The 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons

by JT Velikovsky (10th March 2015, updated 6th June 2015)

This particular universe appears to be governed by: the three universal laws of holon/partons. Which are just laws of evolution. Maybe first, see the 3 mins 20 secs mark to 3 mins 45 secs mark below, on: What Probably Caused The Big Bang.

i.e. Creativity is just combining things. (Including, apparently, universes. Or, universii.)

If you’re new to complex systems theory, maybe read these 3 short posts, first:

On Systems Theory and Evolution

  1. StoryAlity #70 – Key Concepts in Systems Theory, Cybernetics & Evolution
  2. StoryAlity #70B – The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)
  3. StoryAlity #70C – Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

So – (as noted above) this particular universe appears to be governed by: the three universal laws of holon/partons:

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

Or, in other words:

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

Subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, groups, organizations, communities [institutions], society [nations], and supranational [world] systems. These are units – on, levels – of systems.

What is a holon/parton?

A holon/parton is a unit, that is a whole, and also a part of a bigger whole (which is also, thus, a unit).

The three laws of holon/partons:

1. Compete, and/or co-operate, and/or engage in co-opetition – with units on the same level.

2. Integrate (and, take instructions from and give feedback to) the bigger unit, above (of which they are a part).

3. Command and control units on the level below (units on the level below are: their own component-parts).

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons – Velikovsky 2015

A system’s environment is all units (and systems) on the same level, and all levels above it, in the holarchy. (More on systems theory, here.)

In a hierarchy, holon/partons are called holarchies, as named by Arthur Koestler (1967).

In a diagrammatical form, a holon/parton can be represented as so:

The holon-parton structure of the meme - the unit of culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)

The holon-parton structure of the meme – the unit of culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)

More specific definitional detail on holons (and, thus: holon/partons) [which is part of: Systems Theory]

In The Ghost in the Machine (Koestler 1967), Koestler coined the term holon:

A holon … is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part’

(Koestler 1967, p. 48).

And also, in the book Photon Hadron Interactions (Feynman 1972) Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard P Feynman discusses partons (1972, pp. 160, 163, 254, et al).

This `partons’ concept of Feynman’s is the same concept as Koestler’s `holons’; I have combined both terms, to produce the term `holon/parton’, as I believe it reflects more accurately the concept of physical objects – or, artifacts (e.g., universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, atoms, hadrons, quarks, animals, plants, cells, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles) and – also cultural objects or artifacts (memes: ideas, processes, products) that are simultaneously a part, and also a whole, at the same time.

Koestler also defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons. (Koestler 1989, p. 103) See also: (Koestler 19641967).

So – those are the 3 Laws:

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

Now consider the universe, as one single unit, i.e. as a single system made up of smaller systems.

i.e. As, nested hierarchical systems, or, holarchies of holon/partons.

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

Now, consider Comte’s `hierarchy of the sciences’ (which I have adapted and extended here – by adding `Culturology‘, at the end, ie at the far-right-hand-side of the diagram).

Hierarchy of the Sciences - Velikovsky 2015

The Hierarchy of the Sciences (Velikovsky 2015, adapted from Comte)

Namely this hierarchy of science is: Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, and, let us add Culturology (or, the study of symbolic systems – which of course includes Mathematics, and so – we are back in a loop!)

And, Culture also includes all: ideas, processes and products than are non-biological.

So (systems) complexity increases, moving rightwards in the diagram.

This is also one reason that Science gets harder (less exact) to do, the more `rightward’ we move in the above diagram. See also, this excellent diagram from Simonton (2012):

Figure 3 - Hierarchy of the sciences based on objective characteristics of both field and domain. (D. K. Simonton, 2012, p. 74)

Figure 3 – Hierarchy of the sciences based on objective characteristics of both field and domain. (D. K. Simonton, 2012, p. 74)

So, complex systems obtain in any human individual, given a psychology, a sociology, an anthropology and culture(s), let alone, interacting and evolutionary systems of these systems, all with multiple causes, effects, and variables. (By the way, in systems, `effects’ then become new `causes’ – as it is iterative – where the outputs of some systems become new inputs for some systems).

We might therefore assume it is probably impossible to predict anything in culture, as a result of this overwhelming complexity.

But – maybe not.

On whether the methods of the Natural Sciences can be applied to the Human Sciences:

While Comte, Durkheim and other researchers aimed to `positively’ determine, study, predict (and ideally therefore, control) social phenomena in the social sciences using methods of the natural sciences (Crotty 1998, p. 24; Blaikie 2007, p. 111; Grix 2004, p. 80), Blaikie writes that:

`During the past twenty-five years, Positivism has been the subject of much criticism within sociology (see, e.g., Giddens 1974, Fay 1975, Keat and Urry 1975, 1982, Adorno et al 1976, Benton 1977, Hindess 1977, Halfpenny 1982, Bryant 1985)’

(Blaikie 2007, p. 112).

In The Sciences of the Artificial (Simon 1996b, p. 5) it is suggested that natural (or, biological) and artificial (or, cultural) artifacts differ in at least four potentially-important ways.[1] In his autobiography, the same polymath Herbert A. Simon states:

`The true line is not between “hard” natural science and “soft” social sciences, but between precise science limited to highly abstract and simple phenomena in the laboratory and inexact science and technology dealing with complex problems in the real world.’

(Simon 1996a, p. 304)

In the Systems (and therefore, the Complexity) worldview, the problem is complexity, or that precision in measurement of a phenomena is inverse to its complexity.

Ward comments on Comte’s hierarchical taxonomy of the sciences, which was arrived at:

`by taking as the criterion of the position of each the degree of what he called “positivity,” which is simply the degree to which the phenomena can be exactly determined. This, as may be readily ‘seen, is also a measure of their relative complexity, since the exactness of a science is in inverse proportion to its complexity.’

(Ward [1898] 1913, p. 7 – bold emphasis mine)

All I mean to show here is that: the behaviour of complex systems (and creative artifacts that are outputs of those systems) might be predictable, and that they are subject to evolution, as is everything.

I suggest, these 3 laws of holarchies (and holon/partons) really are `universal’… as per:

So, that would be two units (i.e. – universes) combining to create a new universe (i.e. this one, for example). This is just `combinatorial creativity’ (Boden 2004).

This all is also not to say that, everything is determined, nor to remove free will, nor to ignore agency-and-structure. Probability comes into play.

I would now like to quote from: Gunaratne, SA (2010), ‘Determining the Scope of “International” Communication: A (Living) Systems Approach’, in GJ Golan, T Johnson & W Wanta (eds), International Media Communication in a Global Age, Routledge, New York, pp. 36-70.

`This chapter asserts that theoretical biologist J. G. Miller’s living systems theory (LST) can guide the determination of the scope of what constitutes the subject matter and the research frame of international communication, as argued later, a field that should be called cosmopolitan communication.

Miller identified complex structures that can carry out living processes at eight nested hierarchical levels ranging from the smallest to the largest – cell, organism, group, organization, community [institution], society [nation], and supranational [world] system [Fig. 2.1].

Gunaratne (2010 p.39)

The Living Systems Approach (Gunaratne 2010 p.39)

Each system, irrespective of its hierarchical level in space-time, is an open system composed of 20 critical subsystems, which process inputs, throughputs, and outputs of various forms of matter-energy and information (Table 2.1).

Gunaratne (2010 p.40)

The Living Systems Approach (Gunaratne 2010 p.40)

Together they make up a living system. Notwithstanding the evolutionary process (`shred out’ or `fray out’), each system at each level retains the same 20 subsystems although the properties of each subsystem become more complex because of “transformational emergence” (Bailey 1994, p. 193) at each upward level.

Thus it is possible to observe, measure and compare variables constituting a subsystem at each of the levels and across the levels. It is this feature that makes LST a general theory, which attempts to integrate applicable social, biological and physical sciences. International communication scholars can focus on the communication dimension of the information-processing subsystems of LST – information transducer, internal transducer, channel and net, timer, decoder, associator, memory, decider, coder and output transducer, as well as the reproducer and boundary, which both information processing and matter-energy processing share.’ (Gunaratne 2010, pp. 38-41)

The point here is that: part of evolution is holon/partons. When systems exist, they exist in an environment. That environment can create selective pressure. When that happens, evolution can happen. When evolution happens, some units are more `novel and appropriate’ (newer and better adapted to their environment) than others.

This is called `creativity’.

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

Now I would like to talk about: units, levels and mechanisms of evolutionary selection in systems.

(This is called Applied Evolutionary Epistemology.)

Mechanisms of selection can include: natural, artificial, unconscious and `combinatorial attraction’ (aka sexual) selection. Some or all of these are in operation on units and levels in systems; at least always Natural. In humans, artificial selection is obviously more prevalent as we deliberately breed animals for certain traits (Darwin starts On The Origin of Species [1859] with this point).

One point to note about creativity is that when you combine two units – to get a new unit, and if the result is well adapted, (not falsified i.e. eliminated) in its environment, that new unit is `novel [new and different] and appropriate’ (which is the Standard Definition of Creativity in the domain of Psychology).

Now, I have a question. (Please Comment, below)

Question – Who is right, EO Wilson, or Richard Dawkins? (about: Kin, and thus, Group, Selection)


(I get stressed when two authority figures disagree; I’m a child of divorce).

This is my own view on the controversy:

– I side with Wilson, and I may be naive, but I find it confounding that, Dawkins doesn’t seem to know about James Grier Miller’s `Living Systems Theory’ (1978)…?
(It’s also over 1,000 pages long, and thus, also very hard to miss.)

– In that schema (Miller’s), there are 7 systems levels (cell, organism, group, organization, community [institution], society [nation], and supranational [world] system).

If Systems Theory is right, then the Environment of each individual Unit, is, all the local components of all the Levels above (eg the Environment of a cell is its organism, plus, all of the `higher’ levels as well.)

– If that’s all true, and some Units (eg a specific cell, a specific organism, a specific group, etc) are better- (and, others, worse-) adapted to their Environment (which includes the other local units of the same type), and, as units they can be falsified (i.e. can: stop existing), then: Natural Selection can take place on all 7 system levels.

Now, add in the genome (ie `Selfish, or rather, also-sometimes-Altruistic, Gene’ theory), and there’s 8 system-levels of units, for Selection to operate on.

Now in thinking about Groups:

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons - Velikovsky 2015

The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

Other things being roughly equal, the better-organized (clean lines of communication, etc), and also, larger a group, the more likely they are (in probability) to crush (or, defeat) the opposition (group) in a conflict – if it comes to that. Consider a pride of lions, and how organized they are, in cooperating, in stalking/hunting their prey. Now consider when a (probably, larger) pack of hyenas drives a pride of lions away from their kill, and scavenges it.

Also obviously, mother mammals protect-and-defend their young (offspring) in their care from predators.

Consider also, altruistic group behaviour, like when meerkats, birds, squirrels and many other social animals make distress-calls to alert the rest of the group of the proximity of predators, this risking their own necks by attracting (unwanted) attention.

So, kin = a group.

As an aside, when you get married, that’s coopetition. As you’re combining forces. This makes you and your partner a group, of sorts. Then if reproduction (combinatorial attraction) is involved, there’s a larger kin group (you almost certainly already have – or had: parents).

I do see how, if a Group-trait survives (across generations), then, it’s because those group-trait instructions were copied, in the DNA…

But – that doesn’t clash with the idea that: at the Group level, Natural Selection (pressure-dependent on the conditions) is still operating. Groups can still be falsified by their environment, as the environment includes other groups and also, groups of predators.

So I think Wilson is right.

And I greatly admire so much of Dawkins’ work, but on this, I think maybe I have to go with Wilson. Also Wilson (1998) `invented’ consilience and it’s an awesome advance in the unity of knowledge. Transdisciplinarity is the same thing.

(Or – what am I missing?)

– Comments always welcome.

Also, if you are wondering where all this is coming from:

See: Consilience.

And see The Complexity Turn in Communication Studies, and The Arts/Humanities. As Blaikie (2007) notes in Approaches to Social Enquiry:

`Since the publication for the first version of this book (1993), a major development in the social sciences has been the advent of complexity theory. The ideas behind complexity theory can be traced back to early last century, in attempts to apply systems thinking to the understanding of living systems.

Systems thinking is about relationships, patterns, processes and context (Capra 2005: 33).

Of course, such ideas are not new in the social sciences, but complexity theory has given them a radical new twist. In the process, it `now offers the exciting possibility of developing a unified view of life by integrating life’s biological, cognitive and social dimensions’ (Capra 2005: 33). In fact, complexity theory is seen as providing a way of transcending the outdated divisions between the physical and the social sciences (Urry 2003: 18).

It seems that the idea of complexity is now everywhere in the field of knowledge; perhaps it is an idea whose time has come (Byrne 2005: 97, 98). Complexity theory has found its way into a wide range of academic subjects, such as economics, town planning, architecture, literary theory, history, anthropology and sociology (Thrift 1999: 39). The term `complexity’ is `doing `metaphorical, theoretical and empirical work within many social and intellectual discourses and practices besides “science”’ (Urry 2005a: 2). It refocuses our attention on system analysis, something that much of social science has either rejected or ignored since the demise of Parsonian structural functionalism in the 1970s, and it does this by overcoming earlier deficiencies and, at the same time, taking account of developments in the philosophies of science and social science over the last fifty or so years.

While complexity theory is primarily concerned with presenting a new scientific ontology, it also rejects the epistemology of traditional science based on notions of universal knowledge, experimental control, determinism and a linear logic of causal explanation. It offers instead explanatory accounts based on limited and contextual knowledge, open and unpredictable systems, and complex, non-linear interaction between elements that leads to emergent properties and self-organizing structures and processes. Complexity theory has been defined as `the interdisciplinary understanding of reality as composed of complex open systems with emergent [end of p. 206] properties and transformational potential’ (Byrne 2005: 97).’

(Blaikie 2007, pp. 206-7 – bold emphasis mine)

As for the history of the Complexity `movement’, or, intellectual tradition:

`The complexity turn in the social sciences took off in the late 1990s, stimulated by the report of the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences (Wallerstein 1996). This commission included the Russian-born chemist [end of p207] and Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine, who, in the late 1960s, developed many of the ideas that are now part of complexity theory.’ (Blaikie 2007, pp. 207-8)

This part is very important:

`It is a common misconception that complexity theory represents some kind of postmodern science. However Price (1997: 3-4) considers this notion a contradiction in terms.

As postmodernism is against traditional notions of science, the complexity paradigm is incompatible with the postmodern project.

(Blaikie 2007, p. 211 – bold emphasis mine)

Blaikie notes – Nature and society- both are hierarchically-structured and nested (Blaikie 2007, pp 210-1) 

(N.B. Yes. see: holarchies.)

`Byrne regards cases as complex systems that are themselves `nested in, have nested within them, and intersect with other complex systems.

So, for example, a city-region is nested within global and national systems and has nested within it neighbourhoods, households and individuals’ (Byrne 2005: 105). Different methods of research and analysis may be required for each level in such a set of complex systems.’

(Blaikie 2007, p. 213)

Blaikie notes that Systems/Complexity Theory is a way out of `the troubling anti-scientific doctrines of postmodernism’ (Blaikie 2007 p. 213).

So, that’s where my research is situated. (It’s kind of: complex.)

But the holon/parton is very simple. It just has three rules: (1) Co-operation, competition and co-opetition sideways; (2) integrate upwards, and (3) control downwards.

Then, there is the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis:

(Pigliucci and Müller 2010, p.11)

(Pigliucci and Müller 2010, p.11)

But that’s a whole other story.

But – holon/partons are right in the middle of it all.

i.e., Units, levels and mechanisms of evolution, in (complex) systems.

Finally, a quote from the Introduction to The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (McGilchrist 2009):

Although the brain is extraordinarily densely interconnected within itself – it has
been estimated that there are more connections within the human brain than
there are particles in the known universe – it is none the less true, as might be
imagined, that the closest and densest interconnections are formed within localities,
between immediately adjacent structures.

Thus the brain can be seen as something like a huge country: as a nested structure, of villages and towns, then districts, gathered into counties, regions and even partly autonomous states or lands – a conglomeration of nuclei and ganglia at one level, organisational foci and broader functional regions within specific gyri or sulci (the folds of the cortex) at another, these then forming lobes, and those lobes ultimately forming part of one or other cerebral hemisphere.

If it is true that consciousness arises from, or at any rate is mediated by, the sheer density and complexity of neuronal interconnections within the brain, this structure has some important consequences for the nature of that consciousness.

The brain should not be thought of as an indiscriminate mass of neurones: the structure of that mass matters. In particular it has to be relevant that at the highest level of organisation the brain, whether mediator or originator of consciousness, is divided in two.’

(McGilchrist 2009, p. 9 – bold emphasis mine)

If we look at how holarchies are structured, it seems to be what McGilchrist is referring to here, as the structure of the brain.

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

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/



[1] Yet Simon also notes as one of the four indices of artificial things: `3. Artificial things can be characterized in terms of functions, goals, adaptation’ (Simon 1996b, p. 5). This specific criteria does not create a boundary between natural and artificial things, suggesting that Applied Evolutionary Epistemology (Gontier 2012) in aiming to identify the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution in both biology and culture is a worthwhile pursuit.

Also, I admire Gunaratne (2010) but am not so sure about the metaphysics in that same article (the Buddhism, etc), as I note Popper’s demarcation criteria for science.


Blaikie, NWH 2007, Approaches to Social Enquiry, 2nd edn, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Boden, MA 2004, The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms, 2nd edn, Routledge, London; New York.

Gunaratne, SA 2010, ‘Determining the Scope of “International” Communication: A (Living) Systems Approach’, in GJ Golan, T Johnson & W Wanta (eds), International Media Communication in a Global Age, Routledge, New York, pp. 36-70.

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

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

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

McGilchrist, I. 2009. The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Simon, HA 1996, The Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd edn, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Simonton, DK 2012, ‘Fields, Domains, and Individuals (Chapter)’, in MD Mumford (ed.), Handbook of Organizational Creativity, Elsevier Science, Oxford, UK, pp. 67-86.

Wilson, EO 1998, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1st edn, Knopf: Distributed by Random House, New York.

Suggested citation for this post:  

Velikovsky, JT (2015), `StoryAlity #100A – The 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons’, The StoryAlity weblog, https://storyality.wordpress.com/, StoryAlity, Sydney.

I also published academic papers with many of these ideas in them, e.g.: see

StoryAlity #122The IE2014 International Interactive Entertainment Conference

and see:

Flow Theory, Evolution & Creativity: or, ‘Fun & Games’ (Velikovsky 2014)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

  1. StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)
  2. StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology (Velikovsky 2013)
  3. and
  4. StoryAlity #14B – Creativity – the missing link between “The Two Cultures”
  5. and
  6. StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities
  7. and
  8. StoryAlity #70C – Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #100A – The 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity#132 – The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) | StoryAlity

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