I came across a conversation with Bill Torbert this morning that I wanted to share here.  I referred to his work a couple years back in a blog I wrote on Integral Life (Three Nows, The Future Infinitive, and Triple Loop Awareness), and I enjoyed a workshop he gave at the Integral Theory Conference in 2008 (he seemed to find many of the "Integralites" at the conference to be a bit naive), but up to this point, his work has mostly been at the edges of the horizon of my attention.




Conversation with Bill Torbert

July 11, 2002

William R. Torbert, PhD, author and teacher, consultant and artist in his own right, works with Susann Cook-Greuter and others in the application of integral and transformational concepts in leadership and organizations. His most recent book, co-authored with Dalmar Fisher and David Rooke is entitled Personal and Organisational Transformations: Through Action Inquiry. After teaching at Yale, SMU, and Harvard, Bill has been at Boston College for the past 23 years,
serving as Graduate Dean of the School of Management for 9 years and Director of the PhD program in Organizational Transformation.

RV: I'm really interested in having conversations with people who are doing things that, for me, feed into the idea of an integral approach to leadership. And an integral approach to leadership, it seems to me, is one that is very much concerned with questions of development. And what I'm hoping to do in this interview involves three stages. The first stage is to have you talk a little bit about the role of action inquiry in your work. When I look at materials you have on your web site it is very clear that this has been the heart of your work ever since you were a graduate student. I would like to talk about your perspectives on leadership and leadership development. Third, I'd like you to talk about your current work because you mentioned it has something to do with time, and I'm fascinated to discover what that might be.

BT: Great.

RV: You were a student of Chris Argyris and the whole idea of action inquiry has been central to your work. What is unique about your work in action inquiry?

BT: Although it is definitely true that Chris is a central influence in my life, and that is because he clearly was concerned with putting action and inquiry together, it's also true that at the same time as I met him at Yale I also got to know Bill Coffin, the Yale minister. He's sometimes called the white Martin Luther King, was very involved in the Civil Rights movement, was one of the first Freedom Riders, and later stood in the opposition to the Vietnam War.

There should be a relationship not just between social science theory and professional action, but also between spiritual inquiry and political acts. Chris was relatively conservative, not spiritually oriented and not politically oriented. Bill Coffin was more radically oriented.

And at the same time I was getting to know, not what we think of as philosophy today, but real Socratic inquiry where you are taking action in the conversation and having an influence on one another, almost an alchemical influence. At the same time I found my way into the Gurdjieff Work. This direct spiritual work is a work on attention. Through Plato, Bill Coffin and the Gurdjieff Work, I had a sense that the kind of action inquiry I wanted to do was not only professional in nature, but personal, spiritual and political. It was meant to affect my every waking moment.

All of those were playing a role when I started to inquire further into Yale and the graduate program with Chris Argyris. I took an intervention theory course with him years before he wrote his intervention theory and method book [Intervention Theory and Method, 1970-ed.] and years before he had come up with the name action science. In fact, it was my 1976 book, Creating a Community of Inquiry, about the Yale Upward Bound Program that I had founded that first introduced the
term action science.

I went into the doctoral program in Individual and Organizational Behavior with the understanding that I could study myself trying to take some action in some way. This turned out to be leading the Yale Upward Bound program: creating it and getting the original grant for it. When it turned out that there was nobody of a proper age to lead it, the Yale people let me do it at the tender age of 22. I was not intervening in a large, Fortune 100 corporation, which was more typical of Chris's work. I was engaged in a very incendiary interracial situation that had a political element to it. It had a profound educational element in it in that the students in my program had never had a good experience in school before. I was working with people who really didn't necessarily share my sense of rationality at all.

RV: What I'm getting as I'm listening to you is already an integral flavor to the way you're engaging with the world or at least with a notion of action inquiry. Not only were you doing an inquiry into the context -- the systems, the environments around you -- but you were also engaged in conscious self-development, a process that could only happen in that context.

BT: Exactly. It seemed to me that the people who ought to be most affected by an action were the initiators of the action. Even though the intent was also to have an influence over somebody else, if you didn't see yourself as learning and transforming through the action, then it seemed to me you were almost certainly off base in a profound way. I'm not coming up with the way in which I knew that at the time except for the fact of all these different influences.

I read Plato's Symposium about Alcibiades who later became the leading general during the Peleponissian Wars. He was the great corporate raider of the third century BC, moving his allegiances back and forth between Athens, Sparta and Persia, trying to create a just environment in a situation in which none of the states seemed just to him. And there he was, as a student of Socrates, saying that only Socrates could make him feel his nothingness. This seems to me to be the place from which all possibility begins -- the meeting of the inner and the outer in the moment when, listening beyond one's ego, one feels one's nothingness. This is the actual experience of what we're now calling integral.

[The rest of the conversation is available here.]

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I’m also reminded of DeLanda’s book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (Continuum, 2002) introduced in this post from the complexity and pomo thread. From the ensuring discussion in this post:

About 10 pages from the end of chapter 3:

“This virtual form of time, involving the idea of absolute simultaneity, would seem to violate the laws of relativity. In relativistic physics two events cease to be simultaneous the moment they become separated in space, the dislocation in time becoming all the more evident the larger the separating distance....[but] in virtual space there are no metric distances, only ordinal distances that join rather than separate events.... Unlike a transcendent heaven inhabited by pure beings without becoming (unchanging essences or laws with a permanent identity) the virtual needs to be populated exclusively by pure becomings without being. Unlike actual becomings which have at most an intensive form of temporality (bundles of sequential processes occurring in parallel) a pure becoming must be characterized by a parallelism without any trace of sequentiality, or even directionality. Deleuze finds inspiration for this conception of time in phase transitions, or more exactly, in the critical events defining unactualized transitions. When seen as a pure becoming, a critical point of of temperature of 0 degrees C, for example, marks neither a melting nor a freezing of water, both of which are actual becomings...occurring as the critical threshold is crossed in a definite direction. A pure becoming, on the other hand, would involve both directions at once, a melting-freezing event which never actually occurs, but is 'always forthcoming and already past.'”

And from this post in the OOO thread introducing Bryant's earlier book Difference and Givenness: Deleuze's Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence (NW UP, 2008). In the following post:

The section "time out of joint" in chapter 7 (starting at 185) sounds similar to DeLanda above, but not quite.

"Rather than approaching  time cardinally in terms of succession, we instead seek to determine its ordinal structure...as the immutable form of change conditioning movement.... Put alternatively, conceived transcendentally, the past is that which was never present, the present is that which is only ever present, and the future is that which will never arrive" (186-7).

I'm reminded of Bryant's paper "Time of the object" introduced on p. 7. In the article he discusses this notion of ordinal time as the foundation for the withdrawn (virtual).

And this post:

Also see this section of the SEP entry on Derrida. Derrida follows Kant's transcendental approach in exploring the condition(s) that make experience possible, which requires that irreducible singularity and iterability are distinct yet inseparable. And of course this occurs in time. But what kind of time per above, successive or ordinal? This is where the critique of the metaphysics of presence come in, for there is no pure present, which is always conditioned by a relation to the past and future. As in Deleuze's notions above of the irreducible ordinal relations of past, present and future from Bryant's D&G. We see Derrida also use the phrase "time out of joint" to express this, as did Bryant. This kind of time replaces "a linear relation between foundational conditions and and founded experience," i.e., successive time.

Of course, as is my wont I picked apart the subtle differences in the above recent posts here:

From chapter 2 of BDD* Lorraine says:

“Deleuze takes the notion of the incorporeal realm of the event....the time of this realm of becomings is the time of Aion – an achronilogical time where everything has always has already happened and is yet to come....the 'pure event'” (32).

He goes on to describe the pure event in much the same terms as DeLanda, a a virtual that does not apparently ever actualize. Bryant notes that not all of the withdrawn virtual is ever actualized in toto, but that some of it is usually actualized via exo-relations. This seems quite different from Lorraine's (and apparently DeLanda's) version, which forever remain virtual in a separate realm. This is highlighted by Lorraine:

“In the achronilogical time of Aion all events can relate in a pure becoming freed from the restrictions of physical becoming” (34).

Obviously not so with Bryant's virtual realm. In TDOO Bryant uses Deleuze's virutal but admits it is his recontextualizatin and it differs from Deleuze's own use. For example:

“As such, the virtual...refers to powers and capacities belonging to an entity. And in order for an entity to have powers or capacities, it must actually exist. In this connection, while the virtual refers to potentiality, it would be a mistake to conflate this potentiality with the concept of a potential object. A potential object is an object that does not exist but which could come to exist. By contrast, the virtual is strictly a part of a real and existing object” (3.2).

This is not at all a pure event “freed from the restrictions of physical becoming.” He goes on:

“In evoking Deleuze's concept of the virtual, we must proceed with caution.... he is committed to the thesis that there is only one substance that is then broken up into discrete entities through a process of actualization.... The suggestion here is that the virtual seems to consist of a single continuum, such that there is only one virtual, one substance, that is then partitioned into apparently distinct entities” (3.2)

It is this single continuum of the pure event that allows for such readings of non-material virtuality that somehow underlies matter and gives it form, ideas Bryant repeatedly refutes. As does Derrida's an-archic khora and his sense of ordinal time, which Bryant lays out quite well. Lorraine is trying to make connections between Deleuze and Derrida based on the above but I don't see it.

Also note in chapter 3.2 Bryant goes into Protevi's reading of Deleuze on the virtual. But he thinks that Protevi, while also recontextualizing him, nonetheless attributes things to Delequze not there to begin with.

* Between Deleuze and Derrida (Continuum, 2003).

Nonetheless, we can see similarities and differences with the Lingam's notion of the Causal, his version of the virtual. It is more like DeLanda and Deleuze in that it is a sort of timeless continuum within which the actual manifests. But unlike them his is unchanging and of a "radically different order,"* i.e., not immanent. And ironically one might argue that his different orders relate to the difference between epistemology and ontology, relative and absolute, which he most certainly does separate and divide contrary to his claims in this thread.

* Excerpt G, p. 33: The two truths "are of radically different orders.... Conventional truths are known by science; absolute truth is known by satori. They simply are not the same thing."

Given the recent discussion of time above I came upon this scientific article today. Some excerpts with lengthy citations removed:

"A popular model for the representation of time in the brain posits the existence of a single, central-clock. In that framework, temporal distortions in perception are explained by contracting or expanding time over a given interval. We here present evidence for an alternative account, one which proposes multiple independent timelines coexisting within the brain."

"We propose that our results are best explained by an appeal to multiple representations of time that coexist within the brain. Trapped by the assumption of a Cartesian theater in which sensory input is passively recorded, modern theories of brain time have largely avoided this framework. Mounting evidence, however, suggests that a single clock-rate model of perceptual time is untenable. Instead, different aspects of time appear to be underpinned by separate neural mechanisms that sometimes act in concert, but are not required to do so."

"Previous work has provided compelling evidence for the existence of independent motor and sensory timelines in the brain. The current experiment extends these findings and shows that individual sensory modalities have their own adjustable timelines.... In light of evidence from other labs, we suggest that a paradigm shift is underway within the field of time perception. Discarding the notion of a single central timer allows for novel frameworks and predictions that will force us to think critically about what it means for time to be represented in the brain."

A number of Torbert's writings are accessible here by typing in his name.

At the above link a number of Torbert's works have to do with collaborative inquiry. Which reminds me of John Heron's work in this regard, and his kennilingus criticisms e.g. here, which point to a collaborative or participatory integral spirituality, one of the points of this very forum.

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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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