The whole is more than the sum of its parts: Aristotle, metaphysical

J Craniofac Surg. 2014 Jan;25(1):59-63. doi: 10.1097/SCS.0000000000000369.


This phrase, a favorite of Dr. Joseph E. Murray, can be interpreted in many ways. Mathematically, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, neither more nor less. Psychological Gestalt theory would maintain that the whole is something else or something different than the sum of its parts. Merely adding up the component parts is meaningless compared with the "part-whole" relationship (SYNERGETICS: Explorations of Thinking. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc; 1975). Organizational pundits maintain that this principle describes the synergy, which exists between individuals working together in a cooperative effort. Collectively, they are able to achieve an outcome superior to that of 1 or 2 people working alone. This concept is vintage Joseph E. Murray. He was an integral part of the Peter Bent Brigham team, which transformed the dream of organ transplantation into clinical reality over 50 years ago. Although many advances in medicine are made by the serendipity of a prepared mind making a critical observation (Alexander Fleming and penicillin), individual brilliance (Judah Folkman and angiogenesis), or by technology (magnetic resonance imaging), most are achieved by groups of physicians and scientists working together. All have prepared minds. When the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital physicians and researchers at the Harvard Medical School dedicated all of their energy on solving the problems of end-stage renal disease, their effort was concentrated and primarily regional. Today, this cooperation is global, as communication has been facilitated by the Internet, iPhone, iPad, video conferencing, electronic libraries, and the like.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / trends*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Internationality
  • Metaphysics*