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".
Jim O'Connor has had an interest in theories of everything and the integral worldview since the mid 1990's. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
A New Model of Development
Synopsis of a Work in Progress
In a future essay I outline a new model of individual and collective development that I believe integrates and improves upon the Wilber/Beck and Washburn models. The scope of the essay is quite large, so as a stop-gap I have condensed the major points into the following synopsis.
To get the most from this article the reader will need an understanding of the work of Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn, as well as the One-Scale model of Andrew Smith, and a broad awareness of developmental issues in general. The best introduction to Wilber's work (and to the field in general) is, in my opinion, his book A Brief History of Everything, while Washburn's main offering is The Ego and the Dynamic Ground. Andrew Smith's most important work is his free online book Worlds within Worlds.
As the model I am presenting is based on Smith's one-scale model, the reader will at least need an understanding of the distinction made by Smith between levels and stages and between intermediate and autonomous holons.
And, as some of the earlier points made in this essay are informed by the later points, for the reader interested in understanding the paper it may be necessary to work through it more than once.
Part 1 – The Inner World of the Centaur as a Web of Aesthetic Resonances
In the model of development that follows from the principles of the one-scale model centauric cognition is an integration of primary and secondary processes. Combining this with Silvano Arieti's work on creativity leads to the inner world of the centaur being organised as an "Indra's Web" of aesthetic resonances.
As will be explored shortly, these resonances occur around predicate identity, contiguity and the part/whole relation.
Part 2 – The Relationship Between Meaning and Information
Individual psychological development can be characterised as a process of increasing psychic differentiation whereby cognition gradually learns to separate objects previously thought to be identical. At the archaic stage cognition is completely adual, and all objects exist in a state of fusion. At later primary-process stages many objects are still undifferentiated, with identification taking place according to the aforementioned predicate identity, contiguity and the part/whole relation.
Development into the secondary process continues this trend of separating objects and so secondary-process cognition can be seen as a more finely differentiated version of the primary process.
Each stage of psychological development gives rise to a particular type of logic, with a move away from the completely undifferentiated randomness of the archaic stage at which A=B unconditionally, through intermediate stages where A=B if a) A and B share common predicates, b) A and B occur contiguously, or c) A is part of B or vice versa; toward the completely differentiated order of the aperspectival stage at which A=B only if A and B share all predicates. The aperspectival stage is the end-point of this process.
Centauric cognition is a higher-order integration of all these stages, and is characterised by a logic of metaphor, where A is understood to be separate from B (via the secondary process) but is allowed to resonate with B in an aesthetic sense (via the primary process). That is, A=B to the extent that A is a meaningful metaphor for B. Truth is that which imparts the most meaning in an aesthetic sense, and truth and meaning are both characterised by a rich and harmonious integration of primary and secondary-process elements (again, see Arieti).
At the archaic stage identification takes place randomly, while at the aperspectival stage there is complete order - intermediate stages each lie somewhere in between. Centauric cognition is a higher-order integration of all these stages and is therefore a higher-order integration of randomness and order. Charles Bennett's work on information theory posits the idea that maximum information is transmitted by communications that are also a higher-order integration of randomness and order. Therefore integrating Bennett's work both with the one-scale model and with Arieti's work on cognition leads to the conclusion that statements which convey the maximum felt-meaning to centauric cognition also carry the most information in a quantitative sense.
In the same way that maximum felt-meaning is conveyed by communications that are a harmonious integration of primary and secondary process elements, maximum information is conveyed by communications that are a complex integration of randomness and order. Therefore, there is a direct relationship between meaning and information.
The inner world of the centaur is organised as a network of aesthetic resonances in which A=B to the extent that the statement A=B is meaningful to a centauric individual. An artefact such as a communication, an artwork or a theory, is true to the same extent that it imparts meaning. Therefore, there is a direct relationship between truth, meaning and information.
The most meaningful artefacts encode the most information.
Part 3 – The Structure of an Integral Society
By integrating the previous with the work done on scale-free networks (highlighted by Andy Smith), the integral society is structured as a specific configuration of nodes and paths. From a third-person point of view, it is the configuration that allows the maximum flow of information through the network. From a first-person point of view the same configuration is that in which the individual is embedded in the most meaningful network of communications.
The structure of the integral society mirrors the internal structure of the centaur and is not ordered hierarchically, but as either a pure or "weighted" heterarchy. From the work done on scale-free networks it follows that this corresponds to a society that is based around an equable distribution of power and resources (ie. nodes only) rather than one based around centralisation (ie. hubs and nodes).
Part 4 – Is Development Possible without Repression?
The Wilber/Beck model holds that development proceeds by a dynamic of "transcend and include" in which previous stages of development continue to exist as basic structures embedded within subsequent stages. Michael Washburn has termed this the "structural-hierarchical" model and has written extensively about the repression inherent within this type of development, the dynamic of which also forms the first half of his own model.
In contrast, I believe there exists another path of development that I will term the "organic-integrative" model, in which there is no repression. In an organic-integrative society individual development proceeds in a direct line from the endocept to the vision-image without introducing hierarchical psychological structures at any point. The endocept can be seen as a rudimentary form of the vision-image (see Arieti), which then undergoes progressive complexification, resulting eventually in its higher-order version.
In organic-integrative development there is no progression from body through emotion to cognition. The archaic stage is a rudimentary centaur, which therefore integrates all these in its own, lower-order, way. Development proceeds in an organic fashion through the progressive complexification of this structure until it reaches the mature centaur. At no point is there an id-ego-superego tripartite structure. As shown on diagram 1, each stage on the organic-integrative path is centauric, with later stages being more complex and differentiated than earlier ones. In Jungian terminology, each organic-integrative stage is structured as the Self. In terms of Andy Smith's one-scale model, each organic-integrative stage is structured as an autonmous holon.
This organic-integrative path of development will be traversed by individuals living in a society that itself adheres to the organic-integrative path, rather than to the transcend-and-include path followed by most modern cultures. With reference once again to the work done on scale-free networks, organic-integrative societies are those which are decentralised and integrated, and which allow the maximum flow of information through the network (ie. nodes only), while structural-hierarchical societies are those based around centralisation (ie. hubs and nodes).
Societies and individuals can all be placed somewhere on diagram 1 based upon their degree of differentiation and integration.
Societies further up the diagram are more complex/differentiated.
In organic-integrative societies, individuals are centaurically self-regulating, therefore organic-integrative societies can be said to be self-regulating also. Individuals in structural-hierarchical societies are regulated externally by legislation and state machinery.
Because all stages on the organic-integrative path are centauric and have the structure of an autonomous holon, they all allow the free-flow of both spirit from above and the libidinal energies from below – these are repressed at no stage of development. This is an important point as it allows for real spirituality to exist in cultures at any stage of development, or existing in any epoch. Those cultures which have exhibited such spirituality and vitality (ancient Greece, for example, or many indigenous societies) are those that exist toward the left of the diagram, or closer to the organic-integrative path (see diagram 2). When applied to individual development this also offers a natural explanation for experiences of childhood spirituality and, indeed, it allows for genuine spiritual development to take place for individuals at any vertical stage who are situated closer to the organic-integrative path.
This new schema of development is essentially a "developmental-romantic" model, but rather than seeing the ideal state as existing in an earlier epoch from which we fell away, it sees it as lying on a middle line of development from which we have deviated.
In healthy collective development (the ideal case, at least), societies quickly achieve a rudimentary, autonomous, organic-integrative structure (decentralised and integrated) and then develop by a process of complexification, with the flow of vital and spiritual energies keeping development on track. The analogous situation on the biological level of the holarchy is the way in which a developing organism does not pass through a series of hierarchical stages before only achieving an autonomous structure right at the end, but instead attains a rudimentary autonomous form very early in development and then grows further by the progressive complexification of this structure. My contention is that a similar path is followed during healthy development on the social level also.
Part 5 – Implications for Development
The organic-integrative path is shown on the left of each diagram. Societies which have an equable distribution of power and resources develop naturally along this path.
Societies based on the centralisation of power and resources develop along the Wilberian structural-hierarchical path, shown up the right-hand side of each diagram.
Individuals in organic-integrative societies are always structured as autonomous holons and therefore are always in touch with spiritual and vital energies. Individuals in structural-hierarchical societies have a hierarchical internal psychology that represses these energies (a la Wilhelm Reich). The Washburnian regression occurs when such an individual moves back toward the organic-integrative path, as shown on diagram 4.
Each step further up the structural-hierarchical path puts a further layer of repression in place and renders a healing regression less likely to occur. The apotheosis of this process is the aperspectival stage (or Green vMeme in SD terminology). Aperspectival cognition is not "early vision-logic", as Wilber terms it, but is more correctly termed "flatland vision-logic" and is the furthest away from the organic-integrative path that it is possible to be. Development along the structural-hierarchical path pushes awareness into increasingly more cognitively-biased, flatland versions of the true stages. In the model presented here the spiritual stages do not exist further along the structural-hierarchical path as they do in Wilber's schema.
In parallel with the movement toward more flatland worldviews, development along the structural-hierarchical path also pushes the regulatory structures of any society into increasingly more externalised forms. This means that individuals become increasingly regulated by legislation, state machinery and governmental structures rather than being regulated internally by centauric responsibility as they are in organic-integrative societies.
The collective equivalent of the aperspectival stage is the world government structure. The emergence of a world government, therefore, would not be a step toward the integral, but a step further away. In this model the aperspectival stage is seen as being a developmental dead-end.
The healthy, organic-integrative version of each collective stage of development is a decentralised yet tightly integrated, self-regulating and participatory society, populated by more or less developed centaurs, all engaging in meaningful communication with one-another. In terms of the one-scale model this corresponds to a collective holon that has an autonomous structure, rather than the intermediate structure exhibited by structural-hierarchical societies. I believe Ray Harris has correctly identified this as being identical to the ideal society as envisioned by Marx. However, I believe that Marx was wrong to believe that an aperspectival society would eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, leading to the ideal society he saw. In my view, due to the repressive forces in place, an aperspectival society could persist indefinitely.
The further toward the right of each diagram a society is placed, the more repressive it is and the more distorted the flow of meaning/information through it will be.
In organic-integrative societies the value spheres differentiate and simultaneously integrate, whereas in structural-hierarchical societies the value spheres differentiate and dissociate.
Likewise, in stages on the organic-integrative path, self and world are differentiated but integrated, whereas in stages on the structural-hierarchical path they are differentiated and dissociated.
Because individuals on the organic-integrative path are structured as autonomous holons, while those situated on the structural-hierarchical path are structured as intermediate holons, this model is fully able to accomodate and explain the so-called "superior integration" of the centaur, a point which I made in detail in an earlier paper (also available on this site).
In organic-integrative societies individuals are embedded in a network of meaningful communication.
Structural-hierarchical development has the effect of splaying consciousness out like a pack of cards along the structural-hierarchical line, rather than allowing it to develop as an integrated whole. This is useful from a theoretical perspective as it allows us to separate out and see more clearly the different elements that form the integral stage (as I did in Part 2), but from the point of view of individuals living in such a society, it is less desirable.
In organic-integrative development all of the structural-hierarchical stages or spiral dynamics vMemes are present from the start, but in less developed forms, and they then develop and complexify in harmonious unison with one another. This is somewhat similar to the Wilberian concept of lines, but in this model the lines develop up the organic-integrative path and stay in close integration, rather than developing quasi-independently up the structural-hierarchical path as they do in Wilber's schema.
In structural-hierarchical development psychic contents differentiate but do not simultaneously integrate as they do in organic-integrative growth. This repressive process results in a gradual loss of the aesthetic resonances supplied by the primary-process stages, and thus a gradual loss of meaning. In organic-integrative development there is no such loss and thus organic-integrative development is a continual growth in the ability of the individual to receive, assimilate and give, ever more complex, greater and richer meaning.
Each stage on the organic-integrative line is to a greater or lesser extent vision-logic. Vision-logic is centred in the heart and is an aesthetic mode of cognition that is characterised by seeing the world as a vast web of inter-being, as described by Thich Nhat Hanh. As development proceeds, this perception becomes increasingly complex, richer and deeper.
Part 5 – The Wider View – Development in the Context of the Multiverse
Many of the arguments made in Parts 1 and 2 can be pushed up a level (via Smith's principle of holon substitution) and applied to the transcendental, where the flow of meaning takes on a richer and more spiritual character, and is more obviously tied in with the flow of energy.
Combining the contents of this paper with my previous essay on the transcendental leads to the structure of the multiverse being defined by the flow of transcendental meaning, and may eventually lead to an integrated theory of information, meaning and energy in the context of the one-scale model.
Evolution on the cosmic scale can be seen, from a third-person point of view, as a continual growth in the capacity of holons to process information. From a first-person point of view, it is a continual growth in the ability of individuals to receive, assimilate and give, meaning.
So in summary, cosmic evolution as a whole can perhaps be characterised as reality in search of ever greater and richer meaning.
Part 6 - Prescriptions for Development
I believe there are several general prescriptions for development that follow from this model.
From viewing the inner world of the centaur as being structured around meaning, it follows that individuals should seek out, and immerse themselves in, the deepest and most meaningful work done in any area, be it philosophical systems, scientific theories or great works of art (particularly those with spiritual significance) as an important aspect of integral development.
From viewing the integral society as being structured around the flow of meaning, it follows that we should seek to embed ourselves in rich networks of meaningful communication with others. Forums for cross-disciplinary dialogue are particularly important in this regard as these may be an important tool in allowing us to re-integrate the value spheres.
The integral community should also advocate a progressive move toward a more equable distribution of wealth and power both within and across all societies, as well as a move toward more participatory forms of democracy, as an aid to organic-integrative development.
In the individual case, the primary tool for regaining the organic-integrative path is the practice of meditation.
Part 7 - Critiques of Wilber, Spiral Dynamics and Washburn
The Wilber/Beck (Hegelian) "transcend and include" model essentially rationalises an unhealthy progression of development. Wilber himself sometimes attributes properties of the organic-integrative path to the structural-hierarchical schema - development without repression, for example.
To construct the higher reaches of their mental level, Wilber, Beck and the work of most of those upon whom they build their model, have essentially surveyed the course of development taken by western societies and assumed that this constitutes the only path of development available. Much of their work is therefore valid in the context of centralised cultures, but there are good reasons for believing that another, healthier path of development is available for societies that avoid such centralisation.
Further to this, Wilber has tacked the series of stages of interior consciousness development (the psychic, subtle, causal etc) onto the structural-hierarchical series of psychological stages without making a convincing argument that one genuinely represents a continuation of the other. My contention is that the one is not a continuation of the other; that the spiritual stages are stably accessed by individuals situated closer to the organic-integrative path; that transcendental and psychological development can therefore take place simultaneously (see Part 8); and that this way of viewing development solves some of the difficulties inherent in the Wilber model (such as the stage-skipping problem, or how our ancestors could stably realise higher levels of consciousness, for example).
And, as I covered in detail as an earlier paper, by seeing all stages of development as exhibiting a similar "transcend and include" structure, Wilber's model is unable to accommodate and explain the superior integration of centaur, a fact that is successfully handled by Smith's one-scale model.
Having said all this, there are some points of agreement between this new schema and Wilber's work - his critique of aperspectival madness, flatland and the dissociation of the value spheres, for example. My feeling is that when Wilber's views on development are taken as a whole, there is not a huge gap between them and this model. The irony is that the phenomena that Wilber rightly critiques are inevitable in the schema of development that he advocates, and are not simply aberations as he claims.
Michael Washburn's work also rationalises the transcend-and-include path, but recognises that a regression is required to move from the rational or aperspectival stage back toward the centaur. However, in the model presented here, if an individual is situated closer to the organic-integrative path to begin with then spiritual development can take place without such need for a significant regression.
Also, Washburn fails to recognize, or at least to explicitly state, that once an individual has attained the centaur, further development, both psychological and transcendental, can then take place.
I would hope that those readers who have a good grasp of both the Wilber/Beck and Washburn models will see how this new schema accomodates all their major features, while resolving and explaining their various points of contention (such as whether a regression is required for spiritual development to proceed, for example).
Part 8 - Possible Objections to this Model
One possible objection I can see to this schema is that it could be argued that there exist cultures that are decentralised and yet not particularly integrated, and that such societies are not accommodated by the model presented here. I believe this objection is valid, and that an improved schema would more adequately include such cultures, as well as explaining what such a situation means for the development of their members. For the time being, however, I suggest we view cultures that do not meet some minimum degree of integration as being made up of essentially distinct societies, each of which can therefore be placed on its own separate diagram. I propose we refer to such societies as "atomised".
I think it is possible that a future model will see the task of development as being to avoid the extremes of atomisation and centralisation, and to instead tread the middle path of decentralised integration, which involves drawing all facets of society into the sphere of meaningful communication. It is for this reason that I sometimes refer to the organic-integrative path as the "middle way" (as on diagram 2).
Further to this, my reading of Andy Smith's one-scale model suggests that the transcendental exhibits a qualitively different type of development than the mental level - a development in consciousness rather than in psychological structures; and that the one-scale model is the only current model that can accommodate this difference.
Appendix 1 - The New World Order (or How We Lost the Tao)
The New World Order theory put forward by some researchers such as David Icke, is by-and-large a true account of the current global situation. Our progressive movement away from the organic-integrative path of development has been deliberately effected by a relatively small group of spiritually-aware individuals in an attempt to remain in power.
There is a covert agenda that goes right to the top of western governments, intelligence agencies and the royal families of Europe, which has the aim of turning the developed world into a police state. The end point of this process is planned to be a highly centralised and repressive world government structure (ie. aperspectival society), referred to by researchers as the "New World Order".
As long as the integral community continues to work from Wilber's Hegelian structural-hierarchical model, which rationalises such a world government, it may be unwittingly aiding such an agenda.
As Icke has persuasively argued, the individuals responsible for the New World Order agenda are the real protagonists behind such events as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
I would imagine that many of those in the integral community who are even aware of Icke's work will have dismissed it, and I understand why this is. However, I believe that if formulated strongly, and read with a flexible mind and a sense of discernment, many of Icke's basic themes will one day turn out to be correct.
For those interested in reading Icke's work, I recommend starting with And the Truth Shall Set You Free and Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster, which, in my opinion are his strongest books to date. Both works establish his reputation for solid research and provide a context within which many of his seemingly wilder claims need to be understood.
Appendix 2 - Revisiting Earlier Essays
Some of the contents of this paper contradict claims made in previous essays, in which I was working from a transcend-and-include model of development. In this appendix I revisit these earlier essays and re-organise them to bring them into line with the new schema.