Here's a new piece of writing by Ken (though some of it looks like it is copied from an older text). 

Integral Semiotics

I have skimmed it, but I'm too swamped at the moment to give it careful attention.  I look forward to coming back to this in a few days.

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After reading that blog post and the foreword and excerpts of Speculative Grace that were available at Amazon (which I found compelling) I now have downloaded Miller's text on my Kindle. Et voila, I'm a reading philosophy book! Who'd a thought it?

Very cool.  I'm enjoying it so far (and just read a chapter -- on Subjects -- which I'd like to correlate with our reflections here on suobjects sometime...).  It also contains some sections on a Latourian reading of the "soul" which is relevant, to some extent, for a paper I've been planning on a similar topic.

Here is a quotation from Sex, Ecology, Spirituality:

"We can translate languages because, even if all contexts are situated, a great number of contexts are similarly situated across cultures. 'Context' does not automatically mean 'relative' or 'incommensurable.' It often means common: hence the existence of real transcendental signifieds. Even Derrida concedes this elemental fact. . . .

"Those not-merely-arbitrary worldspaces anchor the validity claims of any communicative act, and prevent contexts from spinning out of control endlessly . . . and meaninglessly. And if these extralinguistic or transcendent (or transcendental signifiers) factors function even in common everyday communication and everyday experience (as Habermas maintains and Derrida concedes), then we transpersonalists don't have to defend mysticism as being somehow exceptional and in need of any special defense in this regard." (SES, pp. 629-30)

So I think that's a pretty interesting idea. Most people do seem to use "context" with a local or personal connotation, but contexts can also be developmental and common (and must be if people can communicate at all).

Hi, David, I am not a Derrida expert, so maybe theurj can pipe in to correct me if I state anything incorrectly here, but my sense is that what Wilber means by "transcendental signified" is not really what Derrida was talking about.  Here, Ken is arguing (rightly, I think) that there are some contexts (or features of the world) which are "common enough" that translation and sharing of meaning is possible -- and he is calling these common contexts or referents "transcendental signifieds."  But when Derrida has used the term, he seems most often to have been referring to the idea that there is a central, fixed, absolute concept or signified which is independent of all contexts, and which is therefore the same (as dominant, ordering concept or meaning) across all contexts (because it is wholly present in and to itself, and therefore not dependent on anything else, i.e., "the metaphysics of presence" or "the myth of the given.")  Here, I don't believe he is either denying the existence of, say, physical referents or an "outside world," or suggesting that people can't have any common points of reference, understandings, etc.  Just that there is no utterly independent, self-contained, free-floating signified or concept that underlies or gets 'imported' intact from one context to another.

Since Wilber conceives of his common signifieds nevertheless as developmental and world-space-dependent signifieds, he is not actually describing "transcendental signifieds" in Derrida's sense.  These signifieds are not wholly transcendent, in other words (independent of all contexts whatsoever), but quasi-transcendent -- which appears to be similar to Derrida's position.

A relevant point can be found, I think, in the transition from cybernetics 1 to cybernetics 2.  In cybernetics 1, information is something separate from systems which is transported, as a whole, from one system or entity to another.  In cybernetics 2, information is always internal to autopoietic (or allopoietic) systems, intimately related to their distinctive structures, rather than a self-contained “message” that is transmitted, intact and unchanged, between systems.  In other words, this is an autopoietic / enactive model of semiotics. 

The idea of a transcendental signified would appear to be more compatible with the older, cybernetics 1 model, which conceived of information as a self-contained "unit" which is shared, like a token, between entities or systems. 

We discussed this on the forum before but for those unfamiliar see Desilet's essay on how Wilber misinterpreted Derrida on the transcendental signified. Here is a more recent Desilet essay which covers some of the same ground and some newer insights.

Some samples from the latter essay:

“If you want to know this, do this” (Wilber, 2006, p. 267).

"With respect to spirituality and the question of God, this means that in a very concrete sense the existence of God, the ultimate transcendental signified, is, in Wilber’s view, verifiable and may be verified by any person who chooses to undertake the demonstration. [...] It may be safely said there are no set of operations ensuring the level to which any given player can rise. Coaching and practice may be important ingredients but at a certain level of mastery it becomes difficult to instruct anyone on how exceptional greatness is achieved. The grandmaster’s difference is operationalized in game performances yet the secret of success remains hidden. The secret cannot itself be operationalized in a set of words or routines and provides an ongoing stimulus to others to uncover it. The secret is unobservable (say, in the grandmaster’s beetle box) but not therefore entirely inaccessible or untheorizable to the imagination due to its observed effects. This residual or partially hidden genius is anything but irrelevant."

"Within any circumscribed context certain invariants will become possible. [...] Within each of these selected spatial contexts it becomes possible to work with particular types of invariants allowing for repeatable measurements. But this is perfectly consistent with Derrida’s deconstruction, since the problems of underdetermination deconstruction underscores are a direct result of the problem of contextualization—which is the problem of the absence of an absolute context of contexts. [...] This means the problem of context is a problem not only of where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them in ways not so reductionistic as to become irrelevant to the complexity of the field of study.

"Wilber does acknowledge the important role of context and the constant shifting of context through time as presented in much of postmodern theory yet fails to theorize that role radically enough. Wilber’s analogy between Kosmic addressing and Einstein’s special relativity therefore remains inadequate to the challenge of deconstruction and the pervasive problem of contextualization. Wherever a context is drawn, there are always other ways of drawing it which then open the door to alternative addresses for selected things and events. The crucial problem, then, is not so much one of relativity as it is one of multiple contexts along with the underdetermination of signs—material, observable marks—within and through shifting and overlapping contexts.

"Furthermore, the limitation of addressing cannot be resolved by the notion that multiple contexts provide multiple addresses and thereby a complex convergence of object identity through an intersecting mapping of these multiple addresses. If each address is itself potentially incomplete and/or misdirecting, the accumulation of addresses may add stimulation and provoke thinking but cannot fulfill identity and overcome the potential for a 'misreading of signs.' Problems of iterability and underdetermination necessitate that any given address, contrary to Wilber’s claims and consistent with Derrida’s theorizing of language, does not and cannot ever provide an instruction which will guarantee arriving at a particular location. This is not to say Wilber’s addressing system cannot be useful. Instead, it points out that his addressing system does not rest on the kind of absolute foundation he claims for it in Integral Spirituality."

"An economy built around a principle of precise measurement, strict correspondence of cause and effect, and, speaking fiduciarily, a balance of payments, corresponds to a closed economy. Scientific theories of the natural world lean strongly in favor of theorizing whatever system is being observed as a closed economy because closed economies are more amendable to basic mathematical strategies of measurement and calculation. [...] But there are alternative economies of order, economies that see partiality (lack of fullness) and limitation (contamination) as a consequence of the nature of being itself, of the nature of all creation. Derrida (1978), following Georges Bataille, calls such an alternative economy of order a general economy. A general economy features the necessity of interrelation and dissemination of information or meaning as exceeding all measures of control and recuperation. It forms a law of irrecuperable loss. This general economy circulates around and through an excess irreducibly present in the nexus of causes and effects.

"This possibility for irrecuperable loss is theorized by Derrida in his notion of the trace—a term he finds descriptive of the quality of being. The trace is an absenting presencing, disappearing as it appears. In the process of emergence there is also loss [....] This feature of unpredictability (technically named entropy) is inherent in systems that lack strict causality.

"From the language Wilber uses in his current characterizations of spirit and enlightenment in Integral Spirituality it becomes clear his spirituality remains within what Derrida calls a restricted economy. All restricted economies fall within classical metaphysical traditions and cannot be regarded as in any profound sense 'post-metaphysical' as Wilber claims for his integral spirituality. There are two primary indicators for this assessment: 1) the deep structure of basic oppositions in Wilber’s notion of Spirit, such as, for example, Emptiness and Form, timeless and temporal and 2) the dominant role of notions such as union and oneness in his characterization of Spirit as well as the transcendence of enlightenment.

"In both of these [Wilber's] notions, Freedom and Fullness, a distinct betrayal of the nature of being. The ideal of 'fullness,' and of oneness with the fullness of the 'productions of time' through all of time is still a classic expression of the metaphysics dominating the entire history of humanity—the metaphysics of presence and the ideal of the fullness of the 'now.' For Derrida, being—adequately understood—necessarily precludes both the possibility of absolute Freedom and absolute Fullness. Freedom as freedom from loss and mortality and Fullness as oneness with all temporal creation are both paradigmatic symptoms of an orientation grounded in the metaphysics of presence."

Desilet refutes the notion that to attain to a signified, developmental or otherwise, one only need follow the injunction of those who claim to have it. Following the instruction to the letter does not guarantee one will arrive at the signified because in both the signifier and the signified there is a hidden and inaccessible ingredient, aka as the excess or the withdrawn. Such ingredients are inherent to general economies and are missing from restricted economies. The latter have clear lines of demarcation that are certainly useful in certain contexts, but they also presuppose a transcendent or absolute context like God or Spirit.

So yes, invariants or universals can be posited within any given economy. Or in Bryant's terms, within any marked space. But the unmarked space still remains, full of other possibilities where things can be otherwise. Hence there is no absolute outside of all context. This does not destroy meaning but rather provides it by defining one's terms in a context, and within which then one can draw universals. But they are conditional or quasi-universals. So the matter becomes not only "where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them" while avoiding a metaphysics of presence.

Also notice that within this field of matter (signifer) and meaning (signified) there are "shifting and overlapping contexts." We see the likes of this in Bryant's Borromean diagram and economy and not so much in the Lingam's, as the latter maintains a clear separation of transcendent and immanent aka a metaphysics of presence. As Desilet said, it is a matter of how we explain the relation between these complimentary planes, and one version is definitely (pun intended) of the restricted variety. And the latter is what I term metaphysical. More general economies I term postmetaphysical only in its refutation of restricted or transcendent versions, not in terms of positing an ontology of the ontic or metaphysics proper.

Yes, this is something I've thought about and noticed before as well.  There sometimes appears to be the suggestion that, if you're "at" this level, you will definitely see or realize "this" thing, or embrace "this" worldview, or interpret things "this" way ...  In other words, a kind of conflation of stage and structure with content.

theurj said:

Desilet refutes the notion that to attain to a signified, developmental or otherwise, one only need follow the injunction of those who claim to have it. Following the instruction to the letter does not guarantee one will arrive at the signified because in both the signifier and the signified there is a hidden and inaccessible ingredient, aka as the excess or the withdrawn. Such ingredients are inherent to general economies and are missing from restricted economies. The latter have clear lines of demarcation that are certainly useful in certain contexts, but they also presuppose a transcendent or absolute context like God or Spirit.

So yes, invariants or universals can be posited within any given economy. Or in Bryant's terms, within any marked space. But the unmarked space still remains, full of other possibilities where things can be otherwise. Hence there is no absolute outside of all context. This does not destroy meaning but rather provides it by defining one's terms in a context, and within which then one can draw universals. But they are conditional or quasi-universals. So the matter becomes not only "where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them" while avoiding a metaphysics of presence.

And hence my incessant critique that no one is ever at one level overall. Granted Wilber makes this point as well. But not only are we perhaps at different levels in different lines, but we can be at different levels within a particular line depending on different contexts or at different times. So I often articulate in what particular instance or context I find Wilber to be metaphysical or postmeta at which particular time on which particular issue.

One can still make or locate an 'address' given particular parameters, but that address is constantly shifting as contexts shift. Still, that very notion is a 'universal' of the postmeta address, generally speaking. I.e., differance is a universal but it appears differently depending on the context. Hence its different names depending on the source (con)text upon which it relates. Same difference.

Hey, guys. Thanks for the responses, and thanks for the links, Edward. Yes, I remember Desilet from way back when, a good man.

I am kind of in a hurry to catch a train this morning, so I have not read your page 12 posts yet. I will just respond to your page 11 posts, which I was considering last night but too sleepy to type.

1. It seems as though there might be some semantic confusion between Desilet and Wilber. My impression from a quick re-reading of Desilet's argument last night was that he may think Wilber was taking the phrase "transcendental signified" more literally than he was. Desilet talks about the idea of Derrida throwing away his whole project with an admission of a pure transcendental signified as preposterous, and I think he would be right if that were what Wilber was alleging. But it seems like Wilber was using a phrase from the representational paradigm ("transcendental signified") to refer to something like quasi-transcendental signifieds and that Derrida was doing the same thing (and then trying to come up with something slightly different with "transformation," which may have gone too far in the other direction). Does this make sense?

2. Another confusion I think may stem from Wilber's choice of words. Sometimes he exchanges words a little too freely and isn't as precise as we would like, leaving a little ambiguity. Joel pointed out something like that the other day (using "rare" in two different ways in one paragraph, as I recall, once to mean not common, once to mean elite).

So we have two ideas here that seem to be related and imply one another:1) developmental contexts or common contexts (worldspaces) and 2) quasi-transcendental signifieds (or quasi-common referents). It seems to me that to say one is to imply the other, so when Wilber talks about common contexts he is also talking about quasi-transcendental signifieds, while Derrida's and Desilet's focus was on the quasi-transcendental signified side of that pair. Does that make sense?

3) So the third thing refers to this from Derrida:

"b) nor is it a question of confusing at every level, and in all simplicity, the signifier and the signified. That this opposition or difference cannot be radical or absolute does not prevent it from functioning, and even from being indispensable within certain limits—very wide limits. For example, no translation would be possible without it."

So my reading is that if there were such a thing as a pure transcendental signified or pure presence (which there isn't; there is just enough of a quasi-common referent or transcendental signified to make sense of ideas like a diamond cutting glass in every culture), the "opposition" or "difference" would be radical and absolute. Derrida is saying it isn't radical or absolute (isn't a pure presence or a pure transcendental signified), but just somewhat transcendent, quasi-transcendental, enough to make some meaningful translation possible. Does this make sense? It seems to me that  an "opposition" or "difference" that falls short of being "radical" and "absolute" is Derrida's way of referring to that which makes translation somewhat functional.  Does that make sense?

4. So it seems that Wilber was using language ("transcendental signified" rather than "quasi-transcendental signified") that led Desilet to believe he was referring to a pure presence, rather than quasi-transcendental signifies arising in common developmental contexts. Later in the Integral Spirituality note Wilber writes:

"Overall, then, we might note that AQAL includes signifiers and signifieds and referents, including both their sliding (or relativistic, culturally-specific) and their non-sliding (universal) aspects [emphasis in original] (Wilber, 2006, note, pp. 155-56)."

So when he talks about culturally specific aspects and universal aspects I think he's trying to imply something like quasi-transcendental signifieds, but doing so by talking about both the local and global as separate aspects. Maybe Desilet missed this and thought he was accusing Derrida of admitting to a pure transcendental signified or pure presence. Just after he quotes that Wilber passage, Desilet writes:

"Derrida's admission, according to Wilber, marks a grudging capitulation to the necessity for an absolute ground, some manner of absolute transcendence in systems of meaning in order for such systems to be in any genuine sense meaningful. Wilber appears to have first introduced this reading of Derrida at a much earlier date than the Integral Spirituality text (e.g., Wilber, 2000, pp. 601-602)."

It sounds like with "absolute ground, some manner of absolute transcendence" Desilet interprets Wilber as referring to a pure transcendental signified, rather than a quasi-transcendental signified (or referents with universal and global aspects).


What do you think?"

I think that Desilet is quite accurate. I've been making some of these same criticisms on the forum for years. It comes down to a legitimation battle for the better postmetaphysical modeling.

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