March 2, 2005

Thesis Excerpt

An excerpt from my thesis blog: ... any and all input would be valuable :)

Holism is the assumption/theory/precept that a whole is more than the sum of its parts. In other words, a group of individual components (car parts, stories, or people; the possibilities are virtually endless) is, under some form of structure or organization (and in some form of interaction), in some way more than without that organization or interaction. When the individual components interact and become organized in some fashion (by nature of the interactions), the group of components becomes an organism.

Postmoderns are fascinated by the idea of the organism. This is evident in nearly every facet of the culture, from media to literature, from pop culture to the natural and social sciences. For instance, Prey, one of the newer books by the popular author Michael Crichton, posits a plot centered around nanotechnology. In the book, scientists have created a swarm of tiny robots, or “nanobots” designed to act in tandem to perform tasks, mostly camera work. Here we see holism displayed in its practical application: the idea is that each nanobot by itself is virtually nothing, but in the form of a swarm, is capable of the same advanced thinking as a human being or group of human beings. The swarm of nanobots (whose programming models their behavior after a combination of a swarm of bees and the predator/prey relationship) act as a single organism without a clear leader and accomplish the same or more as a human being.

We see this concept played out in other arenas as well. In the field of motivational psychology, Deci and Ryan (two researchers at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY) have developed a theory of psychology called Self Determination Theory. Holism is the norm; one must consider everything about a person to understand their psychological makeup, their whole past history and their present circumstances. Their history, in essence, is an organism unto itself, creating one of many components of an individual’s psychological motives.

Also a part of this theory is a concept called “organismic integration,” in which the human mind develops first by deconstructing the world around them and reconstituting it in a way meaningful to the person, in a hierarchy of elements that relate to one another. One may examine the internal and external worlds, and then compare and contrast the existing worlds to their previous assessment of them, altering their perception to fit the new information. In a sense, this is simply a long way of saying that the person’s thought process evolves. A mind is not simply static, but a dynamic, fluid one constantly analyzing the relationships between itself and the world (and between the world and itself) and adapting to the new information it acquires.

In this vein, Organismic and Holistic thinking are symptoms of a larger train of thought: relationships. In effect, the postmodern desires to see the connections between the many advancements of the modernist era, between the facts of two seemingly unrelated fields. It is for this reason that we see an increasing number of cross-disciplinary studies conducted, especially in science, but also across fields (between, say, music and religion and psychology, to give an example that hits close to home). These scholars are effectively trying to view the larger picture they intuitively feel is lurking just beyond the many facets of life, from quantum mechanics to family life, from population genetics to English literature and grammar.

This fascination with relationships is a kind of thinking that is quite prevalent in the Bible, and though it lay unnoticed by many modernist scholars, the emergence of holism has catalyzed a renewal of this kind of thinking in, most especially, the American Christian church. In many ways, Jesus was a very relational person; he spent much of his time focused on people – on relating to them, interacting with them, and dialoguing with them. This has been modeled by the Emergent church to reach a generation of relational thinkers.

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