Re:  Patterns of Wholeness

I referenced this discussion recently on one of our OOO-related threads, but decided it might be interesting to look at this on its own. Wilber discusses the higher reaches of consciousness as different relationships to or with wholeness.  It might be interesting, in this thread, to discuss wholeness as it is understood at different stages of development.  One of my critiques of Wilber's presentation, on the referenced thread, was that his discussion seems to presuppose a uniform 'wholeness' running behind and through all different stages of development, without (apparently) taking into account the various critiques of wholeness-thinking, and the modifications of the understanding of wholeness, that show up in various postmodern and postpostmodern philosophies or models.

As I mentioned on another thread today, I have sympathy with, and have been a proponent of, views which emphasize the wholeness of reality (Bohm's views, Bon Dzogchen views).  But I have also more recently been developing an integral postmetaphysical pluralism, which could be understood as a challenge to certain forms of wholeness (as you find in modern religious inclusivism, for instance; or in a postmodern Hicksian pluralism, where diverse religious ultimates are all understood as referring to the same basic underlying Reality), so I feel some ongoing tension and irresolution in relation to this topic.

To start, here is a quote from the Integral Life summary of Wilber's discussion:

You've probably heard Ken mention in previous discussions some of the highest structures of cognitive development —- Vision Logic, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind, and Supermind -— and you may have been left wondering what these structures actually look like from within. Listen as Ken offers a firsthand chronicle of each of these transpersonal stages, describing them as an ever-deepening relationship with wholeness -— that is, thinking wholes, seeing wholes, feeling wholes, witnessing wholes, and being wholes. Ken also describes how these stages have informed and influenced his own map-making and personal creativity, and how the capacity for pattern recognition and perspective-taking have been instrumental in his ability to traverse these highest reaches of human potential....


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Henri Bortoft has a (Goethean) view on wholeness which is resonant and appealing for me, and which I've shared here before.  I share it again now because I plan to return to it and consider it in light of Wilber's views and OOO's "strange mereology," among other perspectives.


“Everything we encounter in the world can be said to be either one thing or another, either this or that, either before or after, and so on. Wherever we look, there are different things to be distinguished from one another: this book here, that pen there, the table underneath, and so on. Each thing is outside the other, and all things are separate from one another. But in recognizing the things about us in this way, we, too, are separate from and outside of the things we see. We find ourselves laid out side by side, together with and separate from, the things we recognize. This is the familiar spectator awareness. In the moment of recognizing a thing we stand outside that thing, and in the moment of standing outside that thing we turn into an “I” that knows that thing, for there cannot be an “outside” without the distinction of something being outside some other thing. Thus, the “I” of “I know” arises in the knowing of something in the moment of recognition of the thing known. By virtue of its origin, the “I” that knows is outside what knows.


We cannot know the whole in the way in which we know things because we cannot recognize the whole as a thing. If the whole were available to be recognized in the same way as we recognize the things that surround us, then the whole would be counted among those things as one of them. We could point and say, “here is this” and “there is that,” and “that's the whole over there.” If we had the power of such recognition, we would know the whole in the same way that we know its parts, for the whole itself would simply be numbered among its parts. The whole would be outside its parts in the same way that each part is outside of all other parts. But the whole comes into presence within its parts, and we cannot encounter the whole in the same way that we encounter the parts. We should not think of the whole as if it were a thing.


Awareness is occupied with things. The whole is absent to awareness because it is not a thing among things. To awareness, the whole is no-thing. The whole that is no-thing is taken as mere nothing, in which case it vanishes. When this loss happens, we are left with a world of things, and the apparent task of putting them together to make a whole. Such an effort disregards the authentic whole.


The other choice is to take the whole to be no-thing but not nothing. This possibility is difficult for awareness, which cannot distinguish the two. Yet, we have an illustration immediately on hand with the experience of reading. We do not take the meaning of a sentence to be a word. The meaning of a sentence is no-word. But evidently this is not the same as nothing, for if it were we could never read! The whole presences within parts, but from the standpoint of awareness that grasps external parts, the whole is an absence. The absence, however, is not the same as nothing. Rather, it is an active absence inasmuch as we do not try to be aware of the whole, as if we could grasp it like a part, but instead let ourselves be open to be moved by the whole…


We cannot separate part and whole into disjointed positions, for they are not two as in common arithmetic. The arithmetic of the whole is not numerical. We do not have part and whole, though the number category of ordinary language will always make it seem so. If we do not separate part and whole into two, we appear to have an alternative of moving in a single direction, either from part to whole or from whole to part. If we start from this position, we must at least insist on moving in both directions at once, so that we have neither the resultant whole as a sum nor the transcendental whole as a dominant authority, but the emergent whole that comes forth into its parts. The character of this emergence is the “unfolding of enfolding,” so that the parts are the place of the whole where it bodies forth into presence. The whole imparts itself; it is accomplished through the parts it fulfills.


We can perhaps do something more to bring out the relationship between whole and part by considering the hologram… If we break the hologram plate into fractions, we do not break the whole. The whole is present in each fraction, but its presence diminishes as the fractioning proceeds. Starting from the other end, with many fractions, we could put the fractions together to build up the totality. As we did so, the whole would emerge; it would come forth more fully as we approached the totality. But we would not be building up the whole. The whole is already present, present in the fractions, coming fully into presence in the totality. The superficial ordering of the fractional parts may be a linear series - this next to that, and so on. But the ordering of the parts with respect to the emergent whole, the essential ordering, is nested and not linear. Thus, the emergence of the whole is orthogonal to the accumulation of parts because it is the coming into presence of the whole that is whole, the whole that is immanent.


This process tells us something significant about the whole in a way that shows us the significance of the parts. If the whole presences within its parts, then a part is a place for the presencing of the whole. If a part is to be an arena in which the whole can be present, it cannot be “any old thing.” Rather, a part is special and not accidental, since it must be such as to let the whole come into presence. This specialty of the part is particularly important because it shows us the way to the whole. It clearly indicates that the way to the whole is into and through the parts. It is not to be encountered by stepping back to take an overview, for it is not over and above the parts, as if it were some superior, all-encompassing entity. The whole is to be encountered by stepping right into the parts. This is how we enter into the nesting of the whole, and thus move into the whole as we pass through the parts….” (Henri Bortoft, Counterfeit and Authentic Wholes, 1985, pp. 283-286).

A couple more orienting comments:  I perceive perceptions of and relations to "wholeness" to be one of the fault lines that runs through this forum (both internally to some members, such as myself) and between members as well.  (Ed's notion of assholon, of course, is an apt term for some conceptions of "wholeness" that we've been holding up for critical assessment and re(ar)view. ;-) ).  But this very division gives support to Wilber's basic suggestion to view stages of consciousness in terms of one's relationship to wholeness.  And, to be clear, I actually like Wilber's basic scheme -- I think mereology remains important across multiple stages, and see value in using various understandings of wholeness as a way to gain insight into the flavor and contours of these levels or forms of consciousness.   My criticism has to do with the invariant way wholeness was presented, not with the 'relevance' of conceptions of wholeness across various stages.

So I think this is a discussion worth having, and currently more interesting to me than Brown's book, which is why I'm starting a new thread so quickly after starting the last one.

I'm reminded of the Bill Torbert thread. Does Wilber still use a transcend-and-include dynamic for these post-turquoise "stages?" Recall from the referenced thread, quoting Bonnie about nested and postformal levels according to Torbert:

One such overused exemplar of mainstream integral theory, is the notion of transcend-and-include and the holarchical organization that results from it. When “transcend-and-include” describes a dynamic, it is describing a simple, linear dynamic that creates nested sets of levels that are related in simple linear ways. If instead of associating the term “integral” with a set of exemplary beliefs and the community wit large that promote them, we identify the adjective “integral” in “Integral Theory” as pertaining to a level of cognitive abstraction, also known as meta-systematic [5], then no theory that entails simple, linear transcend-and-include dynamics can pass the test.

[5] This is consistent with the definition of “integral level” in cognitive-developmental theories such as Torbert, Cook-Greuter, and Fisher


In Wilber's discussion, I don't recall that he makes explicit reference to the transcend and include dynamic, but he does still seem to rely on it to a great extent.  In his discussion, he refers more to different ways of relating to wholeness or wholes (via thinking, seeing, feeling, witnessing, etc).  But in reference to your comment, and to connect a few dots, I think wholeness conceived as a massive, overarching, transcend and include super-whole would be a counterfeit whole in Bortoft's language (or an assholon in yours).

Although I plan to explore some of the relations and tensions between the accounts of wholeness by some of the above-referenced sources, which have been mostly the focus of Ed and myself, I'd like to ask more broadly of members here, including those that don't post that often, what do you think of Wilber's talk, if you've been able to access it?  And what is wholeness to you?  What role does the notion of wholeness play in your spirituality?

>>where diverse religious ultimates are all understood as referring to the same basic underlying Reality

That is very similar to the doctrine of anekāntavāda in Jainism. The common parable, the blind men and the elephant, is based upon that “perspectivist” doctrine.


Mark Foster

Hi, Mark, thanks; yes, I'm aware of anekantavada (and I discuss it in the paper I referenced in my post up above).  From an integral perspective, I see the Jain parable as aligning to some degree with Wilber's first heuristic principle of IMP - non-exclusion.  But it doesn't seem as cognizant of unfoldment or even enactment.  What do you think?

Yes, it is very similar to his early book, A Spectrum of Consciousness.

Anekāntavāda is more epistemological than ontological. Jain ontology is related to ajīva. That concept more closely approximates an unfoldment (layers of cosmic “stuff” or substance).


Mark Foster

In Wilber's discussion of Integral Methodological Pluralism, he relates unfoldment to epistemology as well -- specifically to the impact of development on cognition and perception.

>>In Wilber's discussion of Integral Methodological Pluralism, he relates unfoldment to epistemology as well -- specifically to the impact of development on cognition and perception.

Okay. I am looking at it more from the perspective if Ram Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism/meta-Reality. He distinguishes between the non-dual cosmic envelope and dualistic empirical knowledge.


Mark Foster

I'm just getting familiar with Bhaskar's work, as I mentioned before, but my impression is that Bhaskar's cosmic envelope is similar to Wilber's Causal dimension.  Do you think that's the case?

This SEP article on mereology is instructive relative to OOO's strange version. (Warning: math involved.) For example:

"Mereologically, an atom (or 'simple') is an entity with no proper parts, regardless of whether it is point-like or has spatial (and/or temporal) extension.... Are there any such entities? And if there are, is everything entirely made up of atoms? Does everything comprise at least some atoms? Or is everything made up of atomless 'gunk' (in the terminology of Lewis 1970)? These are deep and difficult questions, which have been the focus of philosophical investigation since the early days of philosophy."

Also of import is that a main premise of most mereology is the principle of identity, which premise is under question in OOO. "All the theories examined above...appear to assume that parthood is a perfectly determinate relation." Note the presuppositions of mereology in this statement: "These worries are of no little import, and it might be thought that some of the principles discussed above would have to be revisited accordingly...because of their classical, bivalent presuppositions."

This has to do with precise boundaries and the article explores how these can be fuzzy and indeterminate. Hence phrases like "unbounded wholeness" are contradictory (or complimentary, if you prefer) since it is a whole without a defining boundary and hence itself is not a "part" of anything. Unless of course each part of "it" retains this characteristic indeterminate openness (withdrawal), in which case things (processes, suobjects) aren't as tidy as we might suppose.

What "level" recognizes this? I agree somewhat with Tom in that the notion of levels itself comes under question at this point since it too is part and parcel (pun intended) of tidy boundaries.

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