creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts

Synergy (Greek συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning "working together") is a word referring to the emergence of qualities, states, or behavior of whole systems or entities unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately.

I don’t believe that 90% of the matter in the universe goes unobserved… It’s not that there’s mass missing—it’s that there’s a law missing. … Why does the Milky Way tend to stay the Milky Way? The answer is: because, as a spiral galaxy, it’s a more complex organism, a more complex structure, than it is as a dissipated, homogeneous mass.
~ Terence McKenna, In the Valley of Novelty A workshop held in the summer of 1998


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  • SYN'ERGY, Synergi'a, Synenergi'a, (F.) Synergie; from συν, 'with,' and εργον, 'work.' A correlation or concourse of action between different organs in health; and, according to some, in disease.
  • Germain's theory of art converged with social psychology in his enthusiastic review of Henri Mazel's Synergie sociale of 1896. Germain found affinities in Mazel's theories of collective energies and cultural regeneration and attached his own notion of the individual's development through moral beauty to Mazel's "culture of will, of moral energy; through love". In La synergie sociale Mazel argued that Darwinian theory failed to account for "social synergy", or "social love", a collective evolutionary drive. The highest civilizations were the work not only of the elite but of the masses too; those masses must be led, however, for the crowd, a feminine and unconscious force, could not distinguish between good and evil. Socialists and anarchists who preached mediocrity led the attack on exceptional individuals—saints, heroes, or artists.
  • In the mystērion of the church, the participation of men in God is effected through their "cooperation" or "synergy"; to make this participation possible once more is the goal of the incarnation.
  • Als Physiker, der sein ganzes Leben der nüchternen Wissenschaft, der Erforschung der Materie widmete, bin ich sicher von dem Verdacht frei, für einen Schwarmgeist gehalten zu werden. Und so sage ich nach meinen Erforschungen des Atoms dieses: Es gibt keine Materie an sich. Alle Materie entsteht und besteht nur durch eine Kraft, welche die Atomteilchen in Schwingung bringt und sie zum winzigsten Sonnensystem des Alls zusammenhält. Da es im ganzen Weltall aber weder eine intelligente Kraft noch eine ewige Kraft gibt—es ist der Menschheit nicht gelungen, das heißersehnte Perpetuum mobile zu erfinden—so müssen wir hinter dieser Kraft einen bewußten intelligenten Geist annehmen. Dieser Geist ist der Urgrund aller Materie.
    • As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Spirit. This Spirit is the matrix of all matter.
  • Max Planck, in "The Nature of Matter" [Das Wesen der Materie], a 1944 speech in Florence, Italy, Archiv zur Geschichte der Max‑Planck‑Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797; the German original is as quoted in The Spontaneous Healing of Belief (2008) by Gregg Braden, p. 212; Braden mistranslates intelligenten Geist as "intelligent Mind", which is an obvious tautology. Though Planck does not use the word "synergy" in this quote, his assertion of holistic assumptions implies it.
  • Are we to foresee a mechanising synergy under brute force, or a synergy of sympathy? Are we to foresee man seeking to fulfil himself collectively upon himself, or personally on a greater than himself? Refusal or acceptance of Omega? A conflict may supervene. In that case the noosphere, in the course of and by virtue of the process which draws it together, will, when it has reached its point of unification, split into two zones each attracted to an opposite pole of adoration. Thought has never completely united upon itself here below. Universal love would only vivify and detach finally a fraction of the noosphere so as to consummate it—the part which decided to "cross the threshold", to get outside itself into the other. ...
    The death of the materially exhausted planet; the split of the noosphere, divided on the form to be given to its unity; and simultaneously (endowing the event with all its significance and with all its value) the liberation of that percentage of the universe which, across time, space and evil, will have succeeded in laboriously synthesising itself to the very end. Not an indefinite progress, which is an hypothesis contradicted by the convergent nature of noogenesis, but an ecstasy transcending the dimensions and the framework of the visible universe.
  • Depending on the initial condition of the system (initial alphabet and number of elements) the co-evolution of nested local and global hierarchies continues until the system reaches a maximum value of complexity. At least for nuclear systems a quantitative variable called "complexity" can be defined, which increases in an irreversible manner during stellar evolution (Winiwarter, 1983). This variable C is composed of an informational measure I describing the variety of the computed formulas and an energetic measure R describing the relative binding energy or "synergy" permitting the coherence of the system.
    Once the maximum complexity of the system is reached, it breaks down. A catastrophic "implosion" destroys local and global hierarchical structures. In some cases—depending on the initial conditions—this "implosion" is accompanied by an "explosion" emitting computed local formulas into space. These emitted local formulas can be captured and re-entered into the initial conditions of a future gnostic cycle.
  • In short, synergy is the consequence of the energy expended in creating order. It is locked up in the viable system created, be it an organism or a social system. It is at the level of the system. It is not discernible at the level of the system. It is not discernible at the level of the system's components. Whenever the system is dismembered to examine its components, this binding energy dissipates. An ordered library offers systemic possibilities, such as rapid search, selection, and aggregation, that cannot be explained by looking at the books themselves. These possibilities only exist because of the investment made in defining and creating interrelations between the books, their physical arrangement and the catalogues.

Lester Frank Ward

Lester Frank Ward (June 18, 1841 – April 18, 1913) was an American botanist, paleontologist, and sociologist. He served as the first president of the American Sociological Association.
    That there is a universal principle, operating in every department of nature and at every stage in evolution, which is conservative, creative, and constructive, has been evident to me for many years, but it required long meditation and extensive observation to discover its true nature.
    After having fairly grasped it I was still troubled to reduce it to its simplest form, and characterize it by an appropriate name. I have at last fixed upon the word synergy as the term best adapted to express its twofold character of energy and mutuality, or the systematic and organic working together of the antithetical forces of nature. The third and equally essential and invariable quality of creation or construction is still lacking in the name chosen, unless we assume, as I think we may do, that work implies some product, to distinguish it from simple activity. Synergy is a synthesis of work, or synthetic work, and this is what is everywhere taking place. It may be said to begin with the primary atomic collision in which mass, motion, time, and space are involved, and to find its simplest expression in the formula for force ( ),[1] which implies a plurality of elements, and signifies an interaction of these elements. …
    It further seems probable that vortex motion is based on this principle, or is the same principle, and it is through this that some expect the problem of the nature of gravitation to find its solution.
  • The true nature of the universal principle of synergy pervading all nature and creating all the different kinds of structure that we observe to exist, must now be made clearer. Primarily and essentially it is a process of equilibration, i.e., the several forces are first brought into a state of partial equilibrium. It begins in collision, conflict, antagonism, and opposition, and then we have the milder phases of antithesis, competition, and interaction, passing next into a modus vivendi, or compromise, and ending in collaboration and cooperation. … The entire drift is toward economy, conservatism, and the prevention of waste.
  • I have characterized the social struggle as centrifugal and social solidarity as centripetal. Either alone is productive of evil consequences. Struggle is essentially destructive of the social order, while communism removes individual initiative. The one leads to disorder, the other to degeneracy. What is not seen—the truth that has no expounders—is that the wholesome, constructive movement consists in the properly ordered combination and interaction of both these principles. This is social synergy, which is a form of cosmic synergy, the universal constructive principle of nature.

Hermann Haken

Hermann Haken (born July 12, 1927 in Leipzig, Germany) is a physicist and professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Stuttgart. He is known as the founder of synergetics.
  • The mediating role of the brain can perhaps be best envisaged in terms of synergetic concepts: In thinking or making plans certain parts of the brain undergo coherent, collective activity states of possibly a great number of neurons, where concepts or ideas function as, or are represented by, order parameters of these collective activities. This would mean that in H. Haken's terminology of synergetics neurons or certain states of them (as parts of World 1) become enslaved by elements of World 2 (psychic events) and World 3 (mental entities).
  • As we have seen, Hermann Haken assumed neurons were sub-systems in the brain whereas "thoughts" (Gedanken) represent the order parameters. According to the concepts of synergetics both parts have to react on different timescales in order for the sub-systems to be "enslaved". That holds true for the brain: while the neurons fire on a timescale of milliseconds the perception of new content (Gedanken) varies by tenths of a second.

Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983) was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor. He has published more than 30 books and played an important role in the popularization of synergetics. In 1927,<ref>Buckminster Fuller in Convergence, vols. 1–2, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1968, p. 107: "This doing-more-with-less I identified in 1927 as ephemeralization."
  • I will give you one very simple example of synergy. All our metallic alloys are synergetic. We will examine chrome-nickel steel. The outstanding characteristic of metallic strength is its ability to cohere in one piece. We test the metals tensile strength per square inch of cross section of the tested sample. The very high number of pounds-per-square-inch tensile strength of chrome-nickel steel has changed our whole economy because it retained its structural integrity at so high a temperature as to make possible the jet engine which has halved the time it takes to fly around the world. The prime constituents are chromium, nickel, and iron. We will take the highest ultimate tensile strength of those three. The iron’s ultimate tensile strength is about 60,000 pounds per square inch. Nickel’s ultimate is about 80,000 p.s.i. Chromium is about 70,000 p.s.i. Ultimate tensile strengths of the other minor constituents: carbon, manganese, et cetera, added together total about 40,000 psi. If we use the same tensile logic as that applied to a chain and say that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, then we would assume that chrome-nickel steel would part at between 40,000 and 60,000 p.s.i. But we find experimentally that is not the case. We find by test that chrome-nickel steel is 350,000 pounds a square inch which is 50 percent stronger than the sum of the strength of all its alloys. To prove so we add 60,000, 70,000 and 80,000 which comes to 210,000. To this we add the 40,000 of minor alloying constituents which brings the sum of the strengths of all its alloying to only 250,000 pounds a square inch. The explanation for this is Newton’s gravitational law which noted the experimentally proven fact that the relative mass attraction of one body for another is proportioned to the second power of the relative proximity of the two bodies as expressed in the relative diameters of the two bodies. If we have two spherical bodies of equal mass at a given distance from each other and insert a third spherical body of the same mass half way between the two we do not double the mass attraction between any two of the three. We increase the attraction by 2 to the second power which is 4. Halving the distance fourfolds the inter-mass attraction. When we bring a galaxy of iron atoms together with the chromium atoms and a galaxy of nickel atoms they all fit neatly between one another and bring about the multifolding of their intercoherency. But there is nothing in one body by itself that says that it will have mass attraction. This can only be discovered by experimenting with two and more bodies. And even then there is no explanation of why there must be mass attraction and why it should increase as the second power of the relative increase of proximity. That is synergy.
  • Our school systems are all nonsynergetic. We take the whole child and fractionate the scope of his or her comprehending coordination by putting the children in elementary schools—to become preoccupied with elements or isolated facts only. Thereafter we force them to choose some specialization, forcing them to forget the whole. ... We may well ask how it happened that the entire scheme of advanced education is devoted exclusively to ever narrower specialization. We find that the historical beginnings of schools and tutoring were established, and economically supported by illiterate and vastly ambitious warlords who required a wide variety of brain slaves with which to logistically and ballistically overwhelm those who opposed their expansion of physical conquest. They also simultaneously DIVIDED and CONQUERED any and all "bright ones" who might otherwise rise within their realms to threaten their supremacy. The warlord vitiated their threat by making them all specialists and reserving to himself exclusively the right to think about and act comprehensively. The warlord made all those about him differentiators and reserved the function of integration to himself.
  • The earth, to Fuller, is a "contracting phase" of the universe, a low-pressure zone in the cosmos where energy is collected and stored. The sun's radiation warms the oceans, and the oceans feed the earth. Fuller calls processes which conserve energy aspects of "synergy", a word he relies on heavily in his discussions of the "more-with-less" technologies that will accomplish the defeat of scarcity. An example of synergetic action that Fuller is particularly fond of is the way chrome-nickel steel acquires, through chemical mating, a tensile strength greater than the sum of its components. But the highest expression of synergy is man's intuition, his ability to see comprehensive patterns in random events, which has led him from near helplessness to the point where he can now take control of his own evolution.
There is a synergetic progression in Universe—a hierarchy of total complex behaviors entirely unpredicted by their successive subcomplexes' behaviors. It is manifest that Universe is the maximum synergy-of-synergies, being utterly unpredicted by any of its parts.
  • Science's self-assumed responsibility has been self-limited to disclosure to society only of the separate, supposedly physical (because separately weighable) atomic component isolations data. Synergetic integrity would require the scientists to announce that in reality what had been identified heretofore as physical is entirely metaphysical—because synergetically weightless. Metaphysical has been science's designation for all weightless phenomena such as thought. But science has made no experimental finding of any phenomena that can be described as a solid, or as continuous, or as a straight surface plane, or as a straight line, or as infinite anything. We are now synergetically forced to conclude that all phenomena are metaphysical; wherefore, as many have long suspected—like it or not—"life is but a dream".
  • Synergetics Macmillan, 1975, Introduction (The Wellspring of Reality)
  • There is nothing that a single massive sphere will or can ever do by itself that says it will both exert and yield attractively with a neighboring massive sphere and that it yields progressively: every time the distance between the two is halved, the attraction will be fourfolded. This unpredicted, only mutual behavior is synergy.
  • There are progressive degrees of synergy, called synergy-of-synergies, which are complexes of behavior aggregates holistically unpredicted by the separate behaviors of any of their subcomplex components. Any subcomplex aggregate is only a component aggregation of an even greater event aggregation whose comprehensive behaviors are never predicted by the component aggregates alone. There is a synergetic progression in Universe—a hierarchy of total complex behaviors entirely unpredicted by their successive subcomplexes' behaviors. It is manifest that Universe is the maximum synergy-of-synergies, being utterly unpredicted by any of its parts.
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  1. Here m, s, and t are the three fundamental physical dimensions of mass, space, and time. Force is the product of mass (m) and acceleration (metre per second squared, or s/t2).