An Integral Postmetaphysical Definition of States

Inspired in part by Mark Edwards' dissertation, in which he calls for clearer definition of key Integral terms, I would like to open a discussion on this important Integral term.  In his work, Wilber obviously frequently uses the term, states, and discusses several types of states, but (to my knowledge) he does not give a clear, formal definition of this important concept.  Because it is such a key component of AQAL, and also is held by Integralists to be such an important aspect of spiritual realization, I think it would be worthwhile to really look at what we mean by it, and possibly see if we can together craft a satisfactory "Integral postmetaphysical" definition.  I ask specifically for an "Integral postmetaphysical" definition, rather than the definition, because obviously the term will be defined differently in different contexts, and at different stages.

What do you think?  If you're interested, let's give this a try.

To start, here are a few (relevant) definitions from Dictionary.com:

1. the condition of a person or thing, as with respect to circumstances or attributes: a state of health.
2. the condition of matter with respect to structure, form, constitution, phase, or the like: water in a gaseous state.
5. a particular condition of mind or feeling: to be in an excited state.
6. an abnormally tense, nervous, or perturbed condition: He's been in a state since hearing about his brother's death.


You can see right off that several "zones" are represented in these definitions.  An Integral definition, or series of definitions, would include even more zone-perspectives, and IMP may suggest ways these various types of "states" can be correlated.  But simple differentiation of zone-specific definitions will also be important, since I believe the failure to do this probably contributes not infrequently to conflicts and misunderstandings in Integral discussions.

As we discussed in an earlier series of threads (The Status of States), Wilber's use of certain states (particularly causal and nondual) seems still to involve certain metaphysical commitments, which we critiqued at length.  But I don't recall that we really arrived at any workable, formal definition of states, or understanding of what is involved in "state training" and "state stabilization" in spiritual development or "realization," so I'd like to return to this question here, if you're interested.

 

One systems-theoretic, naturalistic definition of states has been attempted by Charles Tart:

 

"Now I shall formally define a discrete state of consciousness (d-SoC) for a given individual (and I emphasize for a given individual) as a unique configuration or system of psychological structures or subsystems. The structures or subsystems show some quantitative and minor qualitative variation in the way in which they process information or cope or have experiences, but the structures or subsystems and their energetic pattern of interactions comprise a 'system'. The operations of the components, the psychological structures,interact with each other and stabilize each other's functioning by means of feedback control such that the system, the discrete state of consciousness, maintains its overall patterning of functioning within a varying environment. That is, the parts of the system that comprise a discrete state of consciousness may vary over various ranges if we look at individual components, but the overall, general configuration, the overall pattern of the system remains recognizably the same. As an analogy, you can drive your car faster or slower, with a varying number of passengers in it, or change the color of the seat covers, but it retains its identity as the system we know as an automobile. So one may have variations in consciousness, such as being more or less activated, more or less aware of the environment, etc. that represent quantitative changes in certain subsystems or structures of the system, but they do not change the overall, recognizable configuration of the system as being that of our ordinary [waking] state of consciousness, or, for that matter, of any particular discrete state of consciousness. The way to understand a discrete state of consciousness, then, is not only to investigate the structure of the parts in a more and more molecular way, but also to be aware of the way in which the parts interact and the 'gestalt' system-properties of the configuration that arise that may not be predictable from a knowledge of the parts alone." (Tart, THE BASIC NATURE OF ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS: A SYSTEMS APPROACH)

 

One question that I bring to this (among many) is whether we can define states postmetaphysically, but in a way that still respects and accounts for the "profundity" and power of certain state realizations -- that still can serve, in a sense, as a horizon of aspiration, without the metaphysical trappings.

 

I'm exploring a few thoughts in relation to this question and will post more on that soon.  In the meantime, I just wanted to post this initial question and get the feedback of other members here, if you're interested.

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Re-reading the "letting daylight" thread I came upon this poem I wrote during the discussion. I still like it, sort of a whitebread, bastard, hybrid haiku-koan:

I see a ghost on the horizon

calling me to follow.

When I get there

loose rags on a tattered fence.

I look up and he's still there on the horizon, beckoning.

This is why I referenced the Epstein quote from Open to Desire earlier in the thread. Which is related to my last posts in the "context transcendent meaning" thread quoting Caputo. Batchelor in the above thread says that awakening is "not some kind of transcendental absorption" and that emptiness (aka nondual dependent origination) "does not in any way denote a...state. It is not something we 'realize' in a moment of mystical insight." This seems in distinction to the quotes above by Blackstone and Levin, where one experiences a state of awareness in the present moment that is described as nondual.*

Whereas what I'm getting at is that nonduality is not a particular state experience that ever enters into present awareness, that it is always a yearning or desire for that type of present experience, but a desire that can never be fulfilled.**  But like Nasruddin in Epstein's opening story, we go on desiring it nonetheless, so much so that with profound states we can experience, like orgasm or fusion, we cling to as substitutes for what we can never have. For me nondual emptiness can be a stable, present, open attitude to that ghost on the horizon that always vanishes as we approach, a "stage" perhaps (of the synthetic ego) but not any particular state of consciousness.

* And perhaps I misunderstand them, as Balder suggests.

** It's what keeps us bound to the object in a not one, not two (nondual) relation but we are not fused with it.

 

One thing that goes with any territory, plainly or even nicely, is that complexity is a self generating phenomena. Iam tempted to say that it is too common place to be a marker for any stage. But the premise , always already there or never born never dead, is too easily accepted. Some structural improvisation is useful.

If we look at more stable realities at every progressive level of interpretation – and then a stage which is beyond interpretation , we have two distinct realms, the gradations within the former are still the same realm of course. The issue here is with the stage post interpretation. There are subtle differences here that are exaggerated by redundance in terminology. This stage I figure, has a significant distinction within. first, theres the realm of observation. Observation does not mean interpretation in any recognizable contextual sense.

Now since that which is observed, occurs because it is observed – the observer here borders on contextual interpretation – unless of course, the observer also occurs as a consequence , of that which occurs because it is observed. There is no one to interpret an event as the observer is part of that event.

and to start with, its not any event or stage that is an interpretation, it is the observer who/which is not accounted for him/her/itself turns out to be the interpretation.

 

(re the always already premise – when everything is an interpretation, is a construct, to evaluate an interpretation based on something like a type of stage is questionable, since that interpretation, at whatever level that is, is reality – and eventual stages , whatever they are, are subject to observation.

Re self generating phnomena, the transhumanists have shown that mechanical networks evolve and start designing/thinking for themselves ironically indicating that matter is conscious, and that AI maybe the preeminent misnomer, move over freemarkets and neoliberalism)

So theres this recurring theme, linear movements are isolate. I could simply say there must be this other dimension. But that’s categorical, gets itself into a corner. So does assigning a location to observation….

 

just peeking in, cheers

 

 

 

 

 

With regard to your Batchelor quote, I don't see either Blackstone or Levin talking about their experience as being any kind of transcendental absorption.

Blackstone's talk of "nondual realization" or a "[realized] nondual consciousness" doesn't land with me (and I find it somewhat tacky) so I'm sympathetic to your implying that whatever she might be referring to would not be "... something we 'realize' in a moment of mystical insight", if that's what you're (partly) intending with the Batchelor quote.

I don't accept that what Levin is referring to with "Staying in this nonduality..." equates to "... emptiness (aka nondual dependent origination)".

Likewise, I don't agree that what Levin is referring to is a nonduality characterised as "...a particular state experience that ... enters into present awareness, that it is always a yearning or desire for that type of present experience, but a desire that can never be fulfilled", and, understanding the context for his account, I don't think he would equate it with a "state of consciousness" either.


theurj said:

This is why I referenced the Epstein quote from Open to Desire earlier in the thread. Which is related to my last posts in the "context transcendent meaning" thread quoting Caputo. Batchelor in the above thread says that awakening is "not some kind of transcendental absorption" and that emptiness (aka nondual dependent origination) "does not in any way denote a...state. It is not something we 'realize' in a moment of mystical insight." This seems in distinction to the quotes above by Blackstone and Levin, where one experiences a state of awareness in the present moment that is described as nondual.*

Whereas what I'm getting at is that nonduality is not a particular state experience that ever enters into present awareness, that it is always a yearning or desire for that type of present experience, but a desire that can never be fulfilled.**  But like Nasruddin in Epstein's opening story, we go on desiring it nonetheless, so much so that with profound states we can experience, like orgasm or fusion, we cling to as substitutes for what we can never have. For me nondual emptiness can be a stable, present, open attitude to that ghost on the horizon that always vanishes as we approach, a "stage" perhaps (of the synthetic ego) but not any particular state of consciousness.

* And perhaps I misunderstand them, as Balder suggests.

** It's what keeps us bound to the object in a not one, not two (nondual) relation but we are not fused with it.

Here are some of Levin's words with my highlighting and commentary:

 

“I was in the process of developing a very different attitude toward the practices."

 

This is more like what I'm getting at, an attitude or orientation to state experiences. But then:

 

“Briefly described, this environment was gradually beginning to feel less wrathful and more friendly -- more like a nurturing, gently encompassing presence."

 

So here I start to get the feel for something within present experience, but then again he does use the word "like" so I might say it's a metaphor. But then:

 

“I gradually experienced the fact that there is a fifth attitude...a way out of the vicious cycle of suffering. I knew this through direct experience, my own experience.... The calmness and relaxation I was beginning to achieve was reflected back to me by corresponding qualities in the luminous presencing of the darkness."

 

This leaves no doubt about being a present, direct experience, both within and without.

 

"Beginning with the fifth day, then, it became progressively easier for me to experience what the Tibetans call rigpa: the simple presence of awareness.  Staying in this nonduality, I could begin to experience my integration into the element of light. … And there was less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual interpretation.”

 

Here is the equation of a present experience being a nondual fusion, and that conceptual interpretation is a withdrawal from that nondual experience.

 

"[P]rimordial awareness ... is an enlightened level of visual perception where the seer and seen meet in the lighting of Being....  Seeing which issues from this level of perceptivity sees things in a way which feels well-articulated by the phrase, 'as they really are.'

 

Which speaks for itself to my points. And the entire description obviously comes from an eventual withdrawal from the state experience to put  it down in conceptual interpretation. And I find much agreement with a lot of his interpretation as stated in previous threads. But in this particular regard he is still clinging to an actual (present) state experience instead of merely longing in an attitude of open expectation.

 

And of course we can debate whether one is better or more accurate than the other in defining an integral postmetaphysical nonduality, and we will!

I also missed an important Levin quote that follows "the luminous presence of darkness":

"...my state of calm and relaxation...continue developing a non-dual visionary presence."

Here's the transcript to an interview with Mark Epstein from Shrink Rap Radio. Some excerpts:

 

Dr. Dave:

 

I was happy to see in Thoughts Without A Thinker that you noted a similarity between psychoanalytic free association and meditation, because I had had a similar impression on my own. In fact you note that Freud described a kind of “hovering attention” himself. Can you take us though that a bit?

 

Epstein:

 

Several times he wrote papers, Recommendations for Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis in which he actually describes his method or his technique. He said for instance, “the psychoanalyst should suspend judgement and give impartial attention to everything there is to observe.” He said also that, “the psychoanalyst should simply listen, and not bother about whether he or she is keeping anything in mind”.... he came to a method of listening which was remarkably similar to what the Buddhists came to 2,000 years before, and he called that method of listening “evenly suspended attention”.

 

The psychoanalysts who came after him were a little bit afraid of evenly suspended attention – they weren’t sure that they could really do it right – and they gradually changed the name from evenly suspended attention to “freely floating attention”, and in changing the name they slightly changed the concept of what they should be doing, and began to put more emphasis on the making of interpretations, rather than on the healing quality of the listening.

 

Dr. Dave: OK, here’s a big question. What’s your take on the notion of enlightenment?

 

Epstein: What’s my take on the notion of enlightenment?

 

Dr. Dave: Yes.

 

Epstein: It’s a very important concept to aspire to; because what enlightenment suggests is that it’s possible for the mind to exist free from greed, hatred and delusion. Free from clinging.

 

Dr. Dave: I guess for myself I’m wondering if it’s more of an in state or more of a process.

 

Epstein: If enlightenment is more of an in state or more of a process?

 

Dr. Dave: Yes.

 

Epstein: What do you think?

 

Dr. Dave: I think process.

 

Epstein: So what kind of process?

 

Dr. Dave: I think it’s a process of unfolding and continuing growth, and I question whether or not there is an in state that one kind of reaches some sort of final state of supreme connectedness to the universe, wisdom, etc that they live in continuously.

 

Epstein: There is a wonderful teaching story in the Tibetan tradition about Tsongkhapa who is the great reformer of the 1400s, the founder of the Gelugpa sect that the Dalai Lama is the head of. At the moment of his enlightenment he realized that every way he had thought about it before was wrong. He said, “ugh it’s just the opposite of what I was thinking.”

 

So I like to think about that, because usually any way that you could imagine what enlightenment is, since you are not enlightened is not going to be what it is. So certainly one of the most common ways of thinking about enlightenment is that it is, as you were saying, a kind of perfect end state where you are one with the universe; or maybe you have disappeared completely and floated into everything. So you just have to try to imagine what the opposite of that might be.

kela: Quit kissing on that girlfriend and enter the fray! You'd think the initial thrill would be gone by now and you'd return to your intellectual friends a bit more...

Levin: “I was in the process of developing a very different attitude toward the practices."

theurj: "This is more like what I'm getting at, an attitude or orientation to state experiences."

By "the practices" he is referring to the particular methods employed to facilitate the arising of a certain kind of experience, not to the actual experience itself ...nor even to the so-called "nondual state" itself, whether viewed as a "state experience" a la WC lattice (which I don't) or otherwise.

For the next part of your quoting and commentary, up until "This leaves no doubt about being a present, direct experience, both within and without.", I'm not clear what the point you're making is.

Is it in response to my saying: "I don't agree that what Levin is referring to is a nonduality characterised as "...a particular state experience that ... enters into present awareness..."?

If so, as I've said elsewhere, the Dzogchen teaching distinguishes between the presence of awareness a la mindfulness, and the "instant presence" of rigpa; and even if Levin does (perhaps confusingly?) describe the latter as "... rigpa: the simple presence of awareness" he is not referring here to the presence of awareness of mindfulness. I also accept that you do not accept the aforementioned distinction made in the Dzogchen teaching.

Levin: "Beginning with the fifth day, then, it became progressively easier for me to experience what the Tibetans call rigpa: the simple presence of awareness.  Staying in this nonduality, I could begin to experience my integration into the element of light. … And there was less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual interpretation.”

theurj: "Here is the equation of a present experience being a nondual fusion, and that conceptual interpretation is a withdrawal from that nondual experience."

 

What do you mean here by "a nondual fusion"? Is it that "... fusion of ego and ego ideal " mentioned upthread, where "all distinctions vanish"? If so, I'm in agreement with Bruce that this is not what Levin is describing.

 

And even though I can see how Levin's description "Staying in this nonduality, I could begin to experience my integration into the element of light" could be interpreted by an outsider as some sort of fusion of self with visionary experience, it would perhaps be more appropriately interpreted as an integration of visionary experience into whatever capacity for nondual awareness he was present to/in at the time.

 

theurj: "But in this particular regard he is still clinging to an actual (present) state experience instead of merely longing in an attitude of open expectation."

 

Do you mean by this that, in his reporting of his experience, he's clinging onto the memory of it? I don't get any indication that this is necessarily the case.

 

 



This leaves no doubt about being a present, direct experience, both within and without.

Theurj:  This is why I referenced the Epstein quote from Open to Desire earlier in the thread. Which is related to my last posts in the "context transcendent meaning" thread quoting Caputo. Batchelor in the above thread says that awakening is "not some kind of transcendental absorption" and that emptiness (aka nondual dependent origination) "does not in any way denote a...state. It is not something we 'realize' in a moment of mystical insight." This seems in distinction to the quotes above by Blackstone and Levin, where one experiences a state of awareness in the present moment that is described as nondual.*


Personally, I think "nondual" has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid.  I believe there's room for multiple "enactments." 


In relation to Batchelor's comment about emptiness not denoting a particular state of absorption, if you look at Levin's comment, he describes "emptiness" in deconstructive terms (the practice of lhaktong) rather than as a discrete "state of absorption," but he then notes that the combination of mental stability and deconstructive insight nevertheless did lead to a shift (also) in his phenomenal experience.  In other words, he is not (a la Wilber) describing "Emptiness" as a particular deep-sleep-like state of absorption and loss of distinctions, or as a particular Realm, but he does (rightly, I think) note that the nature of the phenomenal self-world gestalt does shift in the context of stability of mind and clear insight into phenomena as empty (dependently originated). 


If you recall, Levin describes stage four work as a hermeneutic-phenomenological exercise, so I don't think he's describing only an attitude-change, but a change which involves and impacts the whole self-world gestalt.  It is more than, or not limited to, a condition of longing (the latter being more akin, as I see it, to Derrida's messianism than particular Buddhist enactments).


What do you think?

I agree with your statement:

I think "nondual" has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid.  I believe there's room for multiple "enactments."

I think we are seeing each other's view through our own preferences and perhaps we are both right? While I'm interested in Buddhism in a general sense I'm not much attracted to its specific practices or beliefs so never took the time to enact them and likely never will. Hence I could very well be missing what Levin is describing through terms that have different meanings to me.

I might not agree though that by "attitude" I didn't mean to include "the whole self-world gestalt," or that Derrida might be limited to only a condition of longing that is only partial in relation to the Buddhist account. But to be honest I'm tired of defending that and/or offending Buddhists in the process. For the moment I think I'll listen to Mother Mary's whispered words of wisdom and let it be.

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