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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Recall this post noting that the core self is accessed during meditation, as it let's go of autobiographical self and processes in the present only. Still, it is a conscious 'self.' I also noted this core self can be contacted by other means, like ritual or ceremony. Hence the often numinous experiences people have during such religious ceremonies. This was confirmed on p. 170 of Self Comes to Mind when he observed that day-dreaming can take us to this core self, providing a temporary respite from the narrative self. In this light also recall this post on Derrida's 'bastard reasoning,' wherein I intuited that it too, like meditation, was a vehicle to this core (khora).
Also of relevance to recent inquiry is how self-consciousess requires as prerequisite, yet is an emergent advancement on, our 'minds.' Damasio said in SCM on p. 176: “The difference between life regulation before consciousness and after consciousness simply has to do with automation versus deliberation.” The latter simply “moves the whole game up a notch.” Hence it is easy to see why our earlier zombie programs dominate much of our time. This does not however reduce consciousness to them, that the latter can indeed, and does, assert some control and focus to those lower processes, eliciting them to motivate and enact our long-range plans and goals. And still accepting the fact that the zombies are in charge much of the time and that it is necessarily so. They just need a little guidance every now and again.

Check out Evan Thompson's You Tube series called "Neuroscience and free will": part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. From part 1, quoting William James: "Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will" (7:10). From the conclusion of part 6: "Free will then is not exempt from causes and conditions but is rather the flexible coordination of attention" (4:05).

In part 2 he starts to talk about the self related to meditation (around 7:00). Around 7:45 he notes it has 2 aspects, the present-centered "I" and the narrative self which adds past and future. He relates it to Damasio's ideas.

The end of part 2 was on Damasio's core self, the beginning of part 3 on his autobiographical self. The rest of the latter part discusses how we might differentiate them via meditative practice.

Part 4 goes into some experiments with those who meditate and those who don't, measuring the brain activity correlated with these 2 selves. Those who meditate have much more flexibility to distinguish and go between the core and narrator, whereas those who do not conflate them. Moreover at 4:55 the meditators have some command of voluntary (aka conscious) regulation of attention and emotion.

Part 5 continues the discussion at the end of the previous section on large-scale brain dynamics, where conscious activity synchronizes the brain regions and produces high frequency gamma waves. He goes into a study of long-term practitioners doing compassion meditation, which displayed a lot of high amplitude gamma synchrony. And voluntarily produced. At 4:45 he goes into volition and emergence. At 6:00 he calls this volition interventionist causation.

The beginning of part 6 concludes from a study that meditation is a strong top-down causative effect of self-generated attention on brain dynamics. This global activity emerges from the local brain activity and shapes and constrains it. This is no way denies that local brain activity can also cause effects, i.e, our zombies. But the zombies do not exhibit the kind of global synchrony as does volitional control, so we're talking about the very real differences between conscious and nonconscious acts. Hence the conclusion already provided in the beginning.

The attached is the original Gaia status of states thread, all 3 parts. This thread and its predecessor also go with this post and the 2 preceding posts in the OOO thread.


I'm reading Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol, about Freemasonry and Washington DC. I didn't know where else to put this but this thread seemed relevant because it's about the mystical tradition of Freemasonry that is imbued in the buildings and lay-out of DC and the very origins of the US. Part of its mythology is that via certain procedures we can attain to mystical states that attune us to ultimate reality and our actual apotheosis. Oh yes, this is Freemasonry as I well know from the inside. But now I'm much more in line with the protagonist of the story, Robert Langdon, who said:

"Let's just say I'm a skeptic [...] I have never seen anything in the real world to suggest the Ancient Mysteries are anything other than legend--a recurring mythological archetype" (99). [...] "He's made the same error many zealots make--confusing metaphor with literal reality" (100).

Which is not to say I scoff at meditative or mystical states and their beneficial effects. This thread is ample evidence that I take them quite seriously. I just don't see them as inflated powers or enlightenment, much less apotheosis, portrayed in the traditional literature both east and west.

Driving across the US I had a lot of time to practice eliciting altered states via voice, like mantra but without specific religious mantras. For a long time now I've been experimenting with just chanting vowels, sometimes individually, sometimes all together, just intuitively as I feel into the moment. In every case, whether for a few moments or for a few minutes, it produces a change of state. With more extended practices like on this road trip I've been able to produce LSD-like states of limited duration, perhaps only minutes long.

All of which led me to ponder that humans have been experimenting with this sort of thing for a long, long time, no doubt starting as I did with just an intuitive feel for it, then observing and recording what effects are produced by what sounds. Mantra has become quite a science and art, both east and west, to elicit very specific states. Obviously there has been a lot of metaphysical interpretations associated with the states but one can postmetaphysically alter the view while still maintaining the practice to produce profound and beneficial effects from the practice.

This and other practices can help integrate the various aspects of our body-mind making for more equanimity, compassion etc., personal development in general. Which is of course a social good, for in such balance we obviously want to share this wealth and health. We might even call it enlightenment from a postmetaphysical stance, but one much more grounded, embodied, immanent without  the supernatural mumbo jumbo traditionally associated with it.

Nice, theurj -- and I'm glad you made it in one piece, even while driving under the "influence" of toning!  (Thomas Hubl employs toning in his work, I hear, though I haven't experienced it yet).  This topic almost would be worth its own thread -- especially if you continue to experiment with this.  I used to do mantra back in the midst of my Vajrayana practice days and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it (for a non-singer such as myself).  A little earlier this morning, I was referencing the following book in a discussion with Joel, and I find it relevant here:  The World is Sound: Nada Brahma, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt.  I read it over 20 years ago, and I don't recall much from it (other than a few interesting anecdotes), but I'd like to look at it again.  I expect it will fall short of an adequate postmetaphysical expression, but as I recall, it is a step in that direction.

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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?

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