Seeing and Living in Authentic Wholeness

The introduction of a new idea is often framed with the observation that we cannot solve our existing problems with the same level of consciousness that created them. The subsequent call to action is frequently accompanied by an appeal to change our paradigms, and at other times a call to change our mental models. It is very easy to say these things, yet much more difficult to understand and more difficult still, to put into practice.

Holonomics is not a new idea per se; it is a new way of seeing, one which is able to comprehend the wholeness of economic systems. This way of seeing is not a ‘dogmatic annunciation’ but a ‘creative conception’ of economics which understands the deeply interwoven relationship with our planet’s ecosystem.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Hence our coining of a new definition for the word ‘holonomics’, which can be thought of as the combination of the words ‘whole’ and ‘economics’. If we look at the Greek origins of these words we find three components; ὅλος (holos – all, whole, entire, total), οἶκος (oikos – house) and νόμος (nomos – custom or law). Economics can be thought of as the understanding of the laws and customs of our home (oikos + nomos). We cannot have a limited view of our home, for home is a living planet of finite resources. Our understanding of economics has to encompass an understanding of the wholeness of nature and business systems in all their complexity, and this can only come from holonomic thinking.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Holonomics introduces the reader to a dynamic way of seeing and thinking about systems. It is a way of seeing which expands our mode of consciousness from the analytical to the intuitive; one that not only is able to understand the parts of a system, but at a deeper, intuitive level of perception, is also able to understand the relationships and processes within that system – not from the perspective of a whole which is superior to the parts, but from one which is able to encounter the whole through the way in which it comes to presence in the parts. (‘Intuition’ as we use the word should not be confused with ‘feeling’ as it is used in everyday language, but as a higher level of cognition to that of our intellectual minds).

This mode of consciousness sees each part in a system as an expression of the whole, the whole of which can only be the whole because of the parts, and the parts of which can only be parts because of the whole. It is a mode of consciousness which, while acknowledging the importance of the analytical-logical-symbolic aspect of our minds, fully embraces intuition, feeling and sensing so as to enable us to encounter and comprehend systems in their entirety.

Photo: Simon Robinson

This mode of consciousness can be found in western philosophy from Plato onwards, although its articulation varies from the scientific writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the phenomenological school of philosophy founded by Edmund Husserl, and the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The late physicist and philosopher Henri Bortoft described the way of seeing which resulted from this expanded awareness as ‘the dynamics of seeing’.

Henri, along with mathematician and visionary biologist Brian Goodwin, Satish Kumar, a peace and environmental activist, and ecologist Stephan Harding, plus inspiration from a number leading thinkers and scientists such as James Lovelock, Fritjof Capra and Rupert Sheldrake, encapsulated the dynamic way of seeing in a unique masters programme which they termed ‘Holistic Science’ and launched in 1998 at Schumacher College, Devon in the UK.

Photo: Simon Robinson

The foundations of Holistic Science covered Henri’s philosophy of ‘wholeness’, Gaia Theory, Complexity Science and Chaos Theory, plus additional modules on economics, ecology, and sustainability, and enabled students to explore a science not just of quantities, but also of qualities. Both authors of this book are alumni of Schumacher College, with Simon graduating in Holistic Science in 2010 and Maria participating in the course The Economics of Happiness. In Holonomics we have aimed to capture the essence of Holistic Science and the philosophy of Schumacher College, in order to lead the reader’s thinking into the dynamic way of seeing, that they may truly be able to comprehend the world and reality in a new light, perceiving new relationships in the systems in which they participate, and so inspiring new insights and solutions to the many entangled and complex economic, business, social and ecological problems that we are now facing across the globe.

Henri Bortoft at Schumacher College

While Henri was writing his final book, the name he almost settled on was The Dynamics of Being. It was at the last moment that he had the inspiration to call it Taking Appearance Seriously, a name which is a philosophical play on the word ‘appearance’, which can be read as either a noun – the outward appearance of an object – or as a verb – the appearing of an object. We named the three parts of Holonomics as The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature, and The Dynamics of Business in honour of the profound insights of Henri, and they are written in a manner that will lead the reader towards their own understanding and experience of the dynamics of being. We have such great affection for Henri, as do so many of his students, colleagues and friends who knew him, that we have taken the liberty in referring to him by his first name, as opposed to the more formal ‘Bortoft’, a break in convention which we hope the reader will forgive.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Part One of this book is devoted to leading the reader into the dynamics of seeing. These four chapters introduce the reader to the work of Henri who passed away in 2012, just a few months after the publication of Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought. This last book built on his previous two works Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness (1986) and The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science (1996).

Henri taught Simon at Schumacher College in 2009. He was a truly remarkable teacher, a philosopher who dedicated his life to the study of authenticity and wholeness, and who, as our fellow student Ben put it ‘took words to places I thought they couldn’t go’. Henri had a deliciously witty sense of humour, which he would put to great use in his classes in a way that more often than not, would either leave students spellbound or perplexed, bewildered and unsettled. Henri’s teachings were less about the transmission of facts which could be easily integrated into one’s existing body of knowledge, and more about shifting the student’s mode of consciousness. This is by no means easy to grasp in the first instance, especially if one has grown up with the western scientific mechanistic paradigm – a Cartesian conception of reality.

The rewards to those who have a genuine desire to experience the dynamics of seeing cannot, however, be underestimated. The greatest asset that businesses have in this post-industrial era of the knowledge economy is the intelligence of its workforce, and the competitive advantage which comes from the creativity not only of the leadership, but also of the whole organisation. Holonomics, through the dynamics of seeing, will enable the reader to understand the exciting and emerging new business models of a new economics with, what one of our students described as ‘an entirely new window on the world’.

Photo: Simon Robinson

In Part Two of Holonomics we examine Complexity Science, Chaos Theory and Systems Thinking, starting with non-linear chemical reactions and amoebas, and ending with an analysis of Gaia Theory – our biosphere as a whole. We explore the concepts of emergence, bifurcation, self-organisation and feedback loops from the perspective which Philip Franses, lecturer in Complexity at Schumacher College, terms ‘Transition Science’. Philip and Satish Kumar are introducing Holistic Science to people via a way of learning which they call ‘Process and Pilgrimage’. To truly comprehend the deep insights from complexity science and quantum theory, we have to let go of our Cartesian fixed frameworks of reality. Pilgrimage is about both the inner journey as well as the outer journey, and so Franses and Kumar take their students on journeys of transformation, where students are no longer fixed or rigid in their thinking, but are fluid and flexible, and are able to evolve their consciousness, just as life is always evolving.

Photo: Simon Robinson

One of the key insights from Part Two is the manner in which the dynamic way of seeing can prevent systems thinking from falling into the trap of what Henri called ‘dogmatic annunciation’. To be able to perceive authentic wholes – whole systems – we need more than just our analytical mode of consciousness. When we describe systems in this mode of consciousness, we attempt to bring together the parts of a system artificially, in a counterfeit manner, imagining that the whole is superior to the sum of the parts. In Henri’s language, we force the parts to belong together. But in organic systems, the parts only have an existence and meaning because of their relationship to the whole, a whole which can only be experienced in the way in which it comes to presence in the parts. We therefore need a higher intuitive mode of consciousness to experience the belonging together of the parts in what we now perceive as an authentic whole.

Photo: Simon Robinson

When we develop systems models, we need to avoid this ‘dogmatic annunciation’ whereby we are convinced that we now have the truth, and we move to a more fluid and dynamic mode of consciousness, whereby our models are seen as ‘constructive conceptions’. These models are not the truth, but have a sufficient level of truth to be able to move our thinking and understanding forward. Science comes to be understood as ‘Transition Science’, since the scientist is no longer an outside observer immersed in abstract models, but becomes transformed from within as he or she experiences genuine encounters with the phenomena that they are studying.

Having explored the notion of a more expansive holonomic vision, Part Three turns to business and economics, and asks how this new mode of consciousness and seeing can be applied in practice. The case studies which we cite – PUMA SE’s environmental profit and loss accounting, Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s Balanced Scorecard methodology, Visa Inc.’s chaordic structure, Kyocera’s amoeba management system, Gore Associates’ lattice organisation, Genie Internet’s agile structure, Toyota’s dynamic way of seeing, and DPaschoal’s business ecosystem – all represent key aspects of holonomic thinking, demonstrating how a change in our mode of consciousness can directly impact on financial results while at the same time facilitating a shift to authentic and long-term sustainability.

Photo: Simon Robinson

We end Part Three with an exploration of mindful leadership and the importance of human values, and we ask the question: ‘Is being happy an impossible dream?’ Having examined mechanistic thinking, which focuses on objects, and systems thinking which focuses on relationships, we arrive at a complete understanding of holonomic thinking, where the wholeness of systems can be encountered and profound meaning comes into vision.

Ultimately, then, we are asking the reader to undertake a restructuring of their consciousness in order for them to be able to see a complex system whole. Our aim is to help the reader to be able to see both the intrinsic as well as extrinsic dimensions of complex systems. Once a person is able to see authentic wholes and the processes, dynamics and meaning of living systems, they reach a deeper understanding of the world, one in which economics is no longer seen as separate from ecology. It is a new world of holonomics – business where people and planet matter.

This article is an extract from ‘Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter’, Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson, (2014), Floris Books, Edinburgh

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