Selected Readings

Book cover for A New Republic of the Heart

Chapter 3: Wholeness and Fragmentation - Part 1

Understanding Wholeness

Setting the Context

In Chapter One of his book, A New Republic of the Heart; An Ethos for Revolutionaries , Terry Patten surveyed the predicament that humanity has worked itself into, not only the environmental crises but the built-in societal impediments to addressing them.

In Chapter Two, author Terry Patten noted that whenever conditions have grown intolerable to parts or all of a society, many people retreat into the comfort and safety of conformity. Others become energized and stick their necks out to confront the wrongs that their institutions have been unable or unwilling to resolve. These are often met with pushback from the defenders of the status quo.

A reckoning follows. Sometimes the activists achieve their goals. And sometimes “order” is restored and the activists suffer their loss.

This long cycle of tranquility to oppression, outrage, uprising, push back, and reckoning has been repeated endlessly throughout history. What urges activists to launch protracted, unrewarding, sometimes tragic struggles?

Patten paints a clear picture of our current “chips down” struggle, the activists confronting our global predicament, and the institutions frequently getting in the way of finding solutions. In Chapter Three, he explores how we are all connected to each other and to the whole of our environment that, in reality, is our only life-support system.

How is it possible for our human species to survive without basic consideration and care of the web of interacting parts and inter-linked systems that make up the whole of Earth’s planetary ecosystem? Join us for Wholeness and Fragmentation and explore what some of our future possibilities may be.

We are the Voices Blog team of the New Republic of the Heart community, reading our favorite excerpts from Chapter Three, Wholeness and Fragmentation – Part 1.

 Selected Readings From A New Republic of the Heart

Recitations by Anneke Edson, David Chasteen, Sallie Justice, Phil Justice, and Ed Prell

Chapter 3: Wholeness and Fragmentation – Part One


(p.11) Chapter Three considers reality’s undivided wholeness—the most basic, obvious, and elusive truth about ourselves and our environment— and how our usual approach (especially in “civilized” societies) is to bypass this perspective in favor of endless fragmentation and analysis, which contributes to the pathology by which we have wrought ecological havoc on our whole planet.


(p. 65) The word “whole” derives from the same etymological root as do the words “hale,” “heal,” and “health.” It may even share the same proto-Indo-Aryan root syllable with its homonym “holy.”

(p. 65)  It might even be said to be the most essential nature of reality. Contemporary science points us in that direction. Matter and energy are not separate, nor are space and time, we are told. All living things are family, says our DNA.

(p. 66) But even those observations don’t capture the radical nature of wholeness—or its slipperiness. Above all, we might say that wholeness is elusive. No definition is sufficient.  We cannot think our way into it.

(p. 66) It is not something we can wrap our brain around—not the brain we have now, at least. But a consideration and contemplation of wholeness can be very revealing.

(p. 66) And this consideration is absolutely essential not only for any spiritual or sacred activist, but for anyone wishing to understand the multifaceted nature of reality, or of what’s really happening in our world.

(p. 66) An idea commonly spoken of is that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  That conveys some of the flavor of wholeness.  …  Everything is related, everything is contained in the Whole, and we do not even know what “everything” consists of!

(p. 66) Today’s society—and even today’s greatest scientific and technological successes—all express fragmentation, which, as we’ve said, is the antonym for wholeness. Above all, today’s culture and mindset reflect fragmentation.

(p. 66 & 67) The problem with fragmentation at any level—whether in science, academic studies, politics, culture, or even the ways we use language—is that it can make the Whole not only elusive but invisible.

(p. 67) It breaks things down into their component parts and mechanisms, and learns a great deal—including gaining the reintegrative vision of our evolving cosmos, and the revolutionary powers of science and technology.

(p. 67) But analysis only takes a given part and studies it. The fragmented approach often forgets the larger context of the item studied … And yet nothing exists in isolation.

(p. 67) Once we acknowledge our interdependence in its totality—of being contained in the unimaginable context of the whole—certain things become obvious.

(p. 67) One is that the “us versus them” mentality in all its myriad forms—“them” referring to people we view as other, or an environment or biosphere we view as other than ourselves—is not only unhelpful but is based on an illusion.

(p. 67) Another is that our situation vis-à-vis the Whole is inconceivably more vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring than our minds can imagine. We cannot “know” it, but we can apprehend it, and our intuition of wholeness takes the form of awe, wonder, or love.

(p. 67) Fear, hatred, discord, and often certitude itself are the products of obsessive fragmentation. If we choose our intuition of wholeness  …  we usually become better able to make a positive difference by acting in constructive, synergistic ways.

(p. 68) One result of looking at our situation—at our planet’s situation— more holistically is that we can more clearly see how a greater wholeness holds the human prospect. And that wholeness is not and could not be endangered.

(p. 68) In fact, it is ever resurgent, no matter what. But we can also see that industrial human civilization—and even human-friendly planetary conditions—are endangered indeed.

(p. 68) While apprehending the fragility of our situation can be fragmenting, terrifying, and depressing, the lesson of interdependence also points to something from which we can draw hope and confidence—a deeper dimension of things; the natural telos, or attractive power, of wholeness.

(p. 68) Even while things are very noisily falling apart, they are always also silently coming together, in diverse, remarkably inexorable ways. Wholeness is dynamic.  …  We do not know and cannot know ultimately what the Whole “consists of.”

(p. 68) This is both humbling and inspiring. We are not separate from anything, and yet all the “anythings”—the totality of everything—can never be counted and measured. That means we can relax our fears. We can know that we are not separate and can never be separated from wholeness.

(p. 68 & 69) If the world is big enough for great teachers and great activists, and even great enlightened sages who have understood the mystery of existence, then wholeness must be able to find its way into the inner lives of human beings.  … There is more reason than ever to be committed to embodying love in action, to take care of what we love.   


(p. 69) Aside from the infinitely vast totality of life and of possibilities, we can make other interesting observations. Buckminster Fuller famously pointed out that “I seem to be a verb.” And as we’ve just pointed out, wholeness is a dynamic activity, always in process. Wholeness naturally reasserts itself, in ways we know and, undoubtedly, in ways we don’t know. Wholeness has agency.

(p. 69) Things want to move toward wholeness. “Immune responses” are observed not only in biological organisms, but in social and cultural ones. We see similar processes throughout the natural world. And we see them in the human psyche and spirit.

(p. 69 & 70) Our mind tends to want to “grasp” things. But it can only relax in the presence of radical wholeness—in a state of “mind-blown” amazement. Once the whole is apprehended to that degree, perhaps we might begin to learn to think “from the whole to the parts” in a way that gives birth to a very different worldview.

(p. 70) It should be obvious from what has been said that wholeness is not synonymous with any one idea, system, framework, philosophy, or pattern of understanding; it resists being “owned” by any school of thought. Rather, it is a context for such systems, frameworks, and philosophies. Wholeness transcends all perspectives, and is owned by no particular perspective.


(p. 70) Wholeness is the central principle of humankind’s most ancient wisdom, pointed to (but not captured) by many names—from the “unspeakable Tao” of ancient China, to the indivisible Brahman-Atman of the Vedas, to the “being” ascribed by Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, to the God (Yahweh, or YHWH) of the Abrahamic religions.

(p. 70) Wholeness is signaled indirectly in much of the world’s spiritual wisdom …. invoked in the agnostic psychology of Buddhism as well as in the “cloud of unknowing” of Christian mysticism.

(p. 70 & 71) But … only by freely examining, measuring, testing and analyzing the component parts of things have we known them rigorously enough to discern the physical laws of nature, and to translate them as physics, chemistry and biology.

(p. 71) As some human beings harnessed the power of knowledge by slicing reality into ever-tinier slivers, others were trying to glean its deepest meanings by integrating those fragments into a clearer perception of its seamless totality—sometimes in ways that reintegrate science and religion.

(p. 72) My spiritual experiences have transfigured my worldview, but not in a way that exempts me from rational accountability to the evidence, or that disconnects me from the scientific mode of testing and validating knowledge. I recognize the necessity to closely read the facts and evidence around our rapidly evolving world.

(p. 72) We can apply “both/and” thinking. On the one hand, I can appreciate that it is important not to confuse facts with theories, documented evidence with elegant syntheses, or scientific knowledge with mystical vision. On the other hand, I can appreciate the power and value of intuition and vision, and the moral importance of human growth and transformation.

(p. 72) There’s no need to marginalize any kind of valid human experience or knowledge. Wholeness, by its nature, does not exclude any perspective; it invites us to inquire into how they can all coexist.

(p. 72) There is an important distinction between engaging in measurement-based science and intuitively synthesizing a more adequate, inclusive, nuanced worldview. Or between evidence-based science and preliminary research to explain paradigm-defying phenomena or anomalies.

(p. 72) These activities should not be conflated or confused. It is valid to critique the naive enthusiasm of unsophisticated people who appropriate scientific ideas in support of idealistic wishful thinking.

(p. 72) But there is an equally valid critique to be made of the attempt to delegitimize sophisticated discourse that appreciates intuitive insights and higher states of consciousness, or that intends to learn from the implications of mystical experiences.

(p. 73) It is useful to distinguish pre-rationality from trans-rationality. Archaic consciousness was prerational; it had not yet become capable of applying reason with rigor.  Transrational consciousness is not only capable of using reason, it has developed enough to be awake to and interested in realities beyond the reach of reason.

(p. 73) It is able to accept that there are dimensions and dynamics of reality that have not yet been (and some that may never be) fully measured, validated, or described by the physical sciences. It even allows that these are potentially important.

(p. 73) In part, what these new fields of study have done is to embody a new kind of intelligence, grounded in intuitive wholeness and expressing its health. Where is its point of view located? Where exactly does wholeness stand? Wholeness cannot really be visualized, except perhaps as an exploded sphere “whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere.”    23 –  phraseology for wholeness first used by Nicholas of Cusa in De Docta Ignorantia 1440

(p. 73) Wholeness is transmuted at the heart into our wisest feeling-impulses—like care, appreciation, well-being, affection, strength, generosity, and courage. Thus, wholeness is infinitely profound.

(p. 73 & 74) High mystical states are experiences of wholeness. In these states, divisions fall away— between self and other, matter and energy, experience and experiencer, consciousness and phenomena. With no knower there can be no known, no subject and no object, no boundary of any kind. A self-validating sense of wonder, joy, bliss, and love subsumes everything. This radical wholeness is “prior” to the experience of divisions that appear to subject-object consciousness.

(p. 74) The most profound utterances of ancient scriptures, of mystics, of poets and philosophers are often infused with the spiritual fragrance of the presence of this felt wholeness. It is, indeed, the essence of sacredness and holiness.

(p. 74) Wholeness may be ignored or denied, but it doesn’t go away. It is self-validating and resurgent—in part because it not only carries with it a sense of peaceful clarity about the nature of things, it sometimes seems to elicit wise behavior, and even a kind of “grace” or good luck, which enables people with such an intuition to be a harmonious influence on others.

(p. 75) Increasingly  …  intuitions of wholeness have begun penetrating mainstream culture. This trend is inexorable. It will ultimately breed broad recognition that intuitions of wholeness can coincide with “attention to the parts,” informing and uplifting the dispositions of scientists and researchers.

Summary & Preview of What is Next

This conversation about wholeness and fragmentation is no easy nut to crack. There are few highlights from Terry’s book that can adequately summarize his conversation, but consider these thoughts:  

It is common knowledge that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But if we become hyper focused on the parts as isolated competing entities (as we have), we lose sight of the whole that intimately connects them. 

And we inadvertently pull the string that can unravel the entire fabric of existence, through ignorance or mal-intent, dangerously compromising our survival.

In the last half of Chapter Three, Patten explores the notion that “who we are” together and “how we act” as a networked community can dictate the outcome of our efforts  to address our complex, entangled situations, a.k.a.  wicked problems. What will it take to turn our human “experiment” on planet Earth around? Let’s see.