Arther Koestler coined the word "holon" for something both self-contained and part of a larger system. It means "whole" in Greek. He then built a system theory around this concept.

He observed that nature comprises a series of parts that are both whole unto themselves and part of a larger whole.

For instance, a hydrogen atom is whole unto itself. One electron flying through a field around a nucleus. But that atom then becomes joined with another hydrogen atom and an oxygen atom to become another whole, a water molecule. And that water then becomes part of a cellular structure, and that cellular structure then becomes part of more advanced forms of life, each being a whole unto themselves.

He calls a holonic structure a "holarchy". Holarchies that can reach from subatomic particles to multiverses.

Higher-level holons are formed when a set of smaller holons have formed a relationship pattern that is self-sustaining and resilient. These higher-level holons then go on to form relationship patterns with other holons to form larger wholes. A holon exists in a dynamic tension between its sub-patterns and its meta-patterns, forming complex autopoietic systems.

If any part of the system breaks down and no longer supports the behavior of other parts of the system, the entire system breaks down. Cancer is an example of a systems destructive dysfunction.

Holonic patterns lie at the heart of complex system theory and are essential for us to understand the nature of Pattern Languages.

It also was at the root of Alan Kay's design for Smalltalk that helped shape the Agile Mindset.

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