PARTS AND THE WHOLE

Even a useless part can be useful if it gets its proper counterpart. The value of a part can be gauged from its relationship in the whole. One way to understand a whole is to dissect it. We dissect the whole to see how isolated parts perform in the absence of other parts. What we want is a whole, which is more than the sum of its parts. That is possible, if the level of whole is higher than the levels of its parts. One likes to be an integral part of a whole, but doesn’t like to get lost in the whole. And that is the big challenge for parts becoming part of a whole.

How parts become a whole?

Take a building. We need bricks, cement, steel, etc. to build it. These diverse components are put in a fixed pattern to build this assemblage called building.

Think of a river. It moves from one place to the other. It doesn’t have a fixed shape. It takes the shape of the place where it flows. Smaller streams of diverse shape join the river, which itself is changing its shape as per the local conditions. There is no fixity in a river.

Think of a complex living system. A living system can be viewed from various perspectives. The perspective could be that of a molecular biologist, or a system biologist, or an ecologist. The perspective could be microscopic or macroscopic. One could view a living system as a continuation of microscopic to macroscopic world, a world having multiplier effect and vulnerability.

Think of our world. In this world order emerges out of chaos. Fritjof Capra says that the key to a comprehensive living system lies in the synthesis of pattern (form, order, quality) and structure (substance, matter, quantity). The world is systemic. It is interconnected and interdependent. The problems of this world can’t be resolved by remaining isolated. In this thinking, emphasis is on the whole. Emphasis is on system thinking which says that the properties of the parts are not intrinsic, but can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.

Think of our society. It values relationship among its constituents. The structure of society so often changes, and is full of disorder. But it works. Society is a social network. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi says that networks are ‘scale-free’ and have shown remarkable resistance to accidental failures. Networks, however, are extremely vulnerable to coordinated attacks. Taking the cue from networks, we can say that our society is not random. It is not dependent on age, function, and scope for its existence. It can withstand accidental onslaughts. It gets disturbed by coordinated attacks. It takes time to overcome coordinated attacks, but it comes back, nevertheless.

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