© 2010 Linsen. All rights reserved. 9781887263146

Holism and Evolution

I apologise for the long post, but this book and its author are just too interesting to sum up briefly.

Ever since discovering in a previous book that Jan Smuts, South Africa’s Prime Minister from 1919-1924 and again from 1939-1948, had studied and written a work of philosophy I knew that I absolutely had to read it. I am sure that there are few national leaders who have written anything themselves, and even fewer who have written a work of a metaphysical nature.

Smuts was widely regarded as one of the most brilliant men in the world during the early part of the twentieth century. He was the only person to sign both the League of Nations and United Nations charters (the latter of which he wrote the preamble for).

Holism and Evolution was written in 1926 between Smuts’ two terms of office. It is a work of astounding intellectual scope, proposing no less than a totally new world view and structure for scientific and philosophical knowledge. The term holism, coined in this work, is used to refer to this theory.

The core principle of Smuts’ holism is that all things in the universe, from the level of the atom right up to human intellect, society and Values, has a strong tendency to form wholes. These wholes, while not containing anything specifically more than there parts, are nevertheless fundamentally more than merely the sum of those parts.

This work draws strongly on the theory of evolution, primarily as stated by Darwin but also considering later additions. Another very influential factor is Einstein’s theory of relativity, in relation to which Einstein himself said that Smuts was “one of only eleven men in the world” who fully understood it. Einstein also studied this book, and found it very influential.

Holism and Evolution is a rather academic, and very intellectual book, but one which radiates the incredible intelligence of its author on every page. While some of the science Smuts refers to is now outdated, it was at the time (1926) absolutely cutting-edge, and it is quite remarkable for a statesman to have such a keen grasp thereof.

To conclude, I will quote two paragraphs from the book. The first illustrates its primary intent, and the second its author’s eloquence:

Through all these stages we see the ever-deepening nature of the Whole as a specific structural synthesis of parts with inner activities of its own which co-operate and function in harmony, either naturally or instinctively or consciously. The parts so co-operate and co-function towards a definite inherent inner end of purpose that together they constitute and form a whole more or less of a distinctive character, with an identity and an ever-increasing measure of individuality of its own.

The pulsations, the rhythmic flow of the functions of cells form the law of life, and incidentally become the basis of the new element of music in life. They give to music that primordial fundamental character which takes us back to the very beginnings of life on this globe, and makes music the deep appeal of all the long ages to emotions the most primitive as well as the most highly evolved. The rhythm of equilibrium shows the close linkage between the physical structures and the life-structures. And its music links all life together through all the ages.

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