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 realize daydreaming is not meditation, but there seems to be connections. Perhaps meditation is just a more focused, disciplined means of daydreaming? Recall that the bastard reason needed to apprehend khora is a kind of dreaming, that state between waking and sleep, or even of dreaming sleep, or artistic imagination. I know that when I relax into meditation usually the first thing I become aware of is this in-between "idle" state, noticing all the bizarre thoughts and feelings that seem to come out of nowhere, just like in dreams. This occurs during that shift from beta to alpha waves. As I watch them with disinterest they slowly settle, calm, and I can then enter into more restful and quiet silence in the spaces between those dream images, more theta. And sometimes the dreaming stops and I just sit or lie with no content but fully aware in a "base" state, delta.

What an absolutely fascinating article! Interestingly, I find when I'm preparing vegetables etc. 'mindfully', I don't have that much mental chatter going on, it's an activity I like doing because I enjoy the mental calm and silence it tends to bring.

Whereas when I'm doing certain kinds of meditational practices that involve maintaining (ideally) a relaxed focus on  internal visualisation etc., my mental wandering can take me all over the place, and I might have to constantly bring myself 'back'.

Then again, if/when practising an open-eye 'non-meditation' with unfocussed gaze into clear sky I settle into a letting-go and letting-be, and (the sense of) outer 'space' and (sense of) inner 'space' unify and find equilibrium, there can be a further deepening and relaxing where all senses are clear and open, with sensory information, sense of self, thoughts, feelings, emotions, energy fluctuations all arising and disappearing/dissipating by themselves (self-liberating), without any effort required, and without distracting from the very vivid and 'instant' and yet relaxed presence.

I'm just a two bit part-time meditator, yet I wonder what would be showing up both in the 'default mode network' and other areas during this kind of open-eye practice, and now find myself wondering if the research they were undertaking with people like Mingyur Rinpoche, such as on the video Bruce provided, would have taken into account the areas comprising the 'default mode network, and if not, whether that might be a feature of future research.

I re-read this thread from the Levin post, recalling the same issues brought up for me in more recent posts. The last post above linked to a video. I followed it and like this from the write-up:

A must-see for anyone who has been diagnosed with a “lifetime mental illness.”

This should be perfect for me then.

LOL (no relation). Ed, like it or not but I just gotta love you, man.

theurj said:

I re-read this thread from the Levin post, recalling the same issues brought up for me in more recent posts. The last post above linked to a video. I followed it and like this from the write-up:

A must-see for anyone who has been diagnosed with a “lifetime mental illness.”

This should be perfect for me then.

I started a new thread about a book but realized it was more about this existing thread, so have moved those posts over here, below.

I'm now reading Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will, a copy of which is at the link. They acknowledge and address two main critics of the premise, Libet and Weger. Libet did experiments where there was a delay between an action and our conscious awareness of "willing the action." Weger brings in severed right/left brain research, among other things. The chapters in the book address this research which both concur with and dispute them in varying degrees. More later.

This related paper may be of interest: Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness. If you're like me you'll skip right to the section on neuroscience that begins on p. 54.

More references: Frontiers in Decision NeuroscienceU of IL Decision Neuroscience Laboratory; Stanford Decision Neuroscience Laboratory; Neural Decision Science Laboratory.

From the first, "Reasoning, cognitive control and moral intuition." Abstract:

Recent Social Intuitionist work suggests that moral judgments are intuitive (not based on conscious deliberation or any significant chain of inference), and that the reasons we produce to explain or justify our judgments and actions are for the most part post hoc rationalizations rather than the actual source of those judgments. This is consistent with work on judgment and explanation in other domains, and it correctly challenges one-sidedly rationalistic accounts. We suggest that in fact reasoning has a great deal of influence on moral judgments and on intuitive judgments in general. This influence is not apparent from study of judgments simply in their immediate context, but it is crucial for the question of how cognition can help us avoid deleterious effects and enhance potentially beneficial effects of affect on judgment, action, and cognition itself. We begin with established work on several reactive strategies for cognitive control of affect (e.g., suppression, reappraisal), then give special attention to more complex sorts of conflict (“extended deliberation”) involving multiple interacting factors, both affective and reflective. These situations are especially difficult to study in a controlled way, but we propose some possible experimental approaches. We then review proactive strategies for control, including avoidance of temptation and mindfulness meditation (Froeliger et al., 2012, this issue). We give special attention to the role of slow or “cool” cognitive processes (e.g., deliberation, planning, and executive control) in the inculcation of long-term dispositions, traits, intuitions, skills, or habits. The latter are critical because they in turn give rise to a great many of our fast, intuitive judgments. The reasoning processes involved here are distinct from post hoc rationalizations and have a very real impact on countless intuitive judgments in concrete situations. This calls for a substantial enlargement of research on cognitive control, drawing on work in developmental psychology, automatization, educational theory, and other fields.

From the meditation and neuroscience paper above, discussing a baseline state. See earlier in the thread for previous discussion on the topic:

"A central goal of the practice of meditation is to transform the baseline state of experience and to obliterate the distinction between the meditative state and the postmeditative state. The practice of Open Presence, for instance, cultivates increased awareness of a more subtle baseline (i.e., ipseity) during which the sense of an autobiographical or narrative self is deemphasized. Long-term training in Compassion meditation is said to weaken egocentric traits and change the emotional baseline. Mindfulness/ Awareness meditation aims to experience the present nowness, and it affects the 'attentional baseline' by lessening distractions or daydream like thoughts.... From an empirical standpoint, one way to conceptualize these various meditative traits is to view them as developmental changes in physiological baselines in the organism. Finding ways of systematically characterizing these baselines before, during and after mental training is thus crucial for the empirical examination of the long-term impact of meditation" (70).

Another interesting discussion in the meditation/neuroscience paper is on ipseity. On 45 it is described as "bare awareness" without an object. On 64 it is described as "the minimal subjective sense of ‘I-ness’ in experience, and as such, it is constitutive of a ‘minimal’ or ‘core self.’" It is also "a form of self-consciousness that is primitive inasmuch as: 1) it does not require any subsequent act of reflection or introspection, but occurs simultaneously with awareness of the object; 2) does not consist in forming a belief or making a judgment, and 3) is ‘passive’ in the sense of being spontaneous and involuntary." This is distinguished from our narrative self.

A couple of points for now. This bare awareness or ipseity is directly related to a sense of I-ness, ipseity itself referring to this autonomous individuality. So while it might be before the narrative self with its sense of egoic history, it is a self-awareness nonetheless, unique to its apperceiver and I-centric. It is even associated with "bodily processes of life regulation" (65), generally the most primitive brain. So in itself it is not enlightened consciousness but lizard survival awareness, and only through training is this self-regulatory attentional baseline modified and refined.

Another point is that during meditative state training the narrative self is quieted to focus on, or allow, this primitive state to arise. But as this state gains stability it moves from a series of temporary states to more of a permanent trait of consciousness that permeates other states like the narrative self. Hence at some point the narrative self and discursive thought are no longer impediments but expressions of this stable self awareness.

But one thing I find interesting is that per some traditions the process requires this temporary suspension of the narrative self during extended meditative training. Whereas for other traditions the narrative itself is the vehicle to reach our primitive ipseity through story and ritual. Story is the language of this state and can take us there just as surely as any of these more inner focused meditative techniques. In other words, the narrative self is not an obstruction or impediment to our 'true' selves.

On the other hand, or more aptly on but one of Cthulhu's other tentacles, it is also accurate to say that it is our stories that hold us down in metaphysical interpretations of said experiences. Both the traditional meditative paths and some of the more ritualistic narrative paths might reach similar states of Oneness or whatever but both still see this as some kind of heaven. And what gets us to go postmetaphysical turns out to be on the more emergent embodied cognitive enactments than on some primitive, "ever-present" origin.

Strangely, for me, a number of your recent posts to this thread are not showing up on the left-hand "activity" status column on the main forum page.

Thank you for your updates on this essay.  I've been busy and haven't had a chance to look at the linked article yet, but it sounds quite interesting (and supportive of some of the ideas we've floated here before).

Here are some more posts from my blog related to my last post above about ipseity and bare awareness. This one is from Churchland on Damasio:

"As Kant might have said to Hume, the brain will not produce awareness unless the nervous system also generates a representation of self -- a representation which carries what we would call 'a point of view.' And this is indeed precisely the hypothesis tendered by Antonio Damasio (1994). According to the Damasio perspective, the neurobiological mechanisms for visual awareness, for example, are essentially interconnected with the mechanisms for representing oneself as a thing that has experiences, that feels, remembers and plans; as a thing occupying space and enduring through time. To suppose that visual awareness can be understood independently of the self-representation is like supposing evolution can be understood independently of environment.

"Damasio's ideas on this score have emerged from many years of observing brain damaged patients, and reflecting on the ways in which awareness is related to self-representation and how that in turn is related to body-representation (For the details of his hypothesis, see his book, Descartes' Error 1994). Against a backdrop of basic neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, Damasio sees representational complexity and interdependence as key elements in explaining consciousness.... Damasio's central idea is both powerful and reasonable: body-representation, which systematically integrates bodily-stimulation and body-state information, provides a scaffolding for self-representation, and self-representation is the anchor point for awareness -- modality specific and otherwise."

And this one is from a review/analysis of Damasio's book Self Comes to Mind:

"On Page 8 he says, 'I believe that conscious minds arise when a self process is added to a basic mind process.' So, in Damasio's view the difference between mind and consciousness is all about the self. He defines 'mind' as the process by which the brain creates images based on its maps, both of the body and of the world. But he says that the mind is unconscious until it has a sense of self.

"Now, based on Damasio's definition, minds have existed for a long time, but they weren't conscious. He says, 'A mind unwitnessed is still a mind.' The key idea is that mind developed independently of consciousness—or at least before it. But they're both rooted in the physical processes of the brain, which itself evolved to maintain life.

"Damasio sees consciousness as being mind plus the self process. Thus consciousness is more than being awake; but of course, you have to be awake to be conscious.

"According to Damasio, consciousness requires that: 1. You are awake; 2. You have an operational mind, that is, one that makes images; and 3. You have what he calls an 'automatic, unprompted, unreduced sense of self.'

"He has what he calls 'core consciousness'—which he describes as having a sense of self in the here-and-now, without a sense of past or future—and 'autobiographical consciousness,' which includes both personhood and identity....this way of thinking about consciousness allows for consciousness to exist in many non-human species.... He emphasizes that 'core consciousness does not require language.'

"After acknowledging the importance of consciousness, Damasio returns to his evolutionary perspective and says we need to acknowledge what came before consciousness—that is to say, much of what the brain and the mind does is unconscious. He rejects the Freudian unconscious, but he refers to 'the large unconscious,' which he says is made up of two ingredients: an active ingredient, which is the maps and images that are constantly being formed and updated (most of which never reach consciousness), and then the dormant ingredient, which is 'the repository of coded records from which explicit images can be formed.'

"So, it's a good thing most of this never reaches consciousness, or we'd drown in the din. The brain takes the overabundance of inputs and tries to compose a coherent narrative. This is another aspect of our limited attentional spotlight—that magicians exploit.

"But despite the importance of consciousness, it is important to remember that it's built on unconscious processes that are in charge of life regulation. Damasio calls these processes 'blind dispositions,' and says that they deliver the rewards and punishments that promote drive, motivation, and emotions. The map-making process is also unconscious; so consciousness is what we would call 'a late-comer to life management.'

"Damasio says that his position is 'Consciousness offers a direct experience of mind, but the broker of the experience is a self, which is an internal and imperfectly instructed informer rather than an external reliable observer.'

"'The brain constructs consciousness by generating a self process within an awake mind;' the parts are the 'mind' and 'wakefulness— which are indispensable—and the 'self.'

"He also proposes that the self is built in stages. The first stage is the protoself. He says that the protoself is a neural description of relatively stable aspects of the organism. The main product of the protoself is spontaneous feelings of the living body, which he calls 'primordial feelings.'

"The second stage is the core self. According to Damasio a pulse of core self is generated when the protoself is modified by an interaction between the organism and an object, and then as a result the images of the object get modified. The modified images of the object and the organism are momentarily linked in a coherent pattern. This is described in a narrative sequence of images, some of which are feelings.

"The third stage, the autobiographical self, occurs when objects in one's biography generate pulses of core self that are subsequently momentarily linked in a largescale coherent pattern.

"Damasio points out that a lot of what's in the unconscious is stuff that has been put there through training—learning. And it allows us to do things, because if we had to concentrate on everything—for example, walking—we wouldn't be able to do anything more complicated. He emphasizes the importance of educating the unconscious so that we're going to respond the way we want. For example, he says moral behavior is a skill set."

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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