Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
(This is an extended musing on the term "post-metaphysical" which I just dropped into IntegralLife.com -- it is not addressed to this site but obviously refers to some things which are of concern here).
Ken Wilber speaks very differently to different people.
Hopefully this trait is NOT a sign of hypocrisy & mere politics, but rather it is an indicator of his all-inclusive sensitivities and his "integral" capacity to dial up different parts of his own worldview for different people on different occasions. We recognize a little of this behavior in ourselves. Yet we do not think that an Integralite is just a chameleon, a shape-shifter, a liquid person. Actually, everyone behaves in this multiple manner. It is only that we Integralites must be honest enough to accept this -- and responsible enough to try our best to meet every viewpoint "half-way". We are prototypes who are training to become the connective tissues of the living world.
So -- even if we are very simple, very intuitive about our personal Integralism -- it does not bother us much to hear Ken rephrase himself grandiosely with his intellectual colleagues. When he is speaking with people who pride themselves on cerebral sobriety and an "up-to-the-minute" grasp of quasi-academic Euro-philosophy we are not disturbed by Ken's use of the word "post-metaphysical". After all, it is a good-looking word. Smart & sexy.
But what does it mean? What is that "post-" trying to get beyond? And if Ken Wilber is in his Post-metaphysical Phase... has he now left us most of us behind? Perhaps it would behoove us devils to look into this tricky word "post-metaphysical"... if you are willing?
Such a rare and lofty term! Surely it must get used in many different ways by many different folks. Even when the smartest ones are talking to each other very seriously there is, doubtless, a little bit of pretense in such fancy terminology. But that is not a bad thing. We Integralites take all sides! In fact it is wholly possible that if only everyone pretends to just KNOW what this word means then they might collectively, eventually, work out a nice clear meaning which is very useful for everyone. Truth is not simply the alternative to hype, but rather -- as I pedantically tell people -- it is hype which often gives birth to truth.
So maybe we should be happy that people bandy this fancy term about willy-nilly?
Okay. But surely each person means SOMETHING specific? We should perhaps become philosophical policemen -- stopping people when they say "post-metaphysical" or "metaphysical" and demanding they produce their papers (a short description of whatever the heck they privately mean by this word). A good idea! But hard to implement. It'll never get through Congress. And so we are left with a living tangle of meanings.
Just look at this jungle:
We know "post-metaphysical" from Ken Wilber's attempts to make contemporary spiritual practice sound less gullible, more experimental, not so flakey & believery. Ken cheerfully borrows it from Habermas who refers its back to Immanuel Kant self-critical super-philosophy. This is mostly just the idea that we shouldn't forget about the limits of our own minds when we are trying to decide what really exists. Rorty uses the term in a similar way to describe his ideal of a "poeticized liberal-ironic culture". This is thinking-beyond-fundamentalism. But is that really post-metaphysical... or just post-mythological? But is it only a mythical worldview which is metaphysical -- or is there a metaphysics of reason & science? Of course there is. Nietzsche felt that mythology, science & post-modernism were all just different phases of metaphysics which were partly sick and partly healthy. It was sick, he thought, whenever it began to value fictions over realities, invisible things over visible things, impossible things over possible things, abstract circles over real circles, etc. If bliss lives in Heaven with God in the afterlife -- then people subconsciously feel that this word is a shit-hole which we should exploit, waste or escape from. Yet Heidegger said all that was just an example of Nietzsche's metaphysics -- the quintessentially modern metaphysics. It's a mess!
The American futurist Buckminster Fuller had a rather simple explanation. He said that Meta-physics just means whatever exists beyond physical matter. Any immaterial but real things. Patterns. Math. Laws. Perspectives. Any kind real thing you can't see in a microscope, et al. There seems to be no problem here. But a problem does arise when people start thinking up all kinds of invisible shit (stuff) and then insisting that it's the only true reality. It is this clumsy, dangerous and impolite behavior has garnished metaphysics with such a bad name over the last few centuries.
So in order to get beyond those jerks we start looking for something post-metaphysical.
You may say, "I am a post-metaphysical person. I don't ask you to believe my beliefs. They are just beliefs! You should verify everything for yourself by experimenting. And I don't insist on Only One Way of saying things -- there are many valid ways and, after all, it is all only thoughts in the human mind."
In the modern world this is very good etiquette. It minimizes arguments. It sounds quite sensible.
But what happens when someone says, "No, no, no -- you are NOT post-metaphysical. Look, you are basically asking me to believe this "verifiable reality" you are talking about. That's a metaphysical claim. And what about these "things" which, you say, supposed can be said in different ways by different people -- are these not the very "things" which YOUR metaphysics is insisting upon? And surely you, who are using human thoughts right now, cannot use them to say that human thoughts are inadequate. You can't believe beyond your beliefs no matter what you SAY about how limited beliefs can be! Piffle!"
And how will you handle that piffle? Are the two people in the hypothetical discussion above disagreeing about what post-metaphysical means... or are they simple demonstrating two different ideas which are going under the same name? How can we tell? Perhaps we can't. We need to lay hold of some reasonable comprehensive and also practical way of thinking about metaphysics & post-metaphysics.
Let us suggest, like Buckminster Fuller, that all massless real things are metaphysical. Metaphysics treats the Subtle as if it were Gross; it treats the multiple as if it were singular, the possible as actual, the option as fact. It thinks it can think before Reason gets involved, that it can reason outside of Reason. What begin as good metaphysical ideas start to escape criticism and fixate into mythical nonsense. Perhaps it is natural for a mythic-membership mind to fixate upon one "official" map of Reality, regardless of any facts or contradictions... but in a post-mythical society this starts to look like pathological fixation. At the very least it is bad manners.
Post-metaphysics treats the Subtle as if it were really subtle -- open to interpretation without being unReal. It deals in experiences-of-reality rather than a simple assertion of reality. It wants to access metaphysical things without becoming trapped by obviousness. Post-metaphysics leans to say, always, "It seems..." It un-learns the simplicity of "is" and it becomes alert for all those times when people mean "is" without even saying it. Irony, flexibility & suspicion become our friends. Are these good friends to have? Yes.
(Howso? Well, here's an obscure analogy> analogy. Sometimes people say that ALIENATION is different from SEPARATION. When you feel like your link to society is broken... you are alienated. You feel displaced. You feel inadequate in front of the current social order. You aren't living appropriately up its standards. But separation is different. It means that society's is itself inadequate and you are responding to that appropriately. The current social order is displaced. You are linked to something which is itself broken. Too obscure??? What I mean is that we first think suspicion is our personal problem. Perhaps it a fearful response. Perhaps it represent a non-loving recoil from reality -- or an overly mental & guarded approach to experience which afflicts those who read too much Kafka or feast upon Youtube paranoia theories. But not necessarily... It can also mean a very good relationship to a reality which is itself suspicion, uncertain, incomplete. Saying "maybe" to everything is not YOUR private reticence -- but only an honest appraisal of the what that Being actually operates. So then the more suspicious person, in the right way, become more faithful to reality, more truthful, more accurate, more... harmonious.)
It may be a good friend, indeed.
So, for me, this is what "post-metaphysics" means. We are suspicious. We keep our metaphysics -- even try to improve our metaphysics -- but we are willing to be open-ended, doubtful, spacious, pluralistic -- without losing coherence or heart. We do not slide sideways into the nihilistic abysses of relativism or backwards into the nihilistic abysses of fundamentalism. Our new "It IS..." always comes packaged in quotation marks. But our knowledge is not weaker because we hold it in this special way. Perhaps we are even more certain than the logical and religious dogmas of past ages. In physics the "Uncertainty Principle" is the name for a way that we can be more sure than ever about how to measure sub-atomic particles. So post-metaphysics should be, could be, a supra-metaphysics. It is good metaphysics, evolving metaphysics PLUS the cheerful skepticism.
We have grown suspicious of all "realities" so now we are free to validate "appearances" also. We are not dispirited by the hard core of fact or the effervescent effectiveness of fantasy -- in fact we find them to be remarkably... identical. And in this vision we do not become obscure and indifferent to validity. Somehow we grow even sharper, more lucid, more friendly toward Reason and proof of all kinds.
In such a state we might wonder if it is even appropriate to ask what post-metaphysics "is"? Is that too metaphysical a question? Probably. Instead let us inquire what it COULD be... or, better, what it COULD ALSO be?
We post-metaphysical Integralites, just like Ken, are always adding an "also" to our experiences.
And there are many kinds of "also"s which might work. We could, for example, add our personal & cultural context to our perceptions of external reality. This makes our awareness MORE post-metaphysical. Even if we embark on a Grand Narrative we are sworn to be sensitive to those who mistrust all grandiosity. So when we acknowledge the validity of concerns about overarching explanatory Narratives of humanity then we are being MORE post-metaphysical than we might otherwise be. When we emphasize "experiments in consciousness" rather than "choosing a belief" then we are MORE post-metaphysical. In our use of "or..." and "also/perhaps..." we become like a super-phenomenologist who is less concerned about the metaphysics of "what is" and MORE concerned about the logic of "what seems to be & what could be". And if we can make at least two convincing interpretations of our best and our worst experiences -- then we are holding reality in a MORE post-metaphysical manner.
"The wine of the sages is made by splitting & spreading the vine." -- Sufi Proverb.
Very nice po-meta riffing, Layman Pascal. I offered a brief outline of my understanding of the term in a post to Oleg earlier today. From what you've written above, it appears we're thinking along similar lines. I like your "cheerful skepticism" and "supra-metaphysics," which I relate to two felicitous terms I've borrowed from Joel Morrison: the acategorical imperative and meta-metaphysics.
(Note that the previous thread of the same name has a number of holes in it, now that Thomas' posts have been deleted, so the flow will be a bit choppy and discontinuous. Part of Tom's quantum legacy for this forum, LOL!)
Yes, we will have to infer what he said by the responses before and after the (w)holes he left, as if now in his absence he provides that virtual uncertainty principle that is not presently actual.
With a "What is Religion?" and a "What is Post-Metaphysics?" it remains only for me to create a "What is Integral?" and I shall have generated the raw material necessary to have a full opinion on the theme of this forum.
What an interesting place it would be if everyone had to get a little manifesto-ish (or personal summary-ish) on these three topics. We would be, perhaps, better armed for the crusade implied by the topic which joins us together.
Yes, I think getting a little manifesto-ish regarding key themes here would be interesting and useful for the forum as a whole. When I first started this forum years ago (on the Gaia network, not Ning), I did so with two manifesto-ish threads: "Integral Postmetaphysics, Simply Put" and "In Defense of Integral Postmetaphysics." My view of "integral postmetaphysics" has evolved and changed some since then, so neither of these posts would be worth resurrecting here (at least, not in their entirety), but over the course of this forum's history, we've also had more than a handful of threads exploring the meaning of metaphysics and postmetaphysics (Theurj provided links to a couple of them). Nevertheless, it's always good to return to the question -- especially since it's likely that I'm not the only one here whose views on this topic have changed in various ways since the project of this forum first began. We've also explored various views of "integral" and "religion" in a number of threads (and, here, I did some initial collating work to flesh out how an IMP/8-zone approach to religion might look), but again, I think it would be nice to have (as you are proposing) a few concentrated places where members' collective and emerging views on several of the guiding themes here could be aired and reviewed from time to time.
In this thread, which I posted at the beginning of the year, I asked members what they'd like to see at IPS going forward in 2012 -- what changes, additions, etc. If you look at the thread, you'll see your suggestions and promptings are in line with several suggestions made by (mostly lurking/reading) members in response to my inquiry back in January. Good ideas -- I like 'em. Let's manifest a few manifestos!
I wanted to connect a related conversation on Integral Life over to this thread.
LP: There are obviously temperamental differences between the ways and -- who knows -- the possibility of vast structural divergence resulting from small differences in their "alogorithms". But there is also tremendous convergence and one can readily imagine many ways in which Path of Skepticism weaves into itself the Ways of Surrender & Desire. The skeptic is not dispassionate and motiveless. He must encounter the desire which seeks to not be fooled, which seeks -- wouldn't you know it? -- to arrive in the position of maximal truth. And what is this position for him? It can only be, in the end, totally surrender and total embrace at the level of whatever intelligence he is using.
...[T]o be precise, I am suggesting that skepticism suggests a particular type of additional contextualized loosely sharp holding of perspectives' (or what I call the "also/perhaps" in distinction from the either/or & the both/and) which we pragmatically end up with as the definition of post-metaphysical."
David Marshall (DM): Is this a PC, post-metaphysical way to refer to the eight hori-zones and integral methodological pluralism? Are you slyly depending on AQAL here?
LP: What I am doing here is generalizing the post-metaphysical principle in a pragmatic way which justifies AQAL's attempt but equally justifies the attempts of all of philosophers and integralites who have sought to engage this way-of-being-with-knowledge. Post-metaphysical is pretty tidy when it mean post-mythical, reasonable, experience-based, enactive reality. But it can quickly rise to a level in which all implied treatments of reality whatsoever are contextualized as metaphysics. Then what? Isn't AQAL/8 another metaphysics? Yes and no. It is this "yes and no" which we have to take seriously. It approaches the way-of-being-with-knowledge that is shared and hinted among the various persons and systems which would like to be post-metaphysical. So that "holding" becomes, for me, the primary practical referent of this term.
DM: Your leftoverness is distinguished from much of the post-metaphysical it-space, right? Don't they often, both the modern and postmodern types, pride themselves on going beyond faith? I have heard them say we can't posit states or God or anything because this entails faith, so an aspect of faith appears to be unavoidable, yes?
LP: Yes, of course, but (a) how much of this pride is simple vanity and self-justification (b) how many distinct concepts are hidden under the word "faith". If we use faith as I use it, as almost the opposite of belief, as a functional heart-felt pragmatic relational confidence, as the thing which makes us trust that the ground will not dissolve beneath our feet today -- then all these people are in various stages of faithfulness. They are not believers. They even take healthy pride in not being subordinated to primitive and even self-thwarting culturopathic moral imperatives to belief what someone else says without any proof. But this willingness to doubt our whims, our traditions, our authorities... is it not a faith in oneself, in one's capacity, one's experience, one's... reality?
Balder: Yes, I would say a trust also in being or existence or "what(ever) is." Skepticism, when it is included and cultivated as a spiritual virtue (or a "practice of the self" in Levin's sense), is at once a faithful vulnerability which embraces the acategorical imperative: a willingness to put our or others' metaphysical truths into question, which means (at times at least) to put them to the test. This is not an anti-metaphysical perspective. Metaphysical speculation is generative and important and even an essential part of our philosophical, scientific, and spiritual efforts to interface meaningfully, effectively, and creatively with the world. Putting metaphysical truth claims into question under the acategorical imperative doesn't mean rejecting all perceived metaphysical claims out of hand (in doing so, we would very likely be leaving our own metaphysical operating framework absolutized and unquestioned), but being willing both to rationally question and inquire into, and to open-endedly (i.e., faithfully-critically) act on, metaphysical claims: to personally take our chances with them, and to publicly hold them up for ongoing scrutiny (whenever that is called for).
As I sit here tempted to add my jaunty "Introduction to Post-Correlationalism" to the integral life site I am (in light of your cross-fertilizing above) reciprocally pondering adding here my "The Skeptical Faith" post which I just composed "over there" for (inspired by) David Marshall.
Probably I shall do neither!