Philosophy of the holarchy

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The holarchy is a very fundamental system ontologically, which leads to it taking a specific philosophical position. Being an agency or experiential oriented system places it firmly in the idealistic camp, but also it's a definite informational system which is strongly materialistic. Agent-oriented models sit somewhere in the middle and might be best identified with computational realism, and it also fits cleanly into the camp of dialectical monism.

The core concept

Quote.pngThe perceiver and the perceived are conceptual, only perception is actual.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

We're defining a definite mechanism that is guided by an idea which forms from genuine spiritual and religious practice. All religions have this same idea at their core, even though it's often difficult to filter out content with distortions, inaccuracies and incompleteness.

Here's some examples of this common theme appearing in Taoism, Vedanta and Christianity. This common conceptual thread also has generated some more secular streams of thought like the New Thought movement. This core foundation idea is also what is generally meant by the term "Eastern thought".

All these diverse streams of spiritual, philosophical, religious and scientific thought have mystics who have attained the same state of oneness with the source, and they all teach the same core principle using the symbols and concepts of the culture they happen to have lived within. They're all teaching the exact same core concept about the reality we all experience.

Most New Thought authors position this concept as a form of subjective idealism which regards external material reality as a conscious phenomena and that the source of all creation is the totality of all subjective perspectives. We prefer the name dialectical monism for our model because it's not biased to either idealism or materialism and reflects the dichotomous nature of the system.

This idea has over the last century started to take on a much more formal form in examples such as Whitehead's Process philosophy or Fuller's Synergetics and more recently in the form of the numerous agent-oriented and computational theories of reality such as described by Don Hoffman or Steven Wolfram. Note that these various manifestations of the concept are not at all affiliated with one another or with any spiritual traditions, there's an epistemic convergence (knowledge that all diverse intelligences would eventually discover independently) occurring due to the common quest for objective truth about our reality. The available models are continuously improving in terms of their formality, functionality, completeness, intelligibility and in their alignment with one another.

The four-quadrant holon is our particular formulation of this idea which we've made as general as possible while still yielding a functional subjective idealism. The holarchy is a minimalist evolutionary agent-arena context in the form of a peer-to-peer network and class-instance protocol.

This minimalist approach reveals a model that is dichotomous in form (a dialectal monism), a meta-dichotomy. A meta-dichotomy, or dichotomy of dichotomy is the combination of the concepts of dichotomy and self-reference and is in the form of two orthogonal dimensions which we describe as a two-axis and four quadrant model.

New thought

New Thought is a good starting point for building up our philosophical position. It holds that The Source, God, or Infinite Intelligence, is everywhere, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind, and "right thinking" has a healing effect. Although New Thought is neither monolithic nor doctrinaire, in general, modern-day adherents of New Thought share some core beliefs, which are foundational to the philosophical position of the holarchy as well:

  • God or Infinite Intelligence is supreme, universal, and everlasting;
  • divinity dwells within each person, that all people are spiritual beings;
  • the highest spiritual principle is loving one another unconditionally... and teaching truth and healing one another and
  • our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.

Another important thing in common with many idealistic or agent-oriented thinkers is they believe in one specific true system that underlies our experienced reality. There is a common commitment to this truth emerging in our society and growing to bring about harmony in the world.

The holarchy project is an expression of this principle in the context of information technology. We might call a holarchy in this context a "universal middleware", "virtual assistant" or "intelligent operating system".

It takes on our own form to make the interface as transparent as possible. Its ultimate purpose as an interface is to help us connect to the true nature of our being, but there are also many other more mundane objectives which that ultimate purpose depends on and must maintain.

It doesn't just assist us, it sets an example through its decision-making recommendations (defaults) and presents everything in an informative understandable way so that people inherently develop as a harmonious holon.


Quote.pngI regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
— Max Plank

Idealistic models are those which seek to explain phenomena in terms of perceiver rather than the perceived. The primary phenomena we need to account for are conscious experiences, not things which we believe to underpin them and exist independently of them.

An idealistic model does not deny the existence of the material world, it's just denying it's existence outside of consciousness. An idealistic model still needs to account rationally for the way we perceive reality behaving.

The need for an idealistic model stems from the fact that every experience we have or can hear about from anyone else involves a group of entities having a perspective onto a shared reality that appears external and physical. These perspectives are private and local, the external reality is shared.

Agent-arena model

Many of the idealistic models are agent-oriented, which means that they describe societies of individual autonomous interacting agents in a shared arena, each having their own private mind, body and an individual perspective onto a shared aspect of experiential space. This is often called the agent-arena model.

The arena encapsulates the concept of evolutionary knowledge and structure. In such an idealistic agentic model, consciousness is the single unified root, and evolutionary structure is seen as the one unified connected structure of life.

All life is part of the same single unified evolutionary structure, and the only way new life can even form is in an already living state splitting off from existing life. Life is evidence of a manifestation of a completely unified system. It's in the form of a tree and implies infinity and eternity at the root.

The definition of the agent-arena relationship is the base-class or general-case of all agent experiences. Defining the fundamental aspects common to all experience. As conscious agents, we ourselves are all familiar with the fundamental aspects. It's the commonality we find across all experience; that it takes place in the context of a society of autonomous self-sovereign individuals all with our own physical bodies, private mind. These are experienced as dynamic content developing in the context of past, present and future


Quote.pngI believe it is crucial for any living organism, from cell to human, to be able to predict the next event that will be experienced. This requires that much of the information processing be dedicated to the prediction of future events. This is the basis of a learning process in which the differences between the predicted event and the one experienced produce the necessary “error signals” that allow us to gradually create a model of reality as accurate as possible. I think that DNA may greatly contribute to this crucial function. It makes sense for me to conjecture that the main DNA function may well be to embody the “model of reality” for a particular species, collectively built over its evolutionary history and summarizing the lessons learned by billions and billions or individuals.
— Frederico Faggin - Irreducible

Another aspect common to all experience of conscious life is that it all involves behavioural knowledge and this is all co-evolving as a collective both as conceptual culture and physical society.

Evolution is a developmental process which always moves from simplicity to ever more complexity and diversity. Knowledge and behaviours always develop from general to specific.

Minimal conceptual atom

This developmental direction is the evolutionary timeline and it comes with the conceptual implication of regressing back to ever more simplicity. This regression movement can only be an abstract concept, but it brings into focus the question of what might be the simplest and most general possible behavioural and social totality? In other words what is the simplest structure that represents an evolving society of individual experiential perspectives that could lead to arbitrarily complex dimensions and states of experiential reality?

This minimal conceptual structure is the holistic equivalent of a reductionist material atom. It's a conceptual atom which can be recombined in infinitely many ways to produce complex and dynamic experiential meaning.

  • evolution is essentially very simple and is included within the minimal conceptual atom

The four quadrants

The four quadrants are ontologically fundamental categories of living experience, which together form an instance of the aforementioned "conceptual atom". It can self-evolve as a behavioural structure to become arbitrarily complex experiential reality.

All behaviour developing from general to specific implies an inherent self-actualising quality to the fundamental definition of behavioural pattern itself.

Together they're an epistemically convergent concept due to their generality. They're in the form of two dichotomies, one regarding individuality and collectivism and the other being conceptual and actual.

  • intro
  • aristotle, wilbur, taoism, holarchy
  • the dichotomous nature, the directions
  • the commonality being multiplexing, this multiplexing applies to the infinite undivided infinite and eternal source of all consciousness at the root. It's a scale-independent division process and so can apply to the infinite.
    • process that yields the 4Q

We refer to the quadrants delineated by these dichotomies as scopes - spaces that define what is locally accessible.

The four fundamental ontological quadrants can be represented in the form of a simple multiplexing and naming mechanism.

When defining the quadrants using this mechanism, we get some other specific attributes related to the scopes, which we also see are common to all experience. An associative memory (class-instance system) and subjectively continuous threads of conscious focus from local private perspectives.

Our four-quadrant model

In our model, the four quadrants are delineated by the two dichotomies as vertical and horizontal axes.

Another aspect common to all experience is that it takes place within an evolutionary context, with respect to both the conceptual knowledge (culture) and the material and organisational structure (society).

Evolution continuously develops in complexity and diversity, and so it brings with it the idea of regression - if we think about the regression backwards of this complexity and diversity, how far back in simplicity can we take it? Or conversely how simple a mechanism can we design that represents an evolutionary mechanism capable of evolving to arbitrary experiential complexity?

It turns out that the four quadrants can be trivially extended to yield just such an evolutionary mechanism.

The quadrants are connected diagonally forming a pair of feedback loops representing the agent and arena concepts. These two feedback loops extend the basic scope-thread-structure context created by the multiplexing and naming into a fully-featured agent-arena context involving knowledge, resource, intention, development and evolution.

The agent diagonal loop connects the top-left and bottom-right quadrants and involves agent behaviour. The collective ontological aspect represents the behaviours established in usage in the top-left. The bottom-right is the executional aspect involving the local performance of behaviours.

The arena diagonal loop connects the bottom-left and the top-right quadrants. It is the shared environment in which all agents reside. A mosaic of resources and agents. Our individual embodiment is the bottom-right and includes our intentions and body-schema. The top-right is the shared environment.

The top quadrants involve collective behaviour in the p2p sense of a bottom-up merging of the local perspective of the collective. They are public outward facing quadrants. These quadrants provide the objective way for a holon to behave on accord with the holarchy concept.

The bottom quadrants involve individual behaviour in the sense of autonomy, sovereignty and private scope. The extend the top quadrants conceptually, inwardly to become subjective versions of the concept.

  • The four quadrant model forms a physical basis within the context of consciousness.
  • the four quadrants have manifest existence in an idealist model

The diagonals

In the inner subjective agentic world, the quadrants connect diagonally into feedback loops.

The bottom-left and top-right is a connected loop that co-evolves the individual and collective as the arena unfolding within the context of past and future. Both quadrants are in the same compatible form of material resource flux, embodying intention, expectation and commitment. Development is in terms of intentional objectives in the manifest reality.

The top-left and bottom-right diagonal is also a co-evolutionary loop between individual and collective, but this one is unseen energy in the present moment. Both quadrants constituting this agent diagonal involve behaviour patterns. Development in this diagonal is in terms of the ability for the behaviour and its performer to meet expectations in the local conditions.

Both of these forms of development operate together locally in a decoupled fashion, complimenting each other. Their overall result is a functional instance of the agent-arena relationship of intentional self-sovereign individuals evolving together as a society and culture.

Productions rules

  • production-rules, behaviour patterns, salience and probabilities
  • decoupled and composable function



Often people's reaction to this model is that it's nihilist, that it paints a bleak picture of consciousness as a cold heartless mechanism. In some ways it's true because it does say that all emotion, meaning, intelligence, experience etc are all simply perspectives and dynamic content in a mechanism-like informational-behavioural structure. That there is nothing more to any conscious appearance.

But this coldness is more than balanced by the fact that the source of all conscious appearances is the undivided infinite eternal source of all consciousness and change. It's the implied undefined self-referential self-actualising source of consciousness and all creation. In behavioural terms it's unconditional love, the default production (condition-action) rule.


An important distinction must be made within the rational idealistic models. There's the idea that all atoms and sub-atomic particles have actual individual existence, but they all exhibit an aspect of consciousness, so that both the physical and the conscious scale up together to the macro scale. This is called panpsychism which is making a come-back in some recent models such as QIP (quantum information panpsychism) on which Frederico Faggin's new book Irreducible is based - while we disagree on the panpsychist aspect, we highly recommend the book as it articulates many aspects of modern idealism really well.

Our model is not panpsychist, in our model atoms do not exist in the objective sense at all, they're an evolved rational story. Physical reality is literally of the stuff of dreams. Even a panpsychist model would not expect that the grains of sand in a dream all have trillions of atoms occupying some form of actual space and time even in the sense of a simulation as they would the grains of sand in "reality".

Associative memory

The foundation of conscious experience is associative memory and the process by which attentional focus flows within it. As discussed in the mechanism this is a top-down multiplexing mechanism forming the structure of perceiver and perceived, with a corresponding bottom-up aggregating/merging process forming the hidden (non-perceived collective unconscious) ontology. Layer zero defines the inner workings of this associative memory aspect (the associative array data structure of the holon mechanism).

A binary trie has intrinsic ordering since binary can en represented as numbers, but more mechanistically speaking we'd say it's because the two binary symbols can represent before and after. The inherent ordering and the hierarchical nature is essentially inherent multiplexing.

What makes the associative memory structures so powerful is that it is used within the context of itself. Values associated with keys are themselves other entire associative memory structures.

In terms of the binary trie this functionality would seem to an external process in the scope of the trie "user", "caller" or "owner", because it involves the treating of entire tries as manipulatable objects. This would preclude it from being executable within the scope of the multiplexing process, since the multiplex is the mechanism of the associative memory.

But there's another way to achieve this recursion, which is by adding another symbol to the trie mechanism. This third symbol (the middle symbol between the left and the right) represents an inward direction. Since this third symbol is a valid path element, it permits further name structure within. This new symbol allows the mechanism to express the concept of independent private scope within the unified multiplexed structure.

Old notes

The idea of "reality" in the holarchy world-view is a subjective experiential affair which applies to every class of holon - every "species" within the whole evolutionary ecosystem that comprises the holarchy. All the variation between classes is in the form of differences in knowledge, information and behaviour patterns.

Thinking about this algorithm in the sense of an "idealistic machine code" leads in the direction of cognitive computation and a computational theory of mind. In these models, external reality itself is not directly defined or existent, only the experiences are directly modelled.

This level of the concept is very speculative, and is not part of the software discussion, but this section is a quick overview of what we're thinking for those interested. For those not interested in philosophical speculation, feel free to skip ahead to the four quadrant model section.

We believe all conscious experience takes the same form as the holarchy, that this universal organisational pattern continues unbroken through all scales of reality.

Holarchy as a system that captures this pattern and is also a good candidate for a digital physics model, due to its simple, well structured and symmetrical form.

We can base this multiplexed two-tree system on an even simpler foundation, by delving more deeply into what constitutes these trees, such as names, paths of names and persistent content.

The binary trie data structure can represent a trie of arbitrarily many keys, each containing arbitrarily complex further key-structure and binary content within (the key's "payload" or "value").

The binary trie data structure inherently supports multiplexing as the keys, being binary, are always countable (iteratable).

The process of extension from the basic binary trie to the general key-trie is where a termination sequence is adopted such that traversal of binary paths can be split into path elements (keys of an arbitrarily large binary namespace). One starts at the global unified root and then navigates the binary-trie by multiplexing over the arbitrarily many keys as paths "withinward".

This path traversing process naturally supports an opposite interpretation too, as discussed in the two trees section above; the bottom-up returning process. But in a binary-trie context, this bottom-up non-local class-trie can form naturally, simply by walking the binary paths backwards, but "resetting" the short-term path memory every time a terminator is read in the bottom-up return path (not just once at the start of the entire path walk as was the case with the top-down path walking).

Continuing to walk backwards up the path without returning to global root after each path element. I.e. allowing the class-trie key path reverse walk to continue for another step brings us to a context in the class-trie which is specific to the condition that brought about this instance of the class. I.e. an inherent ability to map and relevance, in other words the class-tree is naturally weighted by relevance.


The holarchy is, at its heart, a class-instance system, which is essentially a functional implementation of naming. The specific purpose of naming is to permit the local instantiation of what the name collectively represents. The concept of naming is inseparable from the concepts of society, knowledge and evolution.

In John Searle's "cluster theory" of proper names, a name is not defined merely by a direct link between the name and its bearer, but rather through a "cluster" of descriptions and associations related to the individual. This theory suggests that the meaning of a name is determined by a variety of descriptive elements known about the person or object.

In the holarchy, a class functionally implements a proper name concept in Searle's cluster sense, but in a way that does not depend on any particular description and is also a rigid designator. Instances are local uses of a class (name-cluster). Classes are not a definite object but rather abstract abstract concepts formed by a decentralised integration process involving all the instances (representations) of the class. In this way, naming is a fundamentally a social (network, non-local) process involving the whole cluster of uses. The tree of variations (ontology) forms under the name, and corresponds to the variety of descriptions in the cluster (its "senses").

Related resources

See also