Holonic Thinking

_When our ideas become whole, they have meaning. _

Alan Kay talks about the need for a Another Level of Thought. I have always been curious about this challenge.

With his programming language, Smalltalk, he embarked on a journey to explore the potential of a new paradigm of thought:

>[Smalltalk] became the exemplar of the new computing, in part, because we were actually trying for a qualitative shift in belief structures—a new Kuhnian paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the printing press—and thus took highly extreme positions which almost forced these new styles to be invented. > source

But I have struggled to understand his explanation of how this new programming paradigm might lead to a new level of thought:

>Its way of making objects is quite Platonic in that some of them act as idealizations of concepts—Ideas—from which manifestations can be created. That the Ideas are themselves manifestations (of the Idea-Idea) and that the Idea-Idea is a-kind-of Manifestation-Idea — which is a-kind-of itself, so that the system is completely self-describing — would have been appreciated by Plato as an extremely practical joke. > source

His explanation felt like a recursive maze that I struggled to get my head around.

But I knew that something was there. I knew it when Ward explained to me that what he was trying to achieve with his new wiki was a similar experience of programming in Smalltalk.

As someone who has spent hours writing in his new wiki, that gave me an important hint.

The experience of writing in the fed wiki feels like a Poetry of Patterns. You come to understand that each word is a whole unto itself, each paragraph is a whole unto itself, each page is a whole unto itself, each pattern of linked pages is a whole unto itself, each wiki is a whole unto itself. With each progressive level, a richer meaning is created.

Each element is a whole unto itself and a part of a larger whole of greater meaning.

And it is a special moment when each whole becomes clear to us. They are Eureka Moments.

And then I watched a video of Dan Ingalls where he was demonstrating the experience of programming in Smalltalk. When I saw how Smalltalk structured objects, I got it. But didn't yet have the words for it.

Objects in Smalltalk are hierarchically nested like Russian matryoshka dolls . That is, in a very real sense, the same nature of hierarchical nesting that Ward has created for writing in his wiki.

But what was Kay doing? And how might this structure be key to understanding a new level of thinking?

It was when Ward mentioned Kay's metaphor of the Blue Plane that I found another avenue to explore.

There was a hint left in the c2 wiki . The page about the Blue Plane that mentioned Arthur Koestler's book _The Act of Creation_.

In that book, Koestler explored how creations occur when different paradigms intersect. He called these paradigms "matrices of thought" and the intersections were "bisociations", a word he invented.

Kay used that concept to explain how true invention happens at the intersection between the world we live in (the Pink Plane) and the idealized world we can imagine (the Blue Plane).

But I believe that there may have been another concept from Koestler that profoundly shaped Kay's aspiration to develop a new paradigm of thought through Smalltalk.

In 1967, three years after _The Act of Creation_ was published, Koestler released his next book, The Ghost in the Machine . In that book he introduces a new concept, that of the "holon", which means "whole" in Greek.

>The notion of a holon emerges from the observation that everything in nature is both a whole and a part. > It is true for atoms who are a whole in themselves, but also a part of a molecule, of atom who could be a whole and part of cell, of cells who are both an autonomous unity and part of an organism. > wikipedia .

These holons, according to Koestler, when nested together into a hierarchical system, become a holarchy that extends into increasingly complex adaptive systems.

It then became clear to me. Smalltalk is, by its nature, holonic. The federated wiki is, by its nature, holonic. Pattern Languages are, by their nature, holonic.

Our thinking, when we create with these domains, becomes holonic. Another level of thought.

This understanding is helping me begin to look at how we make meaning is a different way. One that may be able to empower ourselves and others as Meaning Makers.