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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Quick comment on the Bortoft quotes. He recognizes that we cannot know the whole in the same way that we know the parts, for it is indeterminate. And that the whole can only be known through the parts. However he doesn't seem to acknowledge that this same indeterminacy of the whole is also in the parts in that we cannot know them fully either via identity, as they too are withdrawn from themselves.

From Mind and Nature, being discussed in this thread:

“Categories are wholes to their members, which become wholes to subsidiary members, and so on, in a progression that is bottomless....the continuum is a transition from a category (whole) to an instance (part) where the latter is the basis of another transition. The transition has the character of an emergence of whole-like parts from part-like wholes, where the wholes are not mere collections, and the parts are not definite elements but the potential to form subsequent wholes. The whole-part relation is a successive nesting that finally terminates in a concrete part, an actuality, that does not serve as a whole for a further transformation.... The relation of whole to part is that of a recursive embedding of potentialities” (7).

From Brown the Core is unbounded wholeness in potentia, which then informs the particular. Then lesser and greater (relative) wholes take shape, but all arising from the absolute assholon. I'm yet again reminded of the difference in “what 'is' the differance?”, which highlights another Yogacara doctrine.

Although it seems strange that particular instances are “the basis of another transition,” with transition being defined as a whole-to-part process. And yet when a part becomes a “concrete actuality” it no longer serves “as a whole for further transformation”? Have we arrived at the “atom” (object) with no further parts?


Tom:  See, the problem in the collision up there when stage-seeing sees it's in a stage of seeing stages is really a popping of the notion of causation.  That which is caused by evolution---stage-seeing---cannot at the same time be the theory of how stages evolve.


I bumped into a similar contradiction when I was first exploring Wilber's postmetaphysical writings, and for awhile wanted just to discredit this latest turn in his work.  The contradiction was that perspective-seeing was itself a perspectival stage.  Where I went with that, after resisting it for awhile, was to embrace his approach as a creative act or en-actment or invocation, one which summons certain visionary presences, or bears certain flowers (to mix metaphors), but not others.  I did not see this specifically as a "popping of causation" -- and I am also appreciative of Joel's notion, not of a destruction of causation, but of a leap to immanent causation -- but I think the internal switch in emphasis for me from causal to invocational language is suggestive that I at least darkly intuited that something had happened to the notion of causation...

Theurj:  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.


I appreciate this observation, which also reminds me of a kind of open question I've had re: the notion of withdrawal, which is, does withdrawal in OOO refer to indeterminate openness, or does it refer to a kind of untouchable particularity or definiteness (an impermeable boundedness).  I ask because I've tended to see it in terms of the former, but in so doing, have related it in my mind to Bortoft's notion of the presencing or bodying forth of the whole in and through parts (or to related ideas in Joel's work), and have suspected this would be at odds with the OOO intent.  But it is one way to conceive of withdrawal, as a kind of indefiniteness, a receding (and sliding) horizon.


Theurj:  Quick comment on the Bortoft quotes. He recognizes that we cannot know the whole in the same way that we know the parts, for it is indeterminate. And that the whole can only be known through the parts. However he doesn't seem to acknowledge that this same indeterminacy of the whole is also in the parts in that we cannot know them fully either via identity, as they too are withdrawn from themselves.


That's true -- he doesn't mention that in that passage, and I'm not sure what he'd think of it, but this extension of indeterminacy or ambiguity to the 'parts' makes sense to me.  Is this at odds with what Brown is saying?  Indeterminacy, at least as conceived in relation to Brown's whole-part transitioning, is a pre-actual state of affairs.


Theurj:  “Categories are wholes to their members, which become wholes to subsidiary members, and so on, in a progression that is bottomless....the continuum is a transition from a category (whole) to an instance (part) where the latter is the basis of another transition. The transition has the character of an emergence of whole-like parts from part-like wholes, where the wholes are not mere collections, and the parts are not definite elements but the potential to form subsequent wholes. The whole-part relation is a successive nesting that finally terminates in a concrete part, an actuality, that does not serve as a whole for a further transformation.... The relation of whole to part is that of a recursive embedding of potentialities” (7).


Although it seems strange that particular instances are “the basis of another transition,” with transition being defined as a whole-to-part process. And yet when a part becomes a “concrete actuality” it no longer serves “as a whole for further transformation”? Have we arrived at the “atom” (object) with no further parts?


I'm curious what he means by this, and how/where he applies this.  I read a bit more in the section you quoted and he gives some concrete examples from neuroscience -- where the whole-part transitioning terminates in an actual word, for instance.  Reading his discussion of a bottomless holonic transitioning which terminates in an actual concrete part that stands 'outside' this holonic relationship, I was reminded of something Harman says.  He suggests that objects may be bottomless, in terms of holonic relations, but there is an upper limit.  Holonic patterning does not go forever up, but terminates in a bobbing sea of objects, above which is only sky.  I'm not sure I buy this, and I also think Harman and Brown may be discussing different things, but I noticed at least a sort of parallel to their patterns of thought.

I’m most familiar with Bryant, having invested some time into TDOO. Since he’s using Derrida to explicate withdrawal, and having spent much, much more time with Derrida, it seems to me Bryant’s interpretation (translation) of Derrida’s differance is more in line with an open indetermination with (near) infinite potential. But still “bounded” in that it is an infinite (whole) within a finite (part). Whereas it appears to me that the more Yogacara-influenced process monism of Brown, for example, starts with an assholon and works its way down (or up), sort of like Kennilingam’s Yogacara consciousness per se, the causal root of involution into form.

Brown’s core is like Bryant’s substance in being “pre-actual,” but as I’ve said above in not the same way. I think this also relates to the way Brown has an “end” point in a concrete object. Bryant notes this too with the object being ontologically primary, and that the parts of an object are not other objects in a mereological way. But again, it seems Bryant’s is more of the infinitude within the finite instead of the infinite as causal source pouring into a concrete vessel. Brown's core (process) seems more like the logically necessary categorical extremes of a hierarchy residing in the more abstract and/or ideal.* One view seems metaphysical to me (in the specific way defined elsewhere as ontotheological), the other not so much.

* Recall above about "classical, bivalent presuppositions."

I notice, in my initial (and very surface) acquaintance with Brown, that he seems to posit a one-way relation, whereas Bortoft suggests a two-way relation or 'movement' (scare quotes intentional):

 

Bortoft:  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.

Balder said:

>>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?

Sorry, I just got home from a long day of meetings. To my understanding, Wilber's causal dimension is similar to Aurobindo's involution (something like manifestation) which, in a sense, is the inverse of evolution.

Obviously, I cannot speak for Bhaskar, but I think that involution or the causal dimension is closer to his concept of "events" or "Actuality." That is the middle tier (in between Reality and Empiricism). In other words, events are the Actual phenomena, generated by an underlying structure (Reality) which can be Empirically observed.

Bhaskar's cosmic envelope is fairly similar to Wilber's holarchy (from Koestler) or Kosmology.

Mark Foster

>>So does wholeness evolve?  It depends what one means by evolve, I think.  "Seeing things as evolutionary" looks to me to be a stage the natural evolution of which by necessity would be then "seeing things as notevolutionary" in the next stage.

To Aurobindo, wholeness is involution or, to Bhaskar, the cosmic envelope. Sociologically (my field), the cosmic envelope can be understood by Bhaskar's theory of co-presence (being enfolded in one another).

Mark Foster

In my opening post, I mentioned Wilber seeming not to acknowledge that wholeness thinking itself comes under critique, at least at certain stages of cognitive development.  It may be that he believes the higher stages he is describing are ones beyond the point at which all such critiques have been dispatched.  Since the critique I will reference below comes from some fairly cutting-edge thinkers in philosophical circles, such as Badiou and Deleuze, among others, I believe it's nevertheless worthwhile to explore this critique -- as it appears to me to represent an emergent complexity view that is on the far side of at least the more common or conventional mereological theories or forms of "thinking the whole." 


Although I often express various objections to aspects of Bryant's work, I am going to use it here.  If certain forms of thinking the whole have evolved and become self-conscious for us, this critique appears to be a re-circling of such wholeness thinking (as Thomas puts it) such that it explodes certain (say, linear or container-like) modes or formulations of it.  The following quote is from the section of his book titled The World Does Not Exist.  (See the whole chapter for further context and further development of this argument).


If it is so vital for flat ontology to establish that the world does not exist, then this is because the world must not be treated as a milieu in which beings or objects are contained as parts to a whole. In short, if flat ontology is to truly be flat, then it is necessary to establish that the world is not a container within which beings are found. Alternatively, it must be shown that the world is not a super-object composed of all other objects as sub-multiples that form a harmonious whole consisting of beings as complementary and inter-locking parts. As such, following Badiou, there is not world, but rather worlds. The universe, which is really only a manner of speaking, is a pluriverse or multiplicity of universes. Here, then, it is important to observe the role of the definite article in the thesis that “the world does not exist”. Generally when we speak of “the world” we mean this as shorthand for the totality of all that exists. The thesis that the world does not exist is the thesis that no such totality exists nor is it possible for such a totality to be formed. Rather being consists entirely of objects and collectives.


There are two ways of arguing that the world doesn't exist, the first of which has already been hinted at in chapter five in the context of mereology. Within the domain of formal reasoning, Z-F set theory shows the inconsistency of any attempt to form a totality or whole. Set theory provides a variety of resources for contesting the consistency of any totality or whole, however, here I'll focus on the power set axiom. As we've already seen, the power set axiom allows one to take the set of all subsets of an initial set. Thus, if we have a set composed of elements {a, b, c}, the power set of this set would be {{a}, {b}, {c}, {a, b}, {a, c}, {b, c}, {a, b, c}}. At the level of formal reasoning, if the power set axiom spells the ruin of any whole or totality, then this is because it reveals the existence of a bubbling excess within any whole or collection.


This is a variation of Cantor's Paradox. Cantor's paradox demonstrates that there can be no greatest cardinal number precisely because the power set of any cardinal number will necessarily be larger than the cardinal number itself. In a stunning inversion of the ancient thesis that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the power set axiom reveals, to the contrary, that the parts are always greater than the whole. As I argued in the last chapter, from a certain perspective each object is a crowd, containing within itself a plurality of other autonomous objects that very likely “know” nothing of the object of which they are parts. Any whole that does manage to establish itself is, as Deleuze has put it, a “One or Whole so special that it results from the parts without altering the fragmentation or disparity of those parts, and, like the dragons of Balbec or Vinteuil's phrase, is itself valid as a part alongside others, adjacent to others”.[288] What the power set reveals is the bubbling pluralism of “the” world beneath any unity or totality. Any totality or whole, in its turn, is itself an object or One alongside all sorts of other ones.


At the formal level, the real force of the power set axiom lies in the manner in which it reveals the possibility of a multiplicity of relations and objects within any collective. It will be recalled that any exo-relation between objects is potentially itself also an object. If we ask the strange question, “when is an object?” we can answer this question with the hypothesis that an object is when exo-relations among other objects manage to attain operational closure such that their aggregate or multiple-composition becomes capable of encountering perturbations as information in terms of their own endo-consistency. On the one hand, the power set axiom reveals the possibility of a plurality of other objects within any collective. On the other hand, the power set axiom discloses the possibility of alternative exo-relations among objects, not present in the whole from which the subsets are drawn. Finally, the power set axiom reveals the possibility of withdrawing objects from their relations to collectives so that they might function as autonomous actors, either entering into other collectives, subsystems, or going it alone within the order of being.


If, from the standpoint of formal reasoning, the Whole is not, the One is not, or the world does not exist, then this is precisely because these subsets, these other possible objects and relations populating the power set of the Whole or alleged One are neither counted nor countable within the Whole or One. In short, every Whole or One contains an excess within it that is not itself treated as a part of the Whole or One. Put differently, such subsets are included in the set from which they are drawn, without belonging to it. Yet it is precisely this absence of belonging or membership that spells the ruin of the Whole, One, or World.


What this description doesn't seem to quite get at, though, is Bortoft's vision of the whole.  This critique may, indeed, spell the ruin of linear conceptions of whole as (hegemonic) super-container, but the only possible whole(s) identified here are those which exist alongside other objects -- precisely Bortoft's "counterfeit whole."

Granted it might not be akin to Bortoft's sense of the whole, but the "bubbling excess" of any object seems to me akin to the kind of khoronic differance* that is an unbounded (w)hole manifest in each part.

* As noted elsewhere, a khoron is an (an)hierarchic holon.

Here's a tentative gesture towards bridge-building or reconciliation among some of these perspectives:


I think I may not quite get the 'khora' yet (not because you haven't tried!), but in the understanding of it I have come to, I have believed that Bortoft's term, 'active absence,' would be a fitting way to describe it.  If this is the case, then I think both the 'khora' and Bortoft's 'authentic whole (as active absence)' appear to go beyond what Bryant is suggesting.  If we bring Bortoft in, then the whole alongside other wholes, the numeric, countable, object-like whole, is a counterfeit whole, in that it cannot be what it pretends to be (and Bryant's set analysis demonstrates why such a whole cannot be 'the whole').  It is a sub-assholon, imitating or following the linear, super-container-like assholon, to use your language.  Or, in more neutral terms, we could just call each instance of a countable, objectifiable whole a holon, entering into and playing, as it does, both whole and part 'roles' in the ecolog(ies) of being, but this would be distinguishable from Bortoft's absent/withdrawn 'authentic whole' or Derrida's khora.


As to where Bhaskar comes into this, I'm not sure; his term, 'cosmic envelope,' sounds like it partakes of the container-like vision of wholeness, but Mark also mentioned an enfolding order suggests it might not be that at all.

>>Mark also mentioned an enfolding order

The problem might be a difference of terminology. I have never seen Bhaskar use the term involution. However, my own definitions are almost opposite from what Norman Allan says here:

 

http://www.normanallan.com/Sci/Wilber.htm

What he calls evolution is, to me, involution. (I think that Aurobindo would also call it involution.) Allan's involution comes close to my view of spiritual evolution.

Cheers,

Mark Foster

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