Parable of the two watchmakers

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The parable of the two watchmakers was introduced by Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon to describe the complex relationship of sub-systems and their larger wholes. This example was one of the core arguments used by Arthur Koestler in developing his theory of the holon to explain the interrelationship of simple and complex systems, both organic and social. [1]

The concept of the holon is also central to the theory of Integral Consciousness developed by Ken Wilber. [2]

The Parable

There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently and new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered while Tempus became poorer and poorer. In the end, Tempus lost his shop. What was the reason behind this?

The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Tempus made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch, it immediately fell into pieces and had to be reassembled from the basic elements. Hora had designed his watches so that he could put together sub-assemblies of about ten components each, and each sub-assembly could be put down without falling apart. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly, and ten of the larger sub-assemblies constituted the whole watch. [3]


  1. Koestler, A. (1968). The Ghost in the Machine. McMillan: New York.
  2. Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Shambhala Publications: Boston.
  3. Herbert, S. (1968). The Sciences of the Artificial. MIT Press: Boston.