Knowing and unknowing reality: A beginner's and expert's developmental guide to post-metaphysical thinking

Here is the issue. From the Preface:

Depending on one's tolerance, or even love, for uncertainty and the unknown, "post-metaphysical thinking" can be either a fascination or a real downer. And by "interest in uncertainty and the unknown" I don't mean that effervescent attraction to the mystical, magical, esoteric, and unbelievable – I mean the blunt confrontation with how, when it comes down to it, the certainty that one holds for much of one's beliefs and knowledge is bewilderingly undeserved. To get the most out of this text it is best to consider how it applies to one's own knowledge, in addition to reading it as an exploration of the indeterminacies of knowledge in general. But for those truly interested in where the post-metaphysical arrow points, you know that it is about attitudes of deep curiosity, listening, and humility – skills of letting go, letting be, and letting come – that we long to see more of in our world. Here already the reader can sense how being "post-metaphysical" relates to spirituality.

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So our basic categories are embodied with image schemas that arise from our interactions with the world. Recall that one of the image schemas is the part-whole gestalt, aka mereology. Since image schemas and basic categories operate below conscious attention we’ve come to assume that they are inherent to the world themselves and thus project this notion of 'natural hierarchy, with its most developed forms in Aristotelian abstract, nested, categorical hierarchies. All of which assumes a basic, particular and inherent 'constituent' as foundation at the bottom and/or a general and inherent 'being' as foundation at the top. Meanwhile the process actually begins in the middle of the classical taxonomy and we get more abstractly specific 'downward' and more general 'upward' from there with a useful but constructed hierarchy. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate hierarchy per se, just contextualizes it is a more naturalistic way and only eliminates its dualistic and metaphysical elements, elements which have some form of inclusivism and hegemony at its core. The notion of holons as involutionary givens is one of those metaphysical elements, and as we’ve seen this is much better explained by the part-whole gestalt properties of the container schema.

I was just re-reading some of Lakoff & Nunez, Where Mathematics Comes From. Even in math there is no one correct or universal math. There are equally valid but mutually inconsistent maths depending on one's premised axioms (354-55). This is because math is also founded on embodied, basic categories and metaphors, from which particular axioms are unconsciously based (and biased), and can go in a multitude of valid inferential directions depending on which metaphor (or blend) is used in a particular contextual preference. Hence they dispel the myth of a transcendent, Platonic math while validating a plurality of useful and accurate maths.

However Lakoff & Nunez do not see the above as relativistic postmodernism (pomo) because of empirically demonstrated, convergent scientific evidence of universal, embodied grounding of knowledge via image schema, basic categories and extended in metaphor. They see both transcendent math and pomo as a priori investments.

From Lakoff & Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, Chapter 1:

“For the sake of imposing sharp distinctions, we develop what might be called essence prototypes, which conceptualize categories as if they were sharply defined and minimally distinguished from one another. When we conceptualize categories in this way, we often envision them using a spatial metaphor, as if they were containers, with an interior, an exterior, and a boundary. When we conceptualize categories as containers, we also impose complex hierarchical systems on them, with some category-containers inside other category-containers. Conceptualizing categories as containers hides a great deal of category structure. It hides conceptual prototypes, the graded structures of categories, and the fuzziness of category boundaries.”

This is the crux of the AQAL developmental holarchy lens/metaphor, itself only one of a multitude of lenses/metaphors. Its inference structure indeed hides a great deal of other categorical structures discussed in the book. While this lens is useful and consistent within its own limited inferential structure, it is inconsistent with other equally valuable metaphorical inference structures. L&J make clear there is no one structure that is the foundation for the others. Hence the problem is that we take the holarchy lens to be THE defining context within which all others must be contextualized, often based on some metaphysical premise that it's the way reality itself is organized.

We can also conceptualize container schema differently, i.e., where a so-called smaller holon is not subsumed in a larger one but in which they share a space-between as Edwards calls it. It offers an entirely different approach to hierarchy because the interacting holons retain their autonomy. They structurally couple and create another holon altogether instead of one being subsumed or nested in the other.

This is especially significant when you take into account basic categories, which are in the middle of typical taxonomic hierarchies. That is, a hierarchy does not start with the most particular type which is subsumed into the most general type. Those two abstract ends of the spectrum are literally tied together by the basic category in the middle, the most concrete and thus the most closely interactive with the world. Hence this hierarchy is in effect from the middle up and down so that the very nature of hierarchy is entirely different than the typical one. Hence hier(an)archical synplexity.

I discussed this at length and in depth in both the states/stages and real/false reason Ning threads.

More from Philosophy in the Flesh, chapter 7. It's relevant because much of developmental notions of hierarchy are based on set theory:

"Spatial relations concepts (image schemas), which fit visual scenes, are not characterizable in terms of set-theoretical structures. Motor concepts (verbs of bodily movement), which fit the body's motor schemas, cannot be characterized by set-theoretical models. Set-theoretical models simply do not have the kind of structure needed to fit visual scenes or motor schemas, since all they have in them are abstract entities, sets of those entities, and sets of those sets. These models have no structure appropriate to embodied meaning-no motor schemas, no visual or imagistic mechanisms, and no metaphor."

From chapter 6: "As Kuhn saw, the history of science yields cases of scientific revolutions. For us, these are cases in which new metaphors replace old ones, in which the new metaphor is incommensurable with the old metaphor, and hence an entire discipline is reconceptualized."

Hence embodied realism (real reason) transcends and replaces formal realism (false reason) a la worldview replacement.

Mark Edwards' Ph.D. thesis turned into a book, available here. Check out the different lenses in Chapter 6 and how he relates them in Chapter 7.

"In general, theorists rely on only a small number of conceptual lenses in developing their explanations of organisational transformation. This means that, for example, process theorists ignore structural lenses, such as those used by multilevel theorists, and developmental theorists make very little use of the transition process or learning lenses. Theorists who come from a standpoint or relational perspective often neglect the developmental and multilevel lenses and those lenses expressed as bipolar dualisms. In fact, the extensive list of lenses in Table 7.1 suggests that most theorists are relying on a relatively limited conceptual base in developing explanations for transformational occurrences. This exclusionism has several unfortunate implications for theories of transformation in organisational settings" (134).

Now Edwards admits that he's using the holonic lens as a 'scaffold' to accommodate all the lenses (189). That lens is the container schema according to cogsci. And it has its own premises and inferences that apply to that schema, but it is only one of dozens of schemas. So I question that the holonic lens can truly provide a syntegrative scaffold for all the other lenses. Lakoff et al. certainly do not use the container schema to do that with the other schemas.

Tom replied: These are great L&J quotes Edward, thanks. As is obvious I am also a big fan of Philosophy in the flesh. But it also strikes me that the developmental lens never made its way into their work. Lakoff’s later work on political themes (Don’t think of an elephant) was even more hobbled by this lack. I understand why it happens and is hard to change, but its such a shame how academia operates in such tight sub-disciplinary silos. I had the same concern about Haidt’s work, excellent but noticeably could benefit from the developmental lens. I hear that Haidt has recently been turned on to developmental theories though, so we will see. Not that adult development is the end-all of theories, but its unfortunate how little of academia is even familiar with it.

I said: There could be a number of reasons for that. One is that the developmental metaphor (lens) is just one of a multitude. And as they note, each primary metaphor has its own valid and coherent inference structure. However they are not valid and coherent with other base metaphors. And typically philosophies are a hybrid mix of basic metaphors, revealing those internal inconsistencies that either get glossed over or require some rather twisted logic to get them to cohere. There is no dominant lens to rule them all, so to speak.


Another reason is as noted above that the hierarchical lens, key to developmental models, uses the container schema as one of its guiding metaphors. But that “hides conceptual prototypes, the graded structure of categories and the fuzziness of category boundaries.” Using the latter challenges the very structure of the developmental model. We can also conceptualize container schema differently, i.e., where a so-called smaller holon is not subsumed in a larger one but in which they share a space-between as Edwards calls it. It offers an entirely different approach to hierarchy because the interacting holons retain their autonomy. They structurally couple and create another holon altogether instead of one being subsumed or nested in the other.


This is especially significant when you take into account basic categories, which are in the middle of typical taxonomic hierarchies. That is, a hierarchy does not start with the most particular type which is subsumed into the most general type. Those two abstract ends of the spectrum are literally tied together by the basic category in the middle, the most concrete and thus the most closely interactive with the world. Hence this hierarchy is in effect from the middle up and down so that the very nature of hierarchy is entirely different than the typical one. Hence hier(an)archical synplexity.


I’m also thinking of the following from Chapter 7 of PITF, challenging the set theory aspect of developmental premises.


“Spatial relations concepts (image schemas), which fit visual scenes, are not characterizable in terms of set-theoretical structures. Motor concepts (verbs of bodily movement), which fit the body’s motor schemas, cannot be characterized by set-theoretical models. Set-theoretical models simply do not have the kind of structure needed to fit visual scenes or motor schemas, since all they have in them are abstract entities, sets of those entities, and sets of those sets. These models have no structure appropriate to embodied meaning-no motor schemas, no visual or imagistic mechanisms, and no metaphor.”


Hence that variety of set theory used to justify developmental hierarchy is not based on embodied premises. I explore this in great detail in the Ning IPS thread real/false reason.

I also commented at IC:

As noted above, prototypes are not based on necessary and sufficient conditions, the latter being a requirement for hierarchical complexity. Commons admits as much in this article. Note the axioms which satisfy the requisite necessary and sufficient conditions in terms of set theory. Prototype theory challenges the very edifice upon which developmental models depend. No wonder Lakoff et al. don’t go there. I’d even suggest that the sort of necessary and sufficient logic of set theory, not being embodied, is quite literally metaphysical and hence not what is considered postmetaphysical.

Lakoff also noted in Women, Fire and Dangerous Things:

"The classical theory of categories provides a link between objectivist metaphysics and and set-theoretical models.... Objectivist metaphysics goes beyond the metaphysics of basic realism...[which] merely assumes that there is a reality of some sort.... It additionally assumes that reality is correctly and completely structured in a way that can be modeled by set-theoretic models" (159).

He argues that this arises from the correspondence-representation model, a metaphysical system.

And this one is significant, which was made apparent in my discussions with Commons:

"In objectivist cognition, concepts by definition exclude all nonobjective influences.... For example, the properties of basic level concepts [their embodiment]...cannot be true properties of concepts in an objectivist theory" (165).

Hence the complete avoidance of Lakoff's (and company) work; it is not "objective" and proven (i.e., circle-jerked) with so-called objective, mathematical, set-theorectical axioms.

And this one that nails the MHC's categorization structure:

"The classical theory comes with two general principles of organization for categories: hierarchical categorization and cross-categorizaton. [In the former] a partition of a category into sub-categories such that all members are in one, and only one, subcategory.... [In the latter] a number of hierarchical categories at the same level.... [these] are the only organizations of categories that exist" (166-7).

A key reason Lakoff is ignored by hierarchical complexifiers:

"It is the classical concept of a category, the concept that contemporary research on prototype theory claims is untenable as a fully general approach. If that concept changes in an essential way, then most, if not all, of objectivist metaphysics and epistemology goes. What is at stake is a world view" (174).

Yep, a formop worldview dressed up as postop and integral, with the math to prove it. Never mind that the math is also formop based on classical category theory. Lakoff challenges the  unconscious presuppositions and premises upon which such theory is based and taken as given.

Tom replied to my comment below:

"I’m not sure I would take it quite that far Edward. What prototype theory does is not so much invalidate hierarchies, as show that, assuming they do roughly approximately capture some aspect of reality (which I think they do), they are imperfect maps. In the same way that simple concepts (as categories) are partial truths but err in forcing clean boundaries (and clean hierarchical relationships). I do think that prototype theory and the theory of “natural kinds” in concept formation is incredibly important for all theory makers and users to know about."

Which I followed up with the last post above.

Edward theurj Berge said:

I also commented at IC:

As noted above, prototypes are not based on necessary and sufficient conditions, the latter being a requirement for hierarchical complexity. Commons admits as much in this article. Note the axioms which satisfy the requisite necessary and sufficient conditions in terms of set theory. Prototype theory challenges the very edifice upon which developmental models depend. No wonder Lakoff et al. don’t go there. I’d even suggest that the sort of necessary and sufficient logic of set theory, not being embodied, is quite literally metaphysical and hence not what is considered postmetaphysical.

My additional comment: 

Now I am not saying that this negates development per se, just that it challenges how it is modeled based on set theory. It does answer though your question as to why Lakoff hasn’t written about development, and vice versa why developmentalists have tended to ignore or brush off Lakoff. Some exceptions to the later are you, Edwards et al. and me.

Edwards & company do though challenge via Lakoff some of the more metaphysical premises in their “inter-bridging” piece in this IR issue. E.g. their approach has a virtual center and is not centered around a “metaphysical harmony, nor an underlying unity-oriented ideal(ism). Rather, it embraces demands of diversity, complexities, intricacies and ambiguities of bounded organizational realities.” This is given their multi-lens approach, of which the holarchical is but one, and challenges the metaphysical premise of those philosophies or models that are centered on an objectivist or representational notion of reality, a characteristic postmetaphysical criticism.

So yes, the holarchical lens is indeed valid within its own axiomatic premises, and Lakoff et al. do recognize the container schema as a valid image schema and from which the holararcical lens extends in metaphor. And Lakoff does admit that image schema are based on a whole-part gestalt. It’s just that such an embodied gestalt has a different inference structure that is not based on a particular set theory’s necessary and sufficient conditions but on the graded category structures of our embodiment.

Hence those structures are organized differently in what I’ve come to call hier(an)archical synplexity. I don’t have a full-blown theory of that yet but I’m working on it. My IR article gives a few hints in that the parts of any whole are not fully subsumed into that whole but retain their autonomy and ‘share spaces’ in those intersections. That is explored in a few of the Ning threads which I may go into more detail later. Development yes, as stated in set theory not so much.

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