An activity of the Primer Group


A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.







By Eric Sommer

Synergies, Part-Synergies, and Organizations.

In this chapter I want to introduce the concept of `synergy'.

By a `synergy', I mean a system of interactions between two or more actors or centers of action. The word `synergy' comes from a Greek work meaning `working together'. Any set of two or more interacting beings may be regarded as a synergy. Two people in a conversation, two people bumping into each other on the street, a bee visiting flowers and polinating them, or two armies at war may all be regarded as synergies. All of them involve interactons or systems of interaction between two or more beings or centers of action.

Synergies can involve beings interacting or working together in any way or for any reason. To qualify as a synergy, beings need not be interacting or working together for a common purpose. Such common-purpose synergies' are of a special kind known as `organisms' or `organizations'. These will be discussed later in this chapter.

A synergy, then, is any set of two or more interacting beings. Such a set of interacting beings may, if it belongs to a larger set of interacting beings, also be regarded as a `part synergy'. As a `part synergy' (holon), it has `synergial properties' unto itself as well as being a part of a larger synergy or set of interacting beings.

The larger synergy to which a part-synergy belongs may itself belong to a still larger synergy, and it may belong to a still larger synergy, and so forth until the ultimate synergy or universe as a whole is reached.

Now I want to consider various ways of breaking down or analyzing synergies. A synergy includes, to begin with, a set of beings. Each of these beings brings its particular character to its interactions in the synergy. The characters which beings bring to their interactions in a synergy include all of their potentialities or dispositions including the experiences, beliefs, and purposes which make up their worldviews. In addition to beings and their worldviews, a synergy also contains the interactions and patterns of interaction developed between its beings. Finally, a synergy includes the special uses its beings make of one another as media or instruments. Beings in a synergy serve one another as such instruments or media whenever they function as mediators or means by which other beings in the synergy interact with one another.

I now want to briefly pause to address a widely-held view of synergy - a view which is to my mind helpful but one-sided. This is the view that emphasizes the significance of system interactions - as opposed to the character of the interacting system-resident parts or beings - as the key to understanding synergy. This one-sided view emphasizes the `relationships' or `wholeness' of systems, while belittling or de-emphasizing the parts which make up the whole. This view correctly points out the existence of `emergent properties', which are properties which are manifest only within a system or synergy, and which cannot be found in manifest form in the individual parts of the synergy when these parts are viewed separately.

In the case of water, for example, it is said that `wetness' is an `emergent property', which is not found in either hydrogen or oxygen, but which only emerges when the two are brought together in the water molecule of h2o. Where the use of this example, like the doctrine it supports, goes awry - at least in my view - is in tacitly assuming that the parts have nothing to do with the synergistic results or emergent properties. I would suggest, contrariwise, that the parts or constituent entities have -everything- to do with the results of a synergy.

From my perspective, the character or potentialities of the interacting entities or beings, as well as the interactions between them, must both be taken into account to understand a system or synergy and the properties within it. If I kick a stone, the experience and the consequences - for myself as well as the stone - are rather different than if I kick you. A system or synergy might, in fact, be defined as `a particular set of interacting beings in which particular potentialities of those particular beings are actualized'. In the case of water, for example, the character of hydrogen and oxygen is such that they have the potentiality to produce wetness -if they interact with each other in certain ways. The character of carbon, however, is such that it cannot interact with oxygen (as far as I know) to produce water.

A complete formula for understanding synergies or systems must, I think, take account of both the particular entities with their particular characters, and of the particular ways in which those entities come together or interact within the synergy.

Finally, I want to briefly define the special kinds of synergies known as organizations or organisms. Synergies, as I said previously, can involve beings interacting or working together in any way or for any reason. They need not, to qualify as a synergy, be interacting or working together for a common purpose. This is the differentia specifica which sets apart organizations or organisms from other kinds of synergies.

An organization or organism is a `common-purpose synergy'. By an `organization' or `organism' I mean a set of beings co-adapted and co-ordinated in order to achieve a common purpose. Two surgeons working together in order to perform an operation, the human body-mind-i system with its three parts working together for the good of the whole, or a group of people working together to plaint trees are examples of organizations or organisms.

`To organize' is, then, the act or process of co-ordinating and co-adaptating a set of beings in order to achieve a common purpose. To organize a picnic is to co-ordinate and co-adapt a set of beings such as people, food, utensils, and a natural environment for purposes of consuming an enjoyable meal in the rural outdoors.

Excerpted from:

THE MIND OF THE STEWARD: INQUIRY-BASED PHILOSOPHY FOR THE 21ST. CENTURY. by Eric Sommer (c) 1996 ( The following chapter is excerpted From `The Mind of The Steward: Inquiry-based philosophy For The 21st. Century', by Eric Sommer, 1996. This work sets out a significant portion of the philosophical foundation for the Stewards Planetary House, a just-being-born social movement, institution, and way of life which is initially based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This material is copyright (c) by Eric Sommer, but may be reproduced, with credit, for non-commercial use on websites or for individual distribution. Contact If you would like to receive the whole book, please ask.

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