The Variety of Integral Ecologies - Sean Kelly, Adam Robbert & Sam Mickey


Neelesh and I have decided to change the order in which we read and review the ITC papers.  In order to highlight the juiciest ones, and hopefully to encourage more engagement with them, we are focusing for now on the papers that received awards -- starting with the bottom of the list and working our way up.


So, the "first" on our list is a topic that should be of interest to members of this forum, given our recent year-plus focus on Speculative Realism, OOO, and Complex thought:  The Variety of Integral Ecologies: Kosmopolitan Complexity and the ....

I haven't finished reading it yet, so I won't post a response yet, but I wanted to start a place-holder and invite others to read and respond, too.

Here's the abstract:

This presentation explores the diverse variety of integral ecologies, showing how integral ecologies support efforts to articulate more meaningful accounts of the world and to create a better tomorrow for all beings in the emerging Earth community. Following an overview of the historical and theoretical background of integral ecologies, the presenters bring multiple integral approaches to ecology into dialogue, including the “ecologized thinking” of Edgar Morin’s Complex Thought, the “cosmopolitics” developed by Isabelle Stengers and extended by Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, and the New Realisms, including critical realism and the speculative realist movement of object-oriented ontology.

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So then the question becomes finer... is this qualified holographic holism adequate? And that is a very fruitful area since the core issues of this site come into play. I'm sure there is a lively debate as to whether Morin-esque holgraphy or Wilber-esque holarchy offer the more comprehensive route forward.

And then the side-question which is: How do we feel about the perpetuation of old-fashioned 20th century concepts like "holgraphic" and "holism"? Where do we find the balance between the danger of triviality which accompanies the coining of new terms and the danger of perpetual misdirection which accompanies the baggage-laden finessing of progressive populist terminology? Is there a dynamic middleground between these? Or a set of classical concepts which are already perfectly adequate as long as we are going to be finessing them? Or should we rather assume that different tasks and populations require different approaches?

The AQAL tool has been one of my focuses throughout the forum in a host of threads, most recently in the Fold thread. Where it is useful and where it is not. How it combines with the WC lattice and how it can be improved. How the very nature of altitude and integral thinking is formulated by kennilingus based on a certain type of mereological complexity, and how other forms of mereological complexity change that dynamic drastically. And then how might the AQAL, lattice and other tools look thereafter, and how does that change their functionality?

Related to the other thread on defining IPS, I've explored in depth the meanings of the words integral, postmetaphysical, and spirituality, not just gathering, comparing and summarizing various sources, but adding my own small contributions as to how they might weave and cohere into my twisted (folded) and ideosyncratic vision of what it is, i.e, the Real.

As to Sean Kelly on Morin, I've been exploring that too in the Fold thread and will have more to say on that forthcoming. As but one example, from this post I commented on one of his articles:

"In the above article we see the recurrent themes of this thread. For example, the relationship of two poles in a dichotomy is dialogic rather than dialectic, i.e., they retain their autonomy yet are inseparable from the other yet are not subsumed in a higher synthesis. Which of course applies to the sort of mereology one employs, holographic (Morin) or holarchical (Wilber). Morin is much more aligned with the strange mereology of OOO. Kelly sees Wilber's variety as idealistic, a criticism I've expounded at length. And Kelly, like me, thinks that all this plays into how we interpret what an integral 'level' even means."

However later in the thread I was discussing how Laske uses Hegel's dialectic, and that there is a 'synthesis' of sorts but not the way Hegel intended (and the way Wilber and the MHC define it).

"Also on 16 he discusses the usual Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis formula, but given the above it seems to be quite different from than that used by Wilber and Commons. At 17 this is clarified noting that his form of dialectics requires depth-first, instead of breadth-first as in Wilber. Therefore 'integral thinking fails at the preservative negation of what it negates and then transcends, missing the dialectical moment while transcending.'

"He uses technical terms here with which I'm not familiar but my translation is that Wilber, in typical formop and metaphysical fashion, sublates the 'other' in the new synthesis as in set theory, whereas Laske's synthesis preserves the other in mutual entailment more like Zalamea's math using Peirce (here and following). It also seems to support my notion that postmetaphysical thinking spirals back down in depth to perserve/integrate/synthesize (or de/re) the absences or gaps dissociated by metaphysical formop and its more complicated or sophisticated metaphysical extensions a la the MHC. Therefore this spiraling down in depth is simultaneously spiraling up in height or breadth, like our image schema that do both from the middle."

I'm culling a lot of different perspectives and yet meshing (or messing?) them in ways that none of them do by themselves, or in other combinations.

Adding to my last post, I'm still exploring whether Kelly has that sort of synthesis I described, or if his translation of Morin remains more within the dialogic. And/or if that dialogic contains what I'm talking about. Not sure yet.

"On one of the 'Complexity'-themed threads on this forum (I forget which one), we discussed another paper by Kelly which presented Morin's qualified holism in more detail: a slippery ("wet and wild") understanding which elevates the concepts of withdrawal, excess, adjacency, almostness and alongsidedness, that we have discussed before."

Yes, one of them I commented on above and is right above the comment link. Another is right below that comment. And yet another is a few posts down, where I indeed did find some similarities to what I'm saying, even including image schema.

Although I do not want to stray too far afield in this thread, I will note that I quite reticent about Kelly's presentation of Morin's problems with Wilber.

I think the complaint that Noosphere and Biosphere are always co-active in human affairs both IS the definition of Noosphere in Wilber's language and also relies on a conflation of the bio-materiality of the UR quadrant with the biosphere. I think simultaneity is the appropriate philosophical description of recursion and the one which maximizes the pragmatic spirituality of a model. I think that the suppression of certain lower order phenomenon through the activity of emergence higher holons is misunderstood as a potential loss while an honoring of the qualitative difference and distinction produced by non-repressive suppression can quite validly be seen as gain. Also it seems that yes/no is built into the AQAL model by virtue of the lines connecting-separating the domains. And I am concerned that "whole is in the part is in the whole" Escher-ish, yin-yang sensibilities run the risk of producing holographic models that insufficiently developmental.

But these issues, and others related to the general status of AQAL, should not cause us herein to stray too far from the question of whether the specific integral ecological proposal rendered in this article demand modification, clarification or replacement of that model as the basic integrative mandala of ecology...

Speaking of Deleuze and synthesis, recall this snip on both from the SEP. I meant to come back to it in that thread and will, but it fits here too.

Yes, I agree -- we touch here on a number of questions central to this site.

Of particular relevance here, for instance, are the distinctions and recursive relations Kelly draws between embedded and enactive forms of participation (oikos and autos in Morin’s work).  (Wilber and Morin can both be said to espouse a participatory metaphysics.)  Some aspects of Kelly’s discussion of these distinctions should be very familiar to Integrally informed readers – embedded and enactive participation are reminiscent of communion and agency in holonic theory – but his explanation of their complex, generative co-implication in the process Morin describes as auto-eco-re-organization illustrates the complexity of tetra-enactive processes.  (The tetra-enactive dimensions of auto-eco-re-organization become apparent when Kelly points out that, for Morin, these dialogical and recursive relations include subjective and cultural as well as objective and systemic features of the world).  Kelly notes the similarity of Morin’s model to Wilber’s, in fact, but also stresses their difference with regard to the role that holarchy plays within their respective systems. 

Morin accepts the existence of hierarchical or holarchical patterns of organization, but argues that the move from systems to complexity thinking involves, among other things, the recognition that a whole is not only greater, but in important respects also less, than the sum of its parts. The whole is exceeded by its parts in several important ways (i.e., the parts possess withdrawn qualities or potentials that are not presently included in the ‘order’ of the integrating organism, and retain the potential for autonomous activation), and to some extent the health of the whole depends on the presence of these relatively autonomous agents.  Thus, an adequate description of living systems requires the inclusion of hierarchic, heterarchic, and anarchic patterns of organization together, in complex (complementary and antagonistic) interrelation.  Each of these organizational patterns can be further correlated with the concepts of mono-centrism, poly-centrism, and a-centrism, respectively.  Kelly, discussing Morin in relation to Wilber, argues that a model which privileges holarchy is likely to miss or downplay this complexity, and following its own auto-logic (the logic of autopoietic or systemic closure), may lead in religious or political contexts to various forms of monistic inclusivism.  (This is debatable, but it lays out the current tensions expressed at the interface of these approaches).

Wilber is, of course, quite aware of the potential to misuse hierarchical thinking, and is careful to distinguish between healthy and dominator hierarchies.  Kelly suggests, however, that a focus on healthy hierarchy is not sufficient to address this particular issue.  Hierarchy in any form, when relied upon as a privileged or primary organizational metaphor, has the potential to over-privilege systemic closure or mono-centrism.   Thus, following Morin, and relating these ideas to the field of religious studies (but equally applicable to ecological studies), Kelly argues that a complexity view – which holds hierarchy/mono-centrism, heterarchy/poly-centrism, and anarchy/a-centrism in interdependent relation – can provide participatory or ecologically-minded scholars with the conceptual resources to adopt a similarly complex, non-reductionistic stance in relation to the perennial religious antagonisms such as those among monotheistic, polytheistic, and non-theistic traditions, or among universalist and relativist religious orientations.  Regarding the latter, and in agreement with Ferrer, Kelly suggests that perennialist/universalist approaches, in their celebration of oneness, tend to emphasize the closed auto-logic of enactive participation.  And relativist/pluralist orientations, in their prizing of alterity, conversely stress open eco-logic and embedded participation.  But from a participatory view, which recognizes enactment and embedment as not only dialogically but recursively related (enactment is embedded, and embedment is enactive), these antagonisms are not problems to be resolved ultimately in the direction of one pole or the other. 

Layman Pascal said:

So then the question becomes finer... is this qualified holographic holism adequate? And that is a very fruitful area since the core issues of this site come into play. I'm sure there is a lively debate as to whether Morin-esque holgraphy or Wilber-esque holarchy offer the more comprehensive route forward.

And then the side-question which is: How do we feel about the perpetuation of old-fashioned 20th century concepts like "holgraphic" and "holism"? Where do we find the balance between the danger of triviality which accompanies the coining of new terms and the danger of perpetual misdirection which accompanies the baggage-laden finessing of progressive populist terminology? Is there a dynamic middleground between these? Or a set of classical concepts which are already perfectly adequate as long as we are going to be finessing them? Or should we rather assume that different tasks and populations require different approaches?

Morin (my Kelly's Morin, obviously) can be understood as constructively deviating from AQAL or as specifying the necessary understanding of some parts of AQAL. I prefer the latter since the hegemonic construction of populist integrative maps is both desirable and necessary. Therefore I criticize the Morin which appears to diverge from Wilber insofar as this divergence can be understood as simply clarification and support. So,without further ado, let me situate myself at the interface...

  • As Balder notes the necessity of agentic and ecological dimensions of all events is well affirmed in both Morin and Wilber.
  • Kelly buys into the idea that Morin's dialogical and recursive relations represents a difference from AQAL. I would dispute that. Auto-ego-re-organization, while having its own emphasis, does not do much more than restate the implied premise of holarchy. Recursivity of some kind is necessary in order to envision the bi-directional creativity which sustains the relations between junior and senior holons. It also describes the necessary semi-translucent, semi-reflective quality associated with the same-differential of the inter-epistemological and generative "functional nondual" boundaries which are the organizational scaffolding of AQAL.
  • The fact that some elements of junior holons are suppressed by senior holons is hardly a significant basis for asserting that the idealistic MORE of the higher level is also LESS. The progress described by the emergence is that of an increase of qualitative freedom which naturally occurs by constraint of less quantitative freedoms. The variable which is MORE is a particular stylistic coherence which non-repressively constrains junior elements into to evoke the the new symphony. The failure to distinguish between quantity and quality in this matter leads to an unnecessary ambiguity about progress -- which subsequently feeds into a mildly pedantic anti-idealism. Wholes are only quantitatively exceeded by the parts.
  • There is nothing in holarchy which disagrees with the ongoing presence and dynamic creative activity of complexes within junior holons or disagrees with distributed chaotic novelty in the lives of components. Heterarchy is a cute way of reminding ourselves of this fact but does not demand modification of the model. Those who adopt a naively idealistic holarchy only commit the same sin of misapprehension that is committed by those who stand against holarchy as if it were inevitably leaning in the direction of naive idealism. These are twins, not rivals, whose combined insights should simply be the increasingly deep comprehension of what "level" or "layer" signifies.
  • Complexity is not even the issue. Kelly ought to begin by suggesting: The increasing simplexity of consciousness cannot be understood without increasing our consciousness of simplexity. 20th century notions of evolutionary complexity suffer the reciprocal limitation found in systems which are prone to systemic closure -- self-closure & non-consolidated complexity are both transcended/integrated in any organic holarchy. AQAL does not propose an endlessly adumbrated increase of complexity which its own structural presuppositions prevent it from fully expressing. Rather it proposes a particular line of simplexity emergence described by holarchy, a line which capitalizes upon and partly suppresses both complexity and prior structure.
  • The notion that a circulating buffet of hierarchical, heterarchical and anarchical stances is necessary is perhaps the typical scholar's conceit that keeping the options in mind is the essence of progress. This is more complex but complexity is not the sole function of conceptual progress. It is not activated until it is consolidated. In this case that means the voluntary presumption that these multiple modes are implied by "holarchy" AND the accompanying assumption that in order to navigate these modes responsibly it is NOT necessary to know them, name them and keep them consciously and intellectually in play. We should assume that 80% of their function can be accomplished by 20% of their appearance... which is only to say that these things are much simpler than their articulation would suggest.
  • Obviously (!) oneness is a conceptually misleading phraseology for nondual and causal experience. Some variant of same-difference is required in order to blend the ultimate with the theoretical. This is the assertion I make under the name MOA-3. However MOA-3 should also be understood to be the clarification of, rather than alternative to, MOA-2 ("perennialist/universalist") and MOA-1 ("alterity"). The practical philosophical goal should be to generate an MOA-2 which encompasses MOA-1 and makes itself completely available for an intensification of depth to the point of MOA-3. That is pretty much the definition of the proper integrative map. The issue of "not resolving antagonisms in the direction of one pole or the other" is precisely the one that is handled in three different ways by three levels of adjacency... non-resolution through alterity, non-resolution through complementarity, non-resolution through the structural abandonment of poles.

In a fairly telling Freudian slip I wrote "auto-ego..." above instead of "auto-eco..." (although, perhaps, it could considered as a critique rather than a confession?)

And while we're picking at Kelly's Morin let me specify this piece of AQAL:

The biosphere is the collective, mutual and virtually simultaneous dimension of cells and cellular networks which also simultaneously exhibit a degree of psychology which is appropriately termed “sentience”.

The noosphere is the collective, mutual and virtually simultaneous dimension of bio-cultural organisms which also simultaneously exhibit a degree of psychology which is appropriately termed “sapience”.

Neither the ubiquitous co-activity of culture and biology (collectively called the "noosphere") in human affairs nor the capacity of attention to move "recursively" between the personal and collective domains of an event provides an additional element to the AQAL model. Both are pre-specified within it. Therefore we must be craftier still if we wish to lay hold of a stone which the ancient builders overlooked...

This is a bit of a tangent, and I will try to get back on track soon, but briefly:

Your MOA-3 strategy is to argue that constitutive elements of any particular meta-theory are already structurally presupposed by other meta-theories, and therefore any given meta-theory doesn't really offer a real alternative to the others.  So, in asking (later on in the post) for a craftier, real alternative to AQAL, I don't believe you can really be asking for such -- as that would involve a drop down into an MOA-1 position.  Because you nevertheless appear to be asking for that, in the same breath that you are "picking at" Kelly and Morin, it appears you are defending one meta-theory (AQAL) above others.  But on what basis, if there actually are no true alternative meta-theories?  (So you probably aren't really doing that.)  Or is there anything in Wilber's AQAL that you believe should recommend giving it preference over other existing meta-theories (such as Morin's or Bhaskar's or Panikkar's)?  Accepting that meta-theories structurally presuppose the same (or homeomorphically equivalent) elements, it seems to me we nevertheless find different emphases and expressions that make a difference -- and therefore there is still value in allowing these meta-systems to interface (they can "make a difference" for one another, in sharing and demonstrating the practical and theoretical effects of their different emphases, expressions, etc: a system may structurally presuppose elements that are found equally in other approaches, but it may not yet have learned how to exercise them or paid much attention to making them manifest to the degree that others have).  Without acknowledging something like this, we may end up with a self-insulating orientation which undermines any grounds for inter-cultural or -systemic dialogue or exchange. 

The position I seem to be taking is that AQAL is currently privileged by virtue of various contingent factors (catchiness, popularity, ease of embrace by non-experts) and various structural factors (high-powered comprehensiveness, a deliberate emphasis on maximizing the general inclusion of perspective-types rather than getting the details as deep as possible in each particular). So one is not an extremist to treat AQAL as the conventional example of an integral model. In fact people's attempt to distinguish variations and alternatives largely admits this.

So it is the current general MOA-2 model. It can certainly do a bit better job revealing the MOA-1 which it colonizes and making MOA-3 attractive to those who want to move forward. But we should be thinking about how we can integrate a general model. The examination of homeomorphic equivalents with different emphases is preliminary to either the structural inclusion of their additional insights into the basic model or else the clarification of the fact that their insights belong to the heart of the basic model. We ought to be in the cathedral building business -- and the art of buttresses, moats, annexes, arches and windows all involve proximal moves which are supportive to this task.

Our goal must be to build a structure that is powered by the same-differential between self-insulation and opening. But it must nonetheless operate as a structure and not as an assortment of possible structures which merely indicate that we have not done the work of combining them and harmonizing them. And, it goes without saying, that structural harmonizing and combining does not really occur until it preserves the liberating and vitalizing element of difference.

Either AQAL can perform the self-revelatory acrobatics to continue absorbing (into the very definition of itself) the panoply of meta-level insights OR we should switch to a model that can absorb AQAL and outperform it at its own game of being a generalized locus of integrative modelling. However, that will almost certainly look a lot like AQAL so we would run a risk of repeating ourselves rather than moving forward.

The purpose of an integrative (MOA-2) model is to stabilize the total situation by eliminating the need for corrective counterbalancing. The preliminary move is therefore to critique and compare by holding a model up to same-differential variations. The actual move is to structurally enfold the alternatives such that the task of preventing creative permeability no longer belongs to an interplay between versions but is encoded as the growing generalized platform. And that is reliant upon the twin situations of having a model "simplex enough" to handle this task & having people who are willing to voluntarily enter into progressive coherence by presuming that the alternatively emphasized versions are clarifications rather than alternatives. The one-many does not advance by "making sure to keep the many in play in addition to the one". It advances by stipulating that the one is implicitly many and by enfolding the many into the one under the aegis of sacred philosophical and meditative immersion in onemanyness.

And this can only be aided by getting ever craftier in our critiques... which in turn is forced to occur only if we annex intelligent critiques and specify them as being non-critiques that are already being asserted.

Your pal,


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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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