Synergistic Dualism Definition

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Synergistic dualism was a term I coined freshmen year of Missoula, MT. Looking back this was an initial struggle in conceptualizing what I would later come to recognize as emergence and the dual interaction of bottom-up and top-down causal mechanisms within a complex system.  Some of these concepts I was only able to formalize late in my dissertation. I now have better words for it, but I was on the right track back then!


Synergistic Dualism

A few entries ago I mentioned a term called Synergistic Dualism and promised to define it in a later entry.

First off let me apologize for the term itself, which is horrible but I haven’t been able to come up with a better one. Synergistic Dualism is a concept to describe something I observed but had never seen discussed or described before. Thinking about it literally broke my brain for the better part of three years. Even after I was able to define the concept, articulating it proved difficult. The below notes are my first written attempt at something that has become an important cornerstone for me in understanding the world around me. I’ve never had any formal philosophy training so if this concept does exist out there in some other format I would be grateful if someone could point it out to me so I can refer to it appropriately. The concept of Synergistic Dualism can be defined as:

  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (synergy)
  • The whole is also a key subcomponent in each of its parts (dualism)

However, this is a physical impossibility. If my physical body is greater than the sum of my parts (cells, brain, nose hairs, ears etc.) the body itself cannot be a subcomponent of each of those parts. I’d be a monstrosity of bodies layered on top and within one another.

However, Synergistic Dualism is not a conceptual impossibility: two examples (the nation-state and the Mind) are the ones where I first found the pattern appearing.

Nation-State Synergistic Dualism

If one were to look at components that make up a nation-state and limit the list to five (arbitrarily), such a list might include:

  1. Culture,
  2. Government Law,
  3. Military,
  4. People,
  5. History.

Synergy states that the United States is greater than the sum of these parts. We are not defined solely by each component, but because of their interaction, we are greater than them individually. However, there is a unique and undeniable “character” to each sub-component which can only be attributed to the whole of the United States “identity” resting within each of those parts in it’s entirety.

Our Culture is distinctly “American” bringing every other component of the United States into its sphere even though it is just a component itself. Likewise if one were to put the French Military and the US Military side by side beyond obvious physical differences in weapons, training, and tactics they would also differ because each contains the entirety of the national identity within itself. Every soldier holds within him the unique “American” or “French” experience.

No one would mistake the French Military for the US Military, nor French Culture for US Culture because they contain that unique whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, within each part, and therefore cannot be interchanged.

Mind Synergistic Dualism

Just as the nation can be both greater than the sum of its parts and yet a component of each of those parts so the Mind can as well. A subset of components of the Mind might be listed as to include Thought, Emotion, Collective Input, Will etc.

The Mind is greater than the combination of these parts, but equally, the entire entity of each individual Mind is included in each of these components such that each component is radically unique and different in character from a similar component of another individual so that no two would ever be mistaken for one another.

I could compare the Emotions of myself and another, but the differences between the two would be vast because the entirety of who we are is entwined up in that one component. Solving the Paradox The two examples though perhaps pointing to a conceptual possibility of Synergistic Dualism still don’t solve the paradox. How can something be greater than the sum of its parts at the same time that is an integral piece of each of those parts?

Even after defining Synergistic Dualism with the rough words above I still struggled with this for many years. The only way I’ve been able to resolve the paradox is that there is a missing component, a byproduct of the paradox that evens things out. It is my belief that the byproduct of Synergistic Dualism, of the paradox created, is sentience.

Unintentionally, and over ten years, Synergistic Dualism became my proof of sentience. If an entity is greater than the sum of its parts yet the entity itself as a whole is a component of each of those parts, then that entity is sentient. The sentience takes a form that is itself separate from the parts, and the whole. You could call this in metaphor the spirit, or the soul, though I am hesitant to assign a geographical location to sentience.

So in the future when you see me refer to Synergistic Dualism that is what I am talking about. The unique quality of sentience: which makes us different from plants, rocks, space dust, gravity, lava, single-celled-amoebas etc. comes from Synergistic Dualism.

Is Synergistic Dualism a gift of a monotheistic god? The spark of spirit and life? I don’t know, I have my thoughts but that’s for another day. My only goal today was to define the term since I’ll be using it later on.


I came up with the concept in a very vague format in college when studying power politics amongst nation-states. I could trace nation-states as individual entities and match their behavioral patterns (throughout history) as if they were primitive animals or beasts. They consume resources to survive, seek to expand or propagate dominions, have marked territories, are fiercely competitive, motivated by very base desires, and typically display very limited social skills amongst one another but highly evolved senses of self-interest. Most intriguing is that throughout history nation-states will suffer any hardship up to just prior to the point of its abolition, but are remarkably resilient to avoiding that final termination. It is the “survival instinct” that makes animals different than say a rock, which takes no action to protect it’s own future. Too often to be coincidence a nation-state will succumb to whatever hardships, loss of national pride, or a radical departure from its previous history and momentum necessary to survive and continue. Destructive leaders will be overthrown from within, populations will rise up in revolution, wars will be fought, surrender accepted, whatever it takes for the nation-state to survive. Very few nations disappear or fade away of their own free will. This fate is usually the product of a concerted outside force that will accept nothing other than absolute destruction and assimilation of the nation-state. So yes, I believe nation-states have a sentience, though not on any scale that is easy for us to understand. But that’s a topic for another day as well.

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