Holism versus “Stand-Back-a-Little-ism”… Nomenclature and the Fetishism of Detail and Exactitude.

So, I’m looking for a new term – Though, in all fairness, probably one that already exists.
Maybe it exists in a field outside of my immediate interest areas; but, until I find that term, I’m going to need to propose something of my own (you may have noticed my recent cry for help on Twitter).
0 Twitter about Nomenclature
Let’s face it, “Stand-back-a-Little-ism” just won’t cut it in a lectureª; despite that being exactly what I’m proposing, the value of conceptually stepping back in order to view the wider picture.
“But… But that’s Holism“, you cry!
Hmm, well, yes, it might have been, but as with many terms and expressions of ideas that were originally intended to define one thing, they quite often – through scrutiny and dissection, through skeptical (truly not a bad thing) peer review and the inevitable empirical search for the unimpeachable definition – come to mean another.
So it is with Holism.
In that current dissections reveal it to be not so much the antonym of Atomism† as proposed, but simply a larger set or defining term of Atomist thought, brought about by the need to define the parameters of ALL/Hol (unable to be accepted on its own or with broad generalism) by virtue of the extension of the categorical (sic) belief in the latter.
A cursory glance at the fetishistic dogma of empiricism reveals or suggests that useful overviews that identify broad “truths” are often contradicted by empiricist identification of abstracted and micro-compartmentalised “facts” that are fetishized by their proponents (in the same way faiths fetishize edited or redacted scriptural dogma to make anathema those things that offend a fixed and repressive faith); demonising this useful process, standpoint and teaching tool.
After all, science books (a repository of atomistic, reductionist thinking in many cases) still resort to contents pages, abstracts and back cover blurbs; and those tools miss out a lot of detail but remain useful.
0 Holism xx
Holism, if seen holistically*, works; but if exposed to antagonistic reductionism it loses meaning (as would any smaller element or subset of our everyday spoken or written language [jamais vu]; yet we don’t stop talking or writing!) and defeats intent.
An idea like holism cannot, or should not (by it’s basic definition) be reduced to simple micro-logical facts and discrepancies, especially those convoluted arguements purely designed to rob the term of its power.
[It’s usually at this point in similar discussion that science fetishists will flag up there favourite science-less “pilloried fool”, homeopathy. But, unlike holism (here for the sake of redefinition, with a little “h”), homeopathy IS flawed, as even a partial sum of its flawed parts do not add up to its claimed totality]
Rationalistic holism by virtue of its intrinsic desire avoid confusion/misdirection/”rabbit-hole thinking” through exploration of (no doubt agreed structuralist) details, does not need to be subject to that inspection. As stated, it robs it of its power/usefulness.
…Imagine if you will a reclamation warehouse filled with furniture from every age of the last century, hundreds of dressers, tables and chairs, hatstands with cane racks and writing desks.A person walks in never having seen this type of building before and says:

“My, look at all those chairs.”

A scientist might then count the chairs and suggest that only seventeen percent of the furniture is in fact made up of chairs and though they aren’t yet sure if the chaise-longue even qualify under that heading, this could reduce the percentage drastically.

That given percentage being true does not make the holistic overview spoken aloud by the none scientist false.

“They’re not even all the same height or material”, says the scientist under his breath, sulking a little. ∞

Holism’s pedantic and reductionist critics fail to see that a hyper-intellectualised “playground umbridge”-borne logic proves little; but instead further highlights a sense of a disciplines overarching fear over loss of control regarding the micro-management of smaller, neater logical inferences and repeatable data implication (occasionally cited as “empiricist proof”), but really no more proof of a logical core at the heart of these flawed anthropo-centric “exact” sciences than the interpretive theological texts of complex faiths prove the existence of their pantheons; or, any more than a pedantic repetition of paradoxes and flawed set theory can make actual catalogues of actual books, that may or may not contain lists containing themselves, disappear into logical air (did Bertrand Russell come to accept this in part?).

Holism in its often simple arrival as a intuited solution or useful model in any given situation really only suggests the identification of an unfixed/unbounded set theory, a fuzzy edged Venn diagram with elements of non-empirical data as an accepted condition of its integral rationalist holism.

It suggests a stepping back to see the pattern in the wallpaper in order to NOT misconstrue parts or details as fixed and distinct wholes.

Wallpaper MapPattern Loss can be experienced at various points due to proximity to detail, making a singular and so interpretable feature of such detail (The inset image seems to have no repetition when isolated and so seems to be unpredictable, yet stepping back reveals an overall pattern to be used as a guide for further prediction of (at least local) eventualities).

It is as this, that I find holism useful in the exploitation of our innate evolutionary bias towards pattern recognition, especially in a teaching and learning scenario, and again in particular, in the initial introduction of subjects that require progressive/constructivist delivery in order to allow students to get a feel for their probable journey through the more specific material to be covered, and even perhaps a stronger sense of value for the individual parts of the whole program.

For example this overview (a work in progress) of the appropriate scope of work to be evidenced by students as part of a module hand-in.

Student Hand-Ins

Though not exact by number, nor precise to one particular eventuality, this gives a general feel or overview of the idea, allowing students to re-evaluate their process/methodology and general output, whereas in isolation, the discussion of evidencing failure may become problematic, here it might show the value of those failures as further evidence of process, progression and development.

Of course going back to the wallpaper analogy, this “pattern” whether actual or simply fractal patternicity could be still be (and in most cases is) a partial reveal, a phenomenon of inferred or local pattern that if viewed from even “further away” might reveal its presumed importance to be less so, a local “truth” if you will

Like the seeming importance of ellipses and circles in the discussion of models of the known universe (still yet fully unrevealed in its totality).


ª – much like my insistence on using the term Post-Post-Modern to drive the Theory Staff crazy.
† – atomism (Philosophy 2)

  • a.  any of a number of theories that hold that some objects or phenomena can be explained as constructed out of a small number of distinct types of simple indivisible entities.
  • b.  any theory that holds that an understanding of the parts is logically prior to an understanding of the whole.

* – yes, this does need to be reinforced – see the arguments over “semantic holism“; all rooted in micro-empirical dogmatic analysis.

∞ – Another analogy might be that to teach a student Football, who had never heard or seen the game, you could begin by showing them how to run and stop, swerve and run in the opposite direction (without using a ball), and then, in a separate session show them how, when punted (by a device/machine and not a foot), a ball reacts differently depending where or how squarely it is hit. All useful information and knowledge based training in the broader scheme.

However, starting by showing the student an actual game of football, might possibly be a better opening gambit, even if that game is not the best example of the game, nor clearly the exact and/or perfectly didactic model of any game they might play in future.


~ by hesir on March 18, 2013.

One Response to “Holism versus “Stand-Back-a-Little-ism”… Nomenclature and the Fetishism of Detail and Exactitude.”

  1. […] out of your immediate area of experience (evading reductive comfort zones and broadening your holistic perception of the world around you) seems to positively link to […]

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