- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
Janus: A Summing Up (Picador Books) Paperback – 7 Sep 1979
Special offers and product promotions
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top customer reviews
The trilogy is a supreme achievement: the summing up, less so. Its theme is Koestler's desire to defend human values against the forces of scientism, behaviourism, Darwinism, reductionism, randomness and the rationalist illusion.
Randomness apparently underlies both behaviourism and Darwinism (Koestler is wrong here: natural selection is not random and variation is only occasionally random). The rationalist illusion is the idea that science is almost complete: a fantasy repeated every 50 years or so. (Who says scientists learn from experience?) In place of reductionism, Koestler proposes a hierarchic theory, in which higher-level properties emerge according to rules that do not exist at lower levels of the hierarchy. Thus he explains evolutionary novelty and consciousness. Koestler even imagines a plan or purpose for the universe.
Arthur Koestler was a pioneer of the criticism of reductionist behaviourism and the inductive myth of science, and he wisely stood astride the two cultures, but the test of untrammelled speculation on empirical matters such as psychology and evolution is its heuristic fertility, so it must be admitted that Koestler's ideas have been mostly barren. (The only example I know is the experiments of Ted Steele and Reg Gorczynski that apparently showed acquired immunities to be inherited. This result remains controversial.)
The ideal of finding values in a world of facts is undeniably worthy and the dangers of behaviourism are rightly exposed but parapsychology and Lamarckism are not good answers to the human predicament. Far better to show how free will, the unified self, rationality and ethical values are fully compatible with a reductionist world of physical matter.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
In this his supposedly last book, Koestler revisited and integrated major aspects of several of his previous books. This was invaluable for me, given my somewhat limited interest in some of their focal topics. As it happened, however, I found the subject book to be exceptionally illuminating, intriguing, and worthwhile. Most notably, I was surprised and impressed by the extent and coherence of Koestler’s integration of key concepts over various chapters with a diverse range of topics. Moreover, I was impressed with his interdisciplinary and frequently original perspectives, all being well grounded in a ready conversance with pertinent scholarly literature and contentious research issues.
Primarily, my motivation for reading this book was interest in his concepts of holarchy and holons, terms which I had encountered often without actually appreciating their meanings and significance. Not only was that curiosity amply satisfied, but I attained a very high regard for their appreciable utility and expressiveness. Basically, the frequently used term “hierarchy” seems to be misused more often than not, and hence there has been a need for distinguishing its varied and rather casual usages. Holarchy substantially contributes to redressing that need, as does the similar concept of heterarchy. All three of these terms refer to structures that delineate levels of organization, but their respective rules of construction and application differ significantly.
Ironically, Koestler himself misuses the term hierarchy throughout this book, as interchangeable with holarchy. This is quite disconcerting as the term hierarchy refers only to a very austere version of holarchy. Basically, hierarchy associates with the relatively tractable structure of reductionist representations. Since holarchy is intended to address the more complex middle ground between reductionism and holism, the rich expressiveness of a holarchy can be a vital resource for many purposes. After all, most natural and human systems are holarchic in organization, and hence Koestler’s holarchy concept can contribute substantially to the clarity of discourse or exposition characterizing such systems.
Essentially, a holarchy is a dynamic level structure that admits appreciable latitude in connections among nodes, or holons. Each level is a grouping of like entities, with a rather nondescript property of size that orders the levels from the top with decreasing size. No level is privileged, however, and the apex or root node is extensible upwards. Furthermore, any node in a holarchy may be treated as a root node, or may connect with a distal level or an external holarchy. It appears that the expressiveness of a holarchy exceeds that of a heterarchy except for intra-level relations (which only the latter permits). Additionally, a holon on any non-leaf level can be construed as a whole or a subsystem, wherein the next lower-level holons related to it would then be viewed as parts or components. The holons in a particular holarchy may optionally represent concepts, functions, symbols, structural units, or a comparable class of entities. Most important, the nature, construction, and mechanics of the holarchy concept are independent of the application at hand. Also, modeling using the holarchy formalism can be initiated at any desired level, and can then proceed up or down, or even in both directions.
Even more impressive than the aptness and expressiveness the structural formulation of the holarchy concept are the properties and propensities of the individual holon itself. Basically, each holon exhibits some degree of autonomy, subject to the influences of its linkages to other holons. In general, higher-level influences provide directions and constraints, and the lower-level ones furnish solicited responses and incident status. Internally, each holon is managed by a fixed set of rules that are applied in accord with a flexible strategy that is conditioned by prior experiences and immediate circumstances. Overall, a holon’s role or functioning is mediated by a pervasive tension between self assertion and self transcending tendencies. Self assertion emphasizes the holon’s autonomy as manifested in its inclination to system-like apartness from higher levels. Self transcendence centers on the holon’s partness in subserving higher levels of the holarchy. When this tension is dominated by either tendency, the holon is in disequilibrium. Then, the consequences can be abnormal or even deleterious per the particular phenomena represented by the subject holarchy.
Koestler exploits the flexible holarchy concept throughout the book in various contexts, where its expressiveness contributes to the enhanced fluency, much needed precision, and more systematic explanation. In fact, holarchy is a recurring notion that serves to inform disparate topics. The following examples illustrate various of the aforementioned holarchy/holon features:
o fanaticism: the obsession of the individual humans (holons) with self-transcending allegiance to a higher level cause/leader yields fanaticism, and this historically has been the source of the great preponderance of carnage throughout history; such strife is then prompted and driven by the inordinate self assertion of the group (higher-level holon) (pp. 77-82).
o organismic steering of evolution: “genetic hierarchy,” as contrasted with the more established “genetic blueprint,” envisions an organism’s multiple levels of selective and regulatory control over candidate mutations prior to their potential external appearance. This is accomplished by mechanisms of a “genetic micro-hierarchy” (pp. 188-191) within an evolutionary holarchy. At a somewhat higher level, DNA constitutes the fixed rules for a genetic holon (pp. 41-42). These rules are subject to the organism’s probing/adaptive strategies, at a still higher level in the holarchy, for coping with the incident challenges of the external environment (pp.42-46). Overall evolutionary trajectories are therefore pre-focused within the organism through internal delimiting of admissible attributes of actual evolutionary candidates. This mutant screening is augmented by ongoing strategy adjustments per external circumstances (pp. 214-215).
o society-individual linkage: a society can be represented as a social holarchy, or even interlocking holarchies in order to highlight major factions or to alleviate complexity (p. 34). Alternatively, a single individual can be represented as the apex holon of an organism holarchy, or otherwise as being a leaf holon in a society holarchy (p. 303). Furthermore, an organism holarchy can be appended to a corresponding society holarchy via a growth operation, or perhaps suitably linked to the society holarchy in a network of holarchies.
o sensor-motor system operation: sensory perception can be represented as an input holarchy to a cognition holarchy, where operations in the former are sequenced through bottom-up holons that filter, scan, and classify information input (p. 295). Similarly, motor system outputs, which are based on inputs from the cognitive holarchy, are captured in a third holarchy. Here the output signal processing proceeds top-down whereby cognitive intentions are transformed into specific motor commands and movements. All three of these holarchies can be networked together on multiple levels to coordinate and accomplish any of the complex variety of operations possible for the sensory-motor system.
One instance of Koestler’s bold speculation is the invocation of quantum reality, and in particular superluminal communication (faster than the speed of light), that might exist at a micro-holarchy level. Here quantum phenomena are seen as a plausible key to paranormal phenomena (Chapter XIII). Given the mysterious and inscrutable properties manifested in quantum physics (see Gleiser’s “The Island of Knowledge”), one cannot rule out such prospects on scientific groumds. That paranormal experiments have thus far failed is not decisive because setting up the entailed triggering conditions is not currently possible. Basically, it is not known how to induce the associated acausal events in a controlled manner (p. 271).
My only suggested improvement for this book would be the separation of the definition of the holarchy formalism from its example applications. But that is hardly consequential compared with the contribution of inventing the holarchy/holon concept. The reader can sort such things out. In sum, I am most grateful for having encountered the expansive holarchy/holon exposition in this book - especially in view of my somewhat modest prior expectations. Last of all, I am very appreciative of Koestler’s roguish mentality and its intellectual dividends.
Comprehensive and deeply visionary.
I am writing this review from my phone so I will be economical.
If you are reading this and you have not read the book.