The holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

So, in one way, StoryAlity Theory (derived from a study of the top 20 RoI Feature Films) is really simple.

At its simplest, it means: Just make a movie that a lot of people will like.

Less THan 1% Problem bell curve

Here’s the problem my (2016) PhD thesis solves:

StoryAlity #115The `Less-Than-1%’ Problem in the Domain of Film

But – there are many component ideas (or, memes) that make up the Theory.

Here’s what it looks like, as a holarchy of ideas (concepts).

Holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

Next Question: What’s a holarchy?

A: A holarchy is a special kind of hierarchy. It’s an idea from Arthur Koestler (1964, 1967, 1978).

A holon-parton is something that’s a part and also a whole. (This is my synthesis of Koestler 1964, 1967, 1978 and Feynman 1972, 1975.)

(So, an idea – as a holon-parton – is a whole idea, but it’s also part of a bigger idea.) In Biology, systems are holon-partons. You are a holon-parton. You’re a biological system, but, you’re part of many bigger social holon-partons (e.g. your family, the groups you belong to, and communities, and societies, nation/s, the global population).

There are Three Laws of Holarchies: (1) Holon-partons compete and co-operate on the same level, (2) they look to integrate with holon-partons on the level above, and (3) They look to command and control holon-partons on the level below.

This is how bio-cultural evolution works. These are just the laws of Physics, so I think EO Wilson was right in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998).

Here’s a picture of a holarchy of holons:

A holarchy of holons

A holarchy of holon-partons

Here’s another (bigger) one: note how complexity emerges. (The higher up you go, the more complex the holon-parton gets – as it includes all the `moving parts’ below it.)

Strings to Multiverse holarchy V3

For more on holon-partons and holarchies (if you like that sort of thing), see:

StoryAlity #48 – On Film Holons and Holarchies – and How Holarchies Work

Anyway, so StoryAlity Theory is a holarchy of ideas.

It looks like this:

Holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

Combine or `bisociate’ (another word from Koestler 1964) two adjacent ideas on the same level in the diagram above, and you get the idea directly above them. This is also called combinatorial Creativity (Boden 2004).

So – this is how Creativity works (provided that the resulting idea actually works, or in other words, solves problems.)

So StoryAlity Theory includes Systems Theory (or, Cybernetics).

This includes Chaos Theory (or, nonlinear dynamical complex systems). (see Gleick 1987)

Q: So, what’s a system?

A: It’s a black box, with inputs and resulting outputs.

Systems THeory basic model.png

Q: What’s inside the `black box’?

A: Like Brad Pitt yells at the end of Se7en, “WHAT’S IN THE BOX-?!!”

…Here’s what’s in the box:

Systems THeory more complex model Sadowski.png

A bunch of stuff. A Receptor (which receives information from the environment), an Alimentator (which receives energy from the environment). So for systems to work, you need (1) energy and (2) information.

Then the Correlator stores the information. The Accumulator stores the energy. The Homeostat is like `the brains of the operation’ and it works out (or, `decides’) what to do with both of those things (the energy and information). Whether to store it – or use it to do something. Or a bit of both.

Finally the Correlator sends messages to the Effector, which has an effect (a reaction, or an output) on the environment.

…That’s it.

Pretty simple really.

It’s like a computer. For your computer to work (as a system) you need energy (say, electricity) and information (say, bytes of data, on the internet). The Correlator is like Computer Memory, and the Accumulator is the part that stores the electricity. The Homeostat is like the CPU (Central Processing Unit), and then the computer screen displays the output (or the effect on the environment). Also of course, there is a cooling-fan that removes excess heat from the computer.

A homeostat is like a thermostat on an oven – or on an air-conditioner, or whatever.

Anyway so that’s how Systems work.

You are a system.

So is DNA. So is Culture, and so is Society.

Biology, Society, Culture

Biology, Society, Culture (all are systems)

Lots of holon-partons, in a holarchy.

Sometimes there are self-coupled systems, like Society and Culture.

So the output of one becomes the input of the other:

Movies as self coupled systems

This is why you get recursive positive (or, negative, or neutral) feedback loops. (Or, why some ideas, books, songs, and movies go viral.)

Why use Systems Theory in examining Creativity? (i.e. That’s just crazy-talk.)

In 2010 Hennessey and Amabile published (after doing a massive literature review) that what we need is an all-encompassing wholistic explanatory framework for Creativity. Not just examining and explaining Creativity in individuals, and in groups, but – from the innermost cognitive functions of the brain – through society and culture, and out to systems to explain everything. (Note: The Universe is a system. You are a system. An atom is a system.)

In the model below, the DIFi [or, DPFi] means Domain, Individual [or, Person] interaction. Three systems, interacting, becomes ONE BIG SYSTEM… (A person or individual is also just a small system: made up of at least 20 systems, eg skeletal system, cardiovascular system, immune system – etc)

Nested Systems Theories - Amabile and Hennessey

This is also why The Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, 2000) is important, if you want to understand why some movies go viral and others don’t.

(e.g. say, the Top 20 RoI films – and conversely the Bottom 20 RoI films)


DIFi or DPFi systems model 1999Note the word `Selection‘ in the quote above from Csikszentmihalyi (1999). He’s talking about the Evolutionary Algorithm (Selection, Variation and Transmission-with-heredity). Aka, BVSR (Blind-Variation and Selective-Retention theory).

This is how both Biology (genes) and Culture (i.e.memes, or ideas, processes, and products) work.

The evolutionary algorithm. Selection, Variation and Transmission-with-heredity.

Genes and Memes - systems models

Combine two DNA strands to get a new individual, combine two ideas to get a new idea. Sometimes the new individual or the new idea don’t survive and reproduce. (In Biology, or in Culture. This is what Popper called falsification. If the theory of a biological organism is falsified, it dies. So too, ideas in culture get falsified and die. But some survive and reproduce, and that’s why some ideas, books, songs, and movies go viral in culture.)

By the way `survival of the fittest’ just means `survival of the fastest-reproducing’.

And in biology and in culture there is natural, artificial and sexual selection.

And if you want to understand more of this, read the excellent work On The Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, Fiction (Boyd 2009).

Anyway – here’s a picture from Koestler (1978) of a holarchy of systems.

You’re like the `organism’ right at the top.

(This is also known as `human exceptionalism’. We’re not really at the top at all. The Universe is.)

Schematic representation of the orgamismic hierarchy (Koestler 1979)

Schematic representation of the organismic systems hierarchy (Koestler 1979)

But don’t forget – almost everything is a system, or a part of a system. (A holon-parton is a part and also a whole.)

So this is how ecosystems work. (Both biology and culture are ecosystems.)

Ecosystems are holon-partons, too. And you’re part of both of them (the biology and culture ecosystems, or the bio-cultural ecosystem).

That’s also why, it’s dumb to pollute the environment, and to keep exacerbating human-made climate change, and why we should save the trees, and stuff.

Strings to Multiverse holarchy V3

And that’s why, Everything Is Connected.

So, maybe the Buddhists are, kind of, right…

Consilience and domains of knowledge

Anyway – so, that’s why StoryAlity Theory looks like this (below) when you examine its component-concepts:

Holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

And if you want to see how Creativity works over time for an individual, see Creative Practice Theory.

And, if you want to study this stuff more, read some of these fascinating books on Consilience.

Also, that’s why – the unit of culture, the meme, is the holon-parton.

Note that memes (ideas, culture) is at both the top and bottom of this holarchy below.

It’s a recursive nonlinear dynamical systems loop. (See Chaos Theory, e.g. Chaos by Gleick 1987, for more.)

A holarchy of the Movie Field - and Domain - and Individuals - or, the DIFi systems model as a holarchy (Velikovsky 2013)

A holarchy of the Movie Field – and Domain – and Individuals – or, the DIFi systems model as a holarchy (Velikovsky 2013)

It’s the evolutionary spiral, over time:

Garstangs evolutionary spiral

Garstang’s evolutionary spiral of species (1922) and Koestler’s evolutionary spiral of ideas (1967) – or, Evolutionary Epistemology

For more, see Evolutionary Epistemology (e.g. Popper 1963).

And that’s why – Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of Creativity (1988) and Sir Karl Popper’s (and Arthur Koestler’s and DT Campbell’s) Evolutionary Epistemology are exactly the same thing.

They are just describing it in different words, and in different ways.

But in a nutshell, that’s How Creativity Works.

It works the same way in the Sciences, as in the Arts.

i.e. Evolutionary Epistemology.

Niklas Luhmann (1987, pp 46-7) talks about “selection pressure” in culture, i.e. the Sciences and Arts. And I currently believe Luhmann’s theory of sociocybernetics (1984, 1995) is the same things as the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996), and evolutionary epistemology (Popper 1963, DT Campbell 1974, etc).

This `selection pressure’ Luhmann talks about is also what Van Peer (1997) discusses in the excellent article in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, in `Two Laws of Literary History: Growth and Predictability in Canon Formation’ (1997).

And – given systems theory (cybernetics) and holon-parton theory in bio-culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014), this is all, therefore: a Grand Theory of Culture.

In fact – it is a Grand Theory of Bio-Culture.

And, it’s all because: Consilience. Creativity = Evolution.

This may shock some people, but:

Creativity is a natural side-effect of the Evolutionary Algorithm.

Creativity results from (is caused by) the `evolutionary algorithm’: Selection, Variation (Combination and/or Mutation), and Transmission-with-heredity.

1 – Selection – Select any two units, from a `pool’ of units (eg gene pool, or meme pool)

2 – Combine parts of the two units, 50/50. (The new combination results in: `Variation’. The offspring varies by 50% from each parent)

3 – Transmit them back into the wider pool (ie Transmission)

4 – Repeat, forever.

Over time, some of the new ones will be better adapted to the environment. (eg faster, stronger, smarter, taller, more attractive, tougher, more sensitive, hairier, less-hairy, or even bits of all of these criteria – etc – depends, what is `better’ in the precise context of the specific environment-!)

The ones that are better adapted at solving the problems of the environment (eg survival, reproduction or replication', etc) are new and more useful’. Guess what the standard definition of creativity is? `New and useful’!!!

So say in culture, the specific domain is: comedy movies. A new comedy movie is (obviously) “new”, but – is it useful? If it’s funnier than all the existing movies, then yes, it’s: creative! (Or even, genius.)

Say a new 100-metre sprint athlete is born, and trains hard, and is naturally talented (eg genetics) and becomes the fastest person to run 100m. – Guess what? They’re “creative” though we never think of it that way. But it’s the same. It’s evolution. SOme units are better adapted (solve the problems of the environment) better.

So – it all works the same way (structurally and functionally) in Biology, as it does in Culture.

Combine, two holon-partons (i.e. ideas, processes, products or memes, or, even systems) to get: another one.

If the new one (the new meme, the new holon-parton, or new individual, or new organism) is `new and appropriate’, it works. If it is

If it is really appropriate, it works really well – and then goes viral (spreads fast)… (or, in other words, is: the survival of the fastest-reproducing.) [Perhaps that is a better term than, survival of the `fittest’ – but anyway `the fittest’ in this sense just means the best-adapted – to the environment, in terms of `survival and reproduction’, or problem solving.]

(Note: Combing two `old’ (existing) organisms [holon-partons] – or likewise – two `old’ (existing) ideas [memes, holon-partons] doesn’t always “work”… When this happens, and it fails, see: falsification.

As Popper (1999) notes, if an organism is falsified, it dies. Whole species can: go extinct. 99% of species that ever lived on Earth have gone extinct! (see: Gaia is a tough bitch)

And likewise, if a new scientific theory is falsified, then it `dies’.

If an artwork (e.g. a screenplay, a film, a painting, a novel, a song) is falsified, it `dies’.

If a new technological invention is falsified, it `dies’…)

So there is huge selection pressure… This is how the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996 etc) works. Only a small percentage of works can ever become `canon’ (i.e. judged `creative’, or `new and appropriate’, by the Field, or in other words, the Audience, in that domain.)

Thus – Behold, the Marvel of the Universe that is… Evolutionary Epistemology.

It works the same way, all over the Universe. Not just here on Planet Ocean (as Arthur C Clarke once called `Earth’.)

And, this `evolutionary epistemology’ business is also Why:

Only 1% of Screenplays, that are made into Movies, break even.

99% get de-selected… (or, `selected out’…!)

No wonder that Charles Darwin (1859) called it `The War of Nature‘. He too was horrified by it all. (Though – he was enchanted by the beauty of things like entangled riverbanks, and rightly so. Ecosystems… Biophilia (the love of Nature). …What’s not to love?)

So – it appears Nature (and Evolution, or the `evolutionary algorithm’) runs on: ecosystems.

And it appears that Culture too (and, not just Biology) is an ecosystem – that works, via systems theory, or `socio-cybernetics’… (!)

So – if 99% of movie screenplays get de-selected by this evolutionary process, perhaps, The Burning Question becomes:

What are `the 1%’, doing right-?

See the Top 20 RoI Films for some extreme examples of `What to do right’.

And so – What are the key `drivers’ of what gets selected?

A: Human Nature, on a grand scale.

(See: Evolutionary Psychology for more on: Human Nature. e.g. say, Buss (2012)).

Creativity. It's not what you think!

Creativity. It’s not what you think!

And so anyway – that’s, the holarchy of StoryAlity Theory.

I kind of wish, it was all much simpler. It would be much quicker to explain to people.

It’s only when we examine the parts that make up the whole (or the holon-partons!) it gets complex.

Anyway – so all that’s why StoryAlity Theory (when, analyzed) looks like this:

Holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

Then again I guess – like the great genius (and Nobel prize-winner) Richard Feynman said:

 `If I could explain it in three minutes, it wouldn’t be worth the Nobel Prize’

Richard Feynman, (Nobel Prize: Physics, 1965)

I actually did once explain this thing (StoryAlity Theory) in 3 minutes. But I also suspect that, nobody who heard it in 3 minutes, had much of a clue about the details. So I think they made lots of mistaken assumptions – and jumped to a lot of possibly incorrect conclusions. That can happen a lot, when you try and explain something complex in a really condensed, unduly compressed kind of a way. (This whole idea runs on Chaos Theory, which is another word for nonlinear dynamical complex systems theory.) Unfortunately for me, the word `complex’ is in there for a good reason 🙂

By the way – the amazing genius Richard P Feynman invented the word `partons’ (1975) and, it means the same thing as Koestler’s word `holons’ – and, so – being a synthetic kind of a guy, I have synthesized it, into the word, `holon-partons’.


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

But – both `holon’ and `parton’ means exactly the same thing. And it (i.e. holon-parton theory) works the exact same way, across all these domains: Physics (both subatomic, and atomic), Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, and Culturology… (Culturology is also known as: Memetics.)

Consilience and domains of knowledge

And yes, `Culturology’ is a real word. (Seriously).

Maybe, see this awesome online article (with a Foreword by Professor Daniel C Dennett) – `The Ecology of Intentions – How to make Memes and Influence People: Culturology’ by Adam Westoby (1995) – for more, on all that. (i.e. on: `Culturology’.)

PS – Also for more on systems theory, see this post on `Key Concepts in Systems Theory’ and also this post on `The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision’ (Capra & Luisi 2014).

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/




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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

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Suggested citation for this page: Velikovsky, JT, `The holarchy of StoryAlity Theory’, Storyality weblog, https://storyality.wordpress.com/ ,16th July 2014.

7 thoughts on “StoryAlity #119 – The holarchy of StoryAlity Theory

  1. Hey do you have an easy list of the top 20 ROI films and/or TV shows in the last five years. I have asked my smart interns to do it, but perhaps you already have that info… Lol, Glad your presentation went well! Having some conceptual tracking issues with my book, love to chat about it sometime. Best Devo

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