Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
This is an old blog entry of mine, which I am reposting here since it represents some of my thinking on this subject at the time I first created the Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum. At the beginning of the entry, I refer to some prior discussions on Gaia, but you do not need to have read them to follow the entry.
For several weeks now, ever since Julian posted his Simply Put series and I responded with a Simply Put entry of my own, Julian and I have been debating whether or not Wilber's writings on Integral Postmetaphysics and the myth of the given in Integral Spirituality open the door in the Integral community to relativism, magical thinking, pre/trans fallacies, and so on. In a recent blog entry, Julian challenged me to write "a piece that puts IPM ideas in their proper context with regard to truth, falsity, pathology, stages of development, and left/right distinctions."
This entry is my response to that challenge. I am going to approach this somewhat informally, not presuming to speak on behalf of Wilber or the Integral community at large, but just talking about how I relate to these ideas in my own thought and practice. For now, I will talk about how IPM handles the issues of truth, falsity, pathology, and left/right distinctions. I will return to stages of development (which I believe are implicit in what I'm writing below) in a later entry, or in the comments section of this blog, if necessary.
In my Simply Put entry, I wrote, "In Integral post-metaphysics, discussion of 'the real' can be understood as making a claim about how a given conperception will behave across a wide range of circumstances - we can count on it to operate in certain ways and be subject to certain kinds of confirmation." To explain what I mean by this, I want to take a step back and say something about how I view AQAL and Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). To do this, I will appeal to a paper which is not part of the Integral literature, but which I believe is consonant with the aims of Integral Postmetaphysics: A Cure for Metaphysical Illusions: Kant, Quantum Mechanics, and the Madhyamaka, by Michel Bitbol. In it, Bitbol argues for a functional-operational integration of the three perspectives named in the subtitle of the essay.
While AQAL is often discussed and, unfortunately, treated as a static map, I believe Integral Methodological Pluralism invites us to see it in more dynamic, enactive terms, as a sort of integrative operator. In this conception, the constitutive paradigms of AQAL/IMP - science, philosophy, linguistics, religion, and so on - are themselves understood as operators rather than representational maps. For instance, following Michel Bitbol's description, "scientific theories [are] operators of structuring our actions within the world and of anticipating their outcomes." Science here is understood dynamically and enactively, not as a revealer of static, underlying, universal, pre-given truths, but as the product of the disciplined co-interaction of human subjects and the (indeterminate) wholeness of reality. Similar enactive or operational readings can be given of other paradigms as well. If we adopt this view, then AQAL, via Integral Methodological Pluralism, becomes, not simply a map of what is "already there," independent of all perspectives, but a higher order, creative enactment itself. With regards to this notion, Bitbol makes a point which I think suggests a very helpful way to hold the whole project of Integral Methodological Pluralism:
Insofar as [transcendental philosophy, quantum mechanics, and the Middle Way] are nothing but tools (operators), the three terms to be related must be taken as plastic and evolutive; each term has to be seen in the context of its history, of its potential developments, and of the dynamics of its possible coadaptation to the other terms rather than treated as a closed doctrinal system.
With this move, he outlines a fruitful integrative approach that avoids the problems of naïve representationalism and is quite consonant with the enactive perspectivism of Integral Postmetaphysics.
Truth and Falsity
If, as is suggested by the Integral Postmetaphysical approach, we abandon the idea of a single, pre-given world order for one and all and accept that everything in the phenomenal world that we can point to is, first and foremost, a perspective (or perspective-occasion, as Wilber sometimes puts it), what happens to the notions of truth and falsity? Must notions of "truth" and "reality" be thrown out? Clearly not -- not in a system such as AQAL which attempts to honor and integrate as many (relative) truths as possible. But we will need to let go of any residual attachment we may have to the naive metaphysical realism that under girds popular understanding.
From the perspective of scientific theories as operators, we can say that something is "objective" if certain relationships among phenomena can be observed universally, or across a stable range of circumstances, by active human subjects. As Kant showed us, this invariant relational patterning of phenomena says nothing about "intrinsic properties" of things-in-themselves. Because we cannot extract ourselves from the overall situation to adopt a view from nowhere, we can at best study the form given to phenomena by our cognitive apparatus. But as developmental psychology and relativistic/quantum science have shown us, our cognitive apparatus is neither static in its organization nor endowed (as Kant had originally argued) with a priori forms which are valid at all levels of phenomenal reality. The phenomenal world enacted by human beings is, in some important respects, enacted differently by human beings at different times and in different developmental or even cultural contexts, with no apparent perspective available that we can hope to appeal to as final or decisive.
Does this leave us stranded in a flatland, radical relativist swamp?
Not from the point of view of Integral Postmetaphysics. But while, according to AQAL, all holons or perspective-occasions are understood to have an objective component (and therefore are not merely products of our psychology or our cultural conditioning), the way forward does not lie in finding a way to separate out the "factual part" from the "conventional / constructed part." To imagine we can do so is to commit a fallacy of division.
Rather, as I suggested above, the postmetaphysical approach is an operational one: when we argue that something is real or true, we are making a claim about how a given conperception (a construct-perception) will behave across a wide range of circumstances. We are saying that we can count on it to behave in certain ways and be subject to certain kinds of confirmation within a given set of operational parameters. If a claim cannot be confirmed in these ways, we are justified in rejecting it as false.
Thus, as Wilber and Bitbol both suggest, if we take on board ...
* The Madhyamaka critique of ontology (which demonstrates that, try as we might, we will not be able to find any self-existent things-in-themselves)
* An operational or enactive approach to cognition and epistemology, such as Varela's autopoeisis or the Neo-Kantian transcendental philosophy of science (which proceeds by identifying invariants [objectivation] and distinguishing them from the noninvariant remainders of any perspective-occasion [subjectivation], without ever having to appeal to correspondence to an absolute, independent, pregiven reality)
* The implications of postmodern science / quantum theory (which challenge us to reconsider our attachment to object ontology)
* And the constructivism, contextualism, and integral aperspectivism of postmodern philosophy
... we will still be able to pursue rigorous scientific inquiry, make objective determinations, and differentiate true claims from false ones based on integrative operational procedures (which IPM situates in AQAL space).
The above discussion was concerned mainly with truth, which in Integral Theory would be considered an Upper Right (singular objective) type of validity claim. But Integral Postmetaphysics is equally concerned with other types of validity claims, from truthfulness (Upper Left) to rightness (Lower Left) to functional fit (Lower Right). Pathology in an individual can be understood from any of these perspectives (UR neurophysiological disorders; LL intersubjective issues, such as family conflicts or problems; UL psychological disorders; and so on). In my discussions with Julian, it appears he has mostly been concerned with left-hand manifestations of pathology ... and whether IPM undermines our ability to make sound determinations in this area.
Honestly, I am not clear why he expects this difficulty to arise. It can't be the subjective or even intersubjective bias that I believe he fears may infect IPM, since psychological assessment of pathology is already an inter/subjective exercise. Is it the nondual element? If so, that need not pose a problem either: non-dual does not mean "all one, without distinctions"; it points to the radical interrelationship and co-determination of all phenomenal appearances. This perspective can be seen as consonant, in some respects, with Object Relations theory, which has a sophisticated model for understanding the intersubjective generation of the object-relational self (e.g., a self which lacks inherent self-existence). But although Object Relations theory is a constructivist approach, which like Buddhism understands self and object as interdependent and co-emergent, it still has no compunctions powerfully modeling the etiology of different forms of pathology, or suggesting constructivist ("structure building") interventions to alleviate suffering and dysfunction.
If students of Integral for some reason come to the strange conclusion that a perspective grounded in nondualism, or which admits postmodern intersubjectivity, is incompatible with the notion of the existence of pathology, they need look no further tha Object Relations theory - if not Buddhism, which freely diagnoses Samsaric illnesses and prescribes spiritual and psychological cures. They might also read Wilber's thoughts on the nature of UL pathology as set forth in Excerpt C of the Kosmos Trilogy:
Many psychological symptoms--interior feelings of anxiety, depression, phobia, obsession, compulsion--are the disguised forms of feelings and impulses that, for whatever reason, are too dangerous to the I-space to allow them to arise in their raw and naked forms, and thus they have to be "clothed" in more acceptable fashions. Put bluntly, the psyche lies to itself, becomes false to itself, is no longer being truthful about its own interiors--the price of which is psychological pain and suffering.
(Truthfulness, recall, is the selection pressure, or validity claim, of the UL quadrant. The types of psychopathology we are investigating here involve violations of this integrity or truthfulness, the price of which is psychological anguish, suffering, angst. When the self is untruthful, it damages its internality codes and boundaries, or the ways to tell with integrity what is true self and what is false self. A history of interior deception, untruthfulness, lying to oneself, deceiving oneself, is the beginning of the creation of a false-self system, the beginning of a kosmic habit as a negative karmic stream of dis-integrity that lives on lies. It is this false self we are briefly examining, which is not to say that other things aren't also happening with psychological dys-eases, including, e.g., UR neurotransmitter imbalances, LL family problems, LR economic factors, and so on. We are here simply focusing on the UL manifestation of the knot in the Kosmos identified as a "psychological symptom.")
In this example, an original feeling of "anger," which is not allowed by the self's agency, regime, or code (because it is a nice person), is mis-translated as "depression" and thus allowed to arise in the I-space as long as it is wearing that disguise, a disguise that is accompanied by suffering as the price of untruthfulness.
Wilber's perspective here does not depend for its validity on a commitment to metaphysical realism or foundationalism. The diagnosis of pathology, in any of its guises, is something that can be handled operationally within the context of Integral Postmetaphysics, without being compromised - as Julian unnecessarily fears - by the fact that all such determinations are necessarily relative.
By left/right distinctions, I believe Julian means a clear differentiation between the actuality of the physical world and the inter/subjective influences of personal history and culture.
Integral Postmetaphysics is neither solipsistic nor a form of subjective idealism. It does not deny the existence of a world outside of or beyond the individual observer, nor does it suggest that the individual observer is solely "responsible for" or the generative source of that world. The world is not merely a concept or belief. However, following the Madhyamaka analysis and the insights of postmodern philosophy and science, IPM legitimately challenges the notion that this "external reality" consists of absolute, pre-given, abiding, self-existing objects.
Conventionally, we can still speak of "the world." But from an Integral Postmetaphysical perspective, it is more appropriate to speak of world orders or worldspaces, since the four quadrants of AQAL, while distinguishable, are inseprable and always co-implicated, meaning that the world we interact with and describe is always "the-world-as-it-appears-to-this-subject-at-this-AQAL-address." As perceptual relativists point out, individual objects do not exist independently of our conceptual models. Objects represent particular patterning "cuts" that we impose on the whole of reality (implying that there are other ways the whole could be conceptually sliced and divided). A cognitive scientist such as Francisco Varela might point out that there nevertheless appear to be objective constraints on how human beings carve up the world; that it is not wholly arbitrary, and that certain divisions appear to be nearly universal for human subjects, suggesting the impingement of culture-independent objective patternings. Thus, even though we may not be able to separate the "factual" from the perspective-dependent or "conventional" aspects of any observed phenomenon, neither can we attribute the existence or "order" of the world solely to Lower Left, intersubjectivist patterns or influences. The Right Hand quadrants cannot be reduced out of the picture, or subordinated to the whims and influences of the individual observer.
From the point of view of the Madhyamaka, and of IPM as well, neither the objects on the right hand or the subjective patterns on the left are inherently self-existing -- they are co-dependently originated, tetra-enacting, and thus, in the ultimate Buddhist analysis, "empty." But emptiness is not a denial of existence; without this radical interdependence, no world order at all would ever appear or get off the ground. Therefore emptiness does not constitute grounds for ignoring or dismissing the importance of either the subjective and objective dimensions of experience in human life. To privilege one side over the other is to move in the direction of reification, metaphysical illusion, and potential pathology or disorder.