub-whole which displays rule-governed behaviour and/or structural Gestalt-constancy. Thus organelles and homologous organs are evolutionary holons; morphologenetic fields are ontogenetic holons; the ethologist’s ‘fixed action patterns’ and the sub-routines of acquired skills are behavioural holons; phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases are linguistic holons; individuals, families, tribes, nations are social holons.

    Koestler, A. (1967). The Ghost in the Machine: 341 (App. I); cf. id. (1969). Beyond atomism and holism – the concept of holon. In: Koestler, A. & Smithies, J.R. (eds.). Beyond Reductionism. New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, 192-216.


    Koestler introduced the term holon to refer to subsystems at any level in a system hierarchy. W.S. Overton (pers. comm.) adopts this word to mean objects that are simultaneously part of a greater whole and individualistic in their own right. The holon becomes the building block of hierarchically organized systems and can used nonspecifically to represent the basic elements in any of the system theories that may be interconnected to form a system. […] A holon’s environment is that system with which th holon interacts. […] the term genon is here proposed for an output object and creaon for an input object. The genon is concerned with generation of effects produced as holon outputs that become available as potential inputs tot he holon’s environment. The creaon functios to select outputs of the holon’s environment that serve as inputs to the holon.

    Patten, B.C. (1975). Ecosystem as a coevolutionary unit: a theme for teaching systems ecology. In: Innis, G.S. (ed.). New Directions in the Analysis of Ecological Systems, part 1, 1-8: 2; 3.


    Creaons receive stimuli and implicitly create input environments. Genons react to received cases and generate potential output environments as effects. A holon represents the combined input-output model of an entity consisting of a creaon and a genon. An environ is a creaon and its corresponding input environment, or a genon and its relatied output environment.

    Patten, B.C. (1978). Systems approach to the concept of environment. Ohio J. Sci. 78, 206-222: 206.