The Whole vs. Its Parts

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (Aristotle)


A still from the 2010 film adaptation of Flipped

I first read this quote in Wendelin Van Draanen‘s Young Adult fiction, “Flipped” when I was in elementary school. Flipped has garnered the honor of being one of my favorite books because of the complete innocence, purity and magic it possessed. It’s about childhood friends who go through the pits and hurdles of growing up but end up all the better for it. Covered in the glitter of good storytelling, based on the solid foundation of almost naive love and sprinkled with the spice of family, school, little chicks and hors d’oeuvres, it has remained a book I continue to recommend to friends.

One of the deciding factors in my declaration of love for this book had been the wisdom it contained along with its quirky and inspiring set of characters. My favorite part had been the conversation Juli had with her father (if I remember correctly. I confess I do not have the book, but I’ve been promised to be given a copy of it by a dear friend. We just both forgot about it, I guess.) about the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts”, which, I learned from Goodreads, was originally said by Aristotle.

In the book it went like this:

A painting is more than the sum of its parts,’ he would tell me, and then go on to explain how the cow by itself is just a cow, and the meadow by itself is just grass and flowers, and the sun peeking through the trees is just a beam of light, but put them all together and you’ve got magic.”  ― Wendelin Van DraanenFlipped

This little lesson has stayed with me ever since and I never really fully understood what it meant when I first read it but I felt that unmistakable chill on my skin that told me it would change my life. I’m still in the process of absorbing its full meaning! But I must say, the fragments I understand of it are intensely beautiful.

And that meaning was also shared wonderfully in this video of the filmmaker Ken Burns about how stories should be told.

“You know the common story is one plus one equals two, we get it. But all stories are really, the real genuine stories, are about one and one equaling three. That’s what I’m interested in.

We live in a rational world where absolutely we’re certain that one and one equals two, and it does. But the things that matter most to us, some people call it love, some people call it God, some people call it reason, is that other thing where the whole is greater than the some of its parts, and that’s the three.” – Ken Burns

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

You can read Brainpicker Maria Popova’s take on this video here.

Flipped has been adapted into a beautiful film by Rob Reiner on the year 2010. I recommend it as well.

Credits go to three of my cyberspace haunts

YouTube, Brain Pickings and Goodreads