Foundations Of Cognitive Science


Wheeler’s (1911, 1926) notion of the superorganism, and the organizational principles of Gestalt psychology (Koffka, 1935; Köhler, 1947) are two examples of holism (Sawyer, 2002).  Such theories recognize that the regularities governing a whole system cannot be easily reduced to a theory that appeals to the properties of the systems parts.  For example, Gestalt psychology attacked psychological behaviorism because of its reductionist approach to explaining psychological phenomena.  Unfortunately, holism has not had much success in being accepted as being scientific.  “Holism is an idea that has haunted biology and philosophy for nearly a century, without coming into clear focus” (Wilson & Lumsden, 1991, p. 401).


  1. Koffka, K. (1935). Principles Of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  2. Köhler, W. (1947). Gestalt Psychology, An Introduction To New Concepts In Modern Psychology. New York,: Liveright Pub. Corp.
  3. Wheeler, W. M. (1911). The ant colon as an organism. Journal of Morphology, 22(2), 307-325.
  4. Sawyer, R. K. (2002). Emergence in psychology: Lessons from the history of non-reductionist science. Human Development, 45, 2-28.
  5. Wheeler, W. M. (1926). Emergent evolution and the social. Science, 64(1662), 433-440.
  6. Wilson, E. O., & Lumsden, C. J. (1991). Holism and reduction in sociobiology - Lessons from the ants and human culture. Biology & Philosophy, 6(4), 401-412.

(Added November 2010)