Mark Edwards, in the first of a series of interviews with Integral Leadership Review, distinguished between a theory of everything and a theory for anything:


“I liked Clifford Geertz's distinction between a 'theory for' - which explicitly refers to the search for an imprecise but also useful form of knowledge and a 'theory of' - which harkens back to the grandiosity of the positivist search for complete explanations and exact predictions. As far as the 'everything' bit goes, I see integral theory as a set of lenses that can help me get a handle on any event rather than every event. By this I mean that I want to bring integral theory to the ordinary events of life rather than trying to fit everything into the theory. Hence, I have referred to my work in the development of an integral holonics as a 'Theory for Anything' as opposed to a 'Theory of Everything'. Although, I still find even the TOA version rather extravagant.... In any event, being aware of such distinctions is an example of how integral theory can gain from post-modern critical analysis of TOEs. The post-modern critiques of overarching theories are very relevant to this whole discussion and theorists working in this area need to be aware of such valid criticism.”


In Edwards' Integral World series called “Through AQAL Eyes” he explores this differentiation. In part two he notes the implications of the holon of everything often depicted in Wilber's diagrams:


“My contention is that, despite warnings by Wilber to the contrary, holons are often mistakenly assumed to be some sort of separate quasi-objective entities which develop against the background of the Four Quadrants.... This dualistic notion of how holons fit into the AQAL model derives from two main misconceptions. The first is that reality is 'composed' of holons and objective holonic categories. The second is that the AQAL model, particularly in its Theory of Everything (TOE) presentation of the Four Quadrants of Kosmic Evolution, is often regarded as a spatial-temporal map of Kosmic reality. The result of these interpretations is the view that a holon is some objectively definable whatsit which spirals and develops within a vast Four Quadrants map of evolution. This common, and almost unconsciously, accepted perspective of the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework is in dire need of review.”


The only problem I see with Edwards' analysis is that 1) he correctly makes the case that the kosmic holon is reified as a spatial-temporal map of everything yet 2) still allows that we can retain the TOE holon. Whereas the point is that we can never get outside ourselves to posit such an whole of everything because that very idea is itself part of the dualistic, metaphysical problem that must be eliminated. When we see the holon as an interpretative lens rather than the entire thing-in-itself we in fact eliminate such a metaphysical construct, and to continue to allow it, while diplomatic, is not only not necessary but contradictory to his argument.

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Interesting, synchronistic timing on this, Ed.  I was just talking last night about Edwards' distinction between TOE and TFA, and his recommendation to view the quadrants as lens not territory (a perspective Wilber has reinforced and begun to more fully articulate in his Wilber V work).


I'd like to talk about the problems you see with the "TOE holon."  In my view, I don't see a problem with a TOE holon, if we view it, not as a representation of the whole of Reality-in-Itself, but as a deep-time, meta-(and multi-)paradigmatic holonic enactment, e.g. a Big Picture View such as we are able to sustain (from our current situated perspective).  I want to think about this a bit, but at first brush I think the meta-paradigmatic aspect of the enactment puts us in the realm of Story: a particular narrative weaving of multiple enactments, a narrative which will have both its merits and its lacunae.

My initial impression was also that we could have conditional and ongoing, ever-changing TOEs that looked at multi-paradigms as enactments as long as we left it open-ended pending further developments. And while Wilber says on the one hand he wants this on the other hand he writes as if the AQAL holon in fact is, as Edwards says, an ultimate holon in itself in which other smaller holons run around in quadrants, with both being "objective" holonic categories. Recall my criticisms of ideal, objective categories in other threads and related to this topic we see the root of that problem. All of which is manifested in every aspect of kennilingus, even to his dualistic non-dual relation of absolute-relative.

In part II Edwards first summarizes 12 points "in a nutshell" before going into each in detail. I will provide the summarized points here for reference but encourage the reader to check out the entire article:

1. Koestler's Holons and Wilber's Quadrants

Koestler's theory of holons was adopted by Wilber very early on in his writings (Phase II). The holon construct was incorporated into the developmental structure of Wilber's writings as a way of emphasising the hierarchical/holarchical nature of reality. Wilber's theory of holons has been considerably expanded with his explication of the twenty holonic tenets or laws. However, the ongoing development in Wilber's theoretical propositions (currently Phase IV) has not seen a commensurate review of how the holon construct relates to the core principles of Integral theory. This disjunction still reverberates through Integral theory as a whole, and the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework remains unclear, despite recent attempts to the contrary.

2. Some Unresolved Questions

The uneasy theoretical relationship between holons and the rest of the AQAL model results in some important theoretical irregularities. First there is the unresolved problem of ideal types or categories of holons and how these fundamental categories of holons might be identified. Second, the lack of definitional regularity together with rather vague descriptive language of holons results in considerable confusion about the way that holons fit into Integral theory. The problem from the AQAL side has been the tendency for it to be reified into a representational Kosmic map - this is explored in more detail in Section 3. From the holon side the problem has been the tendency to ignore the propositional nature of holonic boundaries and to see the holon as some sort of substantive building block of the Kosmos - this is laid out in Section 4. These confusions result in some profoundly dualistic misreadings of how these main branches of Integral theory - the AQAL/TOE and holon theory – related to each other.

3. The problem with TOEs

When the AQAL model is only ever presented in terms of a TOE application it becomes very easy for it to be reified into a type of spatial-temporal map of reality. To borrow a distinction pointed out by Clifford Geertz (1993), the AQAL model is too often seen as a structural model of reality, rather than as an interpretive model for reality. As a structural model of reality it is then assumed by many to be a space-time reference map of the Kosmos rather than an interpretive tool for rendering more coherent the great complexities of the Kosmos.

4. The problem with Holons

Holons are too often seen as constitutive categorical entities from which reality is composed. They are assumed to be somehow inhabiting and evolving within the Four Quadrants developmental space rather than as points of reference identified through the use of the AQAL model itself. The recent proposition by Ken Wilber and Fred Kofman (Kofman, 2001; Wilber 2001) of a typology of distinct holonic categories has further added to this problematic process of objectifying holonic boundaries. When holons are seen as objective entities inhabiting the various TOE quadrants it becomes accepted practice to try to define them and permanently categorise them according to some set of "objective" criteria, e.g. sentience, insentience, individuality or collectivity. In this quest for a fundamental typology of holons many logical inconsistencies arise and the provisional nature of all AQAL and holonic boundaries is overlooked. If it is accepted that holons are quasi-objective entities that inhabit a Four Quadrant Kosmos, then it is logical to assume that their will be distinct types of consciousness holons, cultural holons, physical holons that somehow interact with each other across that Quadrant space. This type of double dualism is precisely what we find with the four Wilber/Kofman categories of individual, collective, sentient and insentient holons. Each holon incorporates all four developmental Quadrants, and it is this holistic vision of evolution-involution that is such a key feature of Integral theory[4].

5. Everything and Anything

The TOE application of the AQAL model combined with this dissociated conception of holons often results in dualistic misreading of holons and how they relate to Integral theory. There are many examples of this, for example that thought holons exist independently of their behavioural/physical holon counterparts, or that Integral theory assumes that holons can be fundamentally divided into independent categories along Four Quadrant lines. To avoid such interpretations we need to reframe our view of the AQAL model and to recognise the provisional nature of holonic boundaries. The first step in doing this is to see that the TOE presentation of Integral theory is not the only way of presenting the theory. It might be regarded as a Theory for Anything (that is, as an interpretive system for understanding any event) as much as a Theory of Everything. The Theory of Everything focus is really an interpretive snapshot of the Kosmic Holon. The AQAL model can also, however, be applied at the local level of ordinary holons to provide a more applied Theory for Anything. We can then more clearly see that each and every holon can itself be described in the AQAL terms of quadrants, evolutionary levels, developmental lines, states, and descending and ascending developmental dynamics.

6. The AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon

The view that all AQAL principles are inherent in any and each holon allows us to see the TOE presentation of the AQAL model as simply that application which represents the Kosmos as one dynamic holonic entity. The famous Four Quadrants diagram from SES is simply the AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon. It is the application of Integral theory to the ultimate Big Picture. In this sense the TOE presentation of Integral theory is a special case of the AQAL view of the All as a Kosmic Holon. And, of course, this is just one of an infinite number of levels of application of the theory.

7. The AQAL view of common holons

The AQAL model can also be focused down onto the experiences and activities of any local holon or holonic system. This perspective allows us to apply the whole of the AQAL model to any aspect of objective reality or subjective experience that we might which to investigate. In this sense, a common holon is the application of Integral theory to the intimate, local world of everyday reality.

8. Through AQAL Eyes - The AQAL model as an interpretive lens.

This integrative endeavour of bringing holonic theory and the AQAL/Four Quadrants structural model together can be greatly aided by seeing the AQAL framework as an interpretive "lens" rather than as a representational map. The AQAL interpretive lens can be focused down to apply to the structure and dynamic of any ordinary everyday holon (a Theory for Anything), and not only to the Kosmos as a whole (the usual TOE level of presenting Integral theory).

9. The Integral Holon

In considering the holon construct in the light of this more flexible interpretive approach, we find that the constitutive factors of the AQAL model, i.e. quadrants, stages, levels, lines, evolutionary and involutionary dynamics etc., are equivalent to those principles or tenets that describe the fundamental characteristics of all holons (Wilber's twenty tenets). This leads directly to the proposition that a holon (or a holonic system) is simply the result of applying the AQAL interpretive system to any specified set of phenomena. Therefore, there are no fundamental types of holons, as such. Holons are always defined according to a process of arbitration that is based on the experiential, cultural, and scientific sources of knowledge that provide the holarchic context for applying the AQAL framework.

10. Boundaries, Holarchies and Holons

Our imaginative creation of holonic boundaries is only limited by the holarchic context in which we apply the AQAL framework. This resolves the problems associated with attempting to identify some fundamental typology of holons. Within this context of an integrated holon/AQAL framework, some rules for applying the AQAL principles are discussed. All these are based on existing principles of Integral theory. In contrast, the Wilber/Kofman theory of holonic categories does not conform to some basic Integral axioms, for example, that all holons have interiority.

11. The Integral Cycle and the Integral Holon

A holon (or holonic system) is what we see when we look at reality through AQAL eyes. So whenever holons can be most fully described and analysed in terms of the basic principles of quadrants, stages, lines, states, and their dynamics (evolution, involution, ascent, integration, the Integral Cycle, etc). From this view a holon develops simultaneously through all four quadrants and the inner and the outer and the one and the many co-evolve (or as Wilber says tetra-evolves) in an intimate cycle of mutual interpenetration. The four faces of holonic reality do not merely co-relate or interact, they co-create each other in what I have identified previously as the Integral Cycle. Adapting some concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, the Integral Cycle is the tangential dynamic which complements the radial dynamics of evolution and involution.

12. Applied Integral Dynamics

Bearing these points in mind, when Integral theory investigates some topic it must employ all of the AQAL/holonic principles in its description of particular holons or holonic events. This branch of Integral theory might be called Integral Dynamics as it is based on the full integration of the principles of Integral structural theory with the basic dynamics of holonic/holarchic processes (i.e. the twenty tenets). The field of Applied Integral Dynamics opens up the possibility of a truly holistic science that can be used to investigate any applied topic. Some examples of the general characteristics of such an Applied Integral Dynamics are presented.

The foregoing integrative approach provides a more dynamic dimension to the quadrant structure of Integral theory in both its TOE/AQAL and its holon theory. It also allows a greater flexibility in applying the model to the full range of human experiences and knowledge. Uniting the holon construct with the AQAL framework allows Integral theory to test validate holarchies without recourse to the dualistic approach of permanent categories of holons. The significant problems, identified by Wilber and Kofman, of the inappropriate mixing of individual and collective holons and of using size to determine the order of holarchic series are also overcome through the integration of the twenty tenets (or holonic laws) with the basic principles of the AQAL framework. It is this integration of these laws and principles will validate holarchic series and not objective categories of holons. A holon is an arbitrary reference point [my emphasis] that helps us to read the unfolding nature of holarchic reality through applying the tenets of Integral theory. It is arbitrary because the delineation of any coherent and useful boundary (where coherency and utility are defined through the balancing of objective, subjective, scientific and cultural knowledge) will result in a holon. Any thing, process, experience, system, entity, event, or any combination thereof, can be seen as holonic, as long as a boundary can be drawn around that "any thing" within an holarchic context. From this perspective, I propose that Integral theory can be regarded as a Theory for Anything as well as a Theory of Everything.

Recall and compare with kennilingus from footnote 26 in Excerpt A regarding holons:

"Are there any a priori forms, not just in the evolutionary sequence, but in the involutionary sequence?... We are now asking: are there any forms that were laid down as "memory" in the involutionary sequence and which therefore show up as timelessly given forms that are present at the very start of evolution itself and operative at every point of evolution's unfolding?

"We saw several: Whitehead's eternal objects, basic mathematical-physical laws, Sheldrake's implicitly postulated archetypes, and so on. A list of 20 proposed involutionary givens can be found in chapter 2 of SES. These 20 tenets are simply the residual forms of the Big Sleep, echoes of the Big Forgetting that set this round in motion, involutionary forms that were tattooed on the translucent skin of the radiant Kosmos in its coming-to-be."

Recall this from p. 4 of the real and false reason thread:

L&J get more refined that Wilber's general graph above as elucidated in this article. The basis of their hierarchy is the image schema involving sensori-motor and proprioceptive experience. These basic categories include part-whole realationships via gestalts and mental imagery. So here we have a physiological basis for the holon concept Wilber is so fond of. Holons aren't an apriori part of the structure of the universe apart from the brain that perceives them, just as math is not. Holons and math are not involutionary but evolutionary givens firmly grounded in the body and its interactions with the environment.

And this from p. 7 of that thread on using holons to build hierarchical levels of complexity:

So our basic categories are embodied in image schemas that arise from our interactions with the world. Recall that one characteristic of these basic categories is the part-whole gestalt, aka hierarchy. Since image schemas and basic categories operate below conscious attention we’ve come to assume that they are inherent to the world themselves and thus project this notion of “natural hierarchy,” with its most developed forms in Aristotelian nested, categorical hierarchies. All of which assumes a basic, particular and inherent “constituent” as foundation at the bottom and/or a general and inherent “being” as foundation at the top. Meanwhile the process actually begins in the middle of the classical taxonomy and we get more specific “downward” and more general “upward” from there on a useful but constructed hierarchy. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate hierarchy per se, just contextualizes it is a more naturalistic, nondual way and only eliminates its dualistic and metaphysical elements, elements which have some form of inclusivism and hegemony at its core. The notion of holons as involutionary givens is one of those metaphysical elements, and as we’ve seen this is much better explained by the part-whole gestalt properties of basic image schemas.

Following your "linking" activity, I will link also to this old discussion where we explored this to some extent:  Holons, Mereology, and the Limits of Thought.

Briefly perusing that thread I came upon yet another of my ingenious neologisms when I said:

"So perhaps we could describe a part that thinks of itself as the whole universe as an assholon?"

I like that for describing the AQAL holon of everything so from now on...

I still don't get Edwards' #6 above, that we can have a "kosmic holon" of the All or everything. That implies that there is a final whole or everything in itself, not just a contingent lens of the currently available knowledge at any one time. Even in the latter sense there will be multiple interpretations of such an overview of everything, even at the same "altitude" if we accept that as a valid concept. By Edwards' own holonic definitions there could never be such a whole in itself, or even an interpretative perspective that could encompass everything at once, even to a limited and conditional everything. It seems just the urge to do something of this sort is misguided.

Unless of course he also buys into enlightenment or satori as that which bypasses perspectives directly into the ultimate whole, like Wilber? We know Wilber believes this, for example this from footnote 7 to Excerpt C:

"Is there any perception that is not a perspective? Yes, I believe so, and it has to do with satori or nondual awareness (or pure Emptiness--consciousness without an object, which is therefore consciousness without a perspective), which I will explore in later excerpts. The conclusion of this integral reformulation of the wisdom traditions is that samsara (or the world of Form) is composed of perspectives, and nirvana (or Emptiness) is pure perception without an object or perspective. The union of Emptiness and Form is thus the union of perception and perspective."

So let's see if Edwards agrees. In his 2-part IW series called "an alternative view of states" he questions kennilingus confusion with dream and sleep states with transrational or enlightened states. Nonetheless, he still believes there are genuine transrational states of the ultimate variety, i.e., ultimate holons of everything. For example, from part II:

"But Ken's view...understands that there is the capital 'S' Self that is the highest stage of development and there is the Self that lies beyond even that in the Nondual. So I am not wanting to show here that Ken's understanding of Ramana's view is deficient with regard to the transpersonal.... The ego is in 'unconsciousness' in deep sleep while the ego is in 'Consciousness' in the fourth state (Turiya). They are not equivalent but rather are exactly opposite each other in the relative plane of developmental stages ands states. Ramana was, then, very aware of the apparent similarity (from the point of view of the egoic waking state) of deep sleep and the causal/turiya realms (leaving aside for a moment the differences between the causal and the fourth state)."


I made the same case for Edwards' adherence to an absolute in pp. 2-3 of the IP definition of states thread. It was just an aside here to try to explain why he retains the assholon of everything but I'll proceed to the rest of his notions that challenge kennilingus on many accounts.
Which of course is the theme of the introduction to emptiness thread, how we view such states (or is that stages?) and their meaning so I'll focus on that there. Meanwhile this thread is about holons, so back on track.

This is not my best piece of writing -- it's light-weight and verging on New Age -- but this presents one way (and reason) I feel comfortable retaining something like the Kosmic Holon from SES:


The Integral Medicine Wheel


More generally, if 'holon' again is understood participatorily, enactively, then I don't see a problem with 'mapping' -- or, using the language of my Medicine Wheel blog, invoking -- a global view of the 'whole,' as it presently ex-ists ('stands out') for us, using the multiple paradigmatic lenses and the 'weaving narratives' that allow a Big Picture (or macrophase) view to be enacted and articulated.  Understanding that the 'Kosmic Holon' itself is ultimately still a partial view (since other lenses may be available; since there may be horizons of cognitive development or modes of thinking as-yet unimagined by us in other parts of the kosmos (or in the future); since multiple interpretations or narratives are presently possible for any global, or globalizing, enactment we might undertake at this time, etc).



Obviously Edwards would agree, since meta-theorizing is his bag. And he includes a number of different lenses besides AQAL, which he finds useful but limited. It's just when we start mixing and matching big pictures with "absolutes" beyond perspectives that we get into trouble, and these absolutes are often subtle and unconscious. Not that it helps much to bring them into (semi)consciousness due to their unconditional interpretation. And even when we accept their provisional nature there is no one right way to meta-theorize a big picture, with multitudes of the same "level" seeing parts missed by the others. Plus it is obvious that no big picture or combination thereof can ever capture the "all" of reality, which in a sense is indeed unconditional but not in any way that we can apprehend fully, ever. Nonetheless, indeed big pictures are very useful with constant caveat.*

*Constant Caveat, the intergraal tea substitute, keeps you attuned to ongoing and infinite possibility, always on the alert for that next big change just over the horizon. You'll never sleep with Constant Caveat. And again, all for the low low price of simply $199 per canister. Only at unAqualified grocers everywhere (and anywhere).

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