The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)

This is my vote for `Best Book Of The Year’ (and 2014 isn’t even over yet…)

Run, don’t walk to – buy & read it!

It brilliantly integrates biology, cognition. sociology and ecology – using consilienceevolution and systems theory (!) (The three main subjects of my thesis ! )

Here is Professor Capra talking about the book:

And here is the book-blurb, from Amazon.com:

`Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of ‘systemic’ thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions – from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.’


This quote below (from Capra & Luisi 2014) correlates precisely with my theory of holon-partons, outlined here in The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme, the unit of culture and also here, in A hierarchy of memes:

`The view of living systems as networks provides a novel perspective on the so-called “hierarchies” of nature. Since living systems at all levels are networks, we must visualize the web of life as living systems (networks) interacting in network fashion with other systems (networks). For example, we can picture an ecosystem schematically as a network with a few nodes. Each node represents an organism, which means that each node, when magnified, appears itself as a network. Each node in the new network may represent an organ, which in turn will appear as a network when magnified, and so on.

In other words, the web of life consists of networks within networks. At each scale, under closer scrutiny, the nodes of the network reveal themselves as smaller networks. We tend to arrange these systems, all nesting within larger systems, in a hierarchical scheme by placing the larger systems above the smaller ones in pyramid fashion. But this is a human projection. In nature, there is no “above” or “below,” and there are no hierarchies. There are only networks nesting within other networks.

(Capra & Luisi 2014, p. 68)

Also – this as does, quote:

`The realization that systems are integrated wholes that cannot be understood by analysis was even more shocking in physics than in biology. Ever since Newton , physicists had believed that all physical phenomena could be reduced to the properties of hard and solid material particles. In the 1920s, however, quantum theory forced them to accept the fact that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units.

As we shift our attention from macroscopic objects to atoms and subatomic particles , nature does not show us any isolated building blocks, but rather appears as a complex web of relationships between the various parts of a unified whole.’

(Capra & Luisi 2014, p. 68)

Holarchy of Biology

A Holarchy of Biology (Velikovsky 2013 – modified from Miller’s Living Systems 1978)

And – this quote below also correlates precisely with my theory of holon-partons (and consilience):

`From objects to relationships – Throughout the living world we find systems nesting within larger systems.

Cells are parts of tissues; tissues are parts of organs, organs parts of organisms; and living organisms are parts of ecosystems and social systems.

At each level the living system is an integrated whole with smaller components, while at the same time being a part of a larger whole. Ultimately – as quantum physics showed so impressively – there are no parts at all. What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of relationships. Therefore, the shift of perspective from the parts to the whole can also be seen as a shift from objects to relationships.’

(Capra & Luisi 2014, p. 83)

Below is a holarchy of holon-partons.

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

Consilience – Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

In other words, as Capra & Luisi (2014) suggest:

`All living systems are networks of smaller components, and the web of life as a whole is a multilayered structure of living systems nesting within other living systems – networks within networks. Organisms are aggregates of autonomous but closely coupled cells; populations are networks of autonomous organisms belonging to a single species; and ecosystems are webs of organisms, both single-celled and multicellular, belonging to many different species.

What is common to all these living systems is that their smallest living components are always cells, and therefore we can confidently say that all living systems, ultimately, are autopoietic. However, it is also interesting to ask whether the larger systems formed by those autopoietic cells – the organisms, societies, and ecosystems – are in themselves autopoietic networks.’

(Capra & Luisi 2014, p. 306)

I suggest that they are, and that holon-partons is the answer.

I suggest Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity (1988-2014) (in all culture, the Sciences, Arts and language) is a key aspect of this understanding.

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Creativity, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Genius, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

At any rate, so – this is my vote for Book Of The Year. In fact – Book of the Decade. Bravo, and encore.

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)

This book represents a long-overdue paradigm shift. I suggest: buy and read it right now.

Also, here, I’m going to insert a quote from one of my other favourite books:

`…consider neurophysiologist E.R.John’s recent attempt to define consciousness in objective terms:

.. a process in which information about multiple individual modalities of sensation and perception is combined into a unified multidimensional representation of the state of the system and its environment, and integrated with information about memories and the needs of the organism, generating emotional reactions and programs of behaviour to adjust the organism to its environment.

(Hofstadter & Dennett, 1981, p. 11; underlined emphasis mine)

From the excellent book:

The Minds I - 1981.png

The Mind’s I (Hofstadter & Dennett 1981)

Also, you may like my post on Systems Theory & Evolution.

And see also this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

– Comments always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

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/



Capra, F & Luisi, PL 2014, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 2014, ‘The Systems Model of Creativity and Its Applications’, in DK Simonton (ed.), The Wiley Handbook of Genius, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1996, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 1st edn, HarperCollins, New York.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1988, ‘Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity’, in RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 325–39

Csikszentmihalyi, M & Massimini, F 1985, ‘On The Psychological Selection Of Bio-Cultural Information’, New Ideas in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 115-38.

Darwin, C 1952 [1859, 1871], Darwin: The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Founders’ edn, # 49 of 54 vols., Great Books of the Western World. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., in collaboration with the University of Chicago, W. Benton; Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., University of Chicago., Chicago.

Hofstadter, D. R., & Dennett, D. C. (1981). The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. New York: Basic Books.

Koestler, A 1964, The Act of Creation, Hutchinson, London.

Koestler, A 1967, The Ghost In The Machine, Hutchinson, London.

Koestler, A 1978, Janus: A Summing Up, Hutchinson, London.

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.

23 thoughts on “StoryAlity #70B – The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra and Luisi 2014)

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