The Emergent Whole

Holographs, Writing and The Emergent Whole

Several years ago, my daughter and I viewed a holographic self-portrait by Chuck Close while visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We were amazed how lifelike it was.

Holographic images are produced with a laser that creates an optical reconstruction of the original object rather than a flat image as in a regular photograph.

When the holographic plate is illuminated with a laser, the effect is that of viewing the original three dimensional object.

If, however, the holographic plate is shattered into pieces, each piece still contains the entire holographic image, just with less clarity.

In other words, the whole of the holograph is not made up of the parts, but the whole is actually represented in each part.

This holograph analogy is one of several Henri Bortoft shared about finding the whole through the parts in his book, The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe's Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature.


The act of writing is another example.

When we write, we put marks for words together on a page to try to say something. What is said is not the resultant sum of the marks. Nor is it the meaning of each individual word. Rather, meaning is perceived as words come together.

Yet, the meaning is not in the totality of the words, as we could still discover the meaning if some of the words were dropped from the sentence.

Just as as a holograph gains greater clarity as we put more pieces together, the meaning of a sentence becomes more clear with each additional word.

But the whole still resides in its entirety in each individual part.

"We cannot separate part and whole into disjointed positions, for they are not two as in common arithmetic. The arithmetic of the whole is not numerical."

Henri Bortoft, The Wholeness of Nature

Perceiving the Whole

We discover the whole or the meaning of things when we experience the parts with our complete self, not just with our logical brain.

That is what Soetsu Yanagi meant in the quote I shared in my essay Searching For Pattern.

"There are many ways of seeing, but the truest and best is with the intuition, for it takes in the whole, whereas the intellect only takes in a part."

Soestsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

We need our intuition because the whole is something we perceive as it emerges through the parts.

How do we do this?

Here are some hints from Soetsu Yanagi:

"First, put aside the desire to judge immediately; acquire the habit of just looking.

Second, do not treat the object as an object of the intellect.

Third, just be ready to receive, passively, without interposing yourself.

If you can void your mind of all intellectualization, like a clear mirror that simply reflects, all the better. This nonconceptualization - the Zen state of mushin ("no mind") - may seem to represent a negative attitude, but from it springs the true ability to contact things directly and positively."

Soestsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

If we follow this pattern as we experience each part individually and collectively, we will find the whole unfolds itself to us like a flower on a summer morning.

-J.D. Stein | December 2013