I recently finished reading what I feel is an important and well-written/well reasoned book from 1987, Nancy Frankenberry's Religion and Radical Empiricism.

A couple of quotes that really jumped out at me (esp. the bolded parts). I would enjoy hearing responses from others. 

“From the perspective of radical empiricism, the basic criticism of Kan’ts philosophy is that it neglected the role of what Whitehead calls “physical feelings,” which form the nonconceptual element in experience. Although radical empiricists can agree with Kant that “intuitions without concepts are blind,” they want to add, with Whitehead, that this is so for a different reason: there are objects for knowledge in every act of experience, but knowledge arises only when intellectual functioning is included in that act of experiencing, and such inclusion is not always the case. For Kant there was nothing to know apart from concepts, since it was intellectual functioning which introduced order into what was otherwise a mere spatio-temporal flux of sensations. Mental operations were the foundation rather than the culmination of experience in Kant’s system.

By contrast, radical empiricism involves an important inversion of Kant’s philosophy…For Kant, the world emerged from the subject; for radical empiricism, the subject emerges from the world.”

-          P. 172, Nancy Frankenberry, Religion and Radical Empiricism

For context, read more excerpts at Google Books here

Here's an example of a "radical empiricist" displaying the above positition.  Bernard Meland, from his last book Fallible Forms & Symbols (1976):

“Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence…thus I am led empirically to speak of God as the Ultimate Efficacy within relationships.”

-          Bernard Meland, quoted by Frankenberry, p. 134

For context, read more excerpts at Google Books here

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Both Dewey and Mead, long-time friends, also taught at the U of Chicago. Something was in the zeitgeist there that affected all of the above. Another connection for me is this notion of process-relational philosophy. Recall that Laske's form of dialectical thinking has these elements: context, process, relationship, transformation. It has these features:

  • a balanced use of all four classes of dialectical thought forms (P, C, R, T)
  • a high index for systemic thinking - meaning the use of transformative thought forms (T) and
  • balanced use of critical and constructive thought forms (P+R) vs. (C+T)

Something is in the air and being inhaled (inspiring) all these folks.

Hey David, when it comes to academic philosophy, it be best to consider me a knucklehead! I am a big fan of history though, so I appreciate the schooling here:) I think I was just pointing to a general trajectory within western academic thought on the theme  of immateriality.Cheers!

Andrew, I'm right there with you.


I'm not familiar with Laske, but I like his four elements.  And this reminds me a little bit of H.N. Wieman's four sub-events within what he called the Creative Event (later Creative Interchange). The first is emerging awareness as qualitative meaning is being communicated, second is integration, as we take that meaning in and integrate it into our lives with the systems of meaning previously acquired; third is transformation, or expansion of our appreciable world; the fourth is deepening, or the increase of community between those participating in the creative event.  He later added a fifth sub-event, the increase of freedom.   

Yes, something in the zeitgeist of Chicago, of all places. 

Hi David,

I am sitting at the library, having finished a coffee and muffin, not having gone to the bathroom (which is on the far side of the building).  So let me preface the following remarks by noting that I am literally full of shit.

The growth of language-thinking & coherent-structural-envisioning beyond the ordinary, into realms previously only spoken as "a lived mystery" (which is already a good start!) is indeed a great task -- and one to which I am hopeless enslaved.  It is part of the dharma's attempt to arise and enthrall the current epoch.  We may see it, very simply, as Discriminating Awareness & Skillful Speech operating to elaborate Prajna (which is coextensive with Samadhi).  And, as I played in my last post, one of the keys to this is the "threshold" were the limitation of thought also limits our ability to think that thought is limited.  Lord Whitesnake, I am sure, and all his grandchildren, would be keenly sensitive to the action of this "edge" in the work of patterning reality in the mode of the Dharma.

Wilber displays some admirable grace when he says (as I recently watched in his autobiographical video series) that "Some people view AQAL as merely a useful tool, a map of the prison, while others regard it as the actual structure of reality.  Its beauty is that it can be used either way".  What I like about that is that it both frees the model from the necessity to be an absolute thought construct but also frees us from the limitation of thinking that a thought-construct is "just a construct" -- since who are we to impose such boundaries upon that part of Reality which appears as thought!

We must think carefully and try often to fold the "paper" into the drawing.  And, as I often exclaim, the existence of "boundary lines" on the map may already be accomplishing this task.


I like it. As Albert Markovski said, "No manure...no magic."

I think the Polarity pattern is being expressed here between cognitive/non-cognitive. Henry Nelson Wieman emphasized one side of that polarity, which I'll focus on today.  In the next few days I hope to share more about Meland's emphasis on the other side.

As Nancy Frankenberry (p. 120-122) characterized Henry Nelson Wieman’s stance his book The Source of Human Good,

 “the basic metaphysical categories Wieman employed were events, made up of their quality and their relations. The ultimate actualities of the world were conceived as events, happenings, specific instances of energy. There is no substance or reality underlying this world of happenings. There are only relations, that is, structures, among these units of energy, at various levels of complexity. In human experience, events or energy-processes are apprehended immediately as the “flow of felt quality.” The metaphysical doctrine in Wieman’s radical empiricism was implicit in his claim that “quality then is the ultimate substance of the world out of which all else is made.”

The place of quality in Wieman’s radical empiricism is exactly parallel to what James called “conjunctive relations.” …

It was Wieman’s view that every event accessible to human experience is a quality or a complex of quality and every event is an instance of energy. He argued on this basis that whenever energy is experienced by the human organism, it is quality or a complex of qualities. The name “structure” is given to the demarcations and interrelations of events whereby events are experienced as different and yet as related. Whereas concrete events as qualities are immediately apprehended by feeling, they are known cognitively only through the discrimination of their structure or character or form. The discrimination is always an abstraction from concrete reality.”

We see in the above section that Frankenberry is beginning to tease out the distinction between the non-cognitive “flow of felt quality” that is “immediately apprehended by feeling” as concrete events, and the cognitive abstractions that can be articulated via language.

She next discusses “The importance of the claim that experience is not in itself knowledge,” as acknowledged by both Dewey and Wieman. “Since qualities cannot be described in their immediacy, they can be known only by the structures pertaining to them. Description of those structures is cognitive. Awareness of the immediacy of quality is noncognitive, Wieman maintained.”

I'm very interested in how all this can apply to my interest in PatternDynamics. My thought here is that the Patterns found in PatternDynamics can represent to some degree these “qualities of felt experience,”(or the matrix of Patterns as the “complex of qualities”) thus giving name to experiences, which helps us to translate experience into a form of knowledge we can then communicate about via this new language of PatternDynamics. The concrete events are always “more” than can be articulated, but the more skillful we become in attempting to articulate these experiences, the richer those experiences become.  This can move in a cycle back and forth between the non-cognitive and the cognitive, allowing ever richer experience, and growing awareness to emerge. The challenge is to never reify the Patterns that have been articulated, continuing to be open to and looking for the creative good, and not holding too tightly to the created good.

The same could be said for other modalities, such as AQAL or the taxonomy of feelings and needs from Non-Violent Communication.


I look forward to your Meland.

In the meanwhile I note that Wieman refers basically to the "subtle domain" -- forms, flows and qualitative experience.  An irreducible dimension of every moment which nonetheless cannot adequately explain all gross & causal structure.  He is not so much, I think (sic), talking about the pre-mental layer of mammalian emotional awareness.  Rather he is discussing a type of cognition (pattern recognition) that occurs in addition to discrete examples of "object-recognition".

This form of flow-cognition is perpetually present and, at each level of development, integrates more thoroughly with cognition that is anchored in the other basic domains.  Eventually this reaches a degree of functional fusion which could be called "soul consciousness" -- at which our contemporary idea of lucid and salient "relations, flows, gists, fields and qualities" stand out as intrinsic to everything we encounter. 

Our integral sensibility should not allow the notion that this stuff is "prior" to what we normally mean by cognition.  Cognition recognize patterns by some means in each domain.  But they are distinct.  They do not reduce to each other.  Therefore "the other one" always looks like "more" when viewed from within another domain.

It is not that "experience" is greater, or takes temporal precedence, over cognition.  Rather it is that one type of patterning is always something more (something ELSE) compared to another type.  Our goal is to bring them together.  When we temporarily find a perfect word for a feeling or numinous experience then, in that moment, neither thinking nor feeling has the upper hand.  They dock together.  It is only their lack of functional synchrony that makes us feel that one is "before" or "more" -- although both these ideas may help us bring them closer together.

A logic which enfolds the additional dimensions that appear at threshold, when combined with a logic that makes use of our emerging capacity to map unpredictable, non-linear computations, puts us in a much better position to increase the frequency and intensity of "dockings" between gross, subtle and causal cognition styles.

Beautiful, Layman! Very astute observations!

Bernard Eugene Meland was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when Wieman arrived in the late 1920s, and was deeply influenced by him, later becoming a colleague.  Together they co-authored a book in 1936 entitled American Philosophies of Religion.  As Meland characterized their differences, Wieman tended to focus on the “manageable aspects of experience,” whereas Meland tended to give more emphasis to the unmanageable aspects of experience.

It is quite interesting and instructive to read Meland’s chapter on “The Root and Form of Wieman’s  Thought” in the book The Empirical Theology of Henry Nelson Wieman (1963).  Meland is careful to point out that Wieman did not altogether ignore the unmanageable aspects: “No one who has known Wieman personally could overlook the mystical passion in his thinking. But his own distrust of the imaginative mind and of common sensibilities led him to an exclusive dependence upon external methods for deriving cognitive security in the form of tested knowledge.”

And “The flux of this living situation, the elan vital, seems to me as vivid and compelling a force in Wieman as it was in James and Bergson. What he once spoke of as ‘the rich fullness of experience’ presents a constant ‘more’ to him, which is the unmanageable depth of the living situation, extending to the unmanageable dimensions of God’s reality. To him, this is at once an abundance of good and a threat to clarified understanding of that which is ultimately good and transforming of our own good. Here Wieman is a divided mind; or rather, the fullness of life’s process and experience confronts him with dual loyalties because it evokes in him simultaneously a mystical response to what is given in duration, and a demand of his own conscience and critical powers to deal selectively and judiciously with what is given in experience.”

Later, Meland begins to outline his disagreement with Wieman. He begins by quoting from Wieman’s first book, Religious Experience and the Scientific Method (1926):

“Open awareness is one of its dominant characteristics…Such awareness must be receptive to some more inclusive event, ultimately to that totality which is the ‘operative present…urging nature forward,’ including ‘the whole, in the remotest past as well as in the narrowest breadth of any present duration.’ “

Meland asks, “does not the very procedure as described, making open awareness one of its dominant characteristics, argue against the bifurcated method which Wieman seems to employ? I am not arguing that one must intrude ‘one’s own emotional relation to this datum.’ I am suggesting that ‘open awareness’ itself must include more than Wieman apparently includes in his instrumental method, and must remain dominant over the more restrictive cognitive event.”

Meland argues for “giving to appreciative awareness a more decisive role in balancing, deepening, or sharpening the use of reason. The over-refined use of reason, as in scientific method when applied to complex data within the living context, can itself issue in a kind of illusion in the very act of dispelling illusion from the perceptual act. It tends to generate a form of blindness peculiar to the intellectual, for whom formula and graph can become more real than the living situation. But the critique of reason, except by reason itself, seems to have no place in Wieman’s theory or method. ..Absent from such a procedure, it seems to me, is a vivid and responsible sense of what is given as a reality of truth, a truth of relations, in the living situation.”

Later, Meland writes, "

“I agree with Wieman that this kind of knowing is fraught with possibilities of illusion, prejudice, error, and so on. But I disagree with the conclusion which he tends to draw from this observation: namely, that because of such possibilities, knowing of this sort must be set aside until it can be checked by precise methods or tests. For me, this overstates the possibility of illusion or error, attributing to the whole of such experience what is attributable only to a part.

“…This is not to speak lightly of scientific tests and inquiries, but rather to call attention to the complexity and elusiveness of the data being tested…The range of data is too extensive, if not inaccessible, for ordinary tests of accuracy. Rather, the correctives will come over a long period of encounter with symbols and overt, dramatic acts which visibly portray these felt meanings. This is the corrective one generation can offer another."

Reply to Meland by Henry Nelson Wieman

 “With rare insight and sympathetic understanding, Meland has discerned a major problem with which I have struggled for many years. I was not fully aware of it myself, and certainly he has stated it better than I could. .. Throughout my life I have been turning back and forth, first looking at the concrete fullness of what is given in immediate experience, then turning back to the structures which can be known with more or less precision…

“Very recently, I think I have solved this problem by reconciling these two opposing demands. This I have done in the intellectual autobiography written for this book, where I discuss the non-cognitive criticism of Paul Tillich…

“These fleeting qualities of sense and feeling, which elude all description and hence, all cognition, are no more subjective than the structures which we apply to them by specifying time, place, size, weight, direction, number of elements, and all the other forms used in knowledge… It is impossible to have one without the other. Reality is composed of content as much as it is of form. The qualities of immediate experience are at the rock bottom of reality as much as the structures known to science, philosophy, theology, or any other form of inquiry. There can be no structures known and no qualities immediately experienced without the self in the form or structure called human personality; neither can there be without the world in the form or structure of space, time, and all the other categories.

“…Form and content, the structures of knowledge and the qualities of immediate experience, must be developed together. Form should magnify content, and content should magnify form. When conditions are most favorable for that kind of interchange which creates appreciative understanding of the unique individuality of persons and cultures, the structures of knowledge expand in range, while at the same time the qualities of sense and feeling become more vivid, varied, and comprehensive.

“This is why I claim that God is not rightly approached by way of mystical experience which reduces form to a minimum; neither is he known by elaborate systems of knowledge ever expanding, whether it be knowledge by way of science or philosophy or theology, when these structures do not carry with them the abundance of feeling and sense. The creativity of God is the development of form and content together, love and beauty being the names we give to vividness and depth of qualities immediately experienced, while knowledge and justice are the names given to the structures. Both are magnified progressively in the creativity which operates when appreciative understanding of unique individuality is increased by the kind of interchange here called creative. The development of human individuality is basic to this creativity.”

- - - - - - - -

I found this respectful exchange between Meland and Wieman to be very interesting, in that they both acknowledge the value of what the other is saying, and it comes down mostly to a matter of emphasis, and a matter of context and situation where to find the appropriate balance point between the two sides of this polarity. The context Wieman was responding to in his career (beginning post WWI, and usually going against the streams of God as an imaginative construct, humanism, neo-orthodoxy, neo-supernaturalism, existentialism and death-of-Godism) was a bit different than the context Meland found himself in (enthralled with the new physics), which helps to understand their different emphasis.

It is very interesting. Thanks, David.  It puts me in mind immediately of two people -- Husserl & Nietzsche.  The former sought to make philosophy "scientific" by treating experiences of all kinds as objective.  In a sense this is the basis of integrative thinking since it is a necessary precondition for the vision of valid alternative types of perspectives.  As for the latter man, he did perhaps more than anyone else to bring the subtle experienced of appreciation (value) into the root of the reasoning process... in a way that attempted to carry science forward rather than undermine it with conventional subjectivity.  

Nancy Frankenberry’s Analysis of Meland’s Approach

 “Meland is in fact an example of a religious empiricist who has gone out of his way to insist that ‘we must seek clarity, meaning, intelligibility, and surety with persistence and with all the critical faculties at our command.” At the same time, Meland insisted that ‘we live more deeply than we can think.’ This maxim is perhaps the best summary and most characteristic motif of his entire work…

Frankenberry explores concerns very similar to those already voiced by Layman Pascal in his earlier reply that asked, “Can thinking distinguish between "reality" and "thinking of reality" when it tries to think-say that these two dimensions are distinct? “ Frankenberry argues that there is “a reciprocal  and even codeterminate relation between experience and language.”:

“The peculiar tension which this method generates, however, has serious consequences for empirical inquiry in religion. It entails that 1) a gap exists between extralinguistic meaning and its linguistic expression, and 2) lived experience to some extent always outruns the capacities of linguistic expression. But by virtue of these very premises, radical empiricism, I submit, finds itself at a methodological impasse: it cannot but appeal to a prelinguistic or extralinguistic context if its descriptions are to be concrete, but as linguistically expressed, its appeal to this concrete context, or to the depths of lived experience, can at best be oblique. The exact extent to which experience outruns linguistic expression is therefore not a matter that can be stated at all. If it is the case that ‘we live more deeply than we can think,’ then we are at a loss to describe any awareness which surpasses language or thought without employing language in the very process and thus exhibiting the ‘more’ as intralinguistic after all…

“Neither for James nor for Whitehead is it the case that the world is just given in perception in such and such a structure so that we might read it off. Rather, our activity partially creates, sustains, and surpasses the patterns we explicate. Causal efficacy is indeed the vitality and power of life, the living core of any structure of experience, whose energy is always formed or patterned energy. But unless we are content with wordless absorption in the flux of felt qualities, we will want to relate the deeply rooted prepredicative perceptions in the mode of causal efficacy to the predicative patterns of expression. This task, however, faces almost insuperable obstacles in the form of understanding how the dimly adumbrated vector feeling-tones  of prepredicative experience are to be raised to clear conscious  awareness and finally  given expression through symbolism…

“This raises the larger question as to whether and in what sense an empirical theology can utilize causal efficacy as a datum at all. To the extent to which causal efficacy  is unconscious or semiconscious, its richness and contextual density does not seem to offer any exploitable advantage to thinking.  Insofar  as this mode of experiencing can be made conscious, it fails to provide the full richness and density Meland rightly regards as so elusive to rational forms. In the nature of the case, it is not surprising that Meland could confess in 1969: “there still is lacking in my procedure both a methodical way of focusing these occurrences for religious inquiry, and a method of inquiry suitable to the task of probing their theological import.”

“The never fully resolved difficulty of Meland’s empirical realism, as it is also of James’ psychology and Wieman’s contextualism, is to reconcile the prereflective flow of the dynamic felt qualities of lived experience with the structures of reflective and linguistic expression. In wrestling with this question over the years, Meland presumed “a primal disparity between language and reality.” … this emphasis may be the inevitable outcome of Meland’s understanding of the nature of language and linguistic meaning as secondary processes of instrumental-expressive value only, apparently playing no constitutive role in the very having of human experiences. …in light of the whole methodological ferment in the humanities in the last two decades which generally has taken language rather than lived experience as the main focus, it may be well to reexamine the thesis of ‘a primal disparity between language and reality.’

“…I would argue that radical empiricism should recognize a reciprocal  and even codeterminate relation between experience and language…

Here it gets very interesting:

“If this is so, then the complex relationship between qualitative experience and linguistic expression plunges us into a hermeneutical circle which can neither be evaded by the simple correspondence model favored by most realisms nor vitiated by the coherence theory of most idealisms. The range of felt qualities in the lives of individuals is bound up with the level and type of culture, which in turn is inseparable from the distinctions and uses marked by the language people speak. The complexity and intensity of felt qualities as much as of the related energies and valuations of the individual’s structure of experience…The inadequacy of [the correspondence] model is evident when we observe that often in achieving, for example, a more sophisticated vocabulary of the emotions, we acquire, also, a more sophisticated emotional life, not just an expanded power of description….No neat line can be drawn between the increased linguistic ability to identify or differentiate and the altered capacity to feel certain experiences which this enables. Nevertheless, it does not follow from this that saying or thinking makes it so. Not just any new linguistic usage can be urged on us, nor can we induce it voluntarily in ourselves. The distinctive objectivity of the datum of experience, insisted upon by radical empiricism, exerts its own subtle checks upon our socially mediated sign-systems. Yet there seems no way of getting at the structure of felt qualities, in religious or theological inquiry, independently of one’s interpretation of them; for one is woven into the other, and language is in human life the primary agency of the very interweaving.”  

Coming back to PatternDynamics – the above offers a key insight into a possible path forward – if we want a more sophisticated emotional life, we can develop a more sophisticated vocabulary of the emotions. Or we could say that by learning a language useful for understanding systems theory, we can also achieve a more distinct and enhanced experience of living as a member of our ecosystem.  We will then have a stronger set of datum of experience with which to further refine our language, which can further extend our lived experience, as long as we stay engaged in the process of this reciprocal and codeterminate relationship. 

In the PatternDynamics one-day workshop, we do a series of movement exercises that bring attention and focus to increase awareness of the subtle signaling and processing available to us as semiotic beings in a living system.  We then begin learning some of the vocabulary of the sustainability pattern language that is PD.  If we can keep this process going, continuing to come back to exercises that tap into subtle awareness, alternated by increasing our ability to communicate in this new language, there is no telling the advances that are possible. As Tim Winton has said, "“The key to complexity is systems thinking, and the key to systems thinking is patterns. The key to patterns is using them as a language..."

Here's a 1 minute video I created (that's me playing muted cornet in the background):

Layman beat me to the punch in the comments with his beautifully stated thoughts:

"It is not that "experience" is greater, or takes temporal precedence, over cognition.  Rather it is that one type of patterning is always something more (something ELSE) compared to another type.  Our goal is to bring them together.  When we temporarily find a perfect word for a feeling or numinous experience then, in that moment, neither thinking nor feeling has the upper hand.  They dock together.  It is only their lack of functional synchrony that makes us feel that one is "before" or "more" -- although both these ideas may help us bring them closer together."

One of the difficulties facing theorists is the potential for multiple signifieds to haunt the notions of "qualitative experience" and "pre-reflective flow".

Using our basic integrative tools we would expect at least four things:

(a) the aesthetic line of experience (cognition of "how")

(b) the subtle domain of experience (dynamic affective form-flow entities)

(c) pre-sapient levels of consciousness (lacking a stable self-aware controller)

(d) post-sapient levels of consciousness (in which trans-rational flows appear but, regardless of our assumptions, may not be a "return" but actually a "new invention").

And each of these will have its own relations to "ordinary thinking". 

And each of these will have its own "potential forms of appropriate thinking & communication".

The notion that a strong theoristical mind has of pre-reflective consciousness must be strongly suspected -- as it is likely to be trans-reflectivity (states which amaze and seduce the thinker) getting conflated with pre-reflectivity (states which probably strike the thinker as troubling and banal). 

The metaphor of surrender into a prior, less contracted, field of knowing is very visceral.  But a close examination of the mechanics involved in, say, surrendering the conceptual self into the embodied perceptual self reveals a pattern that might be better called a splicing, docking or merging of the two systems.  If the vertical ascent model of integrative theories holds up then we would expect normal pre-conceptual perceptual awareness to be distinctly unpleasant and cramped. 

I have lately been using the term "Joshu's Gate" to refer to possibility of going either up (gamma waves) or down (alpha waves) in non-ordinary, paradoxical and/or thoughtless states.  There is a lot to be investigated and pondered herein...

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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?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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