On Holon-Partons and Holarchies (and, How Holarchies Work)
You may well want to read this post first, as it explains holon-partons in about 3 minutes.
There is also this book chapter:
So – the term `holon’ was coined for a philosophical concept described by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost in the Machine (1967).
‘A holon … is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part’; Koestler defines a holarchy as `a hierarchy of self-regulating holons.’
Koestler goes into great detail on the structure, laws and behaviour of holons in holarchies, in Janus: A Summing Up (1978, 1979).
In the 1979 version, Koestler presents the following diagram of a holarchy:
In 1972 and 1975 Nobel Prize winning scientist Richard P Feynman talked about partons, and I assert Feynman is talking about the same thing as holons. So I have renamed them holon-partons as it is more consilient. (Combining science and the arts.)
See also this chapter:
Flemming Funch also summarizes Koestler (1964, 1967, 1978) and thus demonstrates that the internal functioning of holarchies are governed by laws (Funch 1995).
This thesis asserts that both film stories and the film industry are holon-partons (and, a holarchy/partarchy of holon-partons).
HOLARCHY-PARTARCHIES IN FILM (or: MOVIES)
Understanding the rules which govern holon-partons / holarchy-partarchies (and therefore, memes or `units of culture’ in stories) explains how: screen ideas, screenplays, and films – and even the film industry that produces them – operate, due to the internal laws of holarchies.
As Blackmore states in The Meme Machine (Blackmore, 1999):
“The complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman also likens the evolution of life to an incompressible computer algorithm.
We cannot predict how it will all unfold and can only `stand back and watch the pageant’.
We can, however, find `deep and beautiful laws governing that unpredictable flow’ (Kauffman, 1995, p.23)”
(Blackmore 1999, p.12 – emphasis mine)
However, I would beg to differ on this point, with both Kauffman and Blackmore:
Given that in 1953 Watson and Crick unlocked the genetic code; given the human genome project; and given genetic engineering in general – i.e. given that that due to Science, we understand more and more every day about DNA, genes, chromosomes and heredity – it is absolutely no longer the case – that we can only “stand back and watch the show”, as Life evolves…
The human race now has the power to guide biocultural Evolution. (I suspect, this is possibly plainly obvious, to most people.)
We have cloned Dolly the sheep, and we humans have been breeding sheep, cattle, dogs and plants since prehistory, in order to alter, `improve’ and `perfect’ the characteristics of various lifeforms on Earth, and in order to provide them with a genetic advantage, better adaptive qualities, and great evolutionary fitness.
For more, (specifically about artificial nucleic acids or XNA’s) please see: this i09 story about The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012.
Likewise – and most importantly for screenwriters and filmmakers worldwide, due to this doctoral research study, we now have begun to unlock the code of the `Story DNA’ of the top 20 RoI (Return On Investment) Feature Films.
What this means is that: filmmakers can now begin to use the most successful story structure memes in their own films, in order to make them more likely to be viral memes.
Is it not the goal of every storyteller (in film, novels, songs, or any narrative form) to reach the widest audience possible?
Let us now examine the laws by which holarcy-partarchies (or, `memeplexes’) within films (and even within the film industry itself) work:
The structure (holarchy-partarchy) of the Film Field, and the Domain (in Culture)
Note in the above, on each level, each holon-parton (1) competes or cooperates, sideways; (2) integrates upwards; and (3) controls and commands the holon-partons on the level below.
How Holarchy-Partarchies Work
Below is a simpler version of the above holarchy-partarchy.
The following is an extract from the 1995 essay “Holarchies” by Flemming Funch (Funch 1995).
(My own additions and modifications are inserted below, in italics.)
THE LAWS OF HOLARCHY-PARTARCHIES
- A holon-parton is a node in a holarchy-partarchy.
- A holon-parton looks up for what it needs to integrate with.
- (e.g. A Screenwriter looks to a Producer, in the Field, to make their screenplay into a movie, by financing it – and then producing it)
- It looks sideways for what it needs to compete with. [NB – and/or co-operate with]
- (A Screenwriter competes and/or co-operates with other Screenwriters for limited resources: Producers, and also the total economic capital is limited, so Producers compete with each other, for Film Financiers)
- It looks down for what it wants to command [and control].
- There is actually no-one “below” the Screenwriter in the holarchy.
- But there are “film story” ideas (memes) “below” in the Culture – that a Screenwriter wants to `command’ (i.e.: select, vary, and then transmit – into their screenplay).
- When creating a film story, a Screenwriter (1) selects, (2) varies and then (3) transmits these memes (story ideas / concepts) into their screenplay; a Screenwriter absorbs ideas and information (memes or units of culture) from the wider Culture / Environment and `combines, varies and selects’ all these for inclusion in their story / screenplay. The complexity of this entire process is exponentially increased when a Screen Idea Work Group (producers, etc) is `infected’ with the contagious story meme / screenplay, created by (or, that emerges from) the writer.
- Each holon-parton cannot be fully explained by or predicted by a study of its parts. It is something more. A holon-parton is also part of something bigger that it is being affected by. But at the same time it has a high degree of autonomy, it has a life of its own.
- (A screen idea/film story may also take on a life of its own during the development of the screen idea: a Screenwriter can be fired from their own film project, and a new Screenwriter can be attached. i.e. In some cases – the film story memeplex-holarchy mutates (is `varied’) so much, that the original Writer no longer `shares the vision’ as the Screen Idea Work Group (Director, Actors, Producers), and chooses to `part ways’ with the story meme, and/or the Writer/s can also be replaced, by the Screen Idea Work Group – against their will.)
Here endeth the modified version of Funch’s explanation of holons (or: holon-partons as I call them.)
Holarchy-partarchies extend throughout the Film system.
The film industry is therefore a holarchy-partarchy, and a film story itself is a holarchy-partarchy of memes.
Memes and memeplexes themselves are also: holon-partons and holarchy-partarchies.
HOW ARE `FILM MEMEPLEXES’ (FILM STORIES) CREATED?
Importantly, we can ask – with regard to Creativity:
How are successful screen ideas / film stories created?
Although all 20 film stories in the data set contain all the above holonic-partonic memes, how did they all get there?
The first initial “idea” / concept (meme) of a film story itself can emerge (can be consciously recognized by a writer/film-maker) anywhere, within the above holarchy-partarchy.
That is to say, for example – a filmmaker (or writer) may begin with (say) a Character (e.g. say, Rocky, Michael Myers, or `Mad’ Max Rockatansky), around which, the other memes in the holarchy-partarchy can then appear/emerge. or perhaps a Scene, or a Film Title, a line of Dialog, or a Theme.
But – how and why do they each (each meme) appear/emerge? In which order, do they typically appear/emerge?
Do film stories just appear/emerge, “fully formed”, ready to type up into a screenplay, in the writer’s mind?
The empirical evidence of how the top 20 RoI films were created would suggest they did not appear “fully formed in the mind of the writer”, and furthermore, this is a Romantic view of creativity, for which no verifiable evidence exists (rather than a Rational view, such as is offered by Csikszentmihalyi with the systems model of creativity).
Alternately (for example) a screen idea may begin from: a single line of dialog (or even a film title, like Cat People, or Snakes On A Train), around which – the other memes/holon-partons are then added to “flesh out the story” (to complete the film story memeplex).
In each case, the evidence on how these Top 20 most virally memetic films reveals that: starting with one meme (idea), a writer (and or/ a screen idea work group) uses their habitus (their “feel for the game”/instincts/second nature) to select, vary, and include (and alternately, discard) the related and connected memes, until the story (and screenplay) is assembled in the above form.
This process is iterative and recursive, as the film story (and screenplay) develops, through: Concept, Outline, Scene Breakdown, Treatment, Screenplay.
There is no `distinct pattern’ to the order of how the individual memes in the top 20 RoI film stories were selected, and their stories thus constructed, therefore – the Writer / Filmmaker has free will (`agency’) in terms of the order in which they select, vary and transmit these memes into their screen idea (film story). (And indeed, which ideas/memes to select at all.)
However the above emergent structure is predetermined overall; it is the structure of conventional feature film screen ideas – and therefore, of theatrical narrative fiction feature films.
The writer’s overall film story (as a meme) must conform to this structure in the finished film, regardless of the order in which the individual holonic-partonic memes appeared. Otherwise it risks not being judged “appropriate” (conventional), and may be too “novel” (original / `fresh’ / different).
Creative products are those judged “novel and appropriate” by the Field. (See: `The Standard Definition of Creativity’ by Runco & Jaeger 2012.)
In short, it does not matter, When – or How – all these memes appear, as long as, when the final form of the story meme/holon-parton emerges, it matches the above film story structure (memeplex).
– A Writer can begin with: a Character, or alternately perhaps a Setting, or an Image of a character/s in a Setting, or a Theme, a line of Dialog, an Action, a Theme – or: a potentially infinite number of memes.
All that matters, at the end of the day – is that the `final’ film memeplex (the overall film story) emerges, fully formed, possibly in the screenplay – but necessarily – in the completed film.
This process all may sound obvious – and unnecessarily pedantic. However, I believe it is how Creativity in Film actually works. Although most Writers/Filmmakers may never consciously realize – nor verbalize – that this is the process, the Top 20 RoI Films would indicate that this is exactly how it occurs.
(Also, speaking as a produced feature film screenwriter, this is also my own experience of how film stories emerge, as screenplays.)
THE DOMAINS AND SUB-DOMAINS OF THE FILM HOLARCHY-PARTARCHY
The domain of Film contains many, many sub-domains.
This is one reason the Domain of Film takes (on average) 10 years to master.
The Domains (Sub-Domains) within Film include (but are not limited to)
6) Production Design
10) Special Effects (Makeup, Hair, Costumes, etc)
14) Visual Effects (e.g. Computer graphics)
15) Animation (stop-motion, 2-D animation, clay-mation, etc)
16) Titles & Credits
– etc.(Some films are more complex than others from a production point of view. The top 20 RoI Films in general are comparatively simple – and use few effects, stunts, and expensive techniques such as CGI / computer-generated imagery visual effects)
(Some Sub-Domains of film listed above – include Sub-Sub-Domains. For example, Cinematography includes the Domains of Photography and Lighting, Claymation includes the Domain of Sculpture, etc etc etc)
It is small wonder that it takes a long time (many years) to `master’ this Domain (say, as a Film Writer, or Director).
Although Film is one of the most collaborative art forms – possibly only Videogames, as an art form, is more complex, and collaborative.
THE POND-RIPPLE MODEL: a viral Film (Story)
Let’s examine how a film meme emerges from a writer (as a screenplay) and if extremely successful/viral as a meme (exactly like the Top 20 ROI Films) – ripples `outward’ through the various holon-partons of the international film industry:
For the model above, perhaps imagine the film story meme is like ripples of a pond, with a stone thrown into the middle of the pond.
Starting with the two `central’ holon-partons above (i.e. the ellipses marked: Writer-Director, and, Film Producer):
1) A Writer-hyphenate (e.g. a Writer-Director) creates an original film story and writes (creates) a screenplay.
2) S/he finds a Producer in the Field – who finds the meme (the film screenplay/story) contagious (i.e., who believes it has commercial potential – or at least is “a story that should be told”) – and: wants to make the film.
3) Finance is secured by the Producer. (This is the place where most films stumble, and fail, and are: not made). 98% of screenplays go unmade (Macdonald 2004). Once (or – if) the finance is raised, a Group is attached (film cast and crew) to make the film, from the screenplay. This group may also be called a Screen Idea Work Group (Macdonald, 2004). Actors, Directors, Producers and Writer/s (possibly even Distributors, and other Investors/Executive Producers) are the Screen Idea Work Group and then further develop the screen idea/screenplay.
4) The film is produced and released (marketed, distributed and exhibited in theatrical cinemas), and the Field (the audience, the film industry, critics, teachers) all experience the film. Word-of-mouth means: the film (meme) spreads further and further. A film’s title may be a viral meme: `Snakes On A Plane‘ was famous for this.
According to my friend Chris Jones, the Title of your film is the most important meme that you can create…
5) The film enters the Domain of works judged Creative (in Csikszentmihalyi’s terms, i.e. the systems model of creativity)
6) The film `spreads through the Culture’. Merchandise (posters, t-shirts, music soundtracks, mugs, etc) are sold…
7) The film spreads through Society. People talk about the film, quote dialog lines from the film, and make jokes based on the memes of the film. (During a real-life fist-fight, someone might start singing the Theme From Rocky)
8) If the film is nationally successful – it (the meme) spreads throughout the Nation. (as per the diagram above)
9) Further to this, if the film achieves international release and is internationally successful (as were all top 20 RoI films), it has gone as far as a meme can be expected (hoped) to spread (i.e. until we colonize other planets).
The creators of the film have therefore created an extremely viral meme, in creating the film story, and: the film itself.
This is (arguably) the goal of all filmmaking, and why The Top 20 RoI Films are worth studying for their common `viral’ memes/patterns, and also why, The Bottom 20 RoI Films are worth studying (to avoid those memes/patterns).
The StoryAlity principles are designed to allow a screenwriter / filmmaker / writer-hyphenate achieve this goal.
…Thoughts? Feedback? Comments?
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
Blackmore, SJ (1999), The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Feynman, RP 1972, Photon-hadron Interactions, Frontiers in Physics, W. A. Benjamin, Reading, Mass.,.
Funch, Flemming ‘Holarchies’, <http://www.worldtrans.org/essay/holarchies.html>, accessed 10th September 2012.
Koestler, A 1964, The Act of Creation, Hutchinson, London.
Koestler, Arthur (1967), The Ghost In The Machine (London: Hutchinson).
Koestler, A 1978, Janus: A Summing Up, Hutchinson, London.
Macdonald, IW 2004, ‘The Presentation of the Screen Idea in Narrative Film-making (PhD Dissertation)’, Leeds Metropolitan University.
Macdonald, IW 2013, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.’ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.