Synergy

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Synergy = combined (interdependent) effects produced by two or more parts, elements or individuals


Definition

"Synergy -- here defined broadly as the combined (interdependent) effects produced by two or more parts, elements or individuals -- is a ubiquitous phenomenon in nature and human societies alike. Although it plays a prominent part in most, if not all, of the scientific disciplines, its importance is not widely appreciated because it travels under many different aliases, including emergence, cooperativity, symbiosis, coevolution, symmetry, order, epistasis, mutualism, interdependencies, heterosis, phase transitions, systemic effects, even complexity and "dynamical attractors." (A number of examples are provided to illustrate.) At the very least, the term "synergy" could be utilized as a pan-disciplinary lingua franca for the functional effects produced by cooperative phenomena of various kinds; a terminological shift would underscore the fact that the differently- named phenomena studied by various disciplines are in fact variations on a common theme in the natural world. But more important, synergistic effects of various kinds have also played a major causal role in the evolutionary process; in particular, synergistic effects have provided the underlying functional basis for the evolution of complex systems, in nature and human societies alike" (http://www.complexsystems.org/publications/synhypo.html)


Buckminster Fuller:

""Synergy means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately. Synergy means behavior of integral, aggregate, whole systems unpredicted by behaviors of any of their components or subassemblies of their components taken separately from the whole. Synergy is the only word that means this. The fact that we humans are unfamiliar with the word means that we do not think there are behaviors of "wholes" unpredicted by the behavior of "parts"." (http://www.synearth.net/Restricted-Confidential/OT.pdf)


Example

Buckminster Fuller:

"Synergy can best be illustrated I think, by chrome-nickel-steel – chromium, nickel, and iron. The most important characteristic of strength of a material is its ability to stay in one piece when it is pulled – this is called tensile strength, it is measured as pounds per square inch, PSI. The commercially available strength of iron at the very highest level is approximately sixty thousand PSI; of chromium about seventy thousand PSI; and of nickel about eighty thousand PSI. The weakest of the three is iron.

"We all know the saying, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link". Well, experiment on chrome-nickel-steel, pull it apart, and you will find that it is much stronger than its weakest link of sixty thousand PSI. In fact it is much stronger than the eighty thousand PSI of its stronger link. Thus the saying that a chain is as strong as its weakest link doesn't hold. So, let me say something that really sounds funny: Maybe a chain is as strong as the sum of the strength of all its links. Let's add up the strengths of the components of chrome-nickel-steel and see. Sixty thousand PSI for iron and seventy thousand PSI for chromium and then and eighty thousand PSI for the nickel, that gives you two hundred and ten thousand PSI. If we add in the minor constituency of carbon and manganese we will add another forty thousand PSI giving us a total of two hundred and fifty thousand PSI.

"Now the fact is that under testing, chrome-nickel-steel shows three hundred and fifty thousand PSI–or one hundred thousand PSI more than the combined strength of all the links.

"This is typical of synergy, and it is the synergy of the various metal alloys that have enabled industry to do all kinds of things that man never knew would be able to be done based on the characteristic of the parts." (http://www.synearth.net/Restricted-Confidential/OT.pdf)

Source: R. Buckminster Fuller, SYNERGETICS–Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, Volumes I & II, New York, Macmillan Publishing Co, 1975, 1979


More Information

  1. The Synergism Hypothesis, at http://www.complexsystems.org/publications/synhypo.html

Project

Synergy is also the name of a Linux project, see http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/

- "Synergy lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware. It's intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own monitor(s)."