What does 'holistic' mean?

The Greek word "holos" means "whole."
In Greek antiquity, the idea of the world as "a whole in itself" (cosmos) was founded philosophically. Based on the Ionic philosophy of nature, Plato and Aristotle in particular dealt in detail with a holistic understanding of nature. Aristotle's famous sentence "The whole is more than the sum of its parts" sums up the core of holistic thinking in a few words.

The term 'holism' was coined by the South African Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870-1950). But Aristotle already taught that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The systematic approach was first developed by the English biologist John Scott Haldane.

Holism regards given forms of existence as something whole and not as something composed of parts. Only the connection of the parts causes the structure of the whole. It means to include the connection of everything with everything.

Philosophical Teaching

Holism, also called "holism", is a philosophical teaching. It regards systems existing in nature as parts of a larger whole. This approach always implies that a system can only be understood if it is studied in a larger context. Thus, a precise statement about the system as a whole and its functions and interactions with other systems can never be derived from the specific study of the components inherent in a system.

The unmanageable complexity of system interactions is very clearly demonstrated by the difficulty of making precise weather forecasts or calculating climate change. System-theoretical aspects that support a holistic understanding of nature include the self-organisation of biological systems and their inherent non-linearity.

Holistic thinking is certainly very old. Peoples living close to nature urgently need to understand the greatest possible interrelationships in their environment. The dependence on complex ecosystems also means that they must be preserved.

Reference to Living Gaia

The holistic way of thinking forms the basis for our healing biotope in Brazil and our local projects. The Healing Biotope should not only be a place for positive transformation for us humans, but also include the nature of the surrounding area. With the creation of water retention areas we want to support the natural water cycle of this area. The local flora and fauna will also benefit from these measures.

In this respect, our land purchase project in Acre is also of great importance. The 16,000 ha of land that the Huni Kuin want to buy with our support should be preserved at all costs and offer the Huni Kuin and the wild animals a new (old) home.


Shamanism is the oldest holistic method that people have used over a long period of time. In a working paper of the Department of Economics of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hanover Alexander Zick has clarified by means of shamanism what is meant by holistic: In the shamanic world view, man is part of the cosmos and the interrelations between man and his fellow creatures is the focus of interest.

Shamans primarily perform mediating functions between this world and the hereafter, humans and spiritual powers, living and dead (ancestors). This is essential for existence, because the worlds form a complementary whole, well and misbehaviour in their effects are never locally limited to one, but always influence the others, i.e. the whole nature. In shamanism science is only one explanation factor among many. It is related to other explanatory factors in order to understand phenomena of different levels of knowledge and interlinked forms of human experience, perception and feelings.

According to these ideas, the cosmos, in its parts and as a whole, also has a will, a consciousness and sensations. All phenomena of this shamanic universe influence each other to different degrees and with different power. Shamanism offers the necessary connection to the earth, to the original, living earth (the earth understood as living being), to the living space, in which the human being is only one of the possibilities. Shamans work for a harmonious, peaceful coexistence of man and nature or of nature and man. Nature does not need man, but man needs nature.

Dualism versus holism

The differences between the conception of the universe, nature, man and consciousness developed by Western science and that of pre-industrial societies (including shamanic cultures) are usually explained by the superiority of materialistic science over the superstition and primitive magical thinking of these cultures. Shamanism is based on mythical and magical knowledge, which cannot be learned in our western sense, but in which one is initiated and that arises through experience. While western science tries to draw the world into our head and dissect it there, shamans or holistic thinking is about sticking one's head into the world and to look around there and to perceive and experience it with all senses and to leave it whole. For the shaman there is no dualism but a coherent continuum: Everything is connected and interwoven in an endless web of life. The shaman accepts the whole life as a system of the "Great Mother", in which he cannot and does not want to change anything. It is as it is, and it remains as it is, it only changes.

Today we mainly cultivate the conviction that we live separated from nature and the spiritual realms. So we often see ourselves as victims of circumstances and life. The western, atomistic world view only recognizes matter and motion as real, the whole is equated with the sum of the parts, and living systems are reduced to inorganic matter, with the result that nature ultimately appears dead. Holism, however, states that process, form and relationship are the most important things, that wholenesses have properties that their parts do not have, that living systems, like spirit, cannot be reduced to their components, with the consequence that nature appears as living.

The entire edifice of modern science was based on the view of nature, which has basically been divided into two separate and independent realms: matter and spirit. This view was the basis for all scientists to treat matter as inanimate and thus separate from the individual self and to see the material world as a profound accumulation of individual things with identities separate from themselves, forming a gigantic machine with a certain order.

The presentation of the various phenomena by Newtonian physics and its confirmation only proved to be affirmative for Descartes' philosophy, the "Cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am" so that Western societies began to equate their identity with the mind.

Physics finally brought about a softening of rigid Western rationality: in the 19th century, the science of thermodynamics emerged, which identified the irreversible nature of macroscopic processes as a consequence of interactions within complete collections of molecules, thus initiating the break of time symmetry in physics.
In this way, time acquired a direction that runs from the past into the future. But the thermodynamics of the 19th century only recognized movement towards a state of equilibrium, a state of maximum entropy. Order cannot be created in this way, only decayed.

Physical phenomena could be clearly characterized: either as localizable mass particles or as spatio-temporally continuous electromagnetic waves, but not both at the same time. Quantum mechanics as a breakthrough at the subatomic level at the beginning of the 20th century represented the decisive step towards overcoming a dualistic world view. There were experiments that no longer allowed a certain object to be classified unambiguously as a mass particle or unambiguously as an electromagnetic wave.

Nevertheless, the philosophical consequences of this phenomenon seep only slowly into everyday consciousness. Radical separation has been cultivated for too long and in our habitual thinking it is still difficult to allow two different states of being at the same time. Obviously, it requires some practice to reintegrate the holistic world view and bring it in line with the findings of science.

Gaia mythology

ca 6500 v. Chr., Chatal Höyük

At the time of the cultural mother stage, the male and the female lived together in partnership. Both were safe in the maternal, in the great provide*ss who brought everything forth, took it back and brought it back again. This primordial mother, here in the picture as the birthing mother on the leopard throne, can still be found during patriarchal times in the Greek primordial mother Gaia. Here she is the primordial deity, the first and only one to emerge from chaos; as primordial mother she is the "Broad-chested Gaia", seat of all immortals the "Mother of all Gods".

Gaia - the mother of all gods

Gaia's importance in mythology as well as in cult lies mainly in the idea of the earth. From this idea, which was spread throughout all continents and over very long epochs, derives both Gaia's main meaning as Mother Goddess, who brings forth and nourishes all living things, and that of a Deity of Death, who takes man into her womb after his death. Delphi means "womb or uterus" and it was the famous oracle of Greece where Mother Earth was worshipped as the goddess Gaia and her snake dragon Phyton.

Gaia, the mother of all gods, was outshined by male gods as patriarchy progressed, whose power increasingly passed from father to son. According to Hesiod, the power of Uranos goes to his son Kronos and from him to his son Zeus, who is proclaimed to be the high god and father god of Olympus. Zeus therefore destroyed his own ancestors, sex of Titans, in a murderous battle and forcibly appropriated the creative power and the chthonic (earthly) powers, which until then had mainly been in the hands of great goddesses.

Patriarchization - the Disempowerment of Gaia

Zeus devoured the goddess of wisdom Metis when she got pregnant with her daughter Athena, and then let the goddess Athena arise from his head as a head birth. Behind the wisdom goddess Metis lies the ancient Egyptian goddess Maat and the Libyan snake goddess Medusa, both of whom represent female wisdom. Zeus devours them and thereby acquires the ability that is reserved only for mothers: He gives birth to Athenians, but out of his head because he lacks the life-giving maternal organs. This appropriation of the female natal act then finally lays the final psychological foundation for the justification of matricide and the taboo suppression of the cultural mother stage, which had determined the lives of humans on their life-giving mother over a period of at least 150,000 years.

Good literature on the subject: Kirsten Ambruster: Das Muttertabu oder vom Beginn der Religion, edition courage

Gaia hypothesis

The Gaia hypothesis was developed by microbiologist Lynn Margulis and chemist, biophysicist and physician James Lovelock in the mid-1960s. It states that the Earth and its entire biosphere can be regarded as a living being; in the sense that the biosphere - the totality of all organisms - creates and maintains conditions that enable not only life but also the evolution of more complex organisms. The Earth's surface thus forms a dynamic system that stabilizes the entire biosphere through feedback mechanisms. This hypothesis presupposes a certain definition of life, according to which living beings are characterized in particular by their ability to self-organize or autopoiesis. The term derives from Gaia, the earth goddess and great mother of Greek mythology. The Gaia hypothesis gave rise to the physiology of the earth (geophysiology).

Example oxygen

Molecular oxygen is a highly reactive substance that quickly binds to other elements and thus disappears. Iron rust, wood burns. What is amazing, however, is that the oxygen content of the atmosphere is constant: no matter how much iron rusts and how much wood burns, the global oxygen content remains unchanged. This becomes particularly exciting when one considers that "fossil air" from ice cores or amber has a very similar, often the same composition as today. Obviously, since life in the countryside has been active, the oxygen content of the air has changed only insignificantly. The Gaia hypothesis says that the "life" system itself keeps the proportion stable.

Example of climate fluctuations

There is increasing evidence that until 600 million years ago the climate was subject to extreme fluctuations that have not occurred since. At times, the earth was literally covered by an ice shield ("snowball earth"), while at other times it was completely ice-free. Critics of the Gaia hypothesis therefore argue that such extreme fluctuations contradict the idea of a balanced Earth.

Supporter see it the other way round: One explanation for these early climate fluctuations is that there were no complex organisms with skeletons or calcareous shells at that early time (Precambrian). This is because the calcareous marine plankton plays an enormous role in the CO2 balance of the oceans today. When these organisms grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the water, and when they die again, they sink together with their calcareous shells to the seabed, where massive calcareous sediments form over millions of years. In this way, the CO2 content of the oceans - and thus indirectly that of the atmosphere - is chemically stabilised. The formation of these organisms would therefore have contributed to stabilizing and thus improving the living conditions on Earth.

Example salt content of the oceans

The salt content of the oceans is constant at 3.5%. Although considerable quantities of minerals continue to be dissolved by land and shipped into the sea, the salt content has not risen for millions of years. If one assumes that the mineral load in earlier times was as high as it is today, there would now have to be so much salt in the oceans that higher forms of life could no longer exist. In fact, there are processes that remove salt from the ocean. These include the formation of lagoons and closed sea basins in which seawater collects, evaporates and in this way forms powerful salt deposits. Reef-forming organisms are involved in the formation of such lagoons. According to Lovelock, this is also a process in which the community of living beings itself ensures that their living conditions are preserved. On the other hand, methyl chloride and methyl iodide are produced by marine algae and then released into the atmosphere. This biological process also removes salt components such as chlorine from seawater.


The origins of the Gaia hypothesis lie in the scientific background of the two researchers James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. The geochemist Lovelock has studied intensively how the biosphere has changed and still changes the earth's atmosphere in the course of the earth's history. One result of these considerations is the CLAW hypothesis, which was formulated at the end of the 1980s and relates to the relationship between phytoplankton and the global climate. These phenomena, wrote Lovelock, are understandable only if the planet is seen as a single living organism.

Understanding life

The Gaia hypothesis is based on a systems theoretical understanding of life. According to this hypothesis, a living being is an open and entropy-producing system that can adapt reactively and self-organizingly to its environment in such a way that it is able to adapt to its environment by procreation.


Source: Wikipedia

A good video on the topic can be found here

Here you can find good background information on the topic of the Earth's ecosystem (in German)