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A Noema is the opposite from traditional engineering. Any one part cannot be understood without the context of the whole. Changes in one aspect affect the whole. The role of a part is a projection into the whole. In traditional engineering, first understand the parts, then understand the whole. In a Noema, first understand the whole, then understand the role of each part.

A good example of a Noema is the human body. It contains the sub-systems of circulatory, digestion, nervous, and many others. But the role of each part is highly interdependent on the other parts. One often hears a physician say, ``I need to get the total picture first before I can treat this patient." A change in one subsystem cannot be isolated from the other subsystems. Each individual cell acts independently, yet the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Distributed computer environments are a Noema. This environment contains many highly interdependent components. Together they form a system.

Computer hardware is not a Noema. Hardware is based on hierarchical layering techniques appropriate for traditional engineering. A database is not a Noema, again for similar reasons. A life form is a good example of a Noema built over millions of years with natural selection and evolution. An information based economy is another example of a Noema.

My contention is that a Noema is the correct paradigm for the software engineering of large distributed systems.

Ronald LeRoi Burback
Wed Jul 30 15:24:07 PDT 1997