A holon is a system (or phenomenon) which is an evolving self-organizing dissipative structure, composed of other holons, whose structures exist at a balance point between chaos and order. It is maintained by the throughput of matter–energy and information–entropy connected to other holons and is simultaneously a whole in and itself at the same time being nested within another holon and so is a part of something much larger than itself. Holons range in size from the smallest subatomic particles and strings, all the way up to the multiverse, comprising many universes. Individual humans, their societies and their cultures are intermediate level holons, created by the interaction of forces working upon us both top-down and bottom-up. On a non-physical level, words, ideas, sounds, emotions—everything that can be identified—is simultaneously part of something, and can be viewed as having parts of its own, similar to sign in regard of semiotics. Defined in this way, holons are related to the concept of autopoiesis, especially as it was developed in the application of Stafford Beer to second-order cybernetics and viable system theory, but also Niklas Luhmann in his social systems theory.
The word was coined by Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost in the Machine. Koestler was compelled by two observations in proposing the notion of the holon. The first observation was influenced by Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon’s parable of the two watchmakers, wherein Simon concludes that complex systems will evolve from simple systems much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms present in that evolutionary process than if they are not present. The second observation was made by Koestler himself in his analysis of hierarchies and stable intermediate forms in both living organisms and social organizations. He concluded that, although it is easy to identify sub-wholes or parts, wholes and parts in an absolute sense do not exist anywhere. Koestler proposed the word holon to describe the hybrid nature of sub-wholes and parts within in vivo systems. From this perspective, holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction.
Read Koestler’s text on Holons here.
Excellent paper by Franz Pichler: