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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We've had this discussion before in the old Levin thread about this very passage concerning Anwesenheit. The OV was written in '88 and the books I've referenced are from '99, when I think Levin re-thought his opinions of Derrida on this particular issue. The OV passage is still saying Derrida only deconstructs the metaphysics of presence with no positive statement on phenomenological experience. To wit, the passages I've just quoted before this and Derrida's awareness of the figure-ground relation in primordial differance, all the while using the very same metaphors of light that heretofore supported metaphysics with his postmetaphysical "mischievous, chiasmic twist." And regardless if Levin later sees this in Derrida, I do.

Would you say, then, that Derrida also recognizes this third form of presence (Anwesenheit), which might still rightly be called 'presence' (or presencing) but which does not involve the totalizing movement of metaphysics?  (In The Listening Self, Levin explores the 'aural' version of this chiasmic twist through the notion of the echo -- which, interestingly, he relates also to a passage from Dzogchen master, Longchenpa, which also describes being as 'echo').

 

Concerning Levin's thoughts on the cognitive unconscious, you might look in The Body's Recollection of Being, for clues.  Though I'm not sure how helpful it will be, since it is even earlier than The OV.  (And perhaps we should be having this discussion on the Levin thread, instead!)  I've happily learned that Google is now selling e-versions of these books, so I will buy them soon.

Despite some similarities I'm still leery about equating Derrida's differance with Levin's interpretation of anwesenheit. I'm still smelling a faint air of metaphysics about it underneath that fancy postmetaphysical couture.

Oh, well.  I guess only Derrida has anything relevant to say about this topic.

 

I'm personally still leery of Derrida because, with his emphasis on mischief, subversion, and 'attack' on anything that appears positively framed, that seems simply to repeat (in negative form) the patterns of 'domination' he is concerned about.*

 

Perhaps we're also understanding 'metaphysics' differently here.  After all this time. 

 

Concerning L&J, I do value their work, but their 'statement' on spirituality at the back of PF strikes me as incredibly anemic and 'flat.'  Some movement beyond their work is necessary, IMO -- whether Levin has achieved that or not.  (I do think he's made some good steps in that direction.)

 

 

* And maybe this is just the way I'm reading your presentation of him.

I understand and empathize with your frustration. Merry Christmas buddy.

You too, Edward!  I was signing on thinking just of wishing you a Merry Christmas.

 

All the best,

 

B.

theurj said:

I understand and empathize with your frustration. Merry Christmas buddy.

I took this tangent into some of Levin's other works because I highly value them and his moves toward postmetaphysics. And also to see where he and Derrida might agree on this journey, since I'm taking pieces from both in my own idiosyncratic formulation. So that now I can get back on the main track concerning "states" which leads me to some questions (leading questions, no doubt). Balder said Levin's nondual vision is about the synthetic ego's integration. Recall Wilber saying earlier in the thread that it is the self-system's job to integrate all the levels, lines, states etc. And the ego's perspective itself is within a "level," or at least a center of gravity despite the differing levels in different lines, contexts, etc. So perhaps it is a matter of degree of said integration that leads one to a non-dual perspective?

To go back to Levin's description of the nondual recall he said:

"It became progressively easier for me to experience what the Tibetans call rigpa: the simple presence of awareness.  Staying in this nonduality...there was less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual interpretation.”

Is this a nondual state experience devoid of conceptual interpretation? Now I can see that if rigpa is the simple presence of awareness that it could be seen as a synthetic ego function if it was not a particular state because it would simply reflect any and all states. But the synthetic ego seems to be more than a simple awareness that doesn't withdraw into conceptual interpretation, that it would be something that includes both simple awareness and conceptual interpretation, as it integrates both and more? And as I said above, perhaps it's the degree of synthetic ego integration that leads one to a nondual perspective, not a particular state of awareness?

I can certainly see in Levin's writing this synthetic ego function integrating those state experiences into a postmetaphysical perspective. I'm just wondering about the nondual part of that equation.

I believe Lol could probably speak to this better than I can, since I believe he has had more experience with and has been more recently in contact with Dzogchen teachings, but when Levin describes having less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual activity, I believe he is speaking of the loosening of a habitual drive, not to the necessary absence of thought or conceptuality.  In rigpa, it is still quite possible for conceptual thought to arise, and not to detract from it at all; thought then is seen as "self-ornamentation" of awareness (a beautifying, expressive movement), not as an "obstruction" to it.  Part of the practice of Dzogchen is "integrating" awareness with (ever-more compelling and 'distracting'?) visionary and other phenomena.  It isn't a deliberate putting-together; but rather, the sustained practice of letting-go and letting-be (what Levin is calling, after Heidegger, Gelassenheit) allows for this integration of 'spontaneous, ever-freshly arising' presence and emergent phenomena (conceptual, sensory, etc).  

 

I don't know at this time how to define 'rigpa,' in terms of conceptualizing just 'what' it is.  I feel comfortable at least calling it a human capacity that can be discovered and cultivated through practice, and believe we will likely find correlations to certain brain functions (perhaps that 'base state' that was recently described in the neuroscience literature, perhaps something else).

 

As for some of the particular state-like experiences Levin and Blackstone describe, I think it's possible (if we want to take an approach which integrates current cognitive scientific emphases on embodiment and brain functioning) that we can describe these states as temporary and sometimes more permanent shifts in how the bodymind constructs or enacts the experienced world.  The "order" of the world presently experienced (in its opacity, distance, division, etc) is mediated, enacted; and it can be enacted differently.  The neuroscientist, Ramachandran, talks about mirror neurons -- how mirror neurons allow us to experience interiorly the apparent 'states' of other individuals, and how we have a 'very thin' structure which prevents us from experiencing this 'merging' and internally experienced 'mirroring' all the time.  So, regarding the deepening empathic encounter with other individuals that Blackstone describes, we might speculate that the sustained practice of Dzogchen or other awareness disciplines perhaps undoes or at least modifies that 'thin barrier' Ramachandran describes and allows for more actively or consciously experienced mirror neuron functioning.  However, the Dzogchen enactment might be more sophisticated, a higher/deeper level of integration, of mirror neuron functioning, because according to Blackstone's account (and I think I've briefly experienced something like this) the empathic contact with others' emotional and other states is experienced in such a way that the experience seems to be distributed over the full experiential field -- so that you can differentiate your own states, in your body, from the states that are 'felt' in others' bodies.  In other words, the mirror neuron activity is integrated with other enacted distinctions to prevent a narcissistic fusion (in which others' states become (con)fused with one's own).  

 

I believe the deliberate wedding of compassion/empathy training with nondual 'wisdom' training in Tibetan tradition likely contributes to this sophisticated 'enactment,' with cognitive, emotional-empathetic, 'self,' and 'state' experiences achieving a new integration.

 

Hi Edward,

I'm doing my best to hang on in there/here with all the various threads of this conversation...don't feel I'm doing particularly well...anyways, can you point me to where B. said what you reported him saying (below)?

 

theurj said:

 Balder said Levin's nondual vision is about the synthetic ego's integration.

 

 

On page 3 of this thread, when I was discussing states that seemed to fit Levin's ideal ego, and discussing the synthetic ego, Balder said:

"Beyond this, the state they are describing is not, in my view, the same as the fusion of ego and ego ideal through concentration which Epstein is describing, but much more properly a state which, while it does
involve the stability developed in concentration, is primarily a 'synthetic function.'"

Thanks, Ed, I'd started to work my way backwards through the thread and hadn't got that far.

In the quoted excerpt on page 3, Epstein says:

"As the moment-to-moment nature of reality becomes more and more directly experienced, it is the synthetic function of the ego, as mindfulness, that must continuously re-establish contact with the object of
awareness.
"

So here he's talking about mindfulness being (an aspect of) the synthetic function of the ego dualistically apprehending an object of awareness.

From my reading of Levin's dark retreat excerpt, what he means by ''rigpa'', and "this nonduality", is simply not the same thing as Epstein's "synthetic function of the ego", or mindfulness. I say this because Levin will (presumably) have received Dzogchen teachings for dark retreat at some time prior to his retreat, and these will necessarily have included direct introduction into the nondual state of Dzogchen Atiyoga, always with a distinction being made between the function of 'ordinary' mind (such as mindfulness) and 'nature of mind', aka rigpa, where subject and object are co-arisen and self-liberated.

You wrote: "Now I can see that if rigpa is the simple presence of awareness that it could be seen as a synthetic ego function if it was not a particular state because it would simply reflect any and all states. But the
synthetic ego seems to be more than a simple awareness that doesn't
withdraw into conceptual interpretation, that it would be something that
includes both simple awareness and conceptual interpretation, as it
integrates both and more? And as I said above, perhaps it's the degree
of synthetic ego integration that leads one to a nondual perspective,
not a particular state of awareness?

I can certainly see in Levin's writing this synthetic ego function integrating those state experiences into a postmetaphysical perspective. I'm just wondering about the nondual part of that equation."

I genuinely appreciate your musings, and what you're pointing to/working towards. As regards your wondering about the nondual state of rigpa, Bruce's response was elegant, and eloquent, and complete.

It may well be that the nondual state of Dzogchen Atiyoga as it's expressed and languaged within the teaching is too metaphysical by far to fit within a postmetaphysical definition, it may be this particular 'circle' (tigle chenpo) can't be squared.

However, I'm thinking Levin's exposition about Gelassenheit might show a fruitful way forward in this regard. I am deeply familiar with the practice of 'hearkening' (or as Bruce put it, letting-go and letting-be) through my craniosacral work; and for me there doesn't seem to be any discernible difference between that which contains and allows the kind of work I do, and (my) dzogchen practice. I'll do my best to enlarge on this in another post.


theurj said:

On page 3 of this thread, when I was discussing states that seemed to fit Levin's ideal ego, and discussing the synthetic ego, Balder said:

"Beyond this, the state they are describing is not, in my view, the same as the fusion of ego and ego ideal through concentration which Epstein is describing, but much more properly a state which, while it does
involve the stability developed in concentration, is primarily a 'synthetic function.'"

Balder said concerning ripga:

"...believe we will likely find correlations to certain brain functions (perhaps that 'base state' that was recently described in the neuroscience literature..."

and

"The neuroscientist, Ramachandran, talks about...how mirror neurons allow us to experience interiorly the apparent 'states' of other individuals."

I found some resonance with this article about the "idle" brain:

"Until recently, scientists would have found little of interest in the purposeless, mind-wandering spaces between...conscious...tasks.... Neuroscientists call it the 'default mode network.'

"Individually, the brain regions that make up that network have long been recognized as active when people recall their pasts, project themselves into future scenarios, impute motives and feelings to other people, and weigh their personal values. But when these structures hum in unison and scientists have found that when we daydream, they do just that they function as our brain's 'neutral' setting.

"As neuroscientists study the idle brain, some believe they are exploring a central mystery in human psychology: where and how our concept of 'self' is created, maintained, altered and renewed.

"As...men and women mentally relaxed between tasks...the specialized regions went quiet -- and a large and different cluster of brain structures consistently lighted up....a portion of the brain called the medial parietal cortex...[an] area [that] tended to become active when a person recalled his past...another key node in this curious circuit: the medial prefrontal cortex, a uniquely human structure that comes alive when we try to imagine what others are thinking. Each region...had a feature in common -- it was focused on the self, and on the personal history and relationships by which we define ourselves as individuals."

 

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