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".
Reposted from www.unisa.ac.za with permission of the author.
Jeremy J. Jacobs runs a local church in Jonannesburg, South Africa. His dissertation was submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF THEOLOGY in the subject CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY at the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA, February 2009. I discovered this text online and though the author has developed his thoughts on the subject somewhat and confesses he is "Wilbered out", he consented to publishing the abstract and summary on Integral World (FV)
A Critical Appraisal and
Alternative Physicalist Perspective
of Mystical Consciousness
CHAPTER EIGHT : CONCLUSION
Jeremy John Jacobs
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- THE FOUNDATIONS OF WILBER'S INTEGRAL PHILOSOPHY
- WILBER'S FOUR QUADRANT MODEL: STRUCTURE, METHODOLOGY, AND EPISTEMOLOGY
- THE CONTEXTUAL IMPLICATIONS OF WILBER'S INTEGRAL PHILOSOPHY
- THE ROLE OF DUALITY IN WILBER'S PHILOSOPHY
- NON-DUALITY IN MYSTICISM: METHODOLOGICAL AND LINGUISTIC PROBLEMS
- A PHYSICALIST ALTERNATIVE TO WILBER'S PHILOSOPHY OF NON-DUALITY
The problem explored in this study considers whether the epistemological architecture of Wilber's Philosophy is coherent and consistent.
Since the advent of human consciousness all manner of theoreticians from mystics to philosophers, and linguists to scientists have considered why and how it is that an individuated self seems to occupy or indwell a physical body. There is a common experiential sense, in other words, in which personal consciousness and our bodies are felt to be two different things. Two broad areas of opinion attempting to explain this apparent bifurcation are defined for the purpose of addressing this problem: Essentialists who variously maintain that there are non-physical properties inherent to all forms and functions of physicality; and Physicalists who claim that the extant universe as a multiplicity of complex material processes is the only reality. The respective natures of body and mind and the ways in which they relate has yielded an extraordinary variety of hypotheses within and between these two broad categories. In this thesis the dilemma is called the Hard Problem and it focuses particularly on the relationship between consciousness and the brain. Recently, Ken Wilber has constructed an Integral Philosophy which attempts a synergistic gradation of all possible genres of experience and knowledge into one cohesive scheme representing the total Reality. The culminating point of Wilber's theory claims resolution of the Hard Problem, indeed of all appearances of duality, in the realisation of consummate emptiness in mystical consciousness. Wilber's proposal therefore tenders a version of Essentialism since it implies that an Absolute principle is inherent to all existence. The problem explored in this study considers whether the epistemological architecture of Wilber's Philosophy is coherent and consistent. Following a critical appraisal of Wilber's system it is proposed that epistemological coherence is more likely to be achieved by retaining the ontology of consciousness and matter to only one kind. In this way the scientific protocols which Wilber imports to validate his truth-claims are protected from ontological confusion. Whether this non-dual Physicalism is adequate as a means of explaining consciousness, and particularly mystical consciousness, is moot. Perhaps there remains an inalienable quality in mysticism which will always elude our ability to apprehend it.
8.1 The Foundational Context of this Research
Among its many other purposes and functions, religion straddles the spaces that separate opposites. Beliefs around the existence and nature of life and death, sin and salvation, heaven and hell, and body and soul occupy much of spirituality's energy in its attempt to heal the schisms or vindicate the better in the pairs. And yet, it is precisely the dynamic and necessary tension between opposites that animates human imagination and intellect - it almost seems as if we need the uncertainty to fuel the creative power of the human mind. Consciousness exercises and cultivates all the resources of faith, reason, and imagination as it strains to answer the most fundamental and ubiquitous of questions: why is there an explanatory gap at all, where does duality come from? This is the Hard Problem and its expanded ontology surveyed in this study braces the full spectrum of human knowledge and experience. These bifurcations are manifest in infinite variety. Every conceivable discipline, save mysticism, labours either to bridge the gap or deny its existence by choosing one side in the pair as real and true and the other as not, but often this is still a tacit acknowledgement of duality and the Hard Problem remains safely intact.
Arguments about the existence or non-existence of God are generally too worn out to be of any interest and most people, it seems, have distributed themselves on a spectrum of possibility between faith and reason. Any number of variables from culture and ethnicity to economics and the unpredictability of life will motivate people to move closer to faith or closer to reason. A single life-changing event, a tragedy or an illumination, can shift us from our chosen place and thrust us into denial of God, or into pure and dedicated faith. Either way, it has never been possible to be a Physicalist and an Essentialist at the same time. Rucker (1997:214-215) similarly acknowledges that, 'Both types of knowledge are real, and both are important. But it is very hard - perhaps impossible - for us to see the world in both ways at once.' Does this mean that Physicalists are incapable of faith and Essentialists incapable of reason? Certainly not. Physicalists surely have faith in the reliability of science, rationality, and logic - as do most Christians, and Christians who enjoy the privilege of sound scientific education will 'mostly' choose to believe in evolution. There is, in other words, a profound extent to which faith and reason inform and invigorate each other's noetic development. Having acknowledged the inseparability of faith and reason as a highly complex, creative, and integrated conscious process, there is nevertheless no sense in which God's existence can be simultaneously true and untrue - except in the mystical realisation of NDC. How can this be? Armstrong (2008:175) explains that mystical apprehensions are generally unconcerned with anthropomorphic interpretations of God as divinised Super Person. Moreover any notion of 'existence' applied to God must be 'other' to all conceptual, rational, imaginable, and corporeal modes of existence. Armstrong therefore encourages that it is better, '... to call God "Nothing" because God is not another being. Jews refrain from speaking God's name, in the same way as Muslims forbid any visual representation of the divine, as a reminder that that any human expression of God is bound to be so limited as to be potentially blasphemous' (2008:175). Perhaps, as the Buddha advises (Thanissaro 1996), it is not so much a matter of the problem being unanswerable by faith or reason, but that the question should not be asked at all. This is not a form of infidelity or intellectual abdication, but the realisation that the answer to the question has no measurable existence.
Mysticism is a discipline set apart from all others. It has no epistemology like any other, and submits to no ontology apart from any other. Mysticism is an anomalous discipline that defines the lives of so few and confounds the curiosities of so many. How is it that the tenacious Hard Problem is at its weakest, maybe even finally thwarted, in mystical consciousness? Is there any other discipline that can go some way towards unravelling mysticism's secret? This conundrum motivates the question tendered in this thesis: is there a way in which a Physicalist interpretation of non-dual mystical consciousness can move towards a resolution of the Hard Problem without diluting the mystical phenomenon as it is described by Essentialists? The preamble in this conclusion indicates that it may be naïve to ask the question at all. And yet it is not unreasonable to wonder what would happen if we were ever to finally solve the Hard Problem? Would there be anything left to do? Everything would fall into perfect place and everything would make sense - no conflicts would exist, no uncertainty, and therefore no reason to think. Having solved the problem of duality would we simply wallow in blissful equanimity - would the reason for consciousness' existence become redundant and end in entropic stasis? Is it heaven or is it hell? The circularity of the question sets us back at our point of departure, and it is at this point that the argument of thesis began.
With all indications mitigating against the possibility of finding a coherent and consistent answer to the question, the heuristic invitation extended in the Introduction of this study challenges that an attempt must nonetheless be made. Somewhat like the accidents of natural selection, heuristics sometimes happens upon new insights that are sufficiently enticing to motivate further research. As an experiment, this research suggests, un-intuitively perhaps, that a Physicalist interpretation may reveal new and useful insights into mystical phenomena. To set about a Physicalist explanation of NDC requires obedience to science's epistemological standards and restriction within its ontological terrain. With these delimitations accepted, a guiding maxim is set in place to measure the noetic viability of phenomenological claims in mysticism through scientific protocols, and mysticism has equal recourse to challenge those strictures. The formal results of this endeavour reveal the viability of theories pertaining to the ontological status of properties - in this case the ontology of NDC and the possibility of ascertaining the veracity of such knowledge through scientific instruments. The Integral Philosophy of Ken Wilber is chosen as the vicarious agency through which this investigation is conducted because it embraces and attempts syntheses of all possible genres of thought and experience - all of which find their fullest realisation in mystical non-duality. Wilber (1993a:25) explains the area of research in farcical phrase:
Is consciousness really matter, or is matter really consciousness? The idealists, or mentalists, just could not stomach the thought that consciousness was not much more than a fancy lump of clay, differing not at heart from rocks, tables, and dirt; thus, they were always on hand with the question. "But where does the impression of matter have its existence?" The answer, of course, is that material impressions exist only in consciousness, and so the conclusion is obvious: all matter is but a mental idea. This however, was too much for the materialists, who would reply, "Well, then, where does consciousness come from?" The answer here being, "From nothing but physical process in the human brain," and so the opposite conclusion is equally obvious: all ideas are just material.
For Wilber the answer is palpable, the solution is to be found neither in faith, nor in reason, but only in NDC (1996e:xvii; cf 1997c:95; 1999e:613; 2001:2). Kourie (1992:86) describes this form of mystical awareness as, '... consciousness of union with the Divine, or the Ground of Being, or Ultimate Reality.' The essential qualifiers of Wilber's description of NDC are aptly summarised by Kourie (1992:86):
The mystical experience is characterised by awareness, although the sensory-conceptual apparatus of the mind remains in abeyance. Such a state of consciousness, characterised by non-intellectual, non-sensory perception is different from everyday experience. Normal sensing, characterised by the duality of a subject-object framework, whether comprising either ordinary observation or highly complex scientific reasoning is thus absent in the mystical experience itself.
Wilber's Three Step Exemplar applied to Transcendelia is an attempt to empirically verify the Reality of Absolute Subjectivity realised in NDC. However, in so doing he contravenes the threshold of noetic viability set as a minimum standard of compliance in scientific research. The hypothesis put forward in this thesis argues that coherence and consistency is more likely to be attained through a non-dual Physicalist epistemology, but can its conclusions reach far enough into the non-dual phenomenon to ratify its truth-claims?
The conclusions of this debate will be listed shortly, but by way of contextual reiteration a number of provisions are set in place. The question concerns the nature and adequacy of evidence. In the particular version of NDC considered in this mystagogical context, evidence is something of an oddity. It has been shown in the course of this research that NDC requires no evidence in and of itself and, indeed it has no discernable content to be measured as evidence. For this reason a unique kind of methodology has to be constructed that permits the inclusion of highly subjective personal consciousness without breaking the rules of scientific method. Bell, Swenson-Wright and Tybjerg (2008:2) reveal some potential dangers regarding the quest for evidence. Firstly, when we engage our faculties of reason with a particular goal in mind, we actively tend to ignore evidence that does not support our hypothesis. Secondly, the ways, '... in which evidence is used, accepted, and challenged varies widely' (Bell, Swenson-Wright and Tybjerg 2008:3). Thirdly, the ways in which knowledge is generated, mediated, and authenticated in one discipline may be inadequate or inappropriate for other disciplines. Caution must therefore be applied when multi-method approaches are used in order to avoid unsubstantiated ontological conflations. Fourthly, most researchers submit to the density of occurrence and the repeatability of evidence as reliable markers of validity - that is, if something happens often enough in the same way it must be true. Of course it may not be true, but in some instances where alternative forms of evidence are absent it seems to be the best bet. Finally, and most importantly, Bell, Swenson-Wright and Tybjerg (2008:4) point out that, 'Certain beliefs become important to us - become evidence - exactly because they generate an elegant and satisfying explanation.' To what extent, it might be asked, do some types of argument earn the right to evidence, not because they are necessarily true, but because they are normalised or because they appear to be the most persuasive? These hurdles have been variously encountered in this thesis. Armstrong (2008:174-194) surmises that the lack of evidence for a believer is often a necessary validation of faith, whereas an unbeliever considers it a fundamental weakness. Is Wilber first and foremost a 'believer' or does he really have the evidence he claims? Armstrong argues that both approaches are flawed and her conclusions align closely with those listed below.
8.2 General Conclusions
8.2.1 Ontology and Epistemology
The relational problem between ontology and epistemology is located at the forefront of this debate. The ontological domain of science, whatever its disciplinary type, is necessarily defined within closed systems of matter and our apprehension of its many manifestations. The ontology of mystical phenomena, particularly as it is described in Wilber's rendition of NDC, submits to no such limitations and this contravenes the appropriation of epistemologies designed for science when they are imported into mysticism. In brief, science cannot measure NDC as a subjective phenomenon. Thus acknowledged, science can however measure the physiological configurations which support it, cause it, and mediate its various states. Furthermore, scientific method can quantitatively study the socio-cultural, religious, symbolic, aesthetic, and theological narrations of mystical experiences and, depending on how criteria are selected, it can validate mystical phenomena on the basis of this inferred evidence. The rapidly growing field of consciousness research has made significant strides in its study of the human brain and these findings can inform and endorse, in principle, the real experience of NDC.
Difficulties associated with inductive and deductive methodologies nevertheless come to the fore and conclusions will have legitimacy on the condition that epistemological coherence and consistency are maintained. Again, this means that objective manifestations of phenomena pertaining to the occurrence and contexts of NDC can be measured and assessed, but not the inner personal experience itself because the rule of phenomenological privacy prevents it. Scientific method must, in other words, be willing to accommodate the 'assumption' that mystics are truthfully and accurately reporting their experiences because science cannot observe the phenomenon directly. This means that scientific applications to NDC have no choice but to permit the inclusion of meta-narratives and it has been argued that Dennett's (1993, 2004, 2006) method of Heterophenomenology may provide sufficient safeguards to substantiate its procedural legitimacy.366
8.2.2 Essentialism and Physicalism: The Asymptotic Limit of Heuristic Enquiry
As a means of demarcating the possible spectra of opinion regarding the ontological nature of NDC, two broad categories of opinion are explained. Essentialism defers final validation to trans-material and trans-conceptual ontologies whereas Physicalism limits its truth-claims to objective and empirically verifiable ontologies. On the basis of this fundamental disjunction it is concluded that Essentialists and Physicalists can neither prove, nor disprove each other's truth-claims. Moreover, because of the problem appropriated from Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, it is not even possible for closed noetic systems to fully prove the completeness and consistency of their own truth-claims. Nørretranders (1999:46) asserts that Gödel's discovery:
... forced scientists to admit that they would never be able to prove everything in this world, that human understanding of the world will forever contain intuitive insights that cannot be proved; that human beings know more about the world than they can explain via a formal system.... This realization, understandably called the most profound proof ever carried out, concerns the limits of the certainty of human knowledge, the limits of what we can prove. It is proof that we cannot prove everything, even when we know it is true.
Nørretranders (1999:413) therefore challenges that we must, '... learn to be aware of the fact that we are not aware of everything; learn to be conscious that consciousness is limited.' This simply means that neither Essentialists nor Physicalists can claim any form of final truth, particularly not Absolute Truth, in their respective observations of NDC, and Wilber is therefore mistaken to assume that his epistemology can. At best, both Essentialists and Physicalists can report on its observable features - for Essentialists this 'observation' extends legitimacy to inner esoteric or subjective features as well as exoteric objective features, whereas Physicalists are typically limited to demonstrable impartiality. Thus distinguished, Physicalist approaches to consciousness can now validate inner subjective experience on the basis of coherent theories associated with certain neurological functions and processes. Thanks to the scientific and philosophical insights of Physicalists like Dennett, Edelman, Tononi, Nørretranders, Newberg, and D'Aquili this means that inner subjective experiences, even those as abstract as NDC, can now be scientifically and biologically authenticated.367
8.2.3 The Problem with Wilber
The extensive survey of the foundational principles supporting Wilber's Integral Philosophy informs important aspects of this study. The formidable scope of Wilber's syntheses of vast bodies of informational types and categories is truly innovative and his theory must qualify as a significant intellectual achievement. The elegance and structural cohesiveness of his AQAL Model with all its mediating agencies and intra-dynamic synergies indicate profound insight and, indeed, spiritual wisdom as all possibilities are sublated into a Kosmic matrix of non-duality. The Descending and Ascending movements of consciousness have a form of ontos - a being-ness that is sentient and intentional and this may give the impression that Wilber proposes a co-substantiation of matter and Mind, but the reality is a transcendental realisation that matter and Mind are, in paradoxical form, transubstantiated as non-dual being, but not of the type that permits the reduction of Mind to matter, or the elevation of matter to Mind. The Hard Problem 'appears' to be accordingly solved. It is not only Wilber's methodological acuity which deserves credit, but the persuasiveness and passion with which he expresses his hypotheses. Whilst many attempts at theories of everything have been submitted over the years, Wilber's is surely the most sophisticated and thorough. Wilber's personal development through mysticism in the Perennial Philosophy, into Transpersonal Psychology and science, and finally into the intricacy of his struggle with duality in the movements of Involution and Evolution yield an integral theory which is foremost in its class. As a metaphorical instrument embracing almost every aspect of thinking and experience, Wilber's Integralism sets a new benchmark as a discipline for future development.
With these accolades deservedly recognised, a closer reading of Wilber's epistemological applications as he attempts substantiations of disparate ontologies in science and mysticism transgresses the threshold of noetic viability set as a minimum standard in science. Whilst Wilber admits that his model is purely metaphorical and consists only of orienting generalisations (1997a:ix-x, xvi; cf 1998b:vii; 1999e:21; 2000a:x), his primary premise nonetheless claims the provability of Absolute Subjectivity realised in NDC. It is however, not consistent to claim veridical absolutes in partial models. Consequently, Wilber's (2000a:284) assent to, '... an experimental, verifiable, repeatable proof for the existence of Godhead, as a fact ...' is contradictory and his 'scientific' Three Step Exemplar fails on the basis of epistemological incoherence. Moreover, Wilber's (1997a:xix) claim that his method applied to Transcendelia, '... is one of the simplest proofs, no doubt, of God's insistent existence...' must assume a priori knowledge which he cannot prove. Wilber (1993b:41) defends that, '... when we say Mind is Reality, this is not so much a logical conclusion as it is a certain experience - as we pointed out, Reality is "what" is understood and felt from the non-dual and non-symbolic level of Mind.' Notwithstanding this qualification, Wilber nonetheless goes on to make absolutist claims on the basis of his version of reconstructive science. In consequence of these disjunctive epistemological and ontological conflations it must be recognised that science must remain agnostic if it reaches into mysticism. Wilber is therefore mistaken to claim that science can corroborate truth-claims associated with mystical gnosis.
To complicate his postulations further, Wilber clearly subscribes to the veracity of evolutionary theory, and since this includes the advent of time and space in various 'Big Bang' theories, Wilber cannot simultaneously claim timelessness and spacelessness as ontological absolutes in NDC. The point here is that in evolutionary terms matter and time have existed since the moment of the universe's birth some 15 billion years ago, whereas consciousness is an extremely recent appearance on this enormous scale. If so, how can Wilber claim that Consciousness predefines and transcends time and space? The Croatian philosopher Arvan Harvat (1999) similarly argues that Wilber's attempt to, '.... integrate a thoroughly non-dual approach like Zen with an evolutionary view is ultimately impossible: if your model includes absolutely everything, how can it change?' It is principally these unsubstantiated inclusions of ultimacy and absolutism that imbue Wilber's philosophy with ontologies which transcend physicality and his philosophy must therefore be classified as a form of Essentialism. The implications of contingent abstractions from these primary errors destabilise too much of Wilber's hermeneutic processes for it to be afforded significant recognition in the scientific fraternity. The unfortunate result of this failure is that Wilber is now most often classified as a popular new age writer.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Gamez (2007:22-23) explains the dangers of unstable hermeneutic circles. It is in the nature of these epistemological structures to contain self-referencing elements which increase the risk of inconsistency and incoherence. Gamez (2007:23) sites the common pluralistic assertion that 'everybody is right'. Wilber (2001a:3) clearly states, 'I have one major rule: everybody is right. More specifically, everybody - including me - has some important pieces of the truth, and all of those pieces need to be honoured, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace.' Whilst Wilber's assertion is resonant with pluralistic overtones, he does qualify the nature of such inclusions into carefully graded and appropriately positioned holonic sequences - in which case the difference between pluralism and integralism is well argued, but the notion that 'everybody is right' remains epistemologically problematic. Gamez goes on to explain that such inclusions remain stable when they include their own truth-claims, but become unstable when they include absolutist claims. An inclusionist like Wilber must, by virtue of his definition, include absolutists, but since the absolutist disqualifies the veracity of all theories but his own, the inclusionist is left with a contradiction. Since the inclusionist is committed to believing that 'everybody is right', he also has to believe that the absolutist is right, but if he believes the absolutist he contradicts his own claim that 'everybody is right'. This simple thought experiment clearly reveals that Wilber's 'one major rule' forestalls his ability to postulate a coherent and consistent epistemology. In other words, there is no epistemology that can claim that 'everybody is right' without the risk of self-referential contradiction.
The conclusion tendered in this thesis is that the coincidence of science and mysticism is asymptotic rather than authentically integrated. This means that science can and must continue to inform the nature of consciousness as a physiological process and as a subjective phenomenon. This also means that it must inform, insofar as it can, aspects of mysticism and it may even prove its empirical properties and processes, but it must recognise that it cannot prove its phenomenological objects. Ramachandran (2003:36-37) concurs that, '... this approach to consciousness will take us a long way towards answering the riddle of the benefits of consciousness and why it evolved.' These potentials are illustrated in Chapter Seven where the theories of prominent scientists of consciousness were surveyed and further details will be enumerated shortly.
8.2.4 Modernism, Post-Modernism, and the Science-Mysticism Dialectic
Wilber rightly maintains that the evolution of consciousness from pre-modernism, through modernism, to post-modernism profoundly influences the character of contemporary religious consciousness. As such Wilber focuses in Teilhardian terms on NDC as the end-purpose of evolution and consequently reduces the efficacy of all other disciplines to categories of mere interpretation in varying degrees of noetic disintegration. Consequently any Physicalist theory is relegated to modernist reductionism or post-modern deconstructivism. The question here is whether NDC indeed has a capacity advantage over all other knowledge types? Based on a critical analysis of Wilber's approach it is concluded that there is no way in which he can posit NDC as the agency of absolute transcendental gnosis without circumscribing all other possible approaches to true knowledge. This implies that there is ultimately only one True epistemology and it pertains only to itself in the ineffable mystery of NDC. The difficulty here has been thoroughly argued; Wilber's epistemology cannot prove its own premises. Nørretranders (1999:x) emphatically contends that it has become increasingly clear that, '... the basis of objectivity is itself subjective; that no formal system will ever be able to substantiate or prove itself.'
Spirituality as it finds its fullest expression in mysticism does not primarily intend to prove itself or guard dogma. It rather yearns for resolution in liberation from attachment into the extraordinary creative ability to transcend itself into deeper and more integrated realisations of its own fundamental non-dual nature. The transcendental qualities of mysticism, particularly of the Apophatic kind, are thus acknowledged, but does the phenomenological sense of ultimacy and ineffability in NDC necessarily foreclose the viability of sound scientific research - that is - research that retains empirical coherence and consistency by reframing the scope of ontology applied to NDC? Contra Wilber's tacit foreclosure on such advances by pinning NDC at humanity's intellectual pinnacle, the vigorous pursuit of knowledge in all its forms can surely add value and intellectual credibility to the emergence of new spiritual paradigms. Moreover, if such investigations are scrupulously navigated there is no reason why science may not inform and add credence to the transformative vitality of mysticism. This means that Physicalism must have de facto access to mysticism if Wilber's claim to integralism is to hold true. It does not mean that science is necessarily able to validate all mystical truth-claims in its own terms, but its domain of research should not be relegated to ontological inferiority as a result. The supremacist idealisation of mysticism does not endear it to the wider academic community and its allure as a field of study should therefore expose it openly to interdisciplinary research.
8.2.5 Consciousness, Phenomenology, and Language
It must be conceded that theological, religious, and a variety of other socio-cultural contexts inform, and to some degree direct the phenomenon of non-duality in mysticism. There is, in other words, a limited extent to which Constructivism has objective validity, but when it comes to consciousness as personal experience - the actual sense of what it feels like to 'be me' - the phenomenon of consciousness remains definitionally hidden from third-person observation. The various interpretations of Kant, Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger attest to the phenomenological obfuscations implicit in ontologies ascribed to consciousness. The same recondite qualities must therefore hold true for definitions of NDC. Despite the verification Wilber claims through his Three Step Exemplar, it must be accepted that the phenomenology of NDC can never be ontologically represented if it is to remain true to its transcendental definition. Since Wilber's rendition of NDC is formless and void, there can be no quantity or quality for his epistemology to measure if its epistemology is based on reconstructive science. Colloquially, it is not possible to measure nothing (Armstrong 2008:176). Whilst Wilber's AQAL Model of consciousness is a thorough synthesis of everything which appertains to conscious experience, his aperspectival claim is to some degree denuded by the priority he affords to mysticism. Wilber's integral approach claims inclusion of all possibility, but the full spectrum of all these possibilities only assume their proper meaning through NDC. In other words, Wilber clearly defends an intentional perspective rather than authentic aperspectival neutrality and this tendency skews his claim to balanced integralism.
Additional difficulties arise in Wilber's description of the non-dual phenomenon. If NDC is the 'Condition of all conditions' (Wilber 1993b:xvi) or the pervasive 'Suchness' (1996a:86-87) which defines and transcends all temporal properties, then what is it? Wilber answers that it is 'Reality' (1993b:36), but what is Reality? Wilber says 'Reality' is contentless, formless, and void (1993b:264), but if it is void how can it be 'Supreme Identity' (1995a:522)? Wilber can only answer these enigmatic questions by recruiting additional mystical obfuscations, which is legitimate in mysticism, but since NDC has no quantitative or qualitatively discernable ontology, and therefore no conclusively applicable epistemology, it must be concluded that Wilber's 'Transcendelic' epistemology is contradictory. The real and profoundly transforming experience of NDC must be acknowledged, but it is ostensibly unaffected by the extent to which epistemology implies ontology, and this intellectual bewilderment is exacerbated by the poverty of language. Methodological problems in the language of mysticism necessarily forestall the possibility of phenomenological investigation which is contrary to Wilber's claim that knowledge of union with God is possible (1976:235). Moreover, how can intentionality and structure in symbolic systems transmit meaning in a language whose subject reference is ineffable? All the obscure qualities which Wilber ascribes to NDC and then superimposes on his integral scheme must therefore be conceptually idiosyncratic.
This contradiction is thereby transported into Wilber's use of language. Inasmuch as Wilber's Integral Philosophy supports the use of mystical-type language, his tendency to translate its idiom into other ontological and epistemological territories confuses or overlays his Integral intention with an Essentialist bias. A survey of significant nineteenth and twentieth century linguists and philosophers such as Saussure, Frege, Kripke, Chomsky, Wittgenstein, and Russell reveal that the application of analytical linguistics to phenomena like NDC educe theoretical disjunctions in the relationship between language and consciousness. A balanced Integral Philosophy must surely be neutral in its inclusion of all linguistic possibilities whereas Wilber's version often presumes a spiritual-mystical priority. In other words, Wilber's use of God-like qualities (Absolute Subjectivity, Suchness, Mind, Ground, trans-rationality, Spirit, ineffability, Geist, and Consciousness) as a pre-script to all manifest disintegrations in ordinary consciousness delimits the heuristic potential of all disciplines except Vision Logic where it assumes consummate primacy. This is idiomatically legitimate in mysticism as Kourie (2008:4) cogently explains:
... in apophatic mysticism no predicates that can be attributed to finite beings can be attributed to God: non est hoc Deus, non est hoc. Language is ontologically impoverished and unable to capture the Reality, which is no-thing, the divine abyss. Apophasis, meaning "unsaying" or "speaking away", subverts the tendency of the mind to arrive at ultimate truth, and acknowledges the inaccessibility of the divine. Even the most eloquent language mitigates against disclosure of Reality. Thus, there is a process of stripping away or ascesis of attitudes and concepts and imagery; hence the use of paradox, deconstruction and the denial of names in order to lead to the abyss, or the void - the blinding brilliance of the divine darkness. Thus language is manipulated and brought to breaking point in order to illustrate the ineffability of the divine.
It is, in other words, a conceptual absurdity to talk about ineffability and this explains the pervasive use of metaphor, allegory, poetry, and symbol in mystical narratives. Gamez (2007:250-251) rather cryptically endorses that we can only, '... go so far within philosophy, within language, and yet this limitation can extend indefinitely. When some theories are pushed to their limits they abolish speech, but the practice of speech is not affected... [it] is a further move within the language-game, not an escape from it.' There is, in other words, a sense in which we must talk about that which we cannot talk about because talking about that which we do not or cannot know is a way of integrating its peculiar ontos into consciousness. Wilber, on the other hand, aligns its paradoxical nomenclature with an Ultimacy which pre-defines the Kosmos, but this assumption, even if it is corroborated in the phenomena of NDC, 373
remains the fabric of belief. In short, Wilber prefaces his entire Integral Philosophy on the un-provable assumption that the Kosmos actually 'is' as it appears in NDC. Consequently, Wilber's epistemology may hold appeal for fellow Essentialists who are implicitly predisposed to a spiritualised interpretation of the cosmos, but Wilber's epistemological methodology and the premises which he imports to pre-define it betray the science by which he claims to authenticate it. Wilber's mysticism thereby subsumes his integralism and this polarity necessarily perturbs the epistemological precision and cogency of his holonic argument because everything in his model is, as it were, tilted to point to the ultimacy of non-dual Oneness. There is however, no way in which such an intentional 'tilt' can be conclusively proven as a cosmological and evolutionary propensity.
8.2.6 The Promise of Science
Beneath the seeming fluidity of Wilber's Integralism and its natural syntheses and interdependencies remains a series of epistemological predicaments which, upon closer examination, destabilise the basic fabric of his hermeneutic process. It is consequently clear that it is incongruent for Wilber to claim provable self-evidence of an ineffable, timeless, spaceless Reality realised in NDC through the spatiotemporal agencies of empirical science. Epistemological standards are thereby compromised since reason-based disciplines are definitionally barred from verifying transcendental absolutes. Consequently, a series of phenomenological and self-referential fallacies punctuate Wilber's hypotheses. The Hard Problem thus remains unsolved since Wilber's theory of non-duality includes Kosmological Absolutes which necessarily differ from all other forms of being. Whilst this Kosmological Absolute as Mind sublates the All, it can only do so if it has a capacity advantage over the All and Wilber's integralism must therefore capitulate to a form of dualism. Wilber's paradoxical and mutually irreducible transubstantiation of matter and Mind is enticing and in keeping with the mystical idiom, but its importation into any other discipline forecloses the possibility of verification. In summary, there is no way in which an Essentialist philosophy like Wilber's can extract truth-claims from its own premises by appropriating closed-system techniques from Physicalism. The ontological, epistemological, phenomenological, and methodological province of Physicalism necessarily implies monism - even if it subsists in 'open' or 'inclusive' forms. In such schemes there is no sense in which any trans-elemental properties can be incorporated and this means that Essentialism and Physicalism cannot be authentically integrated. The absence of such integration does not however prevent the value of mutual information. Kourie (1992:83) clearly draws out this distinction:
One of the greatest problems that besets the modern world is the lack of mysticism. Rationalism and scientism deny the validity of anything which is non-productive technologically or materially, resulting in unqualified activism and the glorification of the measurable and replicable. Even with traditional religions a paroxysm of pragmatism and the visible is evident. However, recent times have witnessed renewed interest in the phenomenon of mysticism which is indicative of a refusal to accept what can be seen and measured as indicative of reality. An increasing number of scholarly and scientific studies by theoreticians of mysticism have appeared, the aim of which is to analyse and elucidate the nature and problematic of mysticism from within a critical-philosophical perspective. The issues raised are particularly pertinent and can contribute to a variegated yet global mystical consciousness which is vitally important in this pluralistic era.
Kourie correctly identifies Physicalist tendencies to quantifiable mechanisation of human phenomena, and recent reorientations in some sectors of the science of consciousness are likewise beginning to recognise the pallidity of modern and post-modern deconstruction. In keeping with these new advances this study demonstrates the heuristic advantages of such research endeavours - even when the subject matter of the disciplines are principally asymptotic. Kourie is therefore right to encourage the 'scholarly and scientific' study of mysticism and credits the utility of 'critical-philosophical' perspectives. This does not however imply epistemological conflation of disparate ontologies.
With reference to Wilber's epistemologically inconsistent attempt at integration it follows that a true or at least axiomatically provable non-duality can only exist in Physicalism. Since Physicalism is resolutely committed to the premise that the substance of the universe is all that there is, it must explain all phenomena in terms of that substance and the various ways in which it interacts and manifests. The problem of consciousness reveals the apex of this descriptive challenge since it appears to subsist in qualities rather than measurable quantities. It is argued on the basis of recent developments in the science of consciousness that the physiological properties which define consciousness are now sufficiently understood to enable the inclusion of subjectivity as a function of the brain. In an attempt to illustrate the pertinence of these findings the research of six eminent scientists was reviewed and relevant features distilled from their hypotheses to support the possibility of NDC as a physical phenomenon. Epistemological sufficiency in keeping with the guiding maxim or minimum standard of compliance requires subscription to basic research conventions. These standards include objectivity, replication, demonstration in the public domain, reliability, universality, and coherence and consistency. As the insights from Dennett, Edelman, Tononi, Nørretranders, Newberg, and D'Aquili's theories were surveyed a number of 'in principle' agreements emerge which inform the usefulness of scientific applications to phenomena like NDC. These are:
- Theories of evolution and natural selection do not forbid the emergence of phenomena like NDC.
- Genetic and memetic heritability play a role in the manifestation of mystical phenomena.
- The brain has simulatory or hypothesis-making capacities which may educe phenomena which have no representation in the 'real' world. This is typically the substance of dreams, imagination, hallucination, and some forms of ergotropic mystical states.
- Physical determinism does not preclude the real experience of free will and intentional adherence to spiritual disciplines is therefore theoretically permitted.
- Physical causality does not prohibit the appearance of phenomena that 'seem' absolute.
- The notion of a self which possesses volitional consciousness is a simulation and exists only in the functional properties of certain distributed neurological operations. Mysticism, particularly of the Apophatic kind, endorses that the self is an illusion. Consciousness as the brain permits the evolutionary viability of such simulations.
- The experience of unity and integration is the product of highly complex and competitive parallel processes which, through various neurological processes, educe the felt sense of connectedness. If these processes are sufficiently accented they may elicit ecstatic experiences of oceanic non-duality.
- Newberg and D'Aquili's theory of Deafferentation explains the blocking of all neurological processes from coagulating into differentiated awareness and this may precipitate trophotropic experiences resembling NDC.
- The brain's tendency to accrue information, particularly information that promises high rewards, substantiates the allure of experiences like NDC. If uncertainty causes disequilibrium in the form of fear, anxiety or loss of definition, then it follows that the absolute realness and 'bliss' associated with NDC will become an evolutionary locus of attraction.
- Phenomenological privacy precludes the possibility of experiencing anyone else's consciousness. Science is thereby forced to include personal narrations of experience as a sufficiently reliable source of scientific corroboration. Dennett's carefully constructed method of Heterophenomenology sets standards which may guard against subjective biases and there is no reason why the same method cannot be applied to mystical narratives.
- Edelman asserts that when the Dynamic Core is modulated to is maximum capacity it may be possible not be aware of being aware (2004:127-128). This description resembles the experience of NDC and may in time endorse NDC as a real physiological experience.
- Dennett includes the importance of pleasure as an evolutionary impetus. If NDC, given its common associations with bliss, Nirvana, Heaven, and Eden, is interpreted as the highest Pleasure, it follows that consciousness as the brain will cultivate the possibility of its realisation and facilitate its experience.
- Very significantly, all six theorists variously admit that epistemological limitations in Physicalism foreclose the possibility and legitimacy of explaining subjective conscious qualities exclusively through the instruments of objective quantities. In other words, Physicalism may be able to explain what NDC is in all aspects of its physical and representational processes and contents, but it can never access the personal phenomenon of NDC directly. This means that the scientific study of NDC has to make at least one basic assumption that it cannot prove - that NDC actually exists.
- In Physicalist renditions of consciousness, consistency and coherence in keeping with the threshold of noetic viability postulated as a guiding maxim in this study are retained.
- The Hard Problem is consequently resolved since no duality subsists in the ontology of consciousness as the brain.
The appeal of such a coherent scheme comes close to a resolution of the primary question tendered in this thesis. It indeed appears that there is a way in which Physicalist interpretations of non-dual mystical consciousness can move towards resolution of the Hard Problem without diluting the mystical phenomenon as it is described by Essentialists, but its congruence conceals an anomaly. In the idiom of propositional logic Barrow (2008:261) quotes Raymond Smullyan:
Mysticism might be characterised as the study of those propositions which are equivalent to their own negations. The Western point of view is that the class of all such propositions is empty. The Eastern point of view is that this class is empty if, and only if it isn't.
In similar vein Gamez (2007:i) quotes The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom:
This is the perfectly pure demonstration of the perfection of wisdom. No one has demonstrated it, no one has received it, no one has realised it. And since no one has realised it, no one has therein gone to final Nirvana.
The obfuscations of these two quotes reveal a fundamental flaw in the Physicalist argument and it ultimately refers back to Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. In brief, Wilber is right to approach NDC with science, but he cannot do so if he imbues it with absolute, timeless, spaceless, transcendental, and ineffable qualities. Physicalism can approach NDC and endorse its non-duality and its phenomenological qualities without breaking the primary rules of coherence and consistency, but only if it retains NDC within materiality and by doing so it must recognise two things. First, that it has to concede 'belief' in NDC's existence because it cannot prove it, and second that it cannot reach directly into the phenomena itself and cannot therefore prove the phenomenal objects of it conclusively.
8.3 NDC: A Mystical Disambiguation
Inasmuch as the methods, processes, and ontological territories of Physicalism seem increasingly able to describe consciousness and its many manifestations in innumerable brain states, including NDC, the primary non-dual phenomenon remains unaffected. In other words, NDC as the profound experience of consummate absorption in equanimity remains anathema to both Essentialist and Physicalist explanations. Armstrong (2008:177) explains why. She differentiates two general ways of arriving at truth by referring to Plato's descriptions of Mythos and Logos. Both principles are indispensable and complementary in much the same ways as the preamble to this conclusion venerated faith and reason, but there is a difference. Mythos pertains to those aspects of experience which refer to meaning rather than matter. It is, in other words, not influenced or measured by reason and rationality, but finds expression in aesthetics, ritual, symbolism and the affections of imaginary senses. Logos, on the other hand, is systematic, substantial, quantifiable, and relates to observable phenomena. Mythos appertains mainly to the inner, personal, and subjective experience whereas logos refers to exteriority, function, and form. Mythos is therapeutic and logos is pragmatic. Mythos gives meaning to life whereas Logos gives structure. In effect, mythos describes the orientations of Essentialism and logos narrates the processes of Physicalism.
Armstrong's (2008:176) assertion is that neither approach is sufficient in its capacity to explain the most fundamental condition of human experience. A volitional act of submission to the existence of a definitive trans-elemental property like Absolute Suchness or Mind still requires an act of belief and it must therefore have a root in intellection. Essentialist descriptions of phenomena like NDC therefore reach their noetic limit in the poverty, not only of language, but also in the concepts which language mediates and Wilber is right to identify this incapacity. Kourie (2008:11) notes that in the experience of NDC, 'The language of intentionality is replaced by a new understanding of reality, a non-dual consciousness, no longer hampered by the rationalisations of the intellect.' The 'new understanding' to which Kourie refers is not a deeper or more profound quantity or quality of consciousness - it is neither the zenith of faith, reason, nor affection, but a consummate disambiguation of differentiation and of union. It has no resemblance to any notional or experiential quality and no location in any physical property. Any conceptual-theoretical approach, be it Essentialist or Physicalist, must approach NDC neither as a quality nor as a quantity, but as the illusory shadows of a 'non-something' that has no definition in existence. The religious, spiritual, and mystical disciplines adhered to NDC are not therefore intended to be descriptions of the phenomena, but methods to approach its realisation and metaphorically illustrate its character (Armstrong 2008:190). The mechanisms by which such apprehensions are effected do not convey injunctions in reason or faith, but rather recognise it as an art (Armstrong 2008:187). If the 'art' is perfected, the transformation of the exercitant is likewise perfected in the extent to which the virtues attached to NDC motivate the transformation of the world into qualities which ensure maximum survival - not just quantitatively in terms of the absence of duality, but qualitatively in terms of Perfect Pleasure - the Kingdom of Heaven. The principle virtue emanating from NDC is love. McNamara (1984:60-61) maintains love as, '... the essence of mysticism... [which] is always pure - a purity won by relentless effort and rigorous restraint.'
Despite the methodological and epistemological exactitudes of Physicalism, and despite the integral and aesthetic meaningfulness of Essentialism, there is no discipline, idiom, or affection that captures, justifies, or explains the kernel of NDC fully. Nørretranders (1999:294) refers to the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) whom, he says, '... anticipated at the end of the nineteenth century many of the new ideas of the twentieth, [and] talks about a direct perception of the world as haecceity - "thisness." The Danish Peirce expert, the physicist Peder Voetmann Christiansen (1988:35), describes haecceity as follows; 'It is a direct, shocking experience of an object which causes language to evaporate like a drop of water on a glowing sheet of metal. All we can do is point our index finder and say "that".' The nature of NDC is therefore neither a sense, nor a thought, nor a word; and neither is it not a sense, nor a thought, nor a word. It just is - and is not. NDC remains the preserve of that ineluctable paradox which is the definition of mysticism. Thereafter silence!