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"The Synergism Hypothesis"
On the Concept of Synergy and It's Role in the Evolution of Complex Systems
© JOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND EVOLUTIONARY SYSTEMS 21(2):133-172 (1998)
"Generalizations derived from a juxtaposition of facts are not fruitful unless some conceptual, theoretical scheme
guided the generalizations and, incidentally, the selection of facts..."
"Experiments unguided by an appropriate theoretical framework usually amount to little more than 'watching the pot boil'...
We need experiments to inform theory, but without theory all is lost."
John H. Holland
Synergy -- here defined broadly as the combined (interdependent) effects produced by two
or more parts, elements or individuals -- is a ubiquitous phenomenon in nature and human
societies alike. Although it plays a prominent part in most, if not all, of the scientific
disciplines, its importance is not widely appreciated because it travels under many
different aliases, including emergence, cooperativity, symbiosis, coevolution, symmetry,
order, epistasis, mutualism, interdependencies, heterosis, phase transitions, systemic
effects, even complexity and "dynamical attractors." (A number of examples are
provided to illustrate.) At the very least, the term "synergy" could be utilized
as a pan-disciplinary lingua franca for the functional effects produced by
cooperative phenomena of various kinds; a terminological shift would underscore the fact
that the differently- named phenomena studied by various disciplines are in fact
variations on a common theme in the natural world. But more important, synergistic effects
of various kinds have also played a major causal role in the evolutionary process;
in particular, synergistic effects have provided the underlying functional basis for the
evolution of complex systems, in nature and human societies alike. The so-called
"synergism hypothesis" is here briefly described, and the accumulating support
for this theory is summarized. Some methods for testing the theory are also discussed.
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