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

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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I can't argue with that.



"Cut loose and just let it be."  ~ Shabkar Lama.

Here is a little more on "nondual experience" from Judith Blackstone.  I share it as a "launching off" point for a discussion of nondual experience in relation to our consideration of states.  As you will see, she takes into account some constructivist and other "postmodern" concerns, but also attempts to differentiate her definition of nondual (non-)state experience from "intentional" mystical experiences (and interpretations) critiqued by Katz and others.  I don't share this because I agree with her position, but because I have a sense (as Theurj suggested in the previous post), that there might be "truth" on both sides of this issue and I think it's worth exploring some more...

Judith Blackstone:

"Nondual experience has been described in many different cultures and religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (Forman, 1998).  I focus on Asian nondual philosophy throughout this book because I have found the descriptions of nondual experience in the Buddhist and Hindu literature as more straightforward (less poetic) than those in other cultures.  In the literature of the particular Asian traditions that I will reference, we find a sober attempt to describe the properties of an experience that is both extremely subtle and radically different from intentional types of experience, yet is accessible to everyone.

As I will discuss more fully in a later chapter, Asian nondual philosophy is divided into those schools that maintain that deconstruction is itself the goal of spiritual practice and those schools that speak of an innate dimension of being and knowing that is revealed as a result of deconstruction.  My own argument is aligned with the latter school...

The constructivists, in arguing against unmediated experience, also argue against the Asian claim that nondual consciousness is universal and innate to human nature.  In his much-quoted essay, "Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism," Katz (1978) writes, "Thus, for example, the nature of the Christian mystic's pre-mystical consciousness informs the mystical consciousness such that he experiences the mystical reality in terms of Jesus, the Trinity, or a personal God, etc., rather than in terms of the non-personal, non-everything, to be precise, Buddhist doctrine of nirvana" (p. 27).  Here Katz confuses dualistic, imagistic mystical experience with the very specific mystical experience of nondual realization described in this book.


I have no argument with the view that imagistic, dualistic (and therefore intentional) types of mystical experience are shaped by culture.  However, descriptions of encounters with the self-existing (unconstructed) dimension of nondual consciousness are recognizably the same across cultures, even though interpretations of this experience vary across cultures...

Gestalt psychotherapist Lynne Jacobs (personal communication) makes the point that we cannot say nondual consciousness is universal because this is an ontological statement, assuming an objective knowledge of reality.  Although I agree with her, I believe that the universality of nondual consciousness can be inferred from the broad, cross-cultural consensus of descriptions of nondual experience.  In general, nondual realization has been described as an encounter with one's own consciousness.  Forman (1998) writes, "Indeed, that we are, in some unmixed way, 'encountering' consciousness itself may be the marker of these events.  In different ways, and with differing emphases, these mystics are suggesting that what is encountered in these mystical events is the subject's sheerest awareness itself" (p. 13).

Forman argues that nondual consciousness -- the encounter of consciousness with itself -- is universal because consciousness is a universal human experience.  "We are suggesting that some mystical experiences tap into a fundamental human psychophysiological structure.  Not created by culture, this structure -- consciousness itself, its ability to tie itself together through time, and the intimate but nonconceptual acquaintance we each have with it -- comes with the machinery of being human.  In consciousness itself and in the way it encounters the world intentionally, we may have something that transcends cultures and eras" (p. 27).  And "consciousness itself is not linguistically formulated.  Just the reverse is true... For a child to learn any language at all, he or she must be conscious.  Being aware, or having a consciousness, is presupposed by language acquisition, not the other way around" (p. 23).

It must be noted, though, that oen's own consciousness is experienced very differently in this sheer encounter with it than in our usual modes of knowing.  Nondual consciousness is not a state of attention.  It is experienced without any effort of any kind.  It is the mind completely at rest.  In fact, there is not even a sense that the mind is resting, for that is still an activity of sorts.  Rather, one experiences a simple lucid openness in which the phenomena of the world appear, and through which experiences such as thoughts, emotions, and sensations move without obstruction.

There is also a sense that one's consciousness is pervading all of the content of one's experience.  Rather than an encounter between one's own head and the objects outside one's head, as experienced in intentional, dualistic consciousness states, nondual consciousness is experienced globally.  It pervades and subsumes one's whole body and everything in one's environment at the same time.  "Consciousness is encountered as something more like a field than a localized point, a field that transcends the body and yet somehow interacts with it" (Forman in Gallagher & Shear, p. 373).

One of the main characteristics of nondual realization is that it is discovered, rather than created, as rigid subjective organizations are released.  Constructivists may insist that nondual consciousness is itself a conceptual construct.  Speaking both from my own experience as well as from traditional accounts, I can attest that nondual realization is a process of gradually letting go of one's grip on oneself and one's environment -- as if opening a clenched fist.  It does require concentrated effort and time to achieve a certain degree of letting go.  But the expanse of nondual consciousness, pervading oneself and one's environment as a unified whole, appears of its own accord as a result of this letting go, and continues to appear, without any effort on one's own part" (Blackstone, The Empathic Ground)

Taking a step back, I'm looking over Levin's book The Philosopher's Gaze (UC Press, 1999), particularly
his chapter on Levinas. As some of you know Derrida was influenced by Levinas and extended some of his ideas. Levin begins by noting that to understand Levinas one must learn how he uses philosophical terms,how he modifies their meanings to fit his ideas, which is some casesgo beyond the limitations of common usage. If we are to understand his language in those accepted meanings we'd miss completely what Levinas is trying to convey. Hence one must study the entirety of his context to understand him. This is reminiscent of how Derrida* himself approaches the study of anything, by immersing in the entire context to understand the author in his own terms and meanings before deconstructing them.


Levina's language is intended to evoke a “deep, bodily felt sense” that is a “return effected by phenomenology.” It is pre-conceptual in a sense, this return to body. As we've discussed before, only in one sense, since the return is also an integrative move that is more than what was before concepts. Then Levin says this:


“When I have written of hermeneutical phenomenology I have not meant to bind phenomenology to the Gadamerian method, but rather to draw on the world's etymological and mythological order to reinforce in our practice of phenomenology a radical exposure to alterity” (238).


Hence Levinas language uses such mythological motifs and tropes that move us deeper than conventional experience based only on concept, back down into those roots of morality in the body where we are more directed connected to the other. In a way his language is magical in that it takes us to a place both before and after language by the use of language. But language is part of the equation, right in the middle of it, hence Hermes is indeed a messenger that uses language to convey meaning.


Time for work, more later.


* Derrida also infamously changed the meanings of words to fit his ideas, in some instances even changing the spelling in  unique ways to exemplify this. Hence he too was broadly misunderstood since the traditional philosophical meanings were applied to his words.

Following the above Levin makes clear that meaning, like being, builds on the "always already" but it extended into novelty by the "not yet." And these two are in continual relation, at least after the "fall" or "rise," depending on your interpretation, of the ego. But since its advent there is no simple return to the always already of the pre-egoic, no pristine  or original awareness. The belief in the latter is in fact one of the symptoms of metaphysics, since it is now the "not yet" that transforms the "always already," but without which the not yet would not exist.

So what I was sensing through  Levin's language in the original quotes above was this naive return of the always already lacking the not yet of Caputo.* My previous reading of Levin didn't think he'd make such a gaffe and in PG he is making it clear he does not. So he might be using a mytho-poetic language like Levinas with the same intent, to evoke in us through language this reconnection with both the always already and not yet? I don't know. Such language still  sounds metaphysical to me! Whereas the likes of Caputo does not, so it's not like I cannot understand or appreciate such metaphorical and transportive language.** Just my preference and prejudice?

* Which by the way he was only emphasizing at that moment, as he too, like Derrida, explicate the relation of the always already to the not yet.

** Hence my interest in the hybrid bastard language of khora through dreams and images, even Tarot.

Let's look at this recent example from another Dzogchen apologist, Elias Capriles, in his article "Some preliminary comments on Wilber V" that appears at Integral World.

He criticizes Husserl's phenomenology for its reliance on “that which appears” in experience and agrees with Derrida that this is a crytpo-metaphysics based on “the immediacy of experience.” He says:

“The problem, for me, is that basing ontology exclusively on that which appears in human experience is no guarantee that metaphysical constructs will not slip into it, for in saṃsāra, to which human experience pertains, fully-fledged avidyā causes us to experience being as given, unquestionable, uneradicable, and somehow absolute; the mental subject as being in its own right and hence as a substance, and as the thinker of thought, the doer of action and the experiencer of experience; the essents we face as being in their own right and thus as constituting a series of different substances; etc. Hence an ontology elaborated on the basis of samsaric experience alone would not be really free from metaphysical fictions, as it is most likely to feature at least some of the ones just mentioned.”

Which is of course my own criticism, that certain language lends itself to these metaphysical constructs which are “illusion.” He sees the above as Husserl's claim to immediate experience when it is in fact mediated, part of his ideology. While he seemingly agrees with Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence there is a way out, through nirvana by which one can attain an “undistorted experience of the true condition of reality.” He further describes nirvana as “the immediate, direct, nonconceptual realization of the true condition of ourselves and the whole of reality.”

He criticizes Derrida for only going part way, for only deconstructing existing ontologies but for now positing one of his own like this. I think it's been amply demonstrated elsewhere this is not the case but rather that Derrida's ontology differs in not using such metaphysical language. I agree with Capriles that “the given” is a dualistic and metaphysical illusion. And that a postmetaphysical revelation, if you will, exposes this in a different way to posit an ontology. But the traidtional Dzochen language still seems to me to posit it in a way that partakes of the dualistic samsama-nirvana divide, with the latter entering into a static always already.*It seems to me that Capriles does not heed his own warning that "metaphysical constructs will not slip into it."

* And it seems Thakchoe agrees, cited in several threads elsewhere, in his book The Two Truths Debate.

I appreciated these recent posts, Edward; thank you.  As I noted on my status message, I'm currently on vacation, so I'm going to be running a lot these next few days, but I did bring a few books with me.  I just was reading one of Levin's books the other day, and he was talking about a "presence" which eludes Derrida's critique (with which Levin agrees).  I will see if I can find it and type something up.
In PG Levin is discussing Derrida's critique of Husserl, in that the latter uses the metaphor of light to represent this phenomenological presence. Levin agrees with Derrida in that such language "generates a virtually irresistible temptation to reify, totalize, and homogenize, and reduce the forces of temporality and historicity to a state of eternal presentness" (70). We see this same critique by Capriles above. Nonetheless, despite both Capriles and Levin's warning they continue to use the traditional Dzogchen language that seems to lead down the path into metaphysical luminosity, like a moth irresistibly drawn to light.

Perhaps we should return then to the discussion(s) of light that Tom initiated on the old Gaia site.  :-)


I do think Levin is more careful and subtle than Capriles (and Levin's explicitly Dzogchen language appears in an appendix dedicated to the Dzogchen practice, and does not show up in the articulation of his main view).  I think there is a way this mythopoetic language can be held creatively, perhaps after the manner of Ricoeur's second naivety, without necessarily falling into totalizing, reifying, homogenizing patterns. 


I did find the passage by Levin I was recalling.  I'll type it up when I have a chance.

I found a relevant passage in Levin's Sites of Vision (MIT Press, 1999), the chapter on Derrida and Foucault. The entire chapter up to this point was Derrida's refutation of the metaphor of light and vision, equating it with the metaphysics of presence. But when the metaphor extends to how blinding light diffuses any distinctive presencing Levin notes:

“Without disputing the heliocentrism and ocularcentrism of metaphysics, Derrida will argue, however, that, contrary to first appearances, the logic of this sun-and-light-centered discourse does not in fact entail, or necessitate, a metaphysics of presence—on the contrary, the more one thinks about the matter, the more one will be compelled to acknowledge that the logic of this metaphorics actually resists, and even subverts, the possibility of presence. Thus he asks us to reflect on the phenomenology actually implicit in the logic of this metaphorics: 'Presence disappearing in its own radiance, the hidden source of light, of truth, and of meaning, the erasure of the visage of Being—such must be the insistent return of that which subjects metaphysics to metaphor.' Here we can see Derrida's deconstructive strategy at work—that is, at play: he uses the metaphorics of light to deconstruct the metaphysics of presence, that very presence that the visual generation of metaphyics has been thought to support. If this is a Hegelian Aufhebung, it is a sublation with a mischievous, chiasmic twist.

“Derrida is not the first philosopher to remind us that metaphysics uses and depends on metaphors, but he is perhaps the first one to call attention to the subversive implications, using one of the favorite tropes to make his point: just as the sun, the source of light, hides itself, can become invisible and elude our efforts at mastering the power of its light, so all metaphors are ultimately going to be disruptive of and resistant to the impulse behind metaphysics—its drive to 'dominate' presence through intuition, concept and consciousness. And if all metaphors transgress the 'proper meaning' of words, establishing affinities that are never more than partially 'appropriate,' and, in general, introduce uncontrollable semantic play into the discursive field, then metaphors of light and vision will be doubly disruptive and resistant.

“For Derrida, then, metaphysics is indeed ocularcentric. And he contests this encoding of the discourse, just as he will contest all forms of domination—hence, all frames and margins, all centers and totalities. He also believes that metaphysics has been, and still is, written under the authoritarian spell of presence, and that this too must be questioned and contested. But what he shows is that the metaphorical code cannot be reduced—not even by metaphysics—to any essentially fixated ontology. Thus, the use of a vocabulary generated by light and vision, far from supporting a metaphysics of presence, will actually negate its very possibility” (416-18).
I'll  have some comments on the above later, but for now I'm going back to Levin's PG, the chapter on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. He's discussing the figure-ground relation, and how our focus on the figure leads to a reified, metaphysical presence of being. The ground is either ignored or also turned into a metaphysical object. How can it be otherwise? Can we actually experience the ground in a postmetaphysical way beyond the metaphysics of presence inherent in the figure-ground split? He asks the right questions for us in this excerpt, where both of the featured chapter luminaries

“ deconstruct these metaphysical re-presentations, subtly violent disfigurations of the ground—and to point in the direction of another way of experiencing the field of perception and its figure-ground formations. And, although neither said so explicitly, perhaps they had an intuitive sense that a different understanding of perception—a different experience with perception—might somehow, someday, make possible a new, post-metaphysical beginning for philosophical thought. The post-metaphysical question—question for a post-metaphysical phenomenology—is therefore: Can the perceptual field, the ground of perception, be released from our historical compulsion to represent it in a way that accommodates our will to power and its need to totalize and reify the presencing of being? In other words: Can the ground be experienced as ground? Can its hermeneutical way of presencing, i.e., as a dynamic interplay of concealment and unconcealment, be given appropriate respect in the receptivity of a perception that lets itself be appropriated by the ground and accordingly lets the phenomenon of the ground be what and how it is? Can the coming-to-pass of the ontological difference that is constitutive of all the local figure-ground differences taking place in our perceptual field be made visible hermeneutically, and thus without violence to its withdrawal into concealment? But the question concerning the constellation of figure and ground cannot be separated from the question concerning the structure of subject and object. Hence the possibility of a movement beyond metaphysics must also think the historical possibility of breaking out of this structure into the spacing of the ontological difference: différance, the primordial, sensuous, ekstatic écart” (174-5).

Since we're discussing access to the ground as a phenomenological experience via metaphor, I haven't yet seen that Levin explores Lakoff & Johnson's work. For them the ground as the cognitive unconscious, which includes our lifeworld background and much more, is largely inaccessible (not present) to conscious experience. So I'm not clear to what degree Levin thinks we can consciously experience this ground? L&J admit that one can certainly gain more access to it through phenomenological investigation beyond the conventional limitations of "false reason." But not a whole lot more.

L&J can also be understood as a hermeneutical phenomenology, as it explores the nature of perception through the basis of metaphor in basic categories inherent in embodiment and thus can make more accurate generalizations about this unconscious ground. But it also knows the limitations of the direct, phenomenological access to it. This might be what Levin is getting at by not doing "violence to its withdrawal into concealment?"

Hey, Theurj, I'm still on vacation (and about to go play some Putt Putt Golf with my son!), but I just wanted to check in and say that the passage I'd referred to earlier is in The Opening of Vision (not The Listening Self, which I brought with me).  You can read the passage on Google books beginning on page 243 (I'm using a Mac for the first time and couldn't get the link to paste!).  He's discussing a third form of presence not addressed by Derrida.


More later.

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