The Mind-bender Concepts Series
Synergy is the false concept that implies the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, whether those parts are objects (like parts of a machine) functions (like computer programs) or actions (like human activity). A so-called example of synergy would be all the parts of an automobile, which separately could never provide transportation, but together as an automobile, they provide transportation which is an attribute over and above all the attributes of all the parts. This also illustrates a related concept called, "emergence," which means an attribute that "emerges" from a certain configuration of parts, when that attribute did not exist as an attribute of any of the parts themselves.
These are a very deceptive concepts. An automobile is the sum of its parts when those parts are assembled in the correct manner. For there to be true synergy, an automobile would have to weigh more than the sum of the weights of all its parts, or the so-called attribute of transportation would have to be an attribute of some or all the parts which was greater when those parts were assembled as an automobile.
Transportation is not an attribute that emerges from the assembly of an automobile's parts, transportation is what all those parts do when related to each other in the form of an automobile. Everything an automobile does, or can do, can be described entirely in terms of its arts and their attributes.
The concept of synergy is a concept for what defies the first law of thermodynamics. It implies you can get more energy (or action or results) out of a system than is put in.
The concept is used to push the idea that you can get more production from human effort in cooperation with each other than is possible from the individual efforts, as though five people who can each lift 100 pounds could in cooperation lift 600 pounds. The more common, and absurd application, is the assertion that groups of individuals are more creative than the sum of the creative ability of each individual or that problems that individuals cannot solve can be solved by groups of those same individuals. The absurd idea is that a group of ten people with IQ's of 90, can perform intellectual feats requiring an IQ of 150.
In fact, in any group effort to solve a problem or create a new idea, the best the group can do is whatever the individual with the best mind in the group is capable of doing. That individual would have been able to solve the problem or come up with the idea without the group, and within a group can only be held back or interfered with making that progress.
The related concept to synergy and emergence, holism, is a mistaken idea that actually has its roots in Aristotle, who said, "the whole is different from the some of its parts." What Aristotle meant, of course, is correct in the sense that an automobile is different from the raw "sum" of its parts, because those parts must be assembled in a particular fashion to be an automobile, but all of an automobile's properties may be explained entirely in terms of those parts in that configuration.
The meaning of holism today is that some systems' properties cannot be entirely explained in terms of their parts and how they are assembled. The modern concept of holism finds its way into everything from biology to "sociology."
The deceptive nature of this concept is in statements like, "an organism cannot be understood simply by analyzing all it's parts, in terms of chemistry and physics." This is true, because an organism is not just an assembly of components which are physical in nature, but has an additional attribute which mere physical entities do not have, the attribute life.
Holism is the other side of the physicalist's attempt to reduce everything to the physical, the view that the physical is all there is. The explanation by the physicalist for why living organisms cannot be explained entirely in terms of the physical is the false concept of emergence. The physicalist claims that life is an emergent quality, an attribute that "emerges" from the particular configuration of the physical parts of a living organism. Holism then is the attempt to view organisms in terms of this emergent attribute. This whole view, of course, is self-contradictory. Holism denies that organisms can be explained in terms of their physical parts, but emergence is just such an explanation.
[NOTE: Life is a natural attribute, just as natural as any of the physical attributes, but life is not a physical attribute nor one derived from them. An organism can be explained entirely in terms of its "parts," so long as the part (the attribute life) is correctly identified as one of its parts.]
The somewhat vague concept of holism is now applied to all kinds of "systems" such as committees, even meetings, or societies. The concept is used to put over the idea that society, for example, is more than the mere "sum" of all the individuals that a society consists of, that in some "holistic" sense it must be considered as a whole to be understood. It is this view that forms the basis of all collectivist and statist ideas.
—Reginald Firehammer (01/19/11)