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Thought of the Day: “It is true, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… but not the permutation.”

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It is true, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… but not the permutation.

Diagram of a digraph for indices of permutation tensor. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Permutation_indices.svgNot too long ago I shared a quote from Jan Smuts, one of the founders of Holism, which also shares the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts with Systems Theory.

But, I think there is often confusion and an over-simplification of this idea, as many people try to put holism and systems theory at odds with reductionism.  Yet, I think we need to get past an “either or” view of holism and reductionism.  Systems are composed of not only the sum of their parts, but more importantly the permutation of their parts, meaning that when the parts are configured in a certain way, the system works, and if a component of the system is out of place or behaves “wrong” then it has an impact on the system, and if that part was a constraining factor to the system, then the whole system can fail.

With this view in mind about systems being the permutation of its components, meaning that the relation of the components is critical, then reductionism has a place in understanding the subsystems that make up a full system, and to disregard the value of looking at the micro is equally as much fallacious thinking as to disregard the macro.

If you were wondering where today’s quote came from, it is my personal distillation of the idea that I wrote about here.

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Written by Jacob Walker

January 17th, 2014 at 11:59 am

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