Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kosmic Addresses

A few posts on what I consider to be the most important aspect of Ken Wilber's thought: integral post-metaphysics and the question of meaning (integral semiotics).

C.S. Peirce told William James "perception is semiotics." In other words perception is not "pure" phenomenology. What an individual perceives is deeply molded by the relations, chains, and cultures s/he stands in. It is not what is simply arising to consciousness. It is not even that structures of the mind as Kant argued mold what I see/experience (although it includes that), but even more so my culture/language influences the structures of my mind which shape what I perceive.

Post-metaphysics goes even a step further. What post-metaphysics I think would say is: Perception is semiotics. But more, semiotics is already a perspective.

Gottfried Leibniz, the great modern philosopher, the only one to keep a holonic view of the universe (monads and consciousness in various forms extending down a scale to animals, plants, etc) saw all monads (read: holons) as occupying a unique position in time and space. He never really elaborated the point; he simply stated that all these holons were set up from the beginning by God in a pre-established harmony that made this the best of all possible worlds--though by no means a perfect one.

Following on that insight, if every holon occupies a different position in time-space, then their perception is shaped by their location. Think of Star Wars Episode I where all the ambassadors sit in those little pods at the Republic's headquarters--what they see depends on where they are located.

So for them to describe to another what they see, they have to acknowledge both how they are seeing--i.e. in what direction they are looking--and where they started from.

Now if we apply that analogy from the exterior world to the interior one, integral post-metaphysics starts to arise.

Wilber's description of life as quadratic is not unique to him. As he admits they were forerunners (Habermas, Adi Da). And developmental psychologists certainly talked about levels of complexity. Wilber united those two strands which was an achievement, but a more radical one lay to be discovered.

That is if there are levels of consciousness--which has always been to my mind the most controversial aspect of the whole praxis-theory--then meaning of a statement/what one experiences-observes, is in part, dependent on what level one occupies.

It is what Wilber calls a "developmental signified". Now, before delving in a little more--this notion is open to abuse. No doubt about that. The abuse is to say that because one doesn't occupy a certain level, one can not criticize what the purported higher level-er is saying. There is a sorta of imperialism in that tone.

The (AQAL) integral maxim is that everyone is partially correct. So being true to those roots, an individual at say orange can criticize elements of turquoise--because every system is flawed in some ways. But it it still true that such a criticism would itself be deeply affected by limitations of the orange stream: tendency towards ahistorical analysis, uniformity over heterogenity, functionality over expressive mode, etc. Moreover, such a critical perspective, will not be able to experience/"see" the truthful elements of a turquoise analysis (unique to turquoise): e.g. cross-paradigmatic analysis, multi-perspectivality, etc.

This notion of a developmental signifier is I think deeply antithetical to the democratic sense of America as well as the relativism of postmodernity. It also (correctly in my view) strikes at the unnamed egoic patterns that can easily lie in spiritual circles. Because states of consciousness, what spiritual traditions (particularly Eastern) tend to emphasize, do not automatically bring about stage development. If we are dealing with developmental signifieds in the structure-stage sense, which I am for the moment. There is state-stage developmental signification as well.

The most basic assertion then in post-metaphysics is that one must describe (at minimum) the (rough) altitude and quadrant of both the observer and observed.

It is analogous to Einstein's theory of general (read: universal) relaitivity. Universal or absolute relativity captures the paradox perfectly. Going back to the ancients, Ptolemy held to a geocentric model of the universe (earth-centered). Then Copernicus taught a heliocentric with the sun at the center. Then Einstein and modern cosmology which teaches what is best termed omnicentricism: every point is at the center of the universe. Or alternatively no point is center. No fixed point around which everything revolves.

Truth acts, and all ther est then is not meaningless. There are still universal propositions, and objective facts; they must however be located in contexts. And what is perceived as the proepr context is determined in part by the perceiver. Not in a spooky New Age way but in the sense of humans demarcating where galaxies begin and end--giving them names and such.

This same process integral applies to the interiors as well. As difficult as it is to delinate boundaries, define terrain, and tease out the being of astronomical orbs and processes, so much more so the human thought and feeling.

The human is the universe aware of itself thinking said Teilhard. That truth itself Teilhard did not understand does not emerge until a certain point in development and only from an interior point of view. Altitude + Quadrant.

[This insight can be re-formatted for alternate integral praxis/theorems: collective holons as having interionality, single scale holarchy verus levels, etc.].

To me this mining into the very processes which emerge and by which we have come to know of our own depths and meaning-making abilities, is the most radical (i.e. to the root) of all philosophical expressions today.

When I really meditate on what it is saying (as I see it) it means all of us are speaking in ways that are out of touch with the evolution of the planet. And hence our world is a confused mass of disinformation, misunderstanding, and (conscious or otherwise) falsficiation/hyping, etc. Even well intentioned attempts. From one angle they are still well intentioned and good, but from anotehr they are even more increasingly marginal.

I speak, I write, and I read others whom seem to me in the same boat--it is as if humans assume we know what we are doing in communicating. We/I do not. Integral post-metaphysics to me is about making transparent to the mind the processes of which it engages in. It will never ever fully bring "wholeness" or integration--that is its Kosmic IOU. But it can at best make one aware of the process by which when even begin to begin to do anything.

Joe Perez I think has taken some tentative steps down the road. Joe in his Kronology has added a real contribution by pointing out the need to reference depth (as well as altitude-height). He also has begun to use colored-text corresponding to altitude for certain words.

Artists sometimes I think by accident/inspiration tap into some force that generates something. Spiritual leaders know of states, but typically will not admit that individuals will interpret those states differently and are too naive about how much communion is created through the good vibes of altered temporary attention and feeling. Humans are good at speaking with those who they already more or less agree with--or understand the disagreement so as to employ a form of argumentation already manifest in social norms and learnings.

But what does it really, I mean really, mean to learn how to generate meaning? To learn how to communicate in a world where (from this perspective--see how easy it is to fall into the myth of the given-ness of realities?) people ex-ist in different levels of discourse, streams, and dimensions of discourse?

How do I, does any one, speak about anything while recognizing the space from which speaking arises? And not only the space but the current and altitude/perspectives of all employed at any moment?

This is the question I want to take up in a few posts. It is really beyond me. And I see no one really addressing this issue--integral blogsphere and elsewhere. My working hypothesis going in based on a decent amount of thought/reflection on the subject is that while there may be in some a general cognitive awareness and discussion of wanting to overcome the myth of the given, emotionally and communicatively, it hasn't manfiested yet.

In my case this is true. At least when I focusedly relax I am aware of cascading perspectivality. I can feel/see where just about every human I meet is, as it is said, is coming from. And I can even, for those already with some know how, parse with the help of the terminology, the crutch of system (AQAL), but my speaking is still very much riven with the myth of the given.

Even in the moments of colorizing and all the rest.

How do I speak about speaking while speaking what I'm speaking?

If anyone has thoughts on the matter, I really welcome them.


At 4:09 PM, Blogger jimlud said...

CJ I see that you have given this subject considerable thought; I just read the "integral spirituality" book a few weeks ago myself. My main reaction to your question is to suggest that for me it is not the main question that arises(sorry!)

That is, reading your post, I am stuck my the esoterically intellectual nature of this territory that wilber has written about. I don't mean that critically of Ken; he has done uniquely intellectual pionnering work which will serve us all for many decades. But almost by defnition of the model, only a tiny percentage of people can relate (I forget the number of people purported to be at torquoise or indigo...)

It seems to me that given the current state of human/ecological affairs that we are facing, such intellectual considerations shared by those cognitive torquoise are less pressing than talking about how someone of such a perspective could be more effective in communicating with the bulk of society.

Many of our socio-political problems boil down to blue and green (in the orig. Spiral Dynamics vernacular) fighting with each other: racial matters, border security, abortion, poverty, etc - in the mainstream we see blue and green "debating", freezing each other into position such that no forward movement is possible.

How can we help (rather than to talk intellectually of such matters that reside at torquoise) society to see the partial truths that both sides offer? Whether through our content (WHAT we say - a more integrated perspective that blends with the values of green and blue) or our process (an interpersonal style that doesn't get so dogmatic and righteous, immediately making others wrong), how can we broaden the mainstream converstation so that second tier thinking is at the table, though not necessarily explained?

It seems to me that attending to this matter has the potential to reach a much bigger audience than simply pursuing the intellectual threads provided by wilber.

On a more personal note, if I found myself contemplating the question you raise, I suspect I would find more value in dys-identifying from the self that was concerned about the matter stated than trying to resolve it intellectually. : ) Though ken emphasized that due to the myth of the given we can not be liberated by meditation alone, meditation is nonetheless very useful. In our heads we don't have to do what ken undertakes - intellectual discourse with modern and post-modern critics. Granted that our higher experiences are colored by our culture, those higher experiences are to me still more valuable to me that too much intellectual musing, I think!

Thanks for your thoughtful writing. Jim

At 7:28 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Thanks for the post.

By the most important piece, I mean the deepest (most "far out") that is the most radical. It is not the most important, ur right, in terms of impact in the near term.

In terms of meditation, of course all of us (particularly me) could use much more of it. I try as best as possible to explore something like this as a yoga--I tend more to the jnani tradition.

In my own experience, which is by no means normative, traditional prayer/meditation (which I do) does not work those aspects of my being. Which is fine. They do something else. Or rather get rid of a need to do for that time. Or bring openness or however we say this.

But I think vertical depth is an aspect of the Kosmos and I want to give it its due, being as aware he as I can that there are shadow sides (e.g. the ones you mentioned). I find if I don't exercise it, it doesn't strengthen.

Meditation for me tends towards the emptiness/blackness. I gain a trust from that but it is the trust of if everything passes away, the word of the Lord remains.

Its not a trust that life as we know it on earth won't get snuffed out for example. It just a knowing that were that to be the case, the Ultimate Ground would be untouched.

This more, what u call, estoerically intellectual (and that's probably true as a description) endeavor is where I gain a long view on this relative plane. A view that gives me hope and sense of confidence in the trajectory.

Because as I work through the kinks here it (ideally) becomes part of my life and perspectives to me has always been about a better way of being with people.

On the ecological side, sure these ideas of ka if followed more deeply would work out certain stuck aspects on something like ecology, etc. But it's not going to happen.

Practically what the world needs is yellow politics around turquoise visioning. The ideas as such are already out there--check out Radical Middle for example on domestic issues. Thomas Barnett on global security. Gregg Easterbrook on environmentalism.

They are all still afflicted with the language assumptions discussed in the post, so they will be only so effective, but any effective is better than known at this point.

But ur point about discussing the formation of leaders/communicators is a valid one. I'd be very interested to hear ur take on the matter.

I actually think in the short term there are very few prospects for yellow/turquoise. I just don't see the energy for it. As bad as certain aspects of our world have gotten, there is not the sufficient pressure yet in terms of life conditions to force the necessity to plumb our depths for a new intelligence to emerge able to handle the problems.

So to me isn't a matter of ideas but will.

What I mean is that your point about how to do we get people to recognize the validity of other sides is a good question. But it assumes, as I see it, that people actually want to see the validity of another or come together. I don't see that strongly in society.

I would argue one of the deeper reasons is related to the meaning-make and the hard work of re-learning how a species we communicate. Because that is impractical in the short term and there are more pressing issues--which always will exist seems to me.

But be that as it may, people have to want to recognize each other. Integral AQAL, the true but partial is a deep cutting of the ego in my mind. That element is not recognized sufficiently I think. An individual has to live in every moment with never completely cutting off another, another system, political viewpoint, religious or non-religious belief. It is to first and always locate (not as judgment but true seeing of the other) on the spectrums, however conceived.

In my experience there isn't a discourse for that. Sometimes I think the immediate tendency to ask what is the pratical benefit might itself be put under the microscope. Maybe what would help are giant wastes of time, from that pov.

Maybe you have more positive experiences that suggest there is more of a hunger out there. If so, cool.

So I don't know what the best thing to do is. I generally support the model that the Boddhisattvas Must Become Politicians. I can tell u as I go along with my studies towards priesthood I in no way see myself headed down the traditional spiritual teacher path. To me that has already been done.

Still I never discuss any of these meanderings with people in daily life. I hardly even mention the name Wilber. If I were to insert I would lead the other authors mentioned. But again I don't see and experience those openings really in life. And I'm not one to force in those situations--my pushing occurs more in my writings. It just doesn't register as an existential datum/necessity for most people i interact with. And that is the really weird thing about the ka--you don't see it until you see it.

For me it is much more an exile period. Or in Christian terms, the Lost Years of Jesus--working as a carpenter as another faceless name in the crowd.

But if you want to discuss more the wording of how to translate to the people, that would be a good discussion.

The issue there for me then is not at first finding the wording but gaining legitimacy within the appropriate circles and fields. That is what I am trying to do in life now in the church. And let me tell you it is a hard slough.

Even if you have the right phrasings, good ideas, and a will among the people, a person has to have a standing, a medium. Knowing Ken Wilber or whoever is not a credential for anything in this world. Fortunately or unfortunately.

I'm not referring to ur comments specifically but just a general zeitgeist I get in some of the integralists out there--an unconscious assumption of entitlement to leadership based on knowledge of advanced theories.

With great knowledge comes great responsibility for sure. But not necessarily a pulpit, as it were. And maybe advocacy, consultancy, and assistanship are equally and in certain cases maybe more, effective than leadership. Who knows?

Anyway, Happy New Years bro.


At 11:46 PM, Blogger Joe Perez said...

cj, happy bridge of light to you. I wish I could spend more time reading your blog/archives. I always learn something here.

you wrote: "Think of Star Wars Episode I where all the ambassadors sit in those little pods at the Republic's headquarters--what they see depends on where they are located." That's the mandala, you know. Such as the Kronos mandala.

I think you're correct in your view that there is imperialism in the tone of developmentalism. But IMPERIALISM from WHAT PERSPECTIVE? Certainly, I would argue, not from a higher perspective than that from which developmentalism emerges (violet and higher). Mainly the charge of imperialism is YELLOW looking at TEAL and GREEN looking at TURQUOISE--SDi and Wilber get that exactly right, I think.

you wrote: "How do I, does any one, speak about anything while recognizing the space from which speaking arises?" Looking forward to your thoughts on my new blog Whole Writing as the blog develops I agree with your view of the radically disassociated state of communication in the world today and will be exploring this topic in Whole Writing and Until. Let's stay in touch. :)


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