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Holism

the yin-yang symbol - representing Holism

The Holistic Paradigm
Religious Holism: Resurrectionist Theism
Animistic Holism: Shamanism

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The Holistic Paradigm

One could say that the Western metaphysical paradigm is two-fold.  It is based on two broad philosophical positions of Natural-Supernatural Dualism (or Theism), the belief in a God and a Supernatural World above and beyond the everyday physical existence; and Objectivist Materialism (or Scientism), the belief that only those realities measurable by 20th Century Scientific methodology are valid; everything else being "mysticism" in the derogatory sense of the world

Because of the monopoly imposed by these two perspectives, philosophers and scientists in the earlier part of the twentieth century were faced with two equally ridiculous alternatives: the rigid duality of body and mind, matter and spirit, in which all supraphysical functions and realities were subsumed under the heading of "mind"; or the equally rigid materialism which sees all higher functions as merely the by-product of the physical organism or the physical brain

In an attempt to mediate between these two extremes, modern thinkers proffered a third alternative, called Holism.  This states that mind is neither dualistically separate from body, nor reducible to it.  Rather mind and body form an interdependent gestalt or totality, with each principle dependent on the other for its existence

In the last few decades, Holism has become tremendously popular and influential in biology (e.g. life and consciousness are seen as emerging holistically from matter - the "emergent evolution" view), philosophy, psychology (and especially the Transpersonal Psychology movement), and popular thought - especially the so-called "New Age" movement of the 70's on, and the Environmental movement of the 80's on (postmaterialism)

Unfortunately, modern Holism still tends to reduce higher faculties to the lower ones, by seeing them incapable of independent existence, and denying the existence of independent psychic and spiritual worlds.  Thus, despite its popularity among modern thinkers, even those thinkers who can be broadly, if rather vaguely, classed as "New Age" or "New Paradigm", it must still be considered closer to materialism than to dualism.  We would then have two forms of materialism, which I call "hylomaterialism" and "holomaterialism"

Hylomaterialism (from the Greek hyle, matter) asserts that all supraphysical realities (life, mind, consciousness, etc) are synonymous with, and hence reducible to, physical matter.  For example, a thought is an electrochemical neural impulse in the brain, nothing more.  (In analytical philosophy, this is known as the "mind-body identity theory")

Hylomaterialism, in other words, is reductionist.  It as-serts that higher realities (i.e. anything apart from purely physical matter and energy) have no intrinsic existence of their own, and can be explained solely in terms of physical and chemical laws

In contrast, Holomaterialism (from "holistic") states that supraphysical realities are higher levels of organisation which emerge from a material structure, but are not reducible to it.  Thus, although thought would be the creation of the brain as a whole (e.g. the theory of the brain as holographic [3-dimensional photographic] in function), and not explicable in terms of in-dividual neurons, etc

It is quite clear that in the field of science holomaterialism (Systems Theory, Ecology, etc) is in the process of replacing hylomaterialism.  Moreover, Holomaterialism is very popular not only in the field of science (especially biology), but also in Avante Garde and "New Paradigm" thought.  Within this field, perhaps the two most popular thinkers, Teilhard de Chardin and Carl Jung, are both to some extent holomaterialists, at least as far as their metaphysics goes.



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Religious Holism: Resurrectionist Theism

Interestingly, the modern fad of Holism is actually just the rehashing of a very old idea.  Ancient cultures such as the Chinese, Babylonians, Hebrews, and Homeric Greeks, saw man as a compound being, consisting of the two principles of body and soul (and sometimes even of a number of souls), neither of which is fully whole without the other.  With physical death, the soul is no longer the alert conscious entity that it is in a living entity, rather it becomes a pathetic shade or ghost, doomed to reside in a gloomy Underworld, perhaps finally dissolving

Even nowadays this theme of the soul unable to function, or even exist, without its physical body is still extremely popular.  Most Protestant Christianity and non-Hassidic (i.e. non-mystical) Judaism deny the existence of a spiritual afterlife.  They are actually incapable of accepting that existence apart from the physical body is possible.  Instead of non-physical existence, they have the idea of an eschatological resurrection, Day of Judgment, and so on.  Historically, these ideas found their way into Judaism, and thence Christianity and Islam, from Zoroastrianism (Persian dualism), which the Jews came into contact with during their Babylonian exile.



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Animistic Holism: Shamanism - An Alternative Form Of Holism

A more spiritual form of Holism is to be found in the world- view of many traditional pre-urban cultures.  For the artificial distinction between the physical and the non-physical (or the Natural and the Supernatural) that characterises monotheistic Dualism was not always so widely accepted.  In the case of Tribal peoples, the existence of both a physical and a "spiritual" world was recognised, but the spiritual world was seen to be just as "natural" as the material world, and the material world just as "sacred" as the Spiritual world.  So there was a metaphysical or cosmological distinction, certainly, but not an existential distinction

The world-view of these Tribal peoples can be referred to as Shamanism.  The Shaman is the one who mediates between the physical human world and the world of spirits and nature-forces ("Nature forces" in this case meaning not the physical elements and creatures themselves, but the spiritual or psychic powers and personalities behind those elements and creatures: the Spirit of the Tree, the Rock, the Forest, the Crow, the Bear, etc).  In this way there is harmony in the human society, because the latter is in harmony with the world of nature, not divorced from it as is the case with Materialism and Theistic Dualism.  Although there is a concept of "God" or "Creator"  or "Great Spirit" in Shamanism, this being is rather distant, like the God of the Christian Deists perhaps, but unlike the God of mainstream theism.



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Holism (correspondences)

Representative Paradigms (Science):Quantum Physics, Ecology, Gaia hypothesis

Representative Paradigms (Psychology) Depth Psychology, Gestalt Psychology,

Representative Paradigms (Philosophy):Holism, Organicism, to a lesser extent Dualism

Representative Paradigms (Religion): Process Theology, Buddhism. and in part secular religions like Dialectical Humanism and Extropianism



Gaia hypothesis (Homeostatic)
Planet
self-organising universe (holistic)
Cosmos





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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 8 April 1999; last modified 24 August, 2004, by WF.