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".
Mark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory (Routledge, 2009) .
Through AQAL Eyes
|Existing holonic dimensions||Proposed holonic dimension|
|Quadrant Set 2|
|Interior||the spectrum of interior forms feelings, dreams, thoughts, visions, revelations, cognitive structures, the spectrum of 'subtle bodies'||the spectrum of interior energies etheric, emotional, mental, psychic, kundalini, shakral energies|
|Exterior||the spectrum of exterior forms gross, subtle and causal bodies/brains, the complexification of bodily forms||the spectrum of exterior energies nuclear, molecular, kinetic, potential energy, muscular, body energies|
|Quadrant Set 3|
|Agency||the spectrum of agentic forms photons, atomic agency, molecular agency, cellular agency, organ agency, organismic agency||the spectrum of agentic energies gravitons, photons, molecular energies, cellular energies, muscular energies, body energies.|
|Communion||the spectrum of communal forms atomic communal forms (crystals, metals), cellular communal forms (tissues), forms of communal organisms, human communal forms||the spectrum of communal energies light wave frequencies, epigenetic energies, symbiotic energies, ecosystem energies, human social energy systems|
Table 1 presents some ideas on how the spectral-holarchic contents of the new sets of "quadrants" would be. Of course, there are no longer four "quadrants" as such because there are now eight new domains for holonic development interior forms, exterior forms, forms of agency, forms of communion, interior energies, exterior energies, agentic energies, and communal energies. These new aspects of holons can be called quadrant sets. The existing interior-exterior by agency-communion might be referred to as quadrant set 1. With the introduction of an energy-form dimension two new quadrant sets are produced. These are energy-form by interior-exterior, or quadrant set 2, and energy-form by agency-communion, or quadrant set 3 (see Table 1). The advantage of these new quadrant sets is that additional explanatory power is added to the model and some current confusions are overcome. The disadvantage is that the introduction of any new holonic dimension will dramatically increase the number of possible holonic quadrant sets and complicate the model accordingly. I believe that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and there seems to me to be no other way of salvaging the behavioural quadrant from its current overcrowded state.
The combinations of dimensional poles listed in Table 1 shows that a new energy-form dimension is practicable. All of these new domains look intuitively reasonable to me and they will provide plenty of explanatory space for resituating Wilber's new theory of subtle energies. Most importantly, the exterior forms domain and the new energy domains will be able to house all the material/neurological complexifications that are impeding a more non-reductive view of the behavioural quadrant. The new dimensional interactions from Table 1 can also be represented graphically as two new sets of holonic quadrants. Figure 2 shows the two new quadrantic sets that result from the crossing of the energy-form dimension with the existing holonic dimensions.
2. The overcrowded behavioural quadrant
Wilber's overcrowded Upper Right quadrant gains much needed clarity with this addition of a new energy-form dimension. At the moment the Upper Right of his holon model includes a number of different developmental spectrums including behaviour, "material complexes", "neurological forms", "subtle energies", subtle bodies, "morphic forms" and "gross bodies" (Figure 3).
Superficially, it could be said that all these various spectra of development are all developmental lines of the deep structure of behaviour. But on cursory inspection it's obvious that they are not. Behaviour has its own deep structure that defines the levels of development that belong to it. That structure can be seen in the developmental lines that include the spectrum of learning behaviour, inter-personal behaviour, goal-seeking behaviour, economic behaviour, problem-solving behaviour, occupations, stimulus/entertainment seeking behaviours, spiritual behaviours/practices and so on. None of these are reducible to material forms. None of these behaviours can be explained as surface manifestations of subtle energies, morphic forms or complex arrangements of matter. Similarly, complex forms and energies are not lines. They are dimensions that define domains for the categories of energies and form/structures that are identified in Table 1. All of these aspects of development will be correlated in some deep structure or prenormative-normative-postnormative fashion but this is the case for all deep structures and developmental lines from all of the quadrants. Correlation is no indication at all that two developmental spectra will be from the same quadrant. All deep structures and developmental lines in all quadrants undergo complexification (and one could add subtilisation) according to the progressive depth that they encapsulate. The corresponding levels between lines and quadrants will display evidence levels of complexity in each of the particular aspects of development that they display. Therefore a correlational relationship between lines does not mean that they come from the same quadrant. Complexity in behaviour is correlated with complexity of culture and personal consciousness but this is no evidence that the co-habitate the same quadrant.
I am referring to Wilber's Upper Right as the "quadrant of subtle entanglements" because it so many developmental lines and structures occupying the same quadrant with the resultant confusion of holonic dimensions, developmental lines and reductionism of different aspects of holonic development. I have already looked at how behaviour is being reduced to material complexity. But there are also some different types of energies and interior and exterior forms and bodies being confounded here. Wilber has mapped out a spectrum of energies that includes nuclear, ethereal, astral, subtle and causal energies. This is all very well but there are a multitude of energy types that have not been situated here. These include kinetic, potential, chemical, hydraulic, mechanical, biological, creative, artistic, technological, metabolic, reflexive, muscular, emotional, psychological, sexual, mental, kundalini, pranayama, tantric, chi, communal, political, commercial and so on. Where do all these energy types reside? Are we to think that all these very valid forms of energy are included within Wilber's new spectrum of energy or somewhere else in the Right hand quadrants? Surely they can't all be squeezed into the already overcrowded "behavioural" quadrant. If they can't, where would they be best situated within the holonic model?
3. How can Wilber's "Integral theory of Subtle Energies" benefit from the additional of an energy-form dimension to the holon model?
Energy has its own interior and exterior varieties but neither of these fit comfortably in with the Consciousness of behavioural quadrants. So what do we do with them? Obviously, the topic of types and levels of energy is a huge one for holonic development and it deserves its own dimension and its own quadratic sets to really have justice done to its varieties and forms. I am saying that the types of energies that Wilber has mentioned in his new theory plus all those not mentioned (see above) are much better understood if they are treated separately with their own energy-form holonic dimension. How might Wilber's new theory also benefit from this untangling process? Well, to begin with, it's clear that some of the energies that Wilber is including in the Upper Right refer to exterior physical phenomena and some of them refer to interior mental phenomena. The lower levels of energies are identified as "Gross Physical (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear)". Wilber says that, "It is common to refer to these as "physical" energies or "gross" energies". But the thing is that, according to Wilber's model, these physical energies develop into higher energies that have a very "interior" look about them. These include the energy levels of astral, psychic 1, psychic 2 and causal energies. Of the astral levels Wilber says,
"Astral" can mean many things, but it particularly means a powerful emotional energy field" (emphasis in the original) (Excerpt G, ¶ 81)
Of the psychic levels Wilber says that;
"Psychic," in this case, simply means "thought fields," which are said to be produced by sustained mental activity. (Excerpt G, ¶ 86)
I understand here that Wilber is giving a rather physicalist connotation to the idea of "field" (a concept that has always been understood in the hard sciences in mathematical and not physical terms) but that still does not deal with the essential ambiguity of such definitions. What are interior qualities like "emotional energy fields", "thought fields" and the "products of mental activity" doing in the exterior behavioural quadrant? Wilber says that the psychic and causal energies have no specific labels as yet and the only ones he could provide are all internal ones which rely either on the Spiral Dynamics labels of internal values or on the traditional names of internal mystical states (nirvikalpa, jnana). He also says that these labels refer to the material signatures of internal levels of consciousness. I suggest that Wilber is having trouble finding labels for them because these subtle energies he is referring to are actually interior energies. The subtle types of energies he is trying to identify here are energy types that are not primarily defined by the material exterior or behavioural activity. And if they are not defined by observables why has Wilber located them in the behavioural quadrant? Wilber himself gives this example:
"a person says, "I'm running low on energy," she means she is running out of intention, not running out of extension. " (Excerpt G, Note 1)
This refers to the subjective awareness of an interior or "intentional" type of energy. As Wilber says this is not an energy of the exterior, it's an interior energy. This following quote makes it quite clear that this new spectrum of energy does not belong in Wilber's "material" quadrant. He says,
"These [interior] energies were said to form concentric spheres of increasing expanse, but they are themselves, in every essential way, non-gross-material (or ontologically pre-existing and separable from matter)." (Excerpt G, ¶ 72)
So there are energies that are "ontologically ... separable from matter". If we have interior and exterior varieties of energy and they aren't easily accommodated within the existing quadrants wouldn't it be more theoretically consistent to put them into new one. Instead Wilber seems to have elements of both interior and exterior energies in the overcrowded behavioural quadrant. While it is completely valid to say electromagnetism is a primitive physical energy and causal energy is a highly spiritual one, it is not valid that they both be placed in a holonic domain that describes both as exterior, observable phenomena. "Thought fields" and causal energies do not produce observable objective data. If they are in the exterior quadrant then they should. I am not saying that such things don't exist. That's another debate entirely. My point is simply that exterior energies and interior energies don't belong in a holonic domain that categorises behavioural activity or observable events.
To me the issue is fairly clear. Wilber is mixing two domains of energies that belong in separate quadratic domains. This again leads us back to the proposition of a separate energy-form dimension. Allocating a new holonic axis to energy-form opens up a huge new theoretical space to develop an Integral theory of energies and forms that also frees up the behavioural domain. So the new energy-form holonic dimension, when crossed with the interior-exterior and agency-communion axes results in the two new quadrant sets (i.e. 2 times 4 quadrants) described in Table 1.
Let's just look at the internal and external forms of energy for the moment. Wilber has both internal and external energies inhabiting the same quadrant space and clearly this needs to be resolved so that both spectrums of energy (interior and exterior) can breath a little easier in their own separate domains. The following figures shows a stylised representation of Wilber's mixed spectrum of energies (Figure 4).
We can see from figure 4 that Wilber's model goes from observable forms of gross exterior energy to mote subtle types of energies associated with spiritual endeavours. This he calls subtilisation. In a way all development can be regarded as a process of subtilisation. As growth occurs more and more complex and intricate forms of identity and abilities are achieved. So this is quite reasonable. But this does not mean that subtilisation is associated with greater interiority or less exteriority. All developmental levels increase in complexity, in subtilisation and in integrative power as they emerge through new developmental structures. This relationship connects all development in a holon and it does not indicate any special relationship within a particular quadrant. These relationships still hols after developmental lines/deep structures have been separated into different quadrants and all of Wilber's hypotheses concerning complexification and subtilisation will still hold in a holon that includes an energy-form dimension. Opening up the possibility of a new energy-form axis and crossing it with the existing holonic axes creates the dimensional space required to better accommodate the important holonic qualities of energy and form/structure. This new potential is shown in figure 5 for the energy wing when it is crossed with the interior-exterior holonic axis.
Figures 5 show that the possibilities of describing and representing holonic energies in their interior and exterior forms is greatly increase compared to the mixed state of Wilber's model. Exactly the same advantages are seen when we look at the form/structure wing of the dimension. Wilber mentions that energies are associated with various types of bodies and "morphic forms" and he argues that the developmental spectra of these characteristics also reside in the behavioural quadrant. The problem is that even these forms seem to come in interior as well as exterior varieties and yet Wilber lumps all of them in the Upper Right Quadrant. In the following quote Wilber clearly refers to the possibility of an interior form that is, "not limited" to the world of gross exteriors.
In an AQAL framework, we have this: There is a given actual occasion, or a given individual holon. Seen from the exterior, that holon has a discernible form or pattern; it is a morphic unit. Those forms are not limited merely to gross forms. In the dream state, for example, you can see all sorts of entities, things, events, illuminations, images of people, and so on. Those are not gross forms, they are subtle formsbut forms nonetheless; they are the UR quadrant in the dream state. (Excerpt G, Note 1)
So there are all sorts of "subtle forms" that are related to interiority and to the subjective realms of "dreams" and "images" and "illuminations" and these are experienced by "morphic units" when they are in the dream state (supposedly also the waking state). To this I would ask why not simply put these interior forms in an interior quadrant that outlines a spectrum of development for such things. The new energy-form dimension does precisely this. Figure 6 shows the new developmental levels for the dimension of interior forms/structures and exterior forms/structures.
Figures 5 and 6 show that the new domains display the spectra of interior and exterior energies and forms/structures with greater clarity and detail than is the case when they are all crowded into the one quadrant. Figure 7 shows the combination of Figures 5 and 6 in summary form.
Exactly the same process can be performed for quadrant set 3 when the energy-form dimension is crossed with the agency-communion dimension. Once again very detailed developmental spectra could be outlined for this new quadrant set. Figure 8 presents an overview of quadrant set 3.
So far I have only discussed the spectra of energies and forms/structures for an individual holon and there will be corresponding developmental spectra for collective energies and forms as well. As Wilber says,
"the AQAL nature of all holons clearly implies that there would be, in the Lower Right, systems of collective energy fields associated with social holons," (Excerpt G, ¶ 96)
My arguments that developmental energies need a home of their own will also apply to the issue of collective energies and forms. Wilber has these plugged into the social domain and all the concomitant problems that we saw in the behavioural quadrant will also apply. Collective energies can be of interior and exterior varieties. Collective forms/structures can be of interior and exterior varieties. If we see collective energy purely as exterior energy (the way Wilber does) then once again we run the risk of reducing social activity to "mass-energy impacts and registrations". This reductive entanglement is avoided when the energy-form dimension is also applied to the collective holon. As with the individual holon this will also open new opportunities for categorising and analysing collective energies and forms/structures. As with all holons there will be several levels of development for each of the developmental lines running through each of the eight new quadrants (remembering that we have two new quadrant sets of four quadrants each). Figure 9 presents an example of this for a collective holon.
Wilber acknowledges that there are interior and exterior varieties of energy and interior and exterior varieties of forms and structures. He also points out that there are individual and collective manifestations of these energies and forms. Given that the many different types of energies and forms are not easily accommodated with the current dimensional layout of the holon it seems reasonable to me to suggest that they be extended their own quadratic domains. In doing this the behavioural quadrant and the social quadrant can give be given their full ontological value and not continue to be reduced to complexified "levels of mass-energy". The addition of a energy-form holonic dimension also opens up much more theoretical space for the analysis and description of interior and exterior, agentic and communal varieties of energies and structures for individual and collective holons.
© Mark Edwards 2003