Magic Circles, Generative (En)closures, and Kosmic Foam

I've been asked to give a brief presentation at an Integral event in March, and have been thinking for awhile about what to do.  I finally decided on a topic which will involve an elaboration on several themes in my recent trans-lineage spirituality paper.

Magic Circles, Generative (En)closures, and Kosmic Foam:  A Trans-lineage Vision of Spiritual Enactment

For millennia humans have associated the circle with spiritual power and sanctified space: from medicine wheels to mandalas, and from sorcerers' circles to sacred domes. It has been used to evoke feelings of intimacy, belonging, and protection, as well as boundless space, wholeness, and womb-like generativity. In this brief but information-packed presentation, Bruce will explore how several more recent philosophical perspectives -- from Uexküll's biosemiotic bubbles, to Sloterdijk's spherology, to sociobiological and object-oriented notions of autopoietic closure -- can be linked to ancient circle symbolism to generate an integral trans-lineage model of spiritual enactment and a participatory, pluralist topology of sacred spaces. At this time of cultural and spiritual diversification, we are called now more than ever to find skillful new ways of conceptualizing and navigating this complexity, and of integrally honoring the richness and particularity of the many modes of spiritual enactment we now have available to us. Drawing on his own work in this area as well as several of the core philosophical concepts he will introduce, particularly Sloterdijk's metaphor of foam, Bruce will discuss how Integral post-metaphysics and trans-lineage spirituality can be enriched and supported by the vision of participatory enactment and sacred topology that he will invoke here.

(More information about the event will be posted here soon)

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Thanks for the wonderful, detailed feedback, Joe.  I'm just checking in now to say I've read it and will respond this afternoon when I have more time.

Hi, Joe, I apologize for the delay in responding.  (My next task is to respond to Ambo over on IL!).

Yes, from shell to shell.  From one enclosure into another.  This begins with the movement from Zero to One (K0 to K1) as shown below.  From embryonic fusion with some enclosure or collective into a kind of singleness.  But this apparent "singleness" is not absolute - it is a motion of consciousness; a concentration of awareness directed towards something of "interest."  It's NOT subject-object separation YET, but the seeing of some thing or object from the viewpoint of the current enclosure.  The new dyad comes later (when I get to K6).


Have you tried mapping Wilber's model of advancing through fulcra of development to the Cube of Space?  I'm thinking of Wilber's work, back in his transpersonal phase, when he represented this with various branching Y's (the two end points of the Y representing new self/other separations, and the base of the fork representing a transitional point between one fulcrum of self-development and another ... a beginning but incomplete differentiation.) 

The enclosure can be like a furnace, concentrating the energy and intensity.  Like holding a container for another person by giving them your full attention and awareness.  There's a concentration of awareness.


Yes, exactly.  I was actually thinking of the following model when I made those comments:

Here, the author is talking primarily about organisms as amplifiers of phenomenal information.  But I wanted to figuratively extend the idea, proposing that practice traditions and communities can serve, at least ideally, as such amplifying enclosures as well.

I like your rundown of the Cube of Space version of enclosure/disenclore process and would like to know about it in more depth, so I hope you will write those promised papers.  It seems like the account is primarily a phenomenological, Zone 1 narrative, but I expect you can extrapolate from there to other perspectives.  In any event, an interior / phenomenological account is appropriate for enclosure / bubble talk, as that is both the focus I originally took in my paper (re: translineage spiritual orientations) and it is also Sloterdijk's focus ("spheres of intimacy" and other intersubjective spaces).  Regarding the latter, towards the end of his first book, he goes in some depth into the old doctrine of Trinitarian perichoresis as a source of insight for the dynamics of intensive and generative intersubjective-spheric spaces.  I expect this turn to old theological doctrine to support post-postmodern or postmetaphysical models is consonant with an updated Cube of Space, which also has roots in ancient religious arcana.

Layman Pascal started a thread on Integral Life to discuss the notion of generative (en)closure with me.  Here is what has unfolded so far:





feat. Balder & Layman Pascal.


  • The following thread is a dialog between the superb Balder & the supercilious Layman Pascal. It will have an deep philosophical and linguistic vibe with a lot of playfulness -- so watch out!  The main post on this thread will be evolving to include more of our exchange as it deepens and unfolds -- so keep checking back in. It might seem a bit daunting to keep up with this but we think there is a value in taking integral conversation to new levels of intensity. Thank you for your attention.



Bruce -- can you tell us, in a couple short sentences, just what the heck  is "generative (en)closure"?  Why is this a relevant concept? What is it the opposite of?


Namaste, Layman Pascalakirti,

Generative (en)closure is a word I came up with last year as I was reflecting on a number of different themes related to integral and participtory-enactive spirituality, translineage practice, autopoiesis, ontology and epistemology, etc.  Depending on the context, I've used it as a synonym for holon (in Integral thought), for object or machine (in OOO), for body or body-constituting (in Gendlin's work or more generally), for autopoietic system (a la Varela/Maturana or Luhmann), for a tradition or lineage (within religious studies), or for bubble or sphere (a la Sloterdijk's spherology).  Which means it's either a pretty sloppy and promiscuous word, or a generative word, or both.

The way I spell it, with the parentheses, emphasizes both a verb or process (generative closure) and a noun (what we point to, person or thing or institution, that enacts and embodies such closure).

Time and further discussion will tell if this is a relevant and useful concept for people.  With the term, I wanted to highlight the generativity of particulars -- whether persons, or institutions, or things.  For instance, an autopoietic entity in its self-maintaining closure, or a Whiteheadian actual occasion in its concrescence, not only demarcate something particular; they generate novelty in their very (en)closure; they are-and-make differences that make a difference.  The original context in which I was introducing the term, as you will recall, is as a term for religious instutitions or lineages -- churches, sanghas, practice lineages, etc -- each of which is a site of creative, participatory enactment: each a unique way of engaging with the kosmos, each a unique vehicle for the calling forth and embodiment of spiritual vision and realization.  But this is sort of a specialized use, and I intend for it to apply more broadly (a kind of general ontological category).

In my paper, Opening Space for Trans-lineage Practice, the opposite I set for generative (en)closure was Jean-Luc Nancy's term, dis/enclosure -- the auto-deconstruction of things.  Bubbles pop.  And this, too -- death, too -- is generative.


Pascalakirti? I am honored to be compared to old Vimalakirti who was supposedly "the ideal Mahayanist lay practitioner".   

Thanks for the introduction to your concept. I know people are curious and interested but also daunted by philosophical abstractions and arcane terminology. So generative (en)closure is half-way between Sacred Space & Mere Somethingness?

Probably people do not get very far into their own integral-like consciousness without having had some glimpses of the universal process by which all things arise, form themselves, distinguish themselves, change and pass away. Bubble rise & bubbles burst. But where is there to go onward from that insight? 

What kinds of things do you hope a more clear understanding of this ultra-basic process might offer people? What might we gain from looking more closely and precisely at the way entities exist or do not exist?



I should say up front that I'm not even sure, myself, how much emphasis I want to give to this term, generative (en)closure.  Maybe our discussion can help me decide about that.  :-)

I wouldn't locate generative (en)closure halfway between sacred space and mere somethingness, at least in any qualitative or evaluative sense.  (Although I do like the approximation of these two terms it makes possible: mere somethinginess as sacred space, sacred space as mere somethingness.)

In both my translineage paper and in the recent video of the talk I posted, I have used the word generative (en)closure primarily in relation to sacred spaces: traditions, lineages, churches, temples, etc, as well as actual sacred practice spaces (magic circles, medicine wheels, mandalas, and so on).  I do think the word can function something like holon, applying all the way up, and all the way down, to all sorts of "somethings" -- here, emphasizing not the whole-part relations of things but the generativity of things at all levels (as "difference engines," to make a steampunk reference for no good reason...).  I have seen some promise in the concept, actually, because it allows me to bring together and interrelate a number of terms that I think are useful for discussions of integral and translineage spirituality:  Integral holons, Whiteheadian actual occasions, Sloterdijkian and von Uexkullian bubbles, and OOO's withdrawing objects, among other things.  These terms are not identical and can't be forced together in total identification, which is why I like generative (en)closure: it allows me to bring them near each other, without assuming identity, and to draw insight from each according to the aspect of integral/translineage spirituality that I'm focusing on.

Maybe it would help, early in this discussion, to quote from the paper where I originally introduced the concept, and then we can go from there (wherever this leads).  Here's the section of Opening Space for Translineage Practice where I introduced it:

“The relation of the term, generative (en)closure, to autopoietic theory should be clear: An autopoieticsystem, meaning a “self-making system,” exhibits a definitive closure and circularity in its pattern of organization.  While “(en)closure” can be read as a noun, signifying a fixed structure or a static condition, I prefer a more active or processual inflection: enclosure as the “act of enclosing.” Here, the term is perhaps close to what Eugene Gendlin means by body-constituting, in that both (en)closure and body-constituting are generative. Gendlin (in press) explains,

Body-constituting is a generative body-environment process (without the here-there split)... Everyone agrees that the body is made of environmental stuff, but it was assumed to be separate from the environment, merely perceiving and moving in it. But if we consider the body’s formation as a body process, then the body is environmental interaction from the start. The body is identical with its environment in one body-constituting process. (p. 6)

But body-constituting is generative not only in the formation and maintenance of the body; it is active as well in the ongoing differentiation of the environment and the generation of objects. In the process of bodyconstituting, the body will develop processes that become active only when certain intermittent aspects of the environment are present. When these elements are not present, however, the body nevertheless continues to imply them, and this ongoing implication is generative both of difference within the body and within the environment. As Gendlin (in press) explains:

Certain processes become differentiated; they occur just with certain parts of the environment. This generates specific environmental objects... For example, sugar, water, and light appear and are incorporated only sometimes. Then the body-constituting with these ‘objects’ becomes separated from the rest of the process (if the organism didn’t die in their absence). Then the body has separate processes just for these parts of the environment. The moment they re-appear, just these processes resume. So we call these differentiated parts of the environment ‘objects’. But to think this we need to say that when something implied doesn’t occur, the body continues to imply it. Until something meets that implying (‘carries it forward’, we say), the body continues to imply what was implied and didn’t occur. If part of what was implied did occur, then only the part that did not occur continues to be implied. This ‘reiterated implying’ is a basic concept. It explains how objects in the environment become differentiated. (pp. 6-7)

Gendlin’s account is thus quite close to what I mean by generative (en)closure: this active enclosure, this enfolding and implication, is generative of other bodies and forms (i.e., enactive, in a single process of bodyworld flowering or co-constitution). But the term, (en)closure, is suggestive of more than just the body, which is why I have introduced the term here. It evokes images of sheltering and sustaining structures—of tabernacles and dwellings and temples.

What kind of enclosure is a temple? What does it imply? The link here to Gendlinian body-constitution is illuminating: the body is a temple, and the temple is a body that (ongoingly) implies a world. We can similarly see cultures, traditions, teachings, communities of believers in this light: (en)closures which, in and by their closure, are generative, enactive of difference. Holy days and retreats are generative (en)closures in time. And the sacred objects or realities of a tradition are, in some sense, not simply timeless metaphysical universals, but creative re-enactments (Faber, 2011)—both continuous with the past (ongoingly implied within the body of a tradition) and newly emergent or enacted (creatively re-enacted by each generation of practitioners).

To couch these thoughts in terms of the thinkers who have accompanied us through this article: With Ferrer, I see the generative (en)closures of our traditions, churches, and lineages, whether singly or multiply held, each as uniquely embodied means of participatory enaction—as creative expressions of our invocational engagement with spiritual power or mystery. With Latour, I see each generative (en)closure as the rounding of particularity, utterly and liberatingly concrete, both irreducible and always-reducible or -relatable, and I recognize that every difference charges us with an ethical imperative. With the polydox theologians, I see in every generative (en)closure of body and tradition the folding and unfolding of the relational pli, which situates us in multiplicities, imbricates us in complementarities, and implicates us in the unknowing of our evolutionary becoming. With Nancy, I see in the generative (en)closure of any particular tradition the singular plural of its being, the “with” that is constitutive of its presence, where its singular presence is always already co-presence, the declaration of the impossibility (and the utter poverty) of the “Only One.” And with Wilber, I see generative (en)closure as a holon—already plurisingular, the body of tetra-enaction—which, as a holon, can never be mistaken for a (non-holonic) foundation or ultimate, thus releasing it to the ongoing invitation of the divine’s becoming.”

The latest post in the above discussion on IL:

LAYMAN PASCAL: Ola! Bruce! Bruce!

OF COURSE (for all the fans out there!) I did not mean to suggest that the definition of "generative (en)closure" should be considered equivalent to the geographical middle-point between Sacred Space & Somethingness. Rather said, my notion of half-way implied -- as I think you gleaned -- that a non-philosophical snatching of a little from column A... and a little from column B... might, mixed togther, produce a workably superficial impression of what Generative Enclosure might means.

Workably superficial. I wonder if that is possible for myself. I hope to adhere to it as a guide in my following remarks:

I appreciate your above remarks -- especially the exerpts from your article. However, I fear in my bones that most integralites not (and probably for very good reasons) not terribly well-versed in concepts like: AUTOPOIESIS.  You are a madman swordfighting with chandliers. So much the better.

But when we are explaining ourselves by the use the "-pli" of illumination in a Gendlin/Latour context?  Are we safe in the hands of such a driver? Who knows where these kinds of words will lead!

So I am tempted to say:


My PBS-award-winning Metaphysics of Adjacency can certainly unfurl to appreciate the way in which you bring together many advanced models of "the basic form of Reality" and let them touch as intimately as possible without ceasing to be importantly different. Now that's adjacency! Pause for laughtrack. This focus demonstrates the importance of having a distinction-fusion terminology for the basic existential scaffolding of Being/s. 

My "plural catholicity" mood of tantric-monastic imperialist activism seeps through into much of my writings. Whever an MOA-type inspection occurs we start to hear the distant rumblings of mobilization... the idea begins to stir about the nature of that harness which may be employed for the vast emergency cultivation of optimally diverse & robust & adaptable Planetary Wisdom-Civilization.

So of course your 'Opening Space For Translinneage Practice' would hold my interest. And perhaps that of many others. Here are a few follow-up questions:


How can a super-enclosure form which makes a temple of the whole civilization, the whole planet, the whole species? What is the distinctive logical structure of such (in my words) natural planetary cathedral?

How broadly you would define Gendlin's concept of a "body" before it was adequate to your description of general understanding of reality?

How close is a "generative enclosure" to "one unit of meaningfulness"?

How are enclosures related their sub-enclosures?

Is Sacred Space -- like the wavelengths of light -- an increase of frequency which creates a modificed qualitative space? This is also asking: is there a necessary increase of BEING in sacred enclosure or is it merely the standard form of human activity? Or both?

Does a "uniquely embodied means of participatory action" need to be recognizable as such by a pack of people? Does an event-power (embodied action potential) need adherents-in-heart just as Badiou said that Events themselves need? 

Do you think I am a kind of polydox theologian? Or else how would you describe me?

Are the "impossibility of the Only One" and the "impossibiliy of Nothingness" the same or different? 


PS - Just listened to the Forum on Nothingness. Perhaps should be called the "forum on symbolically deployable Abscence... and the circulation of misteps which occurs whenever General Absence enters a discussion about the usefulness of specific absence (relative to a specific presence). Good stuff. We could maybe work a little of it into this meta-thread...

LP: How can a super-enclosure form which makes a temple of the whole civilization, the whole planet, the whole species? What is the distinctive logical structure of such (in my words) natural planetary cathedral?

If we follow the wily Sloterdijk on this, we will see that the theocratic empires attempted to stretch the womb out to the size of the earth, or even bigger, and the poor overtaxed monosphere tore under the strain.  If a new planetary cathedral is to be erected, I think it will be fractal; in our recognition of the unmasterability of enclosures (they withdraw), and our delighting in the endlessly fruitful in-between, I expect a great, foamy structure or composite will disclose itself.

Some have already glimpsed it (I count you among them).  Here is some video evidence:

And this one is for Joe.  The mandelbulb, the holy box or cube, is nothing but a box of bubbles.

LP: How close is a "generative enclosure" to "one unit of meaningfulness"?

We could say, yes, that a generative (en)closure is a unit of meaningfulness (keeping in mind that units are singular plural).  But in my use of the term, I focus more on their capacity for generating meaning or difference, than on their being a ‘meaningful unit’ (though I can’t and don’t want to leave that out).  In what I’ve been writing thus far, I’ve just wanted to appeal to generative (en)closures as rings of invocation, sites of participatory engagement or enactment, etc.  At the moment, I have the image in my head of a large, cage-like metallophone, which you can strike and bow in various ways while suspended under the sea.  This musical enclosure has the capacity to call whales and other great creatures out of the deep.  (Or ... maybe something like Chrysalis).  It is a site for participatory engagement with the deeps. 

LP: How are enclosures related their sub-enclosures?

Enclosures both exceed and are less than their sub-enclosures.  They exceed their sub-enclosures because, in their unicity or synergy, they bring forth qualities that are not present in any of the sub-enclosures.  But they are less than their sub-enclosures because, in their enlistment of these holons or enclosures into the larger generative sphere, they do not exhaust them; they only marshall some of their capacities, and leave others implicit, untouched, uncalled-for, even unrecognized or unanticipated. 

LP: Is Sacred Space -- like the wavelengths of light -- an increase of frequency which creates a modificed qualitative space? This is also asking: is there a necessary increase of BEING in sacred enclosure or is it merely the standard form of human activity? Or both?

I’d want to say both, of course.  But I think there is a sense, which most of us have felt, where a vital or ‘awake’ generative (en)closure – a practice retreat, a therapeutic encounter, a relationship, etc – seemed to greatly amplify qualitative space.  I think I mentioned in another post how a generative (en)closure can be seen as a kind of device for trapping and amplifying light, a space of interfacial energy and intensification.  We do this all the time, of course.  But sometimes we do it better than others.  (And sometimes we create spaces which suck the life right out of us, and make our faces go numb.)

LP: Does a "uniquely embodied means of participatory action" need to be recognizable as such by a pack of people? Does an event-power (embodied action potential) need adherents-in-heart just as Badiou said that Events themselves need? 

I’m not sure.  I need to think about that.  It seems sometimes we unconsciously create generative (en)closures and it takes awhile before we notice what we’ve done – and what we are enacting through that.

LP: Do you think I am a kind of polydox theologian? Or else how would you describe me?

Oh, yes, polydox for sure.  Beautifully so.  And polymorphously perverse (like dear theurj of IPS).

"If a new planetary cathedral is to be erected, I think it will be fractal."

If by fractal one means what the videos indicate, that each repetition iterates. I.e., while repeating to some degree each iteration adds something novel and is not quite the same. I often get the feeling that with some complexity-chaos theories a fractal is the same repeating pattern ad infinitum, more a formal wish fulfillment of stable, unchanging Form. And like our friends the image stigmata, always in media res, this gives pause for "our delighting in the endlessly fruitful in-between," in-between itself being one of those prepositional schema.

"This musical enclosure has the capacity to call whales and other great creatures out of the deep."

Including but especially the patron/matron saint of IPS, Cthulhu.

"I think there is a sense, which most of us have felt, where a vital or ‘awake’ generative (en)closure – a practice retreat, a therapeutic encounter, a relationship, etc – seemed to greatly amplify qualitative space."

Ahem, like, IPS.

"And polymorphously perverse (like dear theurj of IPS)."

I'll take that as a well-deserved compliment, thank you.

"If by fractal one means what the videos indicate, that each repetition iterates. I.e., while repeating to some degree each iteration adds something novel and is not quite the same."

Yes, agreed.  Not just "the same" at different scales.

"Including but especially the patron/matron saint of IPS, Cthulhu."

Oh, yes!  Not to forget St. Cthulhu (CBUH)...

"I'll take that as a well-deserved compliment, thank you."

Indeed, it is. 

Very cool, Joe.  That also has the feel of a yoni.  Bringing to mind Sloterdijk's notion of negative gynecology.


Of your images, I also like this one for a generative (en)closure:


What I'm thinking with fractals though is that it is not only the content that changes with each iteration but the principles/laws as well. It seems that with 'restricted' complexity theory the iterative laws or mathematical patterns remain the same at each level of scale, often because they are considered universal and/or Platonic Forms of some kind. I've argued that case with the MHC in the real/false reason (RFR) thread.

Whereas for a more 'general' complexity it must use a more differential calculus that shows not only a change in content but a change in the mathematical equations as well. This is especially so since math itself is created by mental content, not the other way around. So one thing I wonder with these videos is whether the mathematical programming that makes them run is the same iterative loop or whether the math itself is programmed to change at each level of scale? Another thing I wonder in terms of modeling human stages of consciousness is why do mathematical models like the MHC keep the formal math iterations instead of changing them at beyond formal consciousness iterations? I explored that as well in the RFR thread.

For example, this article explains well and simply Riemann geometric space, where parallel lines can cross and the 3 angles of a triangle can equal more or less than 180 degrees. This of course takes into account something Bryant and Einstein talk about, that gravity curves space, time and light. So we have different maths (geometries) for each iteration.

Speaking poetically, generative (en)closures bend space and time (and knowing) in their own ways.  Some are designed or intended, in fact, to effect this bending.

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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?

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