This is a supplement to my pamphlet "The Edge of Perfection" -- which comprises introductory essays on the Metaphysics of Adjacency.

Content is relatively insignificant.

That's what this article is about. We want more accurate & more advanced ideas about reality. In order to get there we need to pay a little less attention to the obvious categories of content. Obviously!

Our map of reality includes some version of "levels of emergent complexity". These must be understood as differences in how the hidden context-making mechanisms within us produce effects upon our communication, NOT merely the values and objects that appear to get affirmed at each level. And this should nor surprise us. Our thinking ranges into areas that resemble spiritual intuition. Those experiences always suggest a shift in the way we hold the objects of this world. They may appear the same... but their meaning changes. Into subtle flows. Into the face of Transcendent Deity. Our minds and our souls are both leaning into territories where the obvious "content" becomes less important.

That does not mean that we are not effected by the images we watch & the words we hear. We are -- but not as much as we feel we are. It does not mean that we cannot learn about people by what they claim about their values and beliefs. We can -- just not as much as we think we can.

Content is very fundamental, but not very significant. In integrative philosophy we need to distinguish between these two feelings. Atoms are very fundamental; human lives are very significant. Basic value is different from the over-all importance of something. They are different aspects of worth.  Of course it does not matter which words we use to make this distinction -- as long we do make this distinction.

When we say that content is insignificant, we do not mean it is utterly unimportant. Rather, we mean that it is less important that we usually assume when we are trying to comprehend reality and devise strategies to deal with it in a more productive and healthy manner.


"Content" means all the types-of-forms which fill the surface of our communications. We are talking about content when we ask, "What is this a picture of?" "What genre of book is this?" "Which values does this group articulate?" "Which beliefs do you claim to hold?"

The answers to such questions seem to give us a good handle on what we are dealing with but, as our consciousness expands, we discover that the apparent "matter" is often only a limitation on our understanding of what is going on.

Content is so fundamental that it is very easy for our brains to grab. There is seductive simplicity to thinking about the "category of content". We find it very easy to sort bookshelves into genres or rate movies by what kind of stuff gets shown on screen. On the other hand we find it very difficult to organize things by quality or complexity. The content produces old and basic emotional reactions which we can all roughly comprehend. So we take it seriously. We are like the man in the old Sufi parable who is looking for his lost coins where the light is good... rather than where he dropped them.

However, as we grow more sensitive and more sophisticated in our understanding of the world, we become increasingly attuned to context.


The idea of shifting toward Context is a fairly easy way to comprehend the distinction between "1st tier" and "2nd tier" worldviews.

Everyone from primitive clansmen to progressive globalists seem to be treating the obvious contents of situations as of they were the whole reality. We partly leave this behind as we move into vision-logic (pluralism, integralism & beyond). We start discovering more and more contextual issues around every corner. In fact it starts to seem like corners are exactly what we keep discovering!  

Any meta-vision of Reality is a series of possible answer to questions about how we ought to relate different reality-tunnels to each other. Perhaps the relationship is arbitrary?  Or perhaps they all fit together into a very practical and increasingly harmonious Emerging New Order? There are options, but these options also have much in common.

2nd tier has been called "vision-logic".

Our eye should be drawn to the "-" between "vision" and "logic". That hyphen helpfully reminds us of an in-between structure. Inbetweens are the basis of integrative philosophy. Perspectives about how perspectives relate to each other arise only after we can comprehend the thresholds between perspectives. We cannot think of worldviews and viewpoints until we can contextualize them. We need to frame them, separate them and link them together. This depends on our capacity to make friends with the boundaries (or "spaces") between different understandings of Reality.

This is not just conceptual trickiness. There is something very existential & amazing which allows different "things" seem nearer or farther from each other -- more the same or more different from each other. This is truly a spiritual matter which enters into our thinking. The mysteriously obvious condition which expresses itself as both some-degree-of-sameness and some-degree-of-difference is nonduality. It is ambiguity raised to the power of certainty.

So all the styles of 2nd tier thinking (which I describe under the umbrella of the Metaphysics of Adjacency) operate in contextual territory. This territory spans between simple content-realities and those numinous spiritual experiences which can only be thought about by limiting, cancelling & blurring our normal figures of speech. 

While we can call the styles of 1st tier "metaphysical" (they "subscribe naively to the myth of the given"), we seek a "postmetaphysical" approach. We do not take experience at face value (sic). Face value is what we are trying to build beyond. We must  be more deft, more slippery & all together more comprehensive. We need to keep one eye always upon the structures which are contextualizing the apparent realities that we are experiencing and communicating. There are different ways to do this. One important way to do this is to keep in mind which "level of culture" is interpreting our experiences. 


Many integral philosophies draw upon the work of Clare Graves & Spiral Dynamics. Graves is associated with sociological studies which discovered that people not have random individual sets of values. Instead there are  few large blocs of value-systems which exist in the general public. There is also a fairly uniform direction in which they evolve over time. 

The creation of an increasingly sane and culturally helpful human being is provoked by the effort to more deeply objectify and empathize with the values of each level. This beautiful mood is largely what "integral" means for many folks. However something important is left out of this understanding: the way in which it is behold to claims & assertions. Its over-dependence on simple content.

We get information about value-systems by asking people how they feel and what is important to them. Such questions are both revealing and concealing. Obviously it shows us that there are definite blocs which articulate themselves in regular ways... at least in a particular Time and Place. However it does not necessarily tell us about the contextual structure out of which they are making such assertions. What I believe and what I claim to believe are not quite the same thing. What if the actual value-system of one bloc were: We always bullshit people who ask us questions!

What then?

It is uncertain. We cannot exactly know what knowledge might be missing from our understanding. So we must remain alert to the possibility that our analysis, based on obvious types of content, may conceal many things in the subterranean realm below. Yet, in practice, we readily slide back into 1st tier approaches. We present our higher-level analysis in the style of the metaphysics of content.

Let's not get too abstract. Consider the News. We may hear that foreign powers are trying to resolve a regional conflict by "getting all the main group together". A great strategy. But how do they decide who are the main groups? Probably they use the same simplistic style of organizing reality according to claims the people make about themselves -- and each other. We are Sunnis. We are Shia. We are Christians. 

Can we take those claims as actual information about the types we are dealing with?

Claims, by their very nature, can limit our understanding. Content may be accidentally or intentionally misleading depending on many contextual factors. This is precisely what the Metaphysics of Adjacency indicates that our pluralistic and integrative models must try to overcome. 


A number of police forces today are not using computer software to analyse the speech patterns of sociopaths and psychopaths. Why? Because you cannot trust "what" they are saying! But we are all somewhat like this...

Our maps of reality must assimilate the fact that people reveal their "level" more authentically by the style of their communication than by the topics, values and claims which they make. 

Red/Barbarian consciousness is notable for its emphatic self-assertions. A family friend of mine often announces that she is A STRONG WOMAN WITH EQUAL RIGHTS. Sounds very postmodern. Yet she says it with alarming frequency and gives off a vibe that is very... unevolved.  Likewise, we must be cautious when a person says: I AM A NONDUAL REALIZER!

Is that a 3rd Tier statement? Or is it merely the form of higher content being articulated from a barbarian format? 

Amberites notoriously cannot be taken at face value. They often communicate in a form of standardized rebelliousness. Much of our advertising propaganda is designed to trigger this kind of counter-assertive obedience. As John Stewart once noted, the Amber political establishment seems to perpetually running against a candidate named DUMBF*&CK McDOESN'TEXIST. That means they are taking a stand against claims which are not actually being made. 

That reminds me of one time when I saw a Starbucks advertisement: WHO SAYS MOCHA CAN'T HAVE A SUMMER SIDEKICK? Well -- nobody. Nobody says that. It is just a form of languaging which, they hope, will subconsciously command the Amber allegiance programming of the masses.

On the same note, fans of the series Arrested Development will remember when foolish Gob Bluth used the commercial sign: "A Frozen Banana that WON'T make you sick and kill you!" But then we hear people saying, "Unlike most Integralists, I don't believe in being arrogant!" Is that clarifying a higher perspective or merely co-opting its content for a lower perspective?

Orange is a language of technical specifications. "Well, actually..." or "There is some truth to what you're saying..." 

At the high end of the spectrum we find that so-called Causal Level communication is apophatic. It describes the limit condition of communication with self-cancelling words like: In-finite. Un-born. Motionless. Essential. Un-manifest. While truly Nondual language must blend and render partially indiscernible the given distinctions (neither unmanifest nor manifest...). Yet sages have traditionally tried to describe nondual experience through causal syntax or simple assertion or Amber conformity/rebellion, etc.


No zoologist would think of classifying a talking turtle as a walrus just because it claimed to be one! Likewise, if you asked a Chihuahua (a notoriously small, feisty Mexican dog) about its status -- and its relative fighting capacity -- you would get an answer that could hardly be used to classify it sensibly in the dog world. The content of articulations would lead us astray in these matters. 

Likewise, if a powerful being of pure light appeared in the sky and announced, "I AM THY GOD!" should we believe Him? Not necessarily. There is no proof in simple assertions. In order for our organization of the elements of reality to become deeper we must get beyond the more obvious types of categorization.

Closer to home, we run into all kinds of problems when we think that spirituality and enlightenment is closely associated with people who have books in the "spiritual section" or who claim to be enlightened gurus. Maybe they are... maybe they are not. The labeling must included but transcended in order to begin an integral analysis.


"God is a realization -- not a fact," said Adi Da. He was pointing out that Divine Consciousness is a very high level but making assertions about the nature of reality can be done at a very low level. But there are other problem with "God" as content. Any integralite is probably aware of the following situation:

A conservative-looking and fairly zealous "somebody" approaches you to ask if you believe in God. What do you say? Perhaps you just try to get away! Perhaps you want to engage. Maybe you want to describe your own large, practical and mystically-informed understanding of the Divine.

In any case you are aware that you do not really know that they mean. "God" (like "religion" or "spirituality") is a term which has at least a handful of quite distinct referents. Any argument or exchange of belief statements which pretends that we both know what we are talking about with the content word "God" will ultimately not get us very far. The context provided by the understanding of the proximity of distinct separate-but-connected meanings to each other provides the gateway to an integrative mode of handling communication.


The sexual abuse & exploitation of children is patently horrific. Despite children's vague resemblance to libidinous adult bodies, it is almost always a pathological integrity-breach to bring adult sexual impulses (forced or unforced) into the immature psychic field of a young child. Basic trust & the roots of healthy self-esteem, life-happiness and self-development are at stake.

So we are rightly quite aggressive in our civilized attempt to locate, impede & punish pedophiles. As an extension of this moral urgency, we try to seize upon the imagery of child sex crimes in order to help our investigations and evaluations. That is entirely sensible. However, when we find ourselves severely attacking those who are simply in nominal possession of "dangerous pictures" we find ourselves confronting the ethical specter of Free Speech. Do we wish to criminalize genres of images? In this case: yes. In general: no. Those two feelings must be integrated more intelligently...

Despite the abhorrent and always dubious origins of such imagery, we cannot be quite righteous when we treat "representations" as if they are facts. This is precisely the right we stand up for against homicidal zealots that would punish upsetting images of their prophet with murderous violence. Distressing imagery must be protected if modernity is to be preserved. This is a hard truth to swallow because it is so easy to target the contents of things.

Very few people have the patience, or additional evolutionary energy, to discriminate carefully between the content of images and the realities they depict. Yet an artist seeking to be provocative could readily construct horrifying images of child sex crimes freely from digital pixels such that no crime occurred at all. We may not like such a "artistic indulgence" but that is precisely because we rely emotionally upon the crutch of content in order to make our determinations about situations.

We too seldom remember that law enforcement officials in all the civilized countries of the world spend their days perusing such images in order to locate dangers in the real world and track down predators. These people may be distressed but they do not succumb to the images. There is no mass conversion into pedophilia. Rather, in general, they become increasingly sober about what is specifically horrific in these matters. This should be borne carefully in mind when considering neuro-spiritual doctrines that our inner life will be plastically reshaped by the images we are exposed to. In fact the content of the image is less significant than the context which the viewer brings to the image.

The same holds true for the considerably less vile form of content called "pornography" which supposedly present adults engaging consensually in graphic sexual acts for the provocation or lurid interest of other people. We may have very real concerns about the  social circumstances under which these films are mass produced and the emotional-social consequences upon the brains of people (especially men) who are constantly exposed to such material. However we find that we hyper-react in this area in ways that we would not react to graphic imagery of food of automechanics. We are primed to exaggerate our concern about the category of the content -- just as were the violent legions of patriarchal monotheists who, in the past, made genocidal war upon those who used statuary and imagery in their folk religion (often Goddess religions).

An MOA approach must turn again and again to the "how" of the viewer's context. This is the area in which our moral urgency must take effect. And, in fact, from this altitude, we could say that the problem is being evaded and made worse in the degree to which our concern fixates on the supposed type of content which is being presented.


It is the same with language.

Obviously there is a social practicality to certain words. If a group is upset by "nigger" then you invoke their displeasure with its use. And, just as certainly, there is an evolutionary obligation to consider the impact of unconscious language usage. At the same time, we know the offensive terminology changes from generation to generation and that obscene words in one language are nonsense in another. Thus your language and group-membership are the largest contributors to the problem of certain words -- not the words themselves. And again, while we wish to be practical, self-aware and socially sensitive, we can see that the subtle problem of offensive terminology is in fact maintained by attempts to police the language. The official or unofficial non-use of charged words allows those words to keep their charge. Again, treating the problem at the level of content permits its roots to go uninspected and unredeemed.


Integral values, post-modern values, rational values... these are all almost completely presumed from speak acts. Yet it should be rather obvious that "conformists" tend to conform to whatever is going around. And that those who operate from a context of symbolic efficacy believe in attributing all good-sounding virtues to themselves and their group... including rationality, tolerance, inclusion, etc.

When a "hip" group starts to seem offensive in the eyes of the public it is often because it is widespread enough to attract its own replication in people who are not at that level of hipness. The derogatory term "hipster" arises in part from a common experience of detecting a hypocritical element concealed beneath the obvious type of content which is being presented as personal style.

Likewise, although studies conflict, there is some data to indicate that violence has gone down in parallel with the rise of more violent video games. This would make no sense if we were simply accepting the content at face value as the type of pattern which is being created. Instead, we should be looking at how the filtering of violence through video games is different from the filtering of violence through gossip, television or literature. 


All of these examples are meant to suggest two things:

(a) in all social and spiritual matters the type of content being investigated is almost always less significant than it seems to us.

(b) that second tier approaches must rely increasingly on context rather than content in order to make their analysis and propose benevolent interventions.

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If I'm understanding you thesis correctly, then the implication of this is that  what something "is"  - the "referent" that a signifier is "pointing" to,  is not one thing, but must be an entire map of the field gradients of all of the enactments - of all of the collective constellating developmental signifieds of a given population.

To remove the content, this developmental signified would be represented as a vector quantity of magnitude (degree and/or quality of emotional charge) and direction (away from or towards some attractor).

In other words, what "dog" means (the referent that the signifier "dog" is pointing to)  is not some actual dog, but instead could possibly look something like a gradient map of many signifieds.  OR if we included some minimal content such as asking people where they would locate the referent you could produce an opinion poll population map overlayed on top of the AQAL four quadrant map, or even a kind of composite psychograph.   

We'd need to develop an appropriate state-space which would allow us to see the relationships of  all of the constellating developmental signifieds to each other.

So what does "dog" mean?  Survey says ......


"Second tier approaches must rely increasingly on context rather than content in order to make their analysis and propose benevolent interventions."

How would you relate this to Bryant's recent post, "does matter matter?" You are comparing content with context and he compares it with matter, a brand of context. He brings in McLuhan, who we are discussing elsewhere, media as message. Also the body as body, reminding me of your comments in the anti-capitalism thread.

Hi Joe,

Part (sic) of what I'm saying is that a referent is actually a constellating collective. That is one sensible way of articulating the ubiquitous slight mismatch between things and themselves.

The "space" between (the shared presumption of) a common referent and the population of referents which supports it -- is the factor which distinguishes second tier models from first tier models. This also, happily, signifies the use of nonduality as the organizational principle of theory.

The image you present of "gradient maps of vector magnitudes and directions" is very much the kind of mapping space which is required in order to make reliable sense of such a reality. We do not do away with content but (like "ordinary matter and energy" in physics) its role is reduced in the degree to which we cognize varieties of contextual mechanisms. As much in our moral responses to social issues as in our meditative experience as in our map-making.

A great contribution would be the development of a state-space in which the constellating "dogs of DOG" would be charted in their relationships to each other. This would be an elaboration of the much more basic move.

I have a dog in this race, Cerberus:

As I mentioned to Joseph (above) there is a strong parallel with the reduction of the significance of ordinary "stuff" in physics. The collective mind cannot help but be effected and/or reflected by prominent statements about how everything is only 17% of everything, etc. Bryant's tone exaggerates the dichotomy, I think. That is, the question "does matter matter" is provocative but sets our attention beyond the more nuanced issue which is the "lessening of how much matter matters". This latter topic also applies to his concern for separating matter from the limiting concept of itself. That is a variant of the MOA mood I am discussing... since it a contextualizing of the presumed category of content -- as true when we are dealing with universal content as when we are dealing with specific communications of content.

I generally agree with his remarks about how the "LR" is neglected by many good theorists. In many important respect our deep ethical concerns, moving through keen insights, still fail insofar as they respond to the presumed categories of content instead of reaching out to enfold the behavioral networks and styles-of-engagement which significantly reduce the important of the content.

McLuhan's simple observations that the effects of watching television far outweigh the effects of watching particular types of programs is a critical part of the what I am getting at in this thread. We would have expected people to grasp this point more readily than they do... unless it depends on a stage-like development. And then the issue circles back around to the content/context shift as being essential to the production of authentic second tier consciousness.

This is always quite close to some of your own concerns since integral-as-categorization-of-content is more like a horizontal elaboration, while the experiential instinct of integral-as-contextual-awareness signifies something more vertical. And that verticality, being an issue that leans toward context, involves to a large extent the re-situating of the existing content of previous levels.


theurj said:

"Second tier approaches must rely increasingly on context rather than content in order to make their analysis and propose benevolent interventions."

This is also the point I am making in my post on "photography and charged images"

What I'm trying to do in each case is to show the main subject dynamically within a larger context.  The content of the main subject is not the most important thing - it's the relationship of the subject to the larger context that counts - that's where the meaning comes from.  That's where the "charge" is located.

And from my post on Derrida:

Purpose of deconstruction: "to grant ourselves a limited degree of freedom from [the texts] to loosen up the hold of the picture these texts promote in our mind."

You see the homeomorphic equivalence I'm forming from this?  The purpose or effect of deconstruction is to loosen the hold which the collective complexes have on all of us.  When Derrida said "There is nothing outside of the text" (meaning everything takes place within contexts), we could just as easily put it as:  There is nothing outside of the complexes - nothing that's not being mediated by these individual and collective complexes.

Derrida's term "differance" can also be seen as the difference between a living speaker's intended meaning and the possibility of getting that intended meaning via a living dialogue with the speaker, and the meaning created after the fact by a reader of the text who is creating the meaning as a consequence of the individual and collective complexes (contexts) in place at the time of reading. 

As I see it, there can be a  form of deconstruction which is capable of bringing the apocalypse to a complex.  In other words, deconstruction can bring an uncovering, showing how the projection is coming from the complex as a relationship of interconnected stories, images, pictures, feelings and an underlying structure.  Deconstruction is showing how these things are both distinct and depend on each other in a network of associations - both it's synchronic structure and diachronic history.  Deconstruction can reveal both the instantiated content and the archetypal foundations which can lead to the withdrawing of the projections.

Creating photographs showing the subject in a larger context (or in a shocking or different context) can aid in the withdrawing of the previous projections - can aid in reducing the value of the content of the subject, and show how it's the context that's the important thing.

theurj said:

"Second tier approaches must rely increasingly on context rather than content in order to make their analysis and propose benevolent interventions."

How would you relate this to Bryant's recent post, "does matter matter?" You are comparing content with context and he compares it with matter, a brand of context. He brings in McLuhan, who we are discussing elsewhere, media as message. Also the body as body, reminding me of your comments in the anti-capitalism thread.

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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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