Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Dan Araya is a graduate student in Toronto examining instructional technologies and values development within Education. He is Director and co-founder of The Institute of Integral Evolution, located in Toronto, Canada. The focus of the institute is to provide an open forum for the discussion of the Integral paradigm and the advance of a global civilization.
Integral Education in the Information Age
With the emergence of a knowledge-based economy, social and economic development is becoming contingent upon knowledge innovation. The rise of information and communications technology (ICT), and the growing interdependence of nations, is forcing fundamental changes in the structure and goals of mass education. Much as the nation-state, the modern education system is itself becoming a part of a global network of production. Moving beyond the transmission of industrial skills, future classrooms will become incubators of knowledge itself. At the same time, fundamental questions with regard to poverty and access to education remain unresolved. The desperate need for education around the world and the basic realities of globalization necessitate a global approach to education. Meeting this difficult challenge will be the major project of integral education in the twenty-first century.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the modern world is reaching a turning point (Capra 1982). Building upon multiple revolutions in technology, we are confronted by major transformations in culture and industry. As Ervin Laszlo has suggested, we are in the midst of a civilizational macroshift (Laszlo 2004). Economically it is a shift from industrial manufacturing to knowledge-based innovation (Drucker). Epistemologically it is a shift from reductionism to systems science (Kauffman). Politically it is a shift from state-based realism to multi-level cosmopolitanism (Held). Culturally it is a shift from a Eurocentrism to global hybridity (Dirlik). Taken together, this macroshift represents the emergence of a complex world civilization (Anderson 2001).
Just as the assembly line shifted the critical factor of production from labor to capital, today the computer is shifting the critical factor of production from capital to knowledge (Halal 1998). Today the information revolution is transforming industrial society, much the way that the industrial revolution transformed agricultural society. Employing vast electronic networks in the advancement of a global economy, ICT is progressively reshaping industrial societies (Castells 1996).
As Peter Drucker (1994) has observed, more than an age of information, we have entered an age of knowledge. Beginning with the First Wave, the agricultural economy, through to the Second Wave, the industrial economy, modern societies are now entering into the Third Wave, the so-called knowledge economy (Toffler 1990). Over the course of history, each of these tecno-economic waves has enabled new stages of cultural development. As Wilber observes,
There is little argument that the social domain shows a pattern of asymmetrical development. In Gerhard Lenski's formulation, for example, which is largely uncontested, the social structure generally evolves from foraging to horticultural to agrarian to industrial to informational. (Wilber 1998: 338)
Much as the factory was the central institution of the industrial age, the university is emerging as the central institution of the informational age. In many respects, however, the modern academy is now outmoded. Shaped for an industrial economy, the modern university was designed as an institution in support of the nation-state. Knowledge was understood as a local commodity and competition between schools mirrored competition in the rest of the marketplace. In post-industrial societies, however, the isolated nation-state is progressively being displaced by global networks of free-flowing information (Toffler 1990; Castells 1996). An industrial model of education is now incompatible with this new reality. Rather than islands of concentrated knowledge in support of the nation-state, today's universities must become learning networks in support of knowledge itself.
The challenges of this new century are global in scope and accelerating at unprecedented rates. Today, humanity urgently needs to establish truly large-scale solutions to the world's complex problems. In this knowledge-driven era, what is needed is a new vision for a global civilization. The need for education around the world and the basic realities of an ever-advancing economy present a moral imperative to begin to generate the educational infrastructure for a global civilization.
As Karl Marx suggested, changes in the base of production determine changes in society and its institutions. As the nexus of economic growth increasingly moves from labour intensive “smokestack” industries to mind work, knowledge-based education is becoming fundamental:
In the innovation economy, human imagination is the main source of value…Every country needs innovative workplaces and organizations that foster creativity. What's required are educational systems that teach and motivate students to learn and to be creative, rather than to recall information. (Tapscott, 1996:62)
The challenge today is to establish global educational systems that support innovative thinking. This has lead many educators to begin emphasizing knowledge innovation as the central goal of classroom education. Emerging from research in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia have introduced Knowledge Building as a model for redesigning mass education:
In what is coming to be called the “knowledge age”, the health and wealth of societies depends increasingly on their capacity to innovate. People in general, not just a specialized elite, need to work creatively with knowledge. (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2002: p.1)
Bereiter and Scardamalia make a careful distinction between knowledge building and learning. As they suggest, learning is the transmission of established knowledge; while knowledge building is the deliberate effort to create new knowledge. For Bereiter and Scardamalia, ideas must be understood as objects of innovation and construction in their own right. They argue that classroom work should be concentrated work on the creation and improvement of knowledge itself.
For Scardamalia and Bereiter, classroom curriculum is no longer about the transmission of culture. Rather it is about the progressive construction of new cultural forms. Much as a research laboratory, classroom work should be directly aimed at creating and improving broadly significant theories and problem formulations. In this regard, Knowledge Building is envisioned as creative work that is less dependent on argument and more dependent on iterative design. Underlying the future classroom, they argue, will be an explicit focus on collaborative construction.
Combining various skills and ideas, knowledge builders work in distributed teams. Much as the capacity of computer networks to augment processing power, distributed teams enable knowledge builders to augment intellectual research. Through collaboration and a shared purpose, knowledge builders forge “communities of practice”. Students learn by solving problems of understanding and by collaboratively searching for solutions to emergent challenges. Using database driven software, contributions to knowledge building are formed, cited and synthesized in the process of building innovative solutions.
As Scardamalia suggests, a major pillar for knowledge building communities is collective cognitive responsibility. Rather than concentrating leadership in specific individuals, knowledge building requires distributed authority. In this way knowledge building communities are built around “networked intelligence”. Moving beyond hierarchical decision-making, knowledge production is scaffolded through information technology. This works because the ultimate aim of knowledge building is always understood as the advancement of a more comprehensive body of knowledge.
Cultural Evolution and Cognitive Tools
Perhaps the most significant dimension of humanity's long history of cultural production has been its use of tools and technology. Throughout our history, the development of instruments specifically designed for interdisciplinary collaboration and the shared construction of ideas, has been fundamental to human advancement. The psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, for example, believed that the internalization of abstract tools such as language, writing, and numbers, was the foundation of both psychological and cultural development. From Vygotsky's perspective, individual cognition was in fact indistinguishable from human cultural activity. Advancing on Vygotsky, Jean Lave (1988) explains:
[T]here is reason to suspect that what we call cognition is in fact a complex social phenomenon... The point is not so much that arrangements of knowledge in the head correspond in a complicated way to the social world outside the head, but that they are socially organized in such a fashion as to be indivisible. 'Cognition' observed in everyday practice is distributed -- stretched over, not divided among -- mind, body, activity and culturally organized settings. (p. 1)
From this perspective, culture evolves with the evolution of cognitive tools. Just as new tools of labor facilitate new social structures, new tools of thinking facilitate new mental structures.This sociocultural understanding of human development is even more obvious today. With the emergence of worldwide information networks, the process of collaborative knowledge construction is becoming truly global.
Globalization as Hybridization
While at one level, culture distinguishes one human group from another, at a deeper anthropological level culture represents the collective ideas and tools shared by the entire human species. Modern anthropology suggests that human history is a record of complex cultural mutations. Human civilizations have evolved in discrete stages, from foraging tribes to agrarian empires to industrial nation states. In this larger sense, human culture refers to all patterns of thinking and behavior that human beings living in social groups learn, create, and employ (Lenski 1995).
As the systems theorist Ervin Laszlo (1987: 90) writes, over the course of history, human societies have evolved through stages of cultural convergence. As the flows of peoples, ideas and information intensify, new civilizations are created. The sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2004) describes this historical process as cultural hybridization. For Nederveen Pieterse, humanity's sociocultural history is an unbroken chain of intercultural synthesis.
As a perspective, hybridity entails three different sets of claims: empirical (hybridization happens), theoretical (acknowledging hybridity as an analytical tool), and normative (a critique of boundaries and valorization of mixtures in certain contexts)… (p.110)
For Nederveen Pieterse contemporary globalization is the continuation of an evolutionary process unfolding as history. While boundaries come and go, the integration of people and ideas remains constant. Transcending and including the contributions of European modernity, Nederveen Pieterse offers cultural hybridity as a more scientific paradigm through which to understand human evolution.
For Nederveen Pieterse, this process is especially important to understanding globalization. While most assessments of globalization are confined to a narrow time frame (modernity), Nederveen Pieterse examines globalization in anthropological terms. In this sense, globalization “belongs to a deep dynamic in which shifting civilizational centers are but the front stage of history” with ongoing intercultural traffic forming the backdrop (p.25). While globalization is often dismissed as mere westernization, Nederveen Pieterse points out that from an evolutionary perspective, such analysis is historically shallow:
The evolutionary backdrop of our common origins in Africa confirms that humanity is a hybrid species. The species' subsequent “clustering” in different regions of the world has not precluded large-scale contact and population movements across and between continents (Gamble 1993). This mixed heritage is confirmed by the “cultures” identified by archaeologists which in Paleolithic and Neolithic times sprawl widely and do not coincide with the boundaries of much later times. (p.100)
Examining the longue duree of human history, we find multiple stages of hybridization/globalization, with modernity being only the most recent form. Whether examining the founding of Rome, the birth of Islam, or the evolutions of India and China, we see that all civilizations are born of cultural integration. Changing course over time, it is the rich flows of ideas and peoples that enable the emergence of the world's metropolitan centers:
In this sense none of the achievements of the world's civilizational centers are local or regional achievements: they are interregional achievements that are incomprehensible without their cross-cultural infrastructure. Human memory retains the façade but overlooks the back entrances, remembers the peak but not the climb. (p.28)
Nederveen Pieterse's point is that while cultural hybridization has been concealed by religious, national, and imperial chauvinisms, it remains the underlying force of history. In this same way, modern technology is enabling a complex global culture today.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious attempts to examine the potential of this age of global integration is Pierre Levy's work in “collective intelligence”. For Levy, collective intelligence underlies a new paradigm that is emerging in various fields of research simultaneously,
Far from being exclusive, the expression “collective intelligence” relates to an extensive body of knowledge and thoughts concerned with several objects that have been diversely labeled: distributed cognition, distributed knowledge systems, global brain, super-brain, global mind, group mind, ecology of mind, hive mind, learning organization, connected intelligence, networked intelligence, augmented intelligence, hyper-cortex, symbiotic man, etc. Notwithstanding their diversity, these several rich philosophical and scientific contemporary trends have one feature in common: they describe human communities, organizations and cultures exhibiting “mind-like' properties… 
What is emerging with information technology, Levy argues, is a global civilization built around cultural evolution. Even as the superstructure of industrial society is fundamentally collapsing, Levy believes that a cultural economy is rising in its place:
Those who manufacture things will become scarcer and scarcer, and their labour will become mechanized, augmented, automated to a greater and greater extent. Information processing skills will no longer be needed, for intelligent networks will soon be able to function with little human assistance. The final frontier will be the human itself, that which can't be automated: the creation of sensible worlds, invention, relation, the continuous creation of the community. (Levy, 1997:34)
The challenges of this new era are becoming obvious. The rapid evolution of technology has begun to displace the traditional social bonds of virtually every community in the world. Levy argues that the urgent need for social cohesion, will, in part, spawn the foundations for an economy built upon a shared global culture. As the global economy progressively moves beyond goods and services, issues of ethics and human development will become central. Success in this cultural economy, argues Levy, is becoming contingent upon a shared and evolving consciousness.
A vast political and cultural plain stands before us. We have an opportunity to experience one of those rare moments when a civilization deliberately invents itself. But this opportunity won't last for long. Before blindly stumbling into a future from which we cannot return, it is essential that we begin to imagine, experiment with, and actively promote, within this new [informational] space, organizational structures and decision-making styles that are oriented toward a deepening of our sense of democracy. Cyberspace could become the most perfectly integrated medium within a community for problem analysis, group discussion, the development of an awareness of complex processes, collective decision-making, and evaluation. (Levy, 1997:59)
Information technology represents a quantum jump in cognitive evolution. With the emergence of ICT, the work of cultural construction is increasingly being supported by tools that scaffold creative collaboration. For thinkers like Levy, the World Wide Web represents the emergence of a semantic commons that is gradually enabling the whole of humanity to house and manage its cultural heritage. This is significant because it means that all knowledge may one day be available to be seen, explored and advanced by students throughout the world.
The Challenges of an Integral Age
At the same time, the challenges of a global era are forbidding indeed. As the Human Development Index indicates, a rapidly globalizing society is facing some disturbing trends. Despite efforts by the United Nations Development Program and World Bank for Development Projects, poverty remains a severe problem:
More than 50 nations grew poorer over the past decade. Many are seeing life expectancy plummet due to HIV/AIDS. Some of the worst performers—often torn by conflict—are seeing school enrollments shrink and access to basic health care fall. And nearly everywhere the environment is deteriorating. 
The truth is that piecemeal responses to the growing problems of war, hunger, disease, housing, pollution, and poverty are largely ineffective. Today, a collective humanity urgently needs to establish truly large-scale solutions to the world's complex problems. In this knowledge-driven era, what is needed is a global vision for the planet. Central to this vision will be the role of education.
In order for the world's educational institutions to effectively serve the needs of the twenty-first century, they will have to become globally-networked. More than this, information-based institutions of education will have to work collaboratively towards collective intelligence. There is considerable precedent for this already. Just as academics in much of the world participate in international exchange, academic institutions themselves are expanding globally. Many of today's universities are consciously building working relationships across national and regional divides. One of the more salient examples of this process is The Soros Foundation's Central European University (CEU). CEU coordinates campuses trans-nationally. It has administrative centres and campuses in New York, Budapest and Warsaw, and cooperates with a series of academic institutions in other nations. The stated aim of CEU is to construct and foster open, civil societies in the former Eastern Bloc. At the same time, the student body and faculty are exceedingly diverse in nationality. Students and faculty work in English and at least one other language and strive to make CEU one of the most cosmopolitan universities in the world.
As this paper has suggested, the development of knowledge building communities and related peer-to-peer networks will be the central framework of integral education in the twenty-first century. Much as the nation-state, the school itself is becoming a part of a worldwide network of knowledge production. This shift from industrial manufacturing to knowledge based innovation requires that institutions of education be redesigned to support networked intelligence. Ultimately, this will mean a transformation of education from the pursuit of local classroom learning to that of global knowledge building. This radical transformation in the structure of education will undoubtedly present complicated challenges. In a world of global integration, however, there is little alternative.
As we have seen, the emergence of globalization, and the growing interdependence of nations, is forcing fundamental changes in the structure and goals of mass education. With the rise of a global knowledge economy, the focus of education is increasingly becoming contingent upon knowledge innovation. As Pierre Levy has suggested, the locus of this new era will be a global society and culture. The reality, however, is that fundamental issues regarding poverty and access to education remain unresolved. What is obvious is that the future will require a collective investment in managing and advancing knowledge in a rapidly hybridizing global society.
1. http://www.collectiveintelligence.info. From Pierre Levy's Collective Intelligence Project at the University of Ottawa.
2. UNDP, p. 5; UNESCO Education Index: http://www.unesco.org/education/index.shtml
3. http://www.ceu.hu The University provides scholarships to residents of the former Eastern Bloc, but admits students and hires faculty from around the globe.
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