Recent discussions on the Integral Postmetaphysical Nonduality and the Privileged Access threads have prompted me to start this thread, which was originally a discussion I initiated at other Integral forums.  I think the issue raised here (Wilber's addressing conventions in relation to certain central terms, such as Emptiness) is relevant to other discussions we've been having.







In Integral Spirituality, Wilber proposes that a minimal Kosmic address should involve altitude/level plus quadrant/perspective (p. 264), and he also states that any positive statements about Spirit(+) must be replaceable with injunctive (!) language  or indications of address (ka) in order to avoid metaphysics (p. 269).  But when he mentions particular spiritual ultimates, he usually only indicates "state" and doesn't provide a full kosmic address (that is, if a full address requires an indication of altitude).  For instance, he writes Ayin (1-p, c/S) or Big Mind (1-p, nd/S), without indicating altitude. 


For example:


...[I]f I want to know if there is a referent to the signifier Ayin or Godhead, then one among the necessary routes is to take up a concentrative form of meditation, and learn to be able to keep my mind focused unwaveringly on an object for at least 30 minutes. (The longest the average adult can focus on an object in an unbroken fashion is for less than one minute.)  Once I can do that, which usually takes daily practice for about 3 years, then I need to look in an unbroken fashion at the nature of phenomenal reality as it arises moment to moment and see if there is, as directly seen or cognized in my own consciousness, anything that appears to be an empty ground to all of them. And then I need to compare this reality with my ordinary state of consciousness and decide which seems more real. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, a clear majority of those who complete this experiment report that the signifier Ayin or Emptiness has a real referent as disclosed by injunctive paradigm. That is, those who are qualified to make the judgment agree that it can be said that, among other things, Spirit(!) is a vast infinite Abyss or Emptiness(c/S, 1p), out of which all things arise. ~ Wilber, IS, p. 268



In this example, and throughout the text, Wilber only represents Emptiness and related terms with a perspective and state indicator.  This raises the following questions for me:


  • Does Wilber avoid indicating altitude for terms such as Ayin, Big Mind, or Emptiness because he believes "altitude" does not play any role in the experience or realization of these particular things, or was he perhaps just trying to keep things simple in his initial presentation?
  • More directly, does realization of "Ayin" or "Big Mind" involve altitude?  (If so -- which I suspect -- then I do wonder why Wilber has avoided explicitly indicating that in his writings so far (that I can recall)).
  • Related to this, as I discussed in a recent blog, when we find substantial agreement among mystics about "what" they are encountering, what degree do you think "altitude" is involved in that agreement?  To what degree is subtle, causal, and nondual experience the same across altitudes, and to what extent does it differ?  For instance, would a first-tier individual likely agree with a third-tier individual on the nature, meaning, role, implications, etc, of causal-state experience?


As I mentioned above, one of the things that prompted these questions for me was the fact that Wilber started a section his appendix on postmetaphysics (Appendix II) with a comment that he was going to look at the Kosmic addresses of several signifiers, namely dog, Santa Klaus, the square root of negative one, and Emptiness.  And I've read through the section several times and don't really find any explicit addressing of Emptiness (or Big Mind, Ayin, etc), other than the reference to it as a state, although he reiterated a number of times that a Kosmic address requires perspective and altitude at a minimum. So, I have been wondering to myself if he just skipped doing that for some reason, or whether there was a theoretical reason for specifically not indicating it.


I am interested in looking at this because, even if we keep certain elements in the addressing system themselves unaddressed (because they are components of addresses, like states, types, levels, etc), I don't feel comfortable simply equating things like Big Mind, Ayin, Emptiness, etc, with "state" (causal) and leaving the altitude marker off entirely. In my view, Big Mind, Ayin, Emptiness, and so on, are soteriologically efficacious realizations, which demand a certain level of cognitive and discriminative capacity, and so should not be simply equated with something like the deep sleep state -- even if we do find, through simultracking, that the causal/deep sleep state is always correlated with these experiences. 


With that said, while I don't find any explicit altitudinal addressing, in looking through Appendix II of IS, I find it does contain several statements which, taken together, would appear to support my main contention here, that even though Wilber didn't formally include altitude in the examples where he gave an address for things such as Big Mind, Ayin, and Emptiness, an altitude marker for these items nevertheless is appropriate:


"A more complete Kosmic address would include the full AQAL aspects of any occasion, but the point is that, at the very minimum, you need quadrants and levels, or perspectives and altitude." ~ p. 253.


"There simply is no such thing as 'the dog' that is the one, true, pregiven dog to which our conceptions give varying representations, but rather different dogs that come into being or are enacted with our evolving concepts and consciousness." ~ p. 260.


"The point is that any ontic or assertic mode (+) must be able to specify the Kosmic address of the referent of the signifiers, and this is true whether the referents are material, emotional, mental, or spiritual, it doesn't matter. Spiritual realities are on exactly the same footing as electrons, Gaia, rocks, and the square root of negative one." ~ p. 264.


"And one of the first things you find in the GigaGloss is that, to put it crudely, there are levels of God. That is, levels of the answers that spiritual intelligence delivers to the question, 'What is of ultimate concern, or ultimate reality, or ultimate ground?' There is a magic Ground, a mythic Ground, a rational Ground, a pluralistic Ground, a second-tier Ground, a third-tier Ground, and so on. As well as a gross, subtle, causal, and nondual version of each of those. But all of those signifiers have real referents in the only place that referents of any sort exist anyway: in a state or structure of consciousness. All referents exist, if they exist at all, in a worldspace, whose address is given minimally by quadrant (perspective engaged) and altitude/level (structure of consciousness enacted)." ~ p. 266.


Weaving these things together, (and, of course, in a more general sense, just approaching these questions postmetaphysically), I think it is justifiable to say that there is no single altitude-independent "Emptiness" or "Big Mind" showing up across multiple stages, (although a particular altitude-specific "Emptiness" can be retro-read back into prior stages and posited as "subsistent," from the perspective of the one making the assertion), and therefore, to avoid making metaphysical assertions, we need to include "altitude" on these terms as well.


Tentatively, just using the term Emptiness, I suggest that the sort of Emptiness described by Wilber in the quote above likely requires at least Amber-level cognition (for the individual to take the injunction and perform the interpretive analysis recommended), so the address would be something like (1p, 4/L, c/S), at minimum.  And for the Emptiness described and disclosed by Nagarjuna, I expect post-formal cognitive capacity is required, so I would address its altitude, minimally, at 6/L (if not higher).


What do you think?


Best wishes,



P.S.  I recently started a conversation on this topic over on David Marshall's Integral Archipelago, if you're interested in following it there.  This blog entry is a distillation and consolidation of several of my posts there.

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I also started a conversation about this on the Integral Life website. In that discussion, our general consensus was that Wilber might have left "altitude" out of his addressing of "state" terms such as Emptiness or Ayin or Big Mind for simplicity's sake, and I do believe that's possible; but considering some of his other conventions, such as tying addressing to "degree" or "depth" of consciousness as such (as Theurj is discussing), and his use of states (as "horizontal" constants or givens in the Wilber-Combs lattice, as we discussed in the Status of States discussions), it may be that he actually does want to exempt them from the altitudinal component of addressing, despite some of the statements I quoted above that seem to indicate that this would be inappropriate (and metaphysical).
It might've been in the status of states thread, and I'm sure in several others, that I've suggested that states and stages are not two different animals. It requires at least a formal operational cognition to even have these so-called subtle, causal and nondual state experiences via meditation, since they are, in fact, how formop integrates earlier cognitive levels/brain structures. So yes, we all sleep and dream but these states are not in themselves subtle and causal. They only become the latter through conscious(ness) practice. However, since formop is still representational it is "metaphysical" by definition and interprets a separation between states and stages, absolute and relative, and so on.

Graphically, instead of the WC lattice, put formop in the mid-point of a figure 8, with the "states" above and the "stages" below. This pictorially shows the inverse relationship.

Postmetaphysicality emerges at the postformal, but not sure specifically which particular stage, since there is no valid empirical research on this that I know of. Graphically this could be displayed as that midpoint expanded laterally into 4: systematic, metasystematic, paradigmatic and cross-paradigmatic. Get the picture?

PS: I did note previously though that one who moves into postformal cognition does not necessarily integrate the earlier stages because they might not enact that transformation via meditation practice. So we can have the case of an un-integrated postformal, postmetaphysicist as well as an integrated, formal metaphysicist. And of course an integrated, postformal postmetaphysicist.

But a pre-formal causal meditator? Unlikely. Recall that such traditions didn't start until the advent of formop in the Axial age. And that today it requires one be of a certain age to meditate, to have at least a rational ego, which I've said all along IS THE WITNESS! Ironically this witness in interpreted metaphysically, and how could it be otherwise since it arises in formop.
Recall this from the Buddhism and Psychoanalysis thread on Epstein:

"The development of mindfulness...involves a 'therapeutic split in the ego' in which the ego becomes both subject and object, observer and observed.

"Advanced stages of insight meditation involve profound experiences of dissolution and fragmentation, yet the practitioner, through the practice of 'making present,' is able to withstand these psychic pressures. It is the ego, primarily through its synthetic function, that permits integration of the experience of disintegration. In true egolessness, there could be only disintegration, and such a state would manifest as psychosis.

"Thus, mindfulness is not a means of forgetting the ego; it is a method of using the ego to observe its own manifestations."
Also the following from that thread, quoting Epstein from Chapter VI of the book:

"Beyond the Oceanic Feeling

"The equation of meditation with preverbal, symbiotic union or regressive oneness with the mother has gone virtually unchallenged within the psychoanalytic community" (124).

"Meditation practices that produce an experience of one-pointedness, of dissolution of ego boundaries and fusion with a primary object, do gratify the desire to unite the ego with that which it yearns to become. While recognizing the stabilizing impact of such experiences, traditional Buddhist psychology rejects the sole pursuance of such states" (134).

"The traditional psychoanalytic formulation of the relationship between meditation and primary narcissism is correctly conceived but incomplete and undeveloped. Buddhist meditation seeks not a return to primary narcissism but liberation from the vestiges of that narcissism. Concentration practices do indeed evoke the ego ideal and the oceanic feeling in a manner well described by generations of analytic commentators, but the mindfulness practices, which define the Buddhist approach, seek to dispel the 'illusory ontology of the self' encapsulated within the ideal ego" (136).

As I commented in the thread, Epstein is comparing types of meditation I'd call "causal," i.e., dissolution, as creating the ego ideal, a primary narcissism of regressive, oceanic union with the mother. Whereas mindfulness as he describes it uses the synthetic ego, per the previous post. Could it be that the kennilingus with his causal emptiness is guilty of the pre-trans fallacy here? Such irony...
And recall Sara saying this in the "status of states" thread:

"States and stages are two terms that originated from thinking at the Formal Operations order of complexity.... For example, how about the state of meditation, the ‘witnessing’ kind where the person watches their thoughts go by? It, too, is a formal operations activity, not 'transcendent' at all unless someone wants to project 'transcendence' on it.

"So, if I’m in the 'watching thoughts and objects' meditative mode, per above, I’m functioning with formal operations’ ability to reflect on thought. My physiological system is just humming along in 'on' position, and my brain (neurological) is active, though will gradually slow to alpha wave, a nice and relaxed neurophysiological condition. When my thoughts and visuals cease, my neurological activity goes not 'off' but to like an idling phase and my overt mental actions slide down the orders of complexity to doing nothing - order zero. Total inner silence, except for the awareness that there’s inner silence, nothing going on. While there is nothing going on, zero complexity. During or after (depending on the practice) formal operational reflection on the absence of thought, visuals, etc., along with enjoying the after-effects. In this analysis, rather than transcending (I cannot find anything that’s transcended - can anyone help me out here?) it is gradually turning off cognitive operations till maybe we hit zero complexity (with caveat repeated: if we are reflecting on the silence/void, we are performing formal operations cognitively and are still active, and something would likely be showing up on fMRI brain imaging).

"The real-time experience is relaxing - as Tom points out, the entire system is relaxed. The after-effects are pleasant. So, might we conclude that the subjective meaning we later assign to that state of relaxation could be whatever we individually want it to be? (this reminds me of the very old song, 'you say po-tah-to, I say po-ta-to'). Could be relaxing, spiritual, healthy, any number of classifications are possible, it seems to me."

In the section of the "Integral Semiotics" essay where Wilber discusses his Kosmic Addressing system, he argues that his semiotic/KA approach will allow us to avoid the common tendency to dismiss non-sensorimotor objects or referents as unreal.  For instance, he remarks that materialists frequently dismiss buddha-nature as unreal or imaginary because it doesn't have simple location in the sensorimotor world; or they identify it as an imaginal product of brain activity, as opposed to something that is being authentically perceived (as one perceives a real apple).

I'm curious about some of the examples he uses, however, to illustrate this, and wonder if they do the work he would like.  Several quotes to start with:

1) When we perceive an apple, and say “I see the apple,” and the brain lights up in a particular way, we do not conclude, “The apple only exists as a brainwave pattern; it otherwise has no reality.” No, we conclude that the apple is a real object in the real world, and as the brain perceives it, it lights up in various specific ways. But what happens when we say the same type of sentence but a different referent, such as, when engaged in contemplation, “I see God,” and the brain again lights up in a specific way. Do we give to God the same reality we gave to the apple, and conclude that God is a real phenomenon in the real world, and the brain is lighting up as it sees this real item? No, in fact we don’t. In fact, we do just the opposite.  We take whatever brainwave pattern we can find at the time—perhaps an increase in gamma waves—and we say, “When the brain produces excess gamma waves, then the subject will imagine that he or she is seeing God.” In other words, where with the apple the brainwaves are taken as extra proof that apples are real, with God, the brainwaves are taken as extra proof that God is just an imaginary object; it’s not real in the real world, but simply an imaginary product of certain brainwave patterns.

2) Simply giving a signifier or name to the object or event tells us nothing about whether that object or event is real (what about “unicorns,” or the “tooth fairy,” or “Santa Claus”? Turns out those are real, but only in the mythic worldspace. They cannot be found in the sensorimotor world, the rational world, the holistic world, etc., and are thus usually dismissed as fantasy, overlooking the genuine phenomenological reality those items have for those in the mythic worldspace, where those items are as real as any other object or event that can enter awareness at that level).   

3) For a unicorn, which exists in the mythic worldspace (or Level 11) and the interior individual quadrant #1 (as an imaginal object), the KA would be (Q/1, L/11). For Buddha-nature, which exists in the interior individual quadrant (Q/1) and the causal state (S/c), the KA would be (Q/1, S/c).

4) The KA of the square root of a negative one is in the Upper-Left (Q/1) at the orange, rational, or Level 12 worldview (in fig. TBA), or (Q/1, L/12)o.

How does an experience of "God," as a particular phenomenal enactment, relate to some of these other examples above -- and what sort of reality does Wilber's Kosmic Addressing system lend to it or ensure for it?  For instance, Wilber argues that modern researchers often incorrectly treat experiences of God as "imaginary" because there is no external object we can point to in the sensorimotor world to correspond to the experience, and suggests instead that an experience of "God" is indeed akin to "perceiving an apple," but that it takes place in a different worldspace.  He also argues that unicorns and the square root of negative one are as phenomenally real, in and for their respective worldspaces, as apples are in the sensorimotor worldspace.  But at the same time, he describes the unicorn as an imaginal object.  So, in what way is experiencing a unicorn similar to, and different from, experiencing an apple? or experiencing God?  Do these illustrations show us a way to rescue God from being "imaginary"?  Or do they simply demonstrate that imaginary phenomena, or conceptual phenomena, are also "phenomenally" real (at least to the extent that they can be experienced at particular stages of consciousness and that this experience will causally affect us in some ways)?  In my view, the examples of the imagined unicorn and the mathematical concept of the square root of negative one, do not require or entail that they must necessarily be other than brain activities (with phenomenal aspects) that are capable of top-down influence in their very emergence and manifestation.  If Wilber wants to rescue God from being a "brain activity," I'm not certain these examples of phenomenally real, world-space-associated mythic beings and mathematical concepts go quite far enough to achieve this...simply because these things, in themselves, do not contradict or decisively rule out their being dependent on (and/or inseparable from) our embodied cognition.  What do you think?

One possible (deeper) problem I see with the thrust of Wilber's argument is that it defines the real apparently exclusively in terms of the phenomenal or empirical:  what is "real" is what is phenomenally enacted / experienced.  In other words, there is a kind of "flatland" ontology which does not differentiate (as Bhaskar and OOO do) among gradations in ontic depth (such as the empirical, the actual, and the real).

On another note, which echoes some of the concerns in the opening post of this thread, I think there are issues with how Wilber kosmically addresses God or Buddha-nature, as Q/1, S/c.  In the opening post, I had argued that I found it problematic that Wilber never included (in Integral Spirituality) a stage designation when discussing experiences of Emptiness or Buddha-nature or Causal Spirit; he only included the quadrant and the state.  In the "Integral Semiotics" essay, he does include a stage designation (Ultraviolet, etc).  One of my concerns, however, is that he associates a state of consciousness (causal) with God or Spirit, by definition, and then introduces the stages to account for different developmental manifestations/experiences of God.  I personally find this problematic -- even though I have experienced causal awareness in profound ways via training in meditation, dream and sleep yogas, etc.  In my view, while we can interpret and experience causal awareness in terms of divinity, spirit, buddha-nature, etc, I think any one of these "insights" or interpretations must be associated with, and cannot be divorced from, other important aspects of Kosmic addressing (such as stage, type (culture), etc).  The causal state in itself isn't "given" as "God."

What do you think?

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