INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Access to Interior Experience in the Holarchy
Andrew P. Smith
The holarchy of life is a series of levels of both structures and the consciousness or interior
experiences of these structures. In the Wilber model (1995), this distinction is made by representing
every holon as having both a right-hand or exterior form and a left-hand or interior form. In my
one-scale model (Smith 2000a), consciousness is realized by every holon to a degree related to its
position in the holarchy. As I have discussed elsewhere (Smith 2001c), this way of understanding
consciousness allows us to recognize that the functional properties of mind may emerge from physical
and biological processes, while still avoiding the reduction of all inner experience to these processes.
Unlike my model, however, the Wilber model makes a further distinction between two forms of
consciousness, according to whether the holon is individual or social in nature. These two forms have
been described by FredKofman, whose views very closely follow Wilber's, in this fashion:
Individual holons are entities that have agency and localized interiority or
Social holons do not have localized interiority or consciousness; they have
inter-subjectivity or non-localized consciousness1.
We all are presumably familiar with localized consciousness. I have a certain degree of consciousness,
and this is localized to, or associated with my brain and body, as opposed to being associated with
someone else's brain and body. But I find the concept of an intersubjective or non-localized
consciousness quite vague. In further describing it, Wilber says that it:
exerts its influence in more diffuse and subtle ways, creating a background or
intersubjective space in which individual subjects and objects arise, but within which
individual subjects are relatively free to move as they like2.
What is an "intersubjective space"? Is it something more than the sum of all the intersubjective
relationships between individuals? It seems to me that Wilber should answer no to this, because "more
than" would imply that the social holon is higher than its individual members, and Wilber explicitly
says this is not the case. On the other hand, if the intersubjective space is nothing more than the sum
of all the intersubjective relationships, then it appears that the consciousness of a social holon is
simply the sum of the consciousnesses of all its members. In other words, a social holon has no
consciousness of its own at all. What we call its consciousness can be completely reduced to that of
its members. Even worse--and this is a point I will return to later--if the social holon can be understood
in this way, there is no justification for making a distinction between its properties and those of its
individual members. In other words, the individual/social distinction in the four-quadrant model
The foregoing argument suggests that not only do we need a clearer view of the consciousness of a
social holon, but that how we arrive at this view depends critically on how we understand the
relationship of social holons to their individual members. In the Wilber model of holarchy, as I just
pointed out, a society or other social holon is no higher than its component members. In my model, in
contrast, social holons are higher than their members , though not to the same degree that an
individual holon on one level of existence is higher than that on another level. Elsewhere (Smith 2000a;
20001c), I have presented a number of arguments supporting my view, including (but by no means
confined to) the fact that it follows directly from the application of Wilber's own stated criterion for
distinguishing higher holons from lower ones. Because this issue is so critical to our understanding of
consciousness or interiority of these holons, however, I will begin by reexamining it, using a different
approach. This approach, which will depart from Kofman's own words, will reveal that 1) there is a
serious inconsistency or conflation in Wilber's concept of individual and social holons, one that has
also recently been discovered by Gerry Goddard (2000); 2) in order to remove this inconsistency, we
must understand individual and social holons as interacting with one another as well as with
themselves; and 3) this interaction can't be visualized coherently unless we understand that social
holons are higher than individual ones. Having made these points in support of a different view of
social holons and their relationships to their individual members, I will then discuss the kind of
consciousness implied by these relationships.
Individual and Social Holons and their Individual and Social Interactions
The Wilber model of holarchy consists of four scales or quadrants, each of which represents a
different aspect or dimension of a holon. (I will use the terms "aspect " and "dimension"
interchangeably here, because while Wilberites prefer the latter, in my own work I use the word
dimension in a very different sense). These aspects include the individual exterior and interior and the
social exterior and interior. Appled to our level of existence, this approach thus identifies a human
organism (or what Wilber, for reasons not clear to me, refers to as just our particular type of brain) as
individual exterior; human consciousness as individual interior; human society as social exterior; and
the culture associated with that society as social interior.
The rationale underlying this model, as stated by Wilber, was to be as comprehensive as possible in
incorporating a large body of scientific and other data on all facets of the known world, while
simultaneously avoiding the reduction of some phenomena to others. Thus the individual vs. social
distinction was intended to emphasize that societies can't be completely explained in terms of their
individual members, or vice-versa, while the exterior vs. interior divide reminds us that consciousness
or experience is not completely reducible to physical and biological processes. However, though the
model is presented as though each of the four quadrants is an equally important and valid view of
some phenomenon, the relationship between individual and social is very different from that between
exterior and interior. This difference results in a major inconsistency or conflation.
This inconsistency is revealed in the following description by Kofman:
A holon is a fourfold entity with an interior (intension, consciousness, subjectivity) and
an exterior (extension, form-matter, objectivity) dimension at an individual (localized)
and a social (collective) level. On the basis of these different levels, holons can be
distinguished in two types: individual holons and social holons.
The first sentence in this passage says that a holon has four different dimensions, including both
individual and social levels. The second sentence says that there are both individual and social
holons. If every holon has both an individual and a social dimension, how can there be a distinction
between individual and social holons? There are apparently only two ways to reconcile the thoughts
expressed in these two sentences. Either a) any individual holon has both an individual and a social
dimension, as does any social holon; or b) for Wilber and Kofman the word "holon" has two distinct
meanings, which are routinely conflated. On the one hand, it can refer to a form of existence--really, a
hypothetical construct--which is fundamentally neither individual nor social, but has both of these
dimensions. On the other hand, it can refer to a real holon which can be either individual or social, but
which does not have both of these dimensions. I believe Wilber and Kofman are intending b)--that
they are conflating two different meanings of the term holon-- but I will show that that doesn't work.
Possibility a), on the other hand, can be made to work, but only by significantly revising the Wilber
Let's consider b) first, that Wilber andKofman are using the term holon in two different ways. To avoid
this charge, they could say that they intend to restrict the definition to the first sense: a holon is some
form of existence which has four different dimensions . In fact, this seems to be Kofman's view when he
Speaking more precisely, however, there are no such distinct "things" as individual and
social holons. In this view, there are no individual or social holons, but only holons,
period, which have both individual and social aspects.
Then when Kofman does refer to specific individual holons or social holons, what he really means is
"individual manifestation" or "social manifestation" of a holon. Thus an organism is not an individual
holon, but rather an individual manifestation of some holon, while a society is a social manifestation of
the same holon. The problem of conflation has been avoided simply by giving the second meaning of
holon a different name.
At first glance, this view seems to express a very profound and powerful idea. We're saying that reality
is not the organism, nor the society of organisms, but something deeper, below or beyond them, which
we simply see from one perspective as an organism, while from another perspective as a society.
Echoes of Plato, and Kant, and many other philosophers! The remaining two dimensions of the holon
are brought in by adding the notion that this holon can also be viewed as either an interior or an
However, this won't work, because the relationships among these four aspects or dimensions are very
different. We can associate both an exteriority and an interiority with any individual holon; for example,
I have an exterior form, my body/brain and its behavior, and an interiority, my conscious experience.
Thus we can say that my body/brain and my conscious experience represent two different
perspectives of some holon. We may possibly be able to do the same with any social holon; thus we
might say that American society has an exterior form, composed of the bodies and brains and behavior
of all of its members, and some unspecified consciousness associated with these bodies. But we can't
associate my body and behavior with everyone else's body and behavior in this way, nor my
consciousness with everyone else's consciousness. Whatever relationship or transformation we use to
associate one individual with an entire society is a completely different kind of relationship from the
one we use to associate an exterior form with an interior form. Or to put it another way, there is no
holon such that viewed from one perspective it is an individual, while viewed from another it's a
society. A society is not just a different aspect or dimension of some holon that can also be viewed as
an individual3. It's a different holon, one that includes the particular individual, but many other
individuals as well.
It's precisely because of this point that Kofman and Wilber (if, as I believe, they have taken alternative
b) have conflated the two meanings of holon. The second meaning is necessary--we can't avoid it by
using a different term--because there is a difference between a society and an organism that can't be
expressed simply by saying each is a different dimension or perspective of the same holon. Wilber and
Kofman, quite apparently, recognize this difference, but don't see that in order to represent it
accurately, and at the same time maintain that every holon has a four-fold nature, they must conflate
two distinct meanings of the term holon.
In summary, then, the idea that the term holon is to refer only to some entity that has both an
individual and a social aspect or dimension won't work. Let's now consider the other way to reconcile
the two ideas expressed in the Kofman passage quoted above: that there are both individual and social
holons, and each has both an individual and a social nature. At first glance, this idea may seem
self-contradictory, but it's not. Consider an individual organism, a human being. The person can be
said to have an individual aspect whenever he acts agentically, that is, not in relation to other people.
For example, if I interact with some inanimate form of life--perceiving it or manipulating it--I can be said
to be expressing an individual aspect. On the other hand, when I interact with other people--talking
with them, doing things with them, and so forth--I'm expressing a social or communal aspect. It's social
not just in the sense that I'm directing my attention to other people, but in the much more profound
sense that in order to understand my behavior (exterior) or experience (interior), we have to take into
account the behavior or experience of the other people I'm interacting with. My behavior/experience in
the social setting includes the behavior/experience of others; it extends outward from my individuality,
so to speak, into a social dimension.
So individual holons can be said to have both individual and social aspects or dimensions. What
about social holons? Do they have an individual as well as a social aspect? Yes, because like an
individual holon, a social holon can act both agentically as well as communally. It can be said to act
agentically when it interacts not just with inanimate life, but with any individual within itself. It acts
communally when it interacts with other social holons. Gerry Goddard (2000) has discussed these
relationships at some length, and I will return later to consider them further.
Notice that both agency and communion involve interactions of holons with other holons, and that the
holarchical relationship between the two holons determines the nature of the interaction. A holon
expresses agency when it interacts with a lower holon, and communion when it interacts with a holon
on the same or a higher level (more accurately, in my model, a higher stage). Thus we act agentically in
respect to inanimate matter or lower forms of life, and communally with respect to other people.
Likewise, a society acts agentically with respect to its individual members, and communally with
respect to other societies. This understanding assumes that societies are in fact higher than their
individual members, and as I will discuss later, is in fact another reason for adopting this view. We
need this understanding of the relationship of societies to their members in order to have a coherent
view of agency and communion.
To summarize the discussion so far, we have seen that both individual holons and social holons have
both individual and social dimensions. These dimensions are in fact agency and communion,
respectively. It therefore seems that we have rescued the Wilber model from the inconsistency implied
in the Kofman passage quoted above. We can have our cake and eat it, too. We can make a distinction
between individual and social holons, but we can also say that either of these kinds of holons has a
four-fold nature, including individual and social as well as interior and exterior aspects. I have
expressed this idea in Table 1, which compares the way three different models make, or don't make,
these distinctions. These models include, in addition to Wilber's four-quadrant model and my
one-scale model, a revised four-quadrant model proposed by Gerry Goddard (2000), which I will
discuss in the following section.
However, as shown in the table, there is still a problem with the Wilber model. These individual and
social dimensions are not the same thing as individual and social holons. The social or communal
dimension of an individual consists of all her interactions with other individuals, but these interactions
don't constitute an entire society. The individual or agentic dimension of a society consists of all its
interactions with its individuals, but these are considerably more than any one individual. So while
both individual and social dimensions exist, and individuals and societies exist, they can't be equated.
Yet this is exactly what the Wilber four-quadrant model does. The lower two quadrants are supposed
to represent the social aspects of both individual and social holons (if we take this approach to
reconciling the two sentences in the Kofman passage above), but also social holons themselves. The
two upper quadrants are supposed to represent the individual aspects of individual and social holons,
but also individual holons themselves. Again, we see that there is a conflation, that the term holon is
being used in two very different ways. The result, as indicated in Table 1, is that the Wilber model
really only expresses the individual aspects or dimensions of either individual or social holons.
Gerry Goddard (2000), using a somewhat different approach from the one I have taken here, has also
seen this problem:
To equate the 'social holon' with the communions of individuals would be to reduce
'reality' to individuals...individual communions cannot be identical with society. If the
Lower quadrants are constituted entirely by individual holons interacting, they should
show the communions and interpersonal interactions of individuals as society -- but
they do not4.
Goddard arrived at this conclusion by arguing that Wilber's model conflates perception of one holon
by another holon, on the one hand, with the actual existence of the perceived holon, on the other hand.
To avoid this conflation, Goddard divides the interior dimension of the individual into two
subquadrants. One of these sectors represents perceptions of other holons, that is, direct sensory
impressions ; this is a manifestation of individual agency, and corresponds closely to what I have been
refering to as the individual dimension of the individual. The other individual interior division
represents private thoughts, or sensory impressions processed into concepts. I have argued (Smith
20001b) that this corresponds to individual communion, what I have been calling the social aspects of
the individual, though this is not quite the meaning given to it by Goddard himself5.
In any case, however, Goddard's solution to the problem, in effect, distinguishes the social aspects of
the individual from the society, giving each a different sector within the four-quadrant framework. He
also makes a corresponding division within the social holon portion of the model, effectively
representing the individual and social dimensions of societies. When all of this is joined conceptually
to another of Goddard's notions--that agentic individuals are associated with communalsocieties, and
vice-versa--the result is a "double four-quadrant" model that in fact contains twelve different sectors.
Is Goddard's solution to the problem satisfactory? I believe not, for several reasons (see Smith 2001b
for further discussion of Goddard's model). First, it makes the four-quadrant model more complicated.
Other things beings equal (i.e., all pertinent data and concepts being represented), a simpler model is
always preferred over a more complex one. This is not always possible; and it may be that given the
difference between individual and social holons, on the one hand, and the individual and social
aspects of holons, on the other, there is no way to avoid multiplying the number of quadrants. But
whenever a proposed solution to a problem encountered in a model makes that model more
complicated, it should raise warning flags.
A second criticism I have of the Goddard model is directed at his concept of agency and communion.
Goddard believes that a) individual agency is always inversely correlated with social agency, so that
highly agentic individuals are found in highly communal societies, and vice-versa; and b) that modern
societies are highly communal, consisting of highly agentic individuals. I have argued, in contrast, that
a) while the inverse correlation may hold for human societies, it's not true for social holons in general;
and b) modern individuals are not more but less agentic (more communal) than those of earlier
societies. These differences are expressed in Table 1. Though Goddard and I agree almost completely
with respect to the individual and social dimensions of individual holons (the top half of the table), we
have two substantial disagreements with respect to social holons (the bottom half). First, I regard
complex insitutions as an individual aspect of the social holon, rather than a social aspect, as does
Goddard. This difference basically reflects the difference between my view that modernsocieties and
their complex institutions are highly agentic--that is, have a highly developed
individualaspect--whereas Goddard believes that it is the earlier, ritual-based societies that were highly
agentic. And second, I have a somewhat different concept of what the social dimensions of social
holons are. In the Goddard model, these dimensions are expressed by his term "blending with other
culures", but he does not really address the questions of what the individual holon/social holon
relationship is under these conditions, and how it promotes such blending. My terms "behavioral
objectivity" and"interobjective consciousness", which I will discuss further later, are meant to address
More fundamentally, I believe the problem with Goddard's view of agency/communion is that it's
inconsistent, sometimes following the definition of them that I provided earlier--agency is an
interaction of higher holon with a lower, communion an interaction of a holon with an equal or higher
holon--and sometimes not. I will return to this issue later, but for now I will just point out that this
inconsistency leads to the doubling of quadrants in Goddard's model, to show agentic individuals in
communal societies, and vice-versa. When this inconsistency is removed, it's no longer necessary to
double the quadrants to express this relationship.
The third problem I have with the Goddard model lies at the heart of all my othercriticisms of it, and
indeed, at the heart of most or all of my differences with the Wilber model. Goddard, like Wilber, views
societies as being no higher than their individual members. It's this belief that necessitates the
upper/lower division in both his model and in Wilber's, and thus adds to the complexity of these
models. In addition, as we shall see, it results in the inconsistency in Goddard's, and I think Wilber's,
view of agency/communion. And finally, the issue of social vs. individual, I will argue, is inseparable
from the exterior vs. interior distinction.
Clearly, the question of the relationship of a social holon to its individual members is of crucial
importance in developing a model of the holarchy. If the two are of equal holarchical rank, we have to
have multiple quadrants--four according to Wilber, six or twelve according to Goddard (who, to repeat,
has addressed a major problem in the Wilber model). If societies are higher than their members, on the
other hand, we can unify the individual/social distinction, and view the exterior/interior distiction in a
Elsewhere (Smith 2000a; 2001c), I have marshalled a number of arguments that I believe demonstrate
compellingly that societies are higher than their individual members. These arguments employ both
direct approaches--for example, showing that societies fulfill commonly used criteria to distinguish
higher from lower--as well as indirect ones, that reveal various inconsistencies, incoherencies and
other weaknesses in the Wilber model that result from its view that societies exist on the same level as
their individual members. Since the great weight of both logic and evidence is against the Wilber view,
I feel I should not have to say any more about this issue. Because most people stubbornly cling to this
view, though, (not always for reasons related to the quality of the arguments in support of it), I will
provide yet another defense of my position, one based on a fairly straightforward logical argument.
Call it Goddard's dilemma, but also, I believe, Wilber's.
Here's how it goes. If a society is no higher than its member individuals, it follows that it has properties
which are either a) identical to those of its members; or b) are different, but no higher. We can eliminate
a), not simply on empirical grounds, but on logical ones. If the properties of a society are the same as
those of its individual members, then there is no need to make a separate quadrant or dimension to
represent these properties. The whole point of having different quadrants is to represent properties
that can't be reduced or equated to one another.
Therefore, a society's properties are different from those of its individuals, but no higher. If these social
properties are different, where do they come from? It appears that they can only come from the
interactions of the individual members of the society. For surely the society is nothing more than a) its
individual members; and b) the interactions of these members. One might argue that such a "nothing
more" statement smacks of subtle reductionism, but if societies are no higher than their individual
members, how can they be reduced to the latter? Reductionism, by definition, involves explaining what
we consider, or what appears to be, a higher form of life in terms of a lower. Since we have already
stated that societies are not higher than their individual members, there is no danger of reductionism
Yet this seems to be exactly the mistake Goddard makes, for as we saw earlier, he says:
To equate the 'social holon' with the communions of individuals would be to reduce
'reality' to individuals
Goddard might possibly respond by claiming that he is using the term "reduce" in a broader sense, one
which includes not only higher vs. lower relationships, but also different-but-not-higher ones (separate
but equal, one might say). But I find this notion incoherent. If two types of holons exist in a
different-but-not-higher relationship, how could we in any sense reduce the properties of one to
another? Consider an actual example of such a relationship: two human beings. Here we have two
individual holons which are different, in some sense, yet exist at the same level6. How in the world
would we reduce the properties of one to another? If the properties are different, where is the basis for
a reduction? What kind of transformation would reduce my blond hair, or my green eyes, or my five
eleven body, to your dark hair, brown eyes, or six foot two?
So here is the dilemma Goddard finds himself in: either a) societies are higher than their individual
members, which his model explicitly denies; or b) they can be equated with the communions of
individual holons, which he also denies. Since point a) is such a vital assumption in the Wilber model
as well, clearly the only way out of this dilemma, for Wilber as well as Goddard, is to accept b). Society
is nothing but a group of individuals, and their interactions with one another. The different properties
of a society, those that distinguish it from those of any individual member, result from these
Is this is a coherent view? Let's consider an example of such interactions. I have a conversation with
another person. As a result of that interaction, or associated with it, both the other individual and I
engage in certain kinds of behavior (exterior in the Wilber model), and have certain conscious
experiences (interior). Are there any other processes or phenomena occurring as a result of our
conversation? Is there something in the concept of interaction other than my behavior and experience
and your behavior and experience? Not accordingto Goddard; this is his model of the dyad formed by
two interacting holons. And not according to either me or the other person, because our behavior and
our experience are all we are aware of.
So society essentially is composed of all these forms of behavior and experiences that result from
individuals' interacting with one another.7 Obviously, these interactions can become extremely
complex, involving many different people, interacting indirectly as well as directly (see Smith 2001d),
but society is still a sum of all these interactions. Nothing more, or it would be higher. Thus when
The epistemology which sustains, or is at the core of, the binary pair and its derivative
individuals does not explain the complex relationships of binary pairs which constitute
society or the social holon
we can ignore him, for this reasoning would only be applicable (whether true or false) if society were
higher than the individual, which our starting assumption disallows.
But we said earlier that society had properties different from those of its individual members, not just
the sum of them. For if it doesn't, then there would be no need to represent society on a separate
quadrant from individuals. From the point of view of holarchy, society would be the same as the
individual. Therefore, assumption b), that society can be equated with its individual interactions, is
inconsistent with our starting assumption, that societies are different from their members in some
Let me summarize the argument I have just made: either a society is higher than its individual members,
or it isn't. If it isn't, it either has the same properties as these members or different properties that are
not higher. If it has the same properties, it does not represent a different dimension or aspect from the
individual, and therefore does not require a separate quadrant for its representation. If it has
different-but-not-higher properties, on the other hand, they must reside in its individudal members and
their interactions; there is nothing more to such a society. But there is no property of these
interactions not also inherent in the individuals themselves (or in interacting pairs of them, which in
Goddard's model, are represented as individual dimensions). Therefore, either a society is completely
understandable in terms of its individual members--there is no meaningful distinction to be made at
all--or it's higher than these members.
Am I missing something here? Is there some hidden dimension that makes a society different from its
members? Different not in the sense that two individuals are different from each other--what Wilber
calls translation--but also not different in the sense that a higher holon is different from lower
holons--what he calls transcendence. If there is some other way in which two holons can differ, why
does Wilber have no term for it? My model does have a term for it. It's called transformation, but this is
also a higher vs. lower relationship, though not the same as transcendence.
The real point I'm trying to make here is that any holon which consists of multiple other holons
interacting in some manner is by definition higher than any one of these interacting components. As
soon as holons begin to interact hetarchically, a higher form of existence begins to emerge. This is
basically what higher means. Or to put it another way, there is no such thing as a set of hetarchical
interactions among holons that does not result in the emergence of a higher form of existence. Why
this is always the case was the subject of an earlier article (Smith 2001d).
To be sure, there can be groups of holons that interact very weakly if at all, and in these cases we can
say that for all practical purposes, the group is no higher than the individual. Since the number and
strength of interactions among holons can vary considerably, we can't always draw a sharp line
between a group of holons that form a higher holon and one that does not. But in general the two
kinds can be distinguished. As I have discussed previously, I call the first kind a social holon, and the
second kind a heap (Smith 2001a,c). Both terms are used in the Wilber model, but because he does not
view social holons as higher than individual ones, both that term and heap come to have different
meanings from the way that I use them. Wilber's meanings, I have argued, are inconsistent, and lead to
all kinds of problems with his model.
As I pointed out earlier, there are many, many other arguments that lead to the same conclusion, that
societies are higher than their individual members. Why is it so difficult for Wilber and his supporters
to see this? I think there are basically two main reasons. First (I hope the lesser reason, but I'm not so
sure it is), the notion that societies are higher than their members seems to provide ideological support
for totatalitarian societies. I have discussed this issue before (Smith 2001a,d), and will not reiterate my
arguments against this position. I just want to emphasize that even if people don't accept these
arguments--that they still believe viewing societies as higher could have undesirable political
implications--this is not a reason for believing this view is false.
The second reason is that Wilber fails to distinguish between levels and stages of existence. In my
model of holarchy, every level has several stages. The first stage consists of individual holons, while
the succeeding stages are occupied by various kinds of social holons. On any one level, the social
holons at any stage are higher than the individual holons that compose them, but they are not higher
in the same sense that individual holons on one level of existence are higher than those on a lower
level. For example, molecules, which are social holons of atoms in my model, are higher than atoms, and
so are cells. But whereas cells are on a higher level than atoms, and so transcend them, molecules are
on a higher stage, and only transform atoms. I have explained the differences in great detail elsewhere
(Smith 2000; 2001a,c), but Wilber, presumably unfamiliarwith my model, routinely argues that social
holons are not higher than their members by comparing the relationship to that betweentwo levels of
The Fundamental Dialectic
I said earlier that understanding that societies are higher than their individual members is the key to
resolving many other problems in the Goddard and Wilber models. In this light, let's consider some of
the basic, universal properties of holons. According to Wilber (2000), there are four: agency,
communion, self-transcendence and self-immanence. I will begin with agency and communion, and in
effect end there, for as I will argue, when these are understood properly, there is no need to make a
separate distinction for self-transcendence and self-immanence.
The three of us agree that agency is a drive, or a tendency, of an individual holon to assert its
autonomy or independence from other holons, while communion is the tendency to form hetarchical
relationships with others of its kind. Where we differ is how we understand these tendencies in
relationship to positions in the holarchy. Wilber and Goddard see both agency and communion as
occurring between holons on the same level of existence. Thus Wilber defines agency as "horizontal
individuation" and communion as "horizontal linking". I'm still with them here, but these definitions
have an implication, for them, which I don't accept. This implication is that both agentic and communal
relationships (of any particular type of holon) take place on the same level (or stage) of existence, that
neither is higher than the other. In fact, this view is tightly linked to the view that societies are not
higher than their members, because societies are clearly formed as a result of communal interactions
between their members. To say that societies are no higher than their members is to say that communal
interactions don't lead to higher forms of life.
As a generalization to other levels of the holarchy, it's very easy to demonstrate the fallacy in this
view. Consider the process by which atoms join together into molecules. When atoms exist
autonomously, their agency is at a a maximum. When they form bonds with other atoms to create
molecules, on the other hand, they are exhibiting communion, and their agency decreases. It's true that
we can consider both agency and communion as occuring, initially, on the same level, that of the atom.
But the molecule, formed by communion, is a higher form of existence. Wilber and I agree here, though
to him it's a higher level, while to me it's a higher stage. Bur either way, this example shows that viewing
communion as "horizonatal linking" is a little misleading. It's horizontal from the atom's point of view,
but it results in a vertical transition, with the emergence of higher properties. What is this if not what
Wilber calls self-transcendence, which he defines as "vertically moving up"? And in fact, as I have
discussed elsewhere (Smith 2000a; 2001c), atoms can participate in these properties, so even for them,
communion is not entirely horizontal. It can be vertical as well. This is a key point in my view of
communion; it can occur not only between holons on the same stage or level, but also between one
holon and a higher-order holon, that is, a social holon.
Another way of looking at all this is to say that Wilber believes there are two kinds of hetarchical
relationships: those that form higher forms of existence, such as molecules from atoms, and those that
form existence that is no higher, such as societies from humans. He calls the first kind of relationship or
process self-transcendence, and the second kind communion. However, he never explains why
hetarchical relationships should take these two forms, why in one case they lead to higher forms of
existence, and in the other they don't. In my model, in contrast, all hetarchical relationships lead to
higher forms of existence, so there is no need to make this distinction. Communion is the process by
which the lower become higher. My model does not require a distinction between different kinds of
hetarchy to explain the difference between social holons and individual holons. Social holons result
from hetarchical relationships among holons of one kind (individual or social), while individual holons
result from hetarchical relationships among multiple kinds of holons, individual and social. In both
cases, however, the hetarchical relationships result in the emergence of new properties and higher
forms of existence.
Likewise, Wilber also makes a distinction between two kinds of processes by which holons maintain
themselves. One of these processes is agency, which as we have seen, he defines as horizontal
individuation; the other is self-immanence, which he defines as "vertically moving down." As with
communion, I find that agency, properly understood, can cover both concepts. For as an example of
self-immanence, Wilber provides the way that "a molecule embraces its atoms". This is clearly
self-maintenance, and I find it indistinguishable from agency as I have previously described this drive
or process. In particular, since all holons by definition are composed of lower holons, any process by
which holons interact with these lower holons involves self-maintenance, and this is self-immanence as
defined by Wilber.
Everything I've said about atoms in molecules can be repeated for the relationship of cells and tissues.
And also for humans in their societies. Societies, obviously, emerge through hetarchical relationships,
or communal interactions, among people. It follows that the more complex the society, the more
communion among its members (see Smith 2001c). So we are more communal, less agentic, than our
ancestors. As I pointed out earlier, Goddard, and I think probably Wilber, believes just the opposite,
that we are more agentic.
Why do we have opposite views here? For Goddard, I think--and probably many others--the word
"communal", in an anthropological context, conjures up visions of our ancestors enjoying camaraderie
in the hunt, cooperating in taking care of the young, and sitting around the campfire at night. All of
this is contrasted with the modern urban dweller, sitting alone in his isolated apartment at night. But
this is to confuse direct interactions with other people--which may or may not have been more
prevalent in earlier times--with indirect interactions. We commune with others whenever we think, for
our thoughts inevitably depend upon a complex network of concepts that only a society could create.
These bonds hold us together almost as strongly as cells in tissues or atoms in molecules, and greatly
reduce our agency.
Don't believe it? How many people in our society would go out onto a public street, and urinate? This
is a very agentic act--one that requires no part of the body/brain that we don't share with many other
organisms--and happens all the time in third world countries. It almost never happens in America
(except in the third world portions of our country, the ghetto and homeless areas). Why not? Because
our communal interactions forbid it, and punish it. For most people, the mere thought of the
connotations associated with urinating in public is just as effective in preventing them from doing it as
though they were physically prevented from doing it. There are many other expressions of agency that
most of us similarly don't do, such as various forms of violent crimes. This kind of behavior, too,
requires that the individual be relatively free from certain communal interactions that restrict the
expressions of ourselves as an autonomous organism.
Agency is often, and in my view incorrectly, equated with freedom (Goddard observes the distinction
sometimes, but in other cases seems not to). Members of modern societies have many privileges,
rights, options, possibilities, and so on, that members of earlier societies did not have, and these reflect
our greater freedom, but they do not result from greater agency. On the contrary, they result from our
greater communion. (see Smith 2001b for further discussion of the difference). For example, we may
criticize our leaders. This is not an expression of agency, but of communion. In the first place, to have
the concept of criticizing anyone requires interactions with a network of other social concepts. Animals
that don't think may challenge authority physically--another example of an agentic act that we rarely
engage in--but they don't criticize it in the sense that we do. In the second place, to hold the twin
concepts of leader and subject of criticism--impossible for lower animals and even membersof some
human societies to hold--requires further communion. In particular, it requires the distinction between a
particular individual, such as George Bush, and the office he represents, the Presidency. When we
criticize Bush, we are criticizing him in his capacity as President, not as a particular human being. To
make this distinction at all requires an enormous amount of communion. In advanced Western
societies,we have still finer shades of criticism--for example, many people criticize Ken Wilber rather
sharply, even while remaining as fairly close personal friends of him9. All of these distinctions we make
between what a person represents and other aspects of his nature greatly enhance our
freedom--because they greatly expand the number of options we have in behaving in any particular
situation--and all of them result from our greater communion.
So my view of communion leads to the conclusion that we are more communal than our ancestors, not
less. A second aspect of agency/communion in Goddard's "double four quadrant" model--responsible,
indeed, for the doubling--is that there is a strict inverse relationship between individual agency and
social agency. That is, the more agentic the individual is, the less agentic (more communal) the society,
and vice-versa. True or false?
It depends. It's true for dynamic processes by which higher order social holons are being formed,
which were the subject of Goddard's analysis. It's false, however, for social holons--as I define
them--that have completed their formation, and are not in the process of further development.
I will begin with the latter situation first. Consider a specific example on the physical level. A group of
atoms join together to form an amino acid molecule. In the process, as noted earlier, they lose some
agency, and exhibit more communion, which is just chemical bonding. Now suppose the amino acid
molecule, in turn, joins with other amino acids to form a protein. It's doing the same thing its atoms did,
exhibiting less agency (autonomy as an amino acid) and more communion (bonding with other amino
acids). Do its component atoms therefore become more agentic again, less communal?
For the most part, no. The slight qualification is necessary, because some portions of the amino acid
do become more agentic, with atoms splittingoff so that bonds can be formed with two other amino
acids. But the great majority of atoms in the amino acid are mostly unaffected by this transition. They
remain bonded as tightly to one another as before, which is to say, they are just as communal as they
were in the autonomous, highly agentic amino acid.
So for this stage of existence, there is no inverse correlation between agency of individual holon and
that of social holon. And the same argument can be made for still higher stages on this level (e.g.,
proteins associating into macromolecular complexes), as well as stages on the next level of existence
(cells in tissues). The reason there is no correlation is because these stages are completed. The
dialectic between agency and communion, so to speak, has been resolved. When atoms form an amino
acid molecule, they sacrifice some agency, and the amino acid molecule gains some. Speaking loosely,
there is some tension between the two. But once the amino acid molecule is fully formed, it can now
enter into communal arrangements with other amino acids without affecting the relationships of its
component atoms. Indeed, we could use this as a definition or diagnosis of the degree of development
of a stage or social holon: a social holon is fully evolved when there is no longer any inverse
relationship between its agency and that of its components.
This is not to say that there is no inverse relationship between agency and communion in general.
There is, but the relationship or dialectic involves agency of the amino acid molecule with respect to
other, autonomous atoms. For example, a communal amino acid that is part of a protein can no longer
ionize at either terminus. In other words, it can't enter it relationships with individual atoms, viz.,
hydrogen ions. These are lower forms of existence.
When we consider social holons at our level, however, namely, societies, the situation is very different.
Here I believe Goddard's view is correct, though as I will explain in a moment, it's not always easy to
appreciate.. It's true because societies are still in the process of evolving. Under these conditons, there
is a tension, as Goddard correctly notes, between individual and social agency. When individual
agency is high,the bonds forming the social holon are relatively weak; under these conditions, it may
form relationships with other (quasi) social holons more readily. As Goddard puts it:
The agency of the 'social holon' is its cohesive structure which puts a preventative
counter pressure on the developing individual: the communality of the social holon is
its openness to other cultures (in human terms, from inter-tribal mixes to the culturally
complex nation state and now global culture).
Agentic society exerts a counter pressure forcefully against the development of the
agentic individual and vice versa.
This inverse relationship between individual and social agency/communion is depicted in Table 2. This
table shows the same individual and social aspects of individual and social holons that were presented
in Table 1, for my model (right hand portion of Table 1). However, these aspects or dimensions have
now been rearranged in order to demonstrate the association of highly agentic individuals with highly
communal societies, and vice-versa. The upper half of Table 2 shows the individual or agentic aspects
of individual holons (left side) correlated with the social or communal aspects of social holons (right
side). The lower half shows the communal aspects of individual holons correlated with the individual
or agentic aspects of societies. Each aspect or dimension is associated with a particular kind of exterior
form (top row of each half of the table) and a particular kind of interior experience (bottom row), which I
will elaborate on later.
What I want to call to the attention of the reader now is that the agency/communion relationship forms
a continuuum, or what I refered to in an earlier work as a spectrum of holons (Smith 20001a). At one
end of this spectrum (the top half of Table 2) are highly agentic individual holons and highly communal
societies. The individual holons are those that are found on the lowest stage of any level of existence,
in my one-scale model of holarchy, and the societies are the least developed forms of social
organization on that level. In fact, I refer to these "social" holons as heaps--groups of individual
holons that are so autonomous that the groups have virtually no social organization, and therefore no
emergent properties. At the other end of this spectrum, the bottom half of the table, are highly
communal individual holons which are found within highly agentic societies. These societies compose
the highest stages of any particular level of existence, and both they and their component individual
holons exhibit the most complex properties on that level. Intermediate stages exhibit intermediate
degrees of agency and communion.
Table 2 thus shows how the agency/communion relationship is represented in the one-scale model,
where individual and social holons are placed together. Though I have divided the table into various
rows and columns in order to show the individual, social, exterior and interior distinctions made in the
Wilber and Goddard models, in fact all these relationships are found in the one-scale model. Pick out
any particular stage in any levelof this model, and the model will tell you the relative amounts of
agency and communion in the social holons on this stage (if the stage is still developing) as well as in
their member individual holons (this is true regardless of whether the stage is full evolved or not). This
discussion has been concerned primarily with exterior properties, but as shown in Table 2, and as I will
discuss later, interior properties also can be understood in this manner.
This inverse relationship between the agency/communion of a social holon and the
agency/communion of its component individual holons (or in the case of fully evolved social holons,
non-component individual holons) is the basis for what I have referred to as the law of perspective:
any process in the holarchy can be viewed in multiple ways, depending on the holarchical relationship
of the observer to the process (Smith 2000a). Consider an individual holon which is interacting with
other individual holons. From the point of view of this individual holon, it's engaging in a process of
communion; this is what it experiences. But from the point of view of the emerging social holon
composed of these individual holons, the process is one of agency, by which the bonds holding it
together become strengthened. So in a very profound sense, agency and communion are the same
thing. Whether a particular process is viewed as one or the other depends on the (holarchical)
relationship of the observer to the process. I will elaborate on this point later.
Let's return now, however, to a further consideration of the relationship of human beings to their
societies. According to Goddard, earlier societies were highly agentic, but consisted of highly
communal members, while the converse is true for modern societies. I contend that just the opposite is
the case. We modern individuals are highly communal, while our ancestors were highly agentic. My
view implies that earlier societies were actually highly communal, easily forming relationships with
other societies, while modern societies are highly agentic, resisting such relationships. Is this really the
case? Goddard seems to have considerable evidence on his side when he insists that
Social agency (conservative maintenance of order and cohesive distinction from other
groups) resists the development of individual agency; the individual develops as an
assertive, autonomous and distinct being dialectically over against the counter
restraints of the group. As the consciousness of the distinction of individual and
society ...increases ... groups begin to blend with others groups, myths expand and
complexify, modern rational post-mythic society becomes maximally open to other
traditions, beliefs, cultural practices; that is, society becomes more communal.
In plain English, earlier societies had a strong social identity that kept them distinct from other
societies. In contrast, modern societies seem to find it very easy to fuse with each other, freely
incorporating ideas and values--not to mention people (i.e., immigrants)--from each other. Isn't Goddard
The first point I want to make is that understanding the relationships between individuals and their
societies is greatly complicated by the existence of multiple stages. In American society, for example,
most of us individuals exist within families and communities as well as within a larger social
organization. A strict interpretation of the Goddard view would lead to the conclusion that highly
agentic individuals are found in highly communal families. These in turn would be found to exist in
highly agentic communities, which in turn would be associated with highly communal society. The
holarchy individual-family-community-society is, itself, not very clear-cut--some stages may apparently
be skipped, in the sense that individuals can have interactions with larger society that bypass their
interactions with small organizations. (As I discuss in Smith 2001d, this is true for lower levels of
existence as well.) So this little chain of interactions should illustrate the point that it's not easy to make
generalizations about the relationship of individual and social agency, even at our level of existence.
The very fluidity of the environment in which individual agency is correlated with social communion
results in so many different kinds of social arrangments that this correlation becomes obscured.
Keeping this in mind, let's nevertheless try to untangle things a little. I think everyone agrees that
families are the next stage beyond the individual, regardless of whether we view "beyond" as the same
as "higher" (as I do), or not (as Goddard and Wilber do). My view, then, says that modern families,
being composed of highly communal individuals, tend to be highly agentic. Is this true? I think so.
Most families resist associating with each other to form a larger social group. That is to say, while
families do associate into communities, the concept of community is still fairly loose, with the family
retaining considerable agency. We don't usually see, for example, several families living in the same
home, sharing income, duties, and responsibilities. The major exception to this rule--when two single
parents marry or otherwise form an alliance, uniting their two families--just proves the rule. For surely
single-parent families--which we refer to accurately, if somewhat insensitively, as "broken" families--are
characterized by minimal communion among their members10, and therefore are maximally communal as
a group. They contrast very dramatically with the "typical"American nuclear family, members of which
are highly communal, and which as a social unit is highly agentic. Do two-parent, nuclear families fuse
with each other to form a larger family? It may happen occasionally, but obviously it's very rare. So I
think the individual/family relationship is very supportive of my contention that modern individuals are
generally highly communal, and form an immediately higher social holon which, conversely, is highly
I said a moment ago that the existence of families and still other social stages between the individual
and the larger society make it difficult to generalize about this latter relationship. However, I also
pointed out that individuals can form hetarchical relationships not only with each other, but with larger
social holons of which they are members. To the extent that these relationships occur, there should be
some evidence of an inverse relationship between individual agency and agency of the larger society.
Is this the case? If we as individuals are highly communal, is our society highly agentic? Goddard
would say no, and as evidence, I think he would point to the numerous influences other societies have
on our own. Modern societies very freely absorb people, values, ideas, technology, behavior, and so
forth from each other. Isn't this evidence of profoundly communal behavior?
No, it's evidence of agentic behavior. From a society's point of view, both the people and the artifacts
of another society are lower holons, and as I discussed earlier, whenever a higher-order holon interacts
with a lower holon, it's exhibiting agentic behavior. When immigrants enter America, for example, we as
a society are not uniting with their society to form a higher holon, which is what communion is all
about. We are simply assimilating lower holons from that other society. I believe that failing to make
this crucial distinction results in a great deal of confusion over whether a society is exhibiting agency
The real test of our society's communality would be its readiness to consider such a fusion, an alliance
with another society to form a larger society. For example: suppose someone proposed that the United
States should unite with its neighbor, Mexico, to form a single society under one government. Which
nation's citizens do you think would resist this alliance most vehemently? Obviously, America's. Why?
The usual answer would be because we have more to lose--we are more developed than Mexico is, and
therefore our union with Mexico would result in a lowering of our standard of living. But to say that we
are more developed is to say that we are more complex, and more communal. Our greater degree of
development--in technology. in communication, in medicine, in education, and so on--results directly
from the greater number, and complexity, of the communal relationships among our individual citizens.
This greater communality is directly correlated with a greater degree of agency of our society. We as a
society very strongly resist the idea of forming a strong communal relationship with another society,
as opposed to agentically assimilating some of its individual members, or ideas, or values.
This resistance, make no mistake about it, is not confined to uniting with a country with a lower
standard of living. We would resist nearly as strongly uniting with Japan, or with any or all European
countries. This resistance, I think, shows very clearly that the obstacle goes much deeper than
differences in standard of living. The usual term brought up in such discussions is "way of life". This
is what we want to protect, and our uge to do so directly reflects a high degree of social agency. Other
developed countries exhibit a similarly strong agency. It's true that Europe has achieved a degree of
ecnomic unity, but to do so it has had to overcome an enormous amount of resistance, and it's still
very far from a political unity11.
Now let's consider the converse. Goddard claims that members of earlier, less developed societies were
highly communal, and their societies correspondingly highly agentic. I maintain just the opposite.
Individuals in these societies (as well as members of less developed societies today) are or were highly
agentic, lacking the complex network of concepts that bind together members of modern societies, and
their societies were correspondingly highly communal. History is full of illustrations of such
communality, with tribes uniting to form larger tribes, through marriages, conquests, or common
interests. Even as recently as a few centuries ago, large nations in Europe formed strong political
alliances through marriages of royal members of two societies. While intermarriage in this sense is
perhaps more common today, it would be unthinkable to use it as a means to unite, even in the weakest
sense, two developed countries. For example, if the daughter of the American President married the son
of the Prime Minister of England, this would most likely have no effect whatsoever on the relationship
between our two countries; any effect it did have would definitely be unofficial, exercised through
personal channels. Likewise, though America has in recent years exercised military dominance over
several other nations or societies, it has not attempted to use this dominance to unite these societies
with our own. To assimilate products of those countries, yes, but not to form a larger society.
So while I agree with Goddard that there is an inverse correlation between individual and social
agency/communion, we must exercise some care in identifying this correlation,and when we do, I
believe, we find that modern individuals are much more communal than their ancestors, and our
societies more agentic. There is in my view, however, a more fundamental problem with Goddard's
concept of agency/communion, an inconsistency that is rooted in his understanding that societies are
no higher than their individual members. Recall earlier that I defined agency as the interaction of a
holon with a lower holon. Goddard's view is consistent with this definition when he equates agency
with sensory impressions, for when we view objects in the world, or even other people, in this manner,
we are looking at lower holons. And he is potentially consistent with this view when he says that a
social holon acts agentically towards its component holons. But to see this consistency, this unified
view of agency, one must grasp the point that social holons are higher than their individual
components. To deny this, as Goddard does, leads to a view of agency that is no longer coherent. The
relationship we have to things we perceive directly can't be equated to the relationship a social holon
has with one of its component holons, if both are on the same level. For holons on the same level
(stage), the relationship is always communal, not agentic.
When this inconsistency is removed--by viewing societies as higher than their individual members--it's
no longer necessary to double the quadrants in the Wilber model, as Goddard does. As I noted earlier,
Goddard does this to express the relationship between both agentic individuals and communal
societies, on the one hand, and communal individuals and agentic societies, on the other. But as we
saw earlier (Table 2), both kinds of relationships can be adequately represented in a one-scale model, in
which societies are higher than their members. In this model, highly agentic individuals are associated
with the least complex societies, which form the lower stages on this level of existence. Conversely,
highly communal individuals are associated with the most complex societies, which represent the
The Ultimate Process
I began the previous section by noting that Wilber identifies four drives of a holon, and subsequently
argued that these could be reduced to two, agency and communion. While Wilber borrows these terms
from the literature of psychology and philosophy, the two drives are also well-known to natural
scientists, who give them different names. Agency corresponds to self-maintenance, while communion
is equivalent to communication and adaptation. That is to say, when a holon maintains its member
holons, a property of all living as well as non-living systems, it's exhibiting agency. I also refer to this
property as assimilation, for holons maintain themselves by assimilating lower holons. When a holon
communicates with other holons like itself, or adapts to the needs of still higher-order holons, it's
exhibiting communion. Communication and adaptation represent the two kinds of communion I have
distinguished, with equal and higher holons, respectively.
However, in my model of holarchy--and any other that shows even a passing awareness of life--there is
a third property, not universal, but too important to ignore. This is reproduction. As I have discussed
previously (Smith 2000a, 2001a), this is a property restricted to individual holons, at least of cells and
organisms, and presumably of higher forms of life. When we add this property to the other three--that
is, assimilation, communication and adaptation--we have four properties that, I have argued, can
account for all the behavior of holons at any level of existence (Smith 2000a).
But these four properties have an even wider significance. They also correspond to the four strands of
knowledge that are followed in the practice of science, meditation, and inquiry in general (Edwards
2000). The relationships are shown in Table 3. Thus the processes of assimilation, apprehension,
observation, and awareness are all acts of agency. The processes of communication, injunction,
hypothesizing, and stopping thought are forms of communion with other holons of the same kind.
Those of adaptation, interpretation and incorporating energy are forms of communion with higher
holons12. And in all living systems as well as in all forms of knowledge inquiry, these three processes
are validated, repeated, or replicated, a form of reproduction.
As I have discussed in more detail elsewhere (Smith 2000b), this understanding allows us to bring the
processes of growth and self-maintenance, evolutionary theory, and the acquisition of knowledge, into
a unified view, in which all are understood in terms of the interactions of holons with other holons that
are lower, higher or equal in holarchical rank to themselves. That is to say, whenever holons interact
with one another, they are not only exhibiting agency/commmunion, but also some form of both
growth and self-maintenance, some form of knowing their world, and some form of evolution. Though
these relationships as I have presented them are still very general andsketchy, it's my contention that
through this approach we can not only create a broader theory of evolution, but unify it with
philosophy, understood in the most general sense as the study of knowledge.
In the previous section, however, we saw that the law of perspective allows us to view agency and
communion as the same process, simply viewed from holons in two different positions in the holarchy.
This means that we can in effect unify three of the biological processes, or their equivalents:
assimilation, communication and adaptation. That is, any one of these processes, as viewed from the
perspective of some holon, can be shown to be the same as either of the other two processes, viewed
from some other perspective. I have provided examples of this in previous works (Smith 2000a,b).
We are thus left with just two processes that account for, in very general terms, everything that
happens in the holarchy: agency/communion and reproduction. I have also demonstrated elsewhere,
though, that reproduction is itself a process of agency and communion (Smith 2000a). Indeed, what
distinguishes reproduction from all other processes in the holarchy is that both agency and
communion occur from the same perspective. That is to say, when an individual holon reproduces
itself, it acts both agentically and communally simultaneously,with respect to itself. Reproduction is a
process of assimilation or self-maintenance, for it allows the reproducing organism to continue growing
beyond the normal limits of its exterior. This is especially clear with the reproduction of cells, but also
is true for reproduction of organisms. Reproduction is also a process of communion, however, for it
forms another holon (and in the case of most organisms, communion with another holon is required for
In a very general yet I think profound sense, therefore, every process that occus in the holarchy is one
of agency/communion. This I would call the ultimate process. All the myriad forms of existence and
phenomena that present themselves to us are all expressions of agency/communion. We see them
differently, though, because our holarchical relationships to them are different. Thus we return to a
very old idea: that a unity underlies the apparent diversity of existence, and that our inability to see
this unity results from our particular position in a much larger cosmic scheme.
The Consciousness of Social Holons
The conclusion that societies are higher than their individual members, as I have noted many times in
the past (Smith 2000a; 2001a,c), allows us to dispense with the distinction between individual and
social made in the Wilber model, reducing the number of quadrants from four to two. Furthermore, the
distinction between individual and social holons, on the one hand, and individual and social aspects or
dimensions of holons, on the other--which we have seen has led Goddard to create a still more
complicated model--can also be handled without divisions. This is shown in Table 2. For the individual
and social dimensions of any holon are nothing but agency and communion, respectively, and in my
model, these two drives are implicitly represented in the directionality of the holarchy. Communion
involves interactions of holons with other holons of equal or higher rank, while agency is the
interaction of a holon with a holon lower than itself. These relationships can be represented very
clearly by the one-scale model.
What about the interiority vs. exteriority distinction? Can that be represented on a single scale? We
can begin by observing that in both the Wilber and Goddard models, there is a close correlation
between this distinction and the individual vs. social one. In the Wilber model, not only are different
degrees of interiority associated with different degrees of exterior development, but on our level,
interiority parallels social development.13 That is, individuals associated with higher societies have a
higher degree of consciousness. This point has often been documented by Wilber (e.g., 1981, 1995),
who in this respect has followed earlier authors such as Gebser (1985). In Goddard's view, as we saw
earlier, the relationship between individual/social and interior/exterior is even more explicit:
Subject/object perceptual interactivity is the basis of the agentic individual and communal social
development: subject/subject connective resonance is the basis of the communal individual and the
agentic form of society.
This passage, it seems to me, says it all. Agency of a holon is not only that drive by which it asserts its
individuality; it's also the means by which it relates to, and experiences, the exteriors of other holons.
Likewise, communion is not just the drive of a holon to interact with other holons, but also the means
by which it experiences the interiors of other holons.
Caution: This is a little more complicated than the previous paragraph may imply. I'm not saying that
we can equate agency with exteriors, or communion with interiors. In fact, according to Goddard (and
many other philosophers, and I go along with them), there are two kinds of interiority or
consciousness, one directed at the exterior world (this is agency) and one directed at an interior world
(this is what I call communion, since this interior world results from relationships with other holons of
equal or higher rank). To get at interiority as an all-encompassing concept, we therefore have to go
beyond the agency/communion dyad. In my model of the holarchy, this is achieved by saying that
every holon, according to its rank, experiences a certain level of conscious experience, or qualia. But
the nature of this experience, the form it takes, is captured perfectly by the Goddard passage quoted
above. When we act agentically, our consciousness is of exteriors of holons below us. When we act
communally, our consciousness is of interiors of holons on the same level or above us. These
relationships are expressed in Table 2.
Observe that the first kind of conscious experience we have, subject/object, is relatively unchanging,
and one which we share with virtually all other organisms. Subject/object experience, in fact, as shown
in Table 2, is the experience of an individual holon, the lowest stage on our level of existence. It does
not require any social arrangements, and in fact, I would argue tends to be most developed in
organisms which have little or no social organization. Thus many lower vertebrates tend to have more
acute sensations than we have, not because their brain structures subserving these functions are
better developed than ours, but because more of the animal's behavior is devoted to it. In these
animals, this type of experience has less competition with subject/subject experience than it does in us.
Subject/subject experience, in contrast, is determined very much by the complexity of the society we
live in, and is constantly changing. In my model, however, subject/subject experience is not simply
correlated with social development. Subject/subject experience is in fact the experience of a social
holon. It does not, properly speaking, belong to us, but to the social holons we are part of . We have it
because we participate in the higher, emergent properties of these social holons. I say this in the same
sense that I say that certain atoms participate in the higher properties of the molecules they exist in,
and certain cells in the properties of the tissues or organs they are part of. Ken Wilber expresses the
same idea of participation, though one interpreted in a very different manner, when he says:
human identity goes from an identity merely with the self or the isolated organism, to an
identity with the family, to an identity with the tribe or local community, to the nation, to
humans of all nations, to all living beings, to all holons everywhere.
Does this mean that the social holons themselves are conscious, in the localized way that we say we
are? Is there a localized family consciousness, tribe consciousness, national consciousness? Wilber
believes not, and most scientists and philosophers would agree with him. Yet no one whom I'm aware
of has given a very good reason for believing this. There is an argument, going back to William James
(1950), against the idea that a group consciousness could emerge simply as a result of putting
together, so to speak, individual consciousnesses in the same manner that a molecule, say, emerges
when we put together a group of atoms. This argument, the so-called combination problem, is based on
the idea that the higher properties of any form of existence only appear as higher to a higher form of
life. For example, we say water is a (slightly) higher form of life than its component hydrogen and
oxygen, because it has the property of liquidity. But only a higher form of life can appreciate liquidity;
it does not appear as an emergent property when we consider water on the molecular level (see also
Smith 2001c). In the same way, James argued, there is nothing in our individual consciousnesses that
could result in the emergence of a genuinely higher or group form of consciousness.
However, there are several arguments against James's conclusion. One, which I will simply note but not
elaborate on, stems from certain quantum phenomena, which demonstrate that two states of a
subatomic particle can sum, so to speak, to create a radically different state, the properties of which
don't result simply from viewing them from a higher level of existence (Seager 1999). A second
argument, more relevant to this discussion, is simply to point out that even if a group consciousness
were ultimately nothing more than the sum of its individual consciousnesses, in the same way that a
molecule is nothing more than the sum of the interactions of its atoms, it would still be a higher form of
consciousness in the same way that the molecule is higher than the atom. The properties of water may
be completely explainable in terms of the interactions of individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but
the fact remains that these atoms, while in water molecules, exhibit properties different from the ones
they exhibit while alone. These properties are different not simply to us, but to them. (They are not
very different, because water is a very poor example of emergence, but the difference in the properties
of atoms can be seen very clearly in a somewhat more complex molecules, such as an amino acid.)
The third argument against James, which is really the most important and significant one here, is that a
group consciousness does not have to be seen as the result of a putting together of individual
consciousnesses. As noted earlier, in my model of holarchy, consciousness is outside or beyond the
holarchy. It's realized according to the position in the holarchy of any holon. So it doesn't emerge in
the sense that molecules emerge from atoms, or organisms emerge from cells--nor even in the sense
that mind emerges from the brain. It's not the result of a combination of lesser forms of consciousness.
Really, it's more a case of the opposite; it's a realization to various incomplete degrees of an
all-encompassing consciousness. In fact, as I have argued previously, this is a strength of the model,
for in the Wilber model, where consciousness is treated as one aspect of every holon, it does seem to
emerge from lower forms of life, resulting in an apparent subtle reductionism (see Smith 2001c).
So much for the logical arguments for or against a group consciousness. What about the evidence?
Social holons clearly have agency as well as communion, just like individual holons. Both Wilber and
Goddard acknowledge this. Thus a society can act in a fairly focussed manner when, for example, it
goes to war, or creates a national economic plan. We have also seen earlier that there is a social
identity, at least to the extent that individuals can realize it. Many, perhaps most, parents would be
willing to die for the sake of their children; some people willingly die for a larger social group. This
surely suggests that these groups have an identity that is not simply the sum of the identities of their
members. As Searle (1995) has pointed out, it's very difficult to understand human social behavior as a
group of interacting "I's". Our behavior in such situations strongly suggests that there is a concept of
"we" behind our individual actions. This is the essence of participation in the properties--and the
fate--of the social holon.
It might be argued that all of this still does not add up to, or establish the existence of, a localized
group consciousness. We might view the group as being composed of a number of individual
consciousnesses, each from the slightly different point of view of a different member. I think this is
how Wilber views the consciousness of social holons. Each member is aware of a group extending
beyond herself, and realizing that her fate is very much bound up in its, begins to transfer her identity
to it. Yet if there can be multiple access to a group identity and consciousness, doesn't that imply
something more localized that is actually being accessed? Isn't that the simplest explanation for the
experience of a common identity or consciousness? That is to say, isn't it easier to understand many
people accessing a common, localized consciousness than to postulate that each person individually
creates a similar concept of a larger identity which, in some sense, doesn't really exist? The latter is
basically Searle's position, and I think Wilber's.
A very relevant observation here is provided by the higher state of consciousness accessible through
meditation. Wilber, like virtually everyone else who has experienced or thought about this state,
accepts that it is a highly unified one. I think a reasonable view is that it's localized to the earth,
meaning not just the physical planet but all biological and mental life on it (Smith 2000a). Yet this
consciousness can be accessed by different individuals. This shows, at the very least, that a) there can
be a consciousness existing of which we ordinarily aren't aware, and b) more than one person can
becomeaware of it at the same time. These are the essential two properties that any group or social
consciousness would have to have.
Other relevant evidence comes from looking in the other direction, at levels of existence below us. The
effects of certain drugs seem to be to induce states of not higher, but lower, consciousness. These
lower states presumably are associated with holons within the human organism, e.g.,the limbic brain,or
still lower brain centers. Indeed, much of what we call the subconscious or the unconscious apparently
corresponds to the interiority of lower holons. The conventional view, I suppose, is that there is no
actual consciousness of these states until "we"experience them. But how do we know that
something--some lower holon within our organims-- isn't experiencing it all the time? Philosopher
William Seager finds this idea repulsive,
that our brains are awash in conscious experience of which we (or anyone else for that
matter) have not the faintest awareness; our brains certainly do teem with ceaseless
activity but it is a giant and unwelcome step to the conclusion that much, or perhaps all,
of this activity is conscious14.
Seager uses this argument as one reason to reject identity theories of mind, strongly reductionist views
which any Wilberite will dismiss, anyway. But the idea that there could be many conscious holons
within us is not only possible, but follows pretty surely from any model of the holarchy, where
consciousness is found at every level of existence. In Wilber's model, cells are individual holons, and
therefore have localized consciousness. It would seem to follow that our tissues, composed of these
cells, have some kind of non-localized consciousness. But if we can experience this consciousness
under certain conditions, doesn't this show that it is really localized? If it isn't localized, then we are
forced to the conclusion that when we experience these states, we descend to the level of experience of
an individual cell, for that is the only position in the holarchy from which such consciousness could be
accessed. But it's hard for me to believe that "we" can experience interiority at this level--that is, that
after having such experience, we, the whole organism can have some memory of it, and some
association of it with our whole organism.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the premise that social holons have a localized consciousness is at
least arguable. Wilber's position that they don't follows from his view that social holons lack the kind
of centralized organization that individual holons have. He summarizes this view by claiming that social
holons "do not have a single dominant monad or regnant nexus." I agree, but in point of fact, neither
do individual holons, like ourselves, that participate in the properties of social holons. Spiritual
traditions have often emphasized that a human being has no real unity, that she is pushed and pulled
by numerous conflicting thoughts and desires (Ouspensky 1961; DeRopp 1968; Ch'en 1968). Many
cognitive psychologists and philosophers have come to much the same conclusion, that there is no
single agency in the brain that runs the show (Minsky 1985; Dennett 1991).15 Rather, our behavior
results from agentic as well as communal interactions of numerous holons.
As we will see in the following section, these different agencies result from our ability to engage in
subject/subject perception. Since this kind of perception involves communion with other holons, it
inevitably involves conflicting interests. In fact, since this type of perception results from our ability to
participate in the properties of our societies, our consciousness is in an important sense as de-localized
as that of the society. The only holons which have a true dominant monad are individual holons that
have only subject/object perception. So rather than draw a sharp distinction between localized and
intersubjective consciousness, we might better conclude that consciousness or interior experience,
within any level, exhibits a spectrum, with highly localized subject/object perception at one end, and
de-localized subject/subject perception at the other. In the next and concluding main section of this
paper, we will consider these two kinds of perception, and a third kind, in more detail.
The Dimensions of Experience
I pointed out earlier that there is a close correlation in the Wilber and Goddard models between the
social and interior dimensions or aspects of holons, which I use to bring these dimensions together
into a single scale model. Since my model, unlike Wilber's, distinguishes several different stages of
holons within any single level of existence, it should also distinguish several different kinds of interior
experienceassociated with these stages. I have discussed these stages of experience elsewhere (Smith
2000a)--which are now literally dimensions in the mathematical sense--but here I will re-introduce them,
in order to show how they relate toWilber's and Goddard's models, as well as to the
Recall that Goddard (2000), following many other philosophers, makes a distinction between
subject/object perception and subject/subject perception. The first, to repeat, involves direct sensory
impressions of the world; the second occurs through thoughts, concepts that are based, directly or
indirectly, on these impressions. Goddard, like most other philosophers, treats this distinction as
fundamental and universal, and it is, as long as we are just considering human beings. But when we
cast our view a little further, and consider other kinds of holons,we see that not all of them have both
kinds of perception.
This should in fact have been clear from the earlier discussion, where I pointed out that
subject/objeperception is a property of individual holons, whereas subject/subjectperception is a
property of social holons. Because we humans are individual holons who also participate in the
properties of social holons, we have both kinds of perception. But some holons--namely, individual
holons with little or no social organization--have only subject/object perception; and social holons
themselves have only subject/subject perception. And some holons have neither.
Let me explain, beginningwith the last: holons that have neither type of perception. What kind of
holons could these possibly be? Well, for one, the holon associated with a higher state of
consciousness. A characteristic feature of this state, agreed on by countless individuals who have
realized it to some extent, is the lack of the self/other distinction that is the basis of subject/object
perception. This holon is aware of only itself. This is not to say that this awareness is limited; on the
contrary, it embraces all of humanity, the entire planet, or something even more encompassing,
depending on your model. But the point is, everything that it is aware of, it identifies with. There is
nothing that it is aware of it that it considers separate from itself.
This characteristic is often said to be one of the defining qualities of the higher state of consciousness.
But it isn't limited to this state or holon. It's the defining quality of all individual holons that exist at the
very bottom of their level of existence, which is to say, have no social organization at all. They are
newly emerging holons which have not yet developed the ability to reproduce and which are therefore
unique. There are no other individual holons like them. Thus newly emerging cells and newly emerging
organisms should also have this kind of unified perception.
In the case of the higher state of consciousness, the level of existence itself is presumably in the
process of emerging. In the case of cells and organisms, the corresponding levels have already
emerged, so there is no holon on this level quite analogous, in this respect, to the holon associated
with the higher state of consciousness. However, this unified perception is approximated by new
holons that are given birth to on these levels. Thus on our level of existence, they are exemplified by
infants, who have not yet become true members of society, as well as by very early members of our
species, whose social organization was far less complex than our own. Both infants and our earliest
ancestors are believed to have a more holistic view of existence, in which they don't distinguish
themselves from the rest of the environment as clearly as we do; and for just this reason, their state of
development has often been confused with that of someone in the higher state of consciousness.
KenWilber, who first recognized this confusion, called it the pre-trans fallacy (Wilber 1989). My model
of holarchy not only recognizes it, but claims that it should be characteristic of all newly-emerging
individual holons. It results from the fact that on any developing level of existence, there are individual
holons which have just completed the very profound process of integrating all the holons on a lower
level of existence, and whose view of existence is therefore limited largely to themselves.
I refer to this unified form of perception as zero-dimensional (Smith 2000a; Table 2), because there are
no distinctions or dimensions to the world as experienced by the holon. Such holons are totally
autonomous, and therefore in the ideal case have no social organization. I call groups of such totally
agentic holons heaps. This is a term used by Wilber (2000) to refer to groups of non-interacting
holons, and though he applies it somewhat differently from the way I do, I believe that if we define it as
a group of holons that has no emergent properties, its application is clear (see Smith 2001c). As shown
in Table 2, as a social or quasi-social organization, a heap is maximally communal; that is, because its
members are so agentic and autonomous, there is nothing holding them together, and therefore they
can freely associate with other groups. A prototypical case is the mixing of two groups of gas
I refer to the exterior of the heap as behavioral objectivity, which simply means that the behavior of any
one member of the heap is uncorrelated with that of any other member. Each does its own thing,
without regard to the others. Likewise, the interior I refer to as interobjective consciousness. The
consciousness is objective in the sense that there is no subject/subject experience in such holons.
Each holon, so to speak, lives in its own little world. However, the "inter-" part of the term refers to the
fact that the experience of each holon is nonetheless shared. Though individual holons with absolutely
no self-other distinction should not have any experience in common, as I said earlier, the concept of
zero-dimensional holons and pure heaps is an ideal one, generally only approximated in the real world.
Even a group of gas molecules, for example, displays some interactions--the molecules bounce off each
other. Whenever holonsinteract, their interior experience or consciousness should reflect some
awareness of this interaction. The objective consciousness of each holon should represent a world of
other holons, and in this sense is shared with them. Therefore, if there is more than one holon present,
its experience has already begun to develop to the next step.
This next step is to make the distinction between self and other, to realize that one is not alone, but
exists within a larger universe of other holons. At this point, subject/object perception emerges. It's
characteristic not only of all organisms but also, in my model and I think Wilber's, of lower forms of
existence, like cells and even, perhaps, atoms. Because we can't experience the interiority of lower
forms of existence, we can only conjecture what a cell's experience might be like, but it has exterior
forms of behavior that very clearly indicate it has information about a self-other distinction. For
example, when a cell approaches or withdraws from another cell, or from some chemical substance in its
environment, it's making this distinction. Organisms, of course, do the same thing, though in more
In Worlds within Worlds, I refer to subject/object perception as one-dimensional perception, which I
distinguish from the zero-dimensional perception of a holon that does not make this subject/object
distinction. It's one dimensional, because the holon is now aware of two separate entitities or
holons--itself and another--which implies at least a single dimension in its world. As a level of existence
further develops, the individual holons may realize further dimensions of experience, eventually
including the three dimensions of space so familiar to us. This is still fundamentally subject/object
perception, though obviously more complex than the primitive, self/other distinction made in
one-dimensional perception. Experience at this level of complexity, however, still requires relatively
little social organization, for many relatively asocial lower vertebrates, and possibly some invertebrates,
apparently can experience their world in three dimensions17.
Further development of experience, however, is associated with social organization. At this point,
subject/subject perception emerges, and it does so by the addition, to the three dimensions of space,
of one or two dimensions of time. So subject/object experience is of space (in the broad sense
including space of one or two dimensions as well as three), while subject/subject perception is of time.
This begins with four-dimensional experience, which, in my model, far from being characteristic of a
level of consciousness beyond our own, is found in all vertebrates with family organizations. These
organisms characteristically communicate using stereotyped behavior patterns (Tinbergen and
Tinbergen 1976). To display as well as to interpret these patterns requires awareness of not simply a
three dimensional organism in space, but the movement of this three-dimensional holon in a fourth
dimension of time. This already suggests the presence of primitive thought, in the sense that direct
impressions are synthesized into a larger experience extending over a much longer period of time than
that in which a single impression occurs. For the same reason, it is also the beginning of
subject/subject perception. Each organism has a somewhat private view of the world which
nonetheless is used as the basis of a communal interaction.
The second dimension of time is realized when these four-dimensional experiences are repeated in the
minds of the organism even in the absence of the experience itself. This is the time Goddard refers to
when he says, "The sense of being distinct from our own experience (inner and outer) is created
through time". It's a second dimension of time, however, because this repetition takes place
independently of the linear flow of time in which the events that are directly experienced occur. This is
possible because of a significant delay in the brain between when impressions are apprehended and
when they are made conscious. During this delay, a kind of time occurs which is not correlated with
time of events in the external world (Libet 1991; Dennett 1991), and which I have therefore argued
represents a second temporal dimension (see Smith 2000a for further discussion). This kind of
experience is found only in organisms with fairly complex social structures, mostly meaning, of course,
ourselves. Moreover, the more complex the society, the more complex processing the four-dimensional
experiences can be subjected to.
Thus in my model of holarchy every level of existence unfolds in several stages of dimensionality
(Table 2). To recap, these begin with the newly emerging individual holons, which have
zero-dimensional experience, in which there is no self/other distinction. These holons have maximal
agency, and their associations maximal communion. Further development results in subject/object
perception, which can involve an awareness of one, two or three dimensions of space. This, too, is the
perception of individual holons. The final, highest stages on any level exhibit perception of temporal
dimensions as well, and this is subject/subject perception. It's the property of social holons, but
individual holonswithin these social holons may participate in this experience. In this way, individual
holons that are members of the higher stages of a social holon, like ourselves, may exhibit both
subject/object perception and subject/subject perception. Such holons are highly communal, and their
societies, while in the process of developing, highly agentic.
Jean Gebser, whose book The Ever-present Origin (1985) has had a substantial influence on Wilber's
ideas, also postulated that evolution of consciousness occurred in several stages of increasing
dimensionality. However, there are several major differences between his view of the evolution of
consciousness and mine. First, Gebser considered only the evolution of human beings and their
societies, not lower forms of existence. All of this, of course comprises just one level of existence in the
holarchy. Second, Gebser was concerned only with consciousness, or interiority. In my model, as
discussed elsewhere (Smith 2000a), dimensionality of experience is closely correlated with
dimensionality of exteriors (however, see footnote 17).
Third, and most important, my concept of dimensions is very different from Gebser's, which can only
be described as eclectic. With the exception of contemporary human consciousness, which he
regarded as three-dimensional, and possibly his proposed evolving new level or structure, which is
said to be four-dimensional, his dimensions don't correspond to those that a mathematician would
understand. To argue, as he does for example, that earlier members of our species perceived the world
in terms of one or two dimensions may be admissible by some meaningful definition of dimension, but
it's not the physical, mathematical definition generally understood18. Abundant scientific evidence,
some of which I have discussed in Worlds, allows us to conclude that not only the earliest human
beings, but most lower vertebrates as well, do or have experienced the world in three dimensions of
There is no reason, of course, why one has to be confined to the commonsense meaning of
dimensions. The word is a rich one, and need not refer to our physical, sensory experience. (We have
already seen that Wilber uses it in a different sense in his four-quadrant model, and this is quite
permissible). However, if one is going to use the term in a different sense, one must provide a clear
definition of one's meaning, then follow this definition consistently. Gebser, in my reading of him, does
neither of these things. As I just noted, when he speaks of three-dimensional consciousness, he seems
to be using the term dimensions in a fairly strict mathematical sense, while when he speaks of one or
two dimensions, he clearly is not. So while I have a great deal of respect for Gebser, who was a pioneer
in many respects in our understanding of the evolution of consciousness (particularly in his ingenious
insights into how people of earlier cultures perceived their world), I don't find his use of dimensions
coherent or consistent.
Summary and Conclusions
The holarchy of life has both individual and social holons, and each of these has both individual and
social aspects as well as interior and exterior aspects. While the Wilber four-quadrant model deserves
much praise for recognizing these distinctions, and attempting to represent all of them, it fails to do so,
because it apparently conflates a particular kind of holon with a particular kind of interaction it can
make. Gerry Goddard has proposed a way to avoid this conflation, but his solution comes at the price
of making the four quadrant model more complicated, and also results in an inconsistent view of
The problem at the root of all or nearly all of the flaws in both the Wilber and the Goddard models, I
believe, is a view of societies as no higher than their individuals. Elsewhere (Smith 2000a, 2001c), I have
provided a large number of arguments that I believe fairly well demolish this position. These arguments
include include: 1) the use of two different criteria to distinguish higher from lower, one nearly
universally accepted, the other preferred by Wilber, both lead to this conclusion; 2) the view that
societies are not higher than their individual members leads to serious inconsisentencies in the Wilber
model, including a) some social holons have virtually no organization and no emergent properties
(planets, Gaia), while others do (human societies); b) some individual holons don't form societies, and
therefore have no social dimension; and c) relationships between adjacent levels of existence are very
different from level to level (e.g., the relationship of molecules to atoms is very different from that of
cells to molecules, and that of a higher level of consciousness to ordinary adult consciousness very
different from that of the latter to that of a child); 3) the Wilber view also leads to incoherence , as
exemplified not only by a) the discussion in this paper of the conflation of social aspects of individuals
with societies (which Goddard's model does address), but also by b) a conflation of the soft or
functional properties of mind with the hard aspects or qualia of consciousness; c) a predicted
transcendent relationship between different levels of social holons that is totally different from
transcendence as commonly applied to individual holons; and d) a relationship among levels in each
quadrant that is either subtly reductionist, or that implies that the properties of higher levels are
already manifested in the lower.
In this paper, I have provided another argument, purely logical, against the idea that societies are no
higher than their individuals. I have also showed that when we accept that societies are higher, we can
identify some powerful unitying relationships in the holarchy that are obscured in both the Wilber and
Goddard models. One such relationship is that of agency/communion, which can account for all the
interactions of holons in the holarchy, without the need for the additional concepts of
self-transcendence andself-immanence that Wilber proposes.
This concept also allows us to view social and individual holons on the same scale, with their
relationships to each other following directly from their holarchical positions with respect to each
other. On every level of existence, agency and communion are seen to lie on a spectrum, with maximal
individual holon agency and social holon communion on the bottom, and the reverse on the top.
When the agency/communion relationship, following the lead of Goddard, is wedded to the concept of
subject/object and subject/perception, the relationship of the social and interior aspects of Wilber's
model become clearer, and we can likewise represent interiors on the same same scale as exteriors,
when we allow that the hard problem aspect of consciousness is not to be included. The resulting
model makes the fundamental point that different kinds of perception emerge when a holon interacts
with holons that have different holarchical relationships to it. Thus a particular kind of brain is not
simply correlated with a particular kind of society; as in the Wilber model,, but it's association with it
helps us to understand why it manifests the particular properties that it does. Another spectrum is
identified, this one representing highly localized consciousness at one end,associated with maximal
individual holon agency, and maximal intersubjective consciousness at the other end, associated with
maximal individual holon communion.
The one-scale model I have proposed and continued to develop has many significant problems and
inconsistencies, some of which I have discussed elsewhere (Smith 2001c). It has benefited greatly from
its interactions with Wilber's, Kofman's and Goddard's ideas, and I believe will continue to do so.
Moreover, as I pointed out elsewhere (Smith 2000a), the individual vs. social and exterior vs. interior
distinctions that Wilber makes-and I believe Goddard improves upon--retain considerable usefulness
as ways of focussing our attention on certain phenomena or properties of holons. The real world that
we live in, after all, appears quite complex to most of us, not as a unity. But it seems very clear to me
now that the one-scale model is a far superior framework within which to develop further our
understandingof these relationships.
1. Kofman (2001). All Kofman quotes are taken from this source.
2. Wilber (2000). All Wilber quotes are taken from this source.
3. The only way out of this dilemma I can imagineWilber or Kofman trying to take is to say that by
individual holon we don't mean one particular individual holon, but all of them. Thus when we refer to
the individual holon on our level we mean all people, not just any one individual. With this
understanding, we can imagine a holon that has both an individual and a social aspect. But the
resulting holon is strange indeed. It's half real and half hypothetical. The real half is society, which
consists of all these individuals and their interactions. The hypothetical half is a holon consisting of all
people, but minus the interactions that make them a society. They would have behavior, but only of
the agentic type, discussed further below. This is purely an abstraction. There is no such holon in the
real world. And even if there were, it would not be a genuine holon, but what Wilber (2000) calls a
heap--a group of holons that don't interact at all, and have no emergent properties.
It might be argued that there is no such thing, either, as an individual person with no interactions with
other people. Quite true, but we don't have to view an individual holon in this manner. We can just
observe that every person does have an agentic aspect or dimension which does not involve
interactions with other people. In fact, as discussed below, and by Goddard (2000), we need this
understanding in order to make a distinction between individual and social holons and their individual
and social interactions--a distinction that is the only way to reconcile the two concepts of holon
expressed in the Kofman passage quoted.
Another way of looking at Wilber's problem is just to say that even if he means all individual holons
when he refers to the individual dimension of a holon, we still need a way of referring to a particular
individual holon. If the term "individual dimension of a holon" really means all individual holons, what
am I, or some organism, or some cell? Wilber or Kofman might respond that their definition is not meant
to include particular examples of holons, but it does with respect to social holons. To define the holon
in such a manner that its individual dimension refers to all individual holon is also to define it so that
its social dimension refers to a particular society. The problem is just the converse of defining a holon
so that its individual aspect refers to a particualr individual holon, for then, as discussed in the text, the
social dimension does not correspond to society. Either way, Wilber and Kofman are inconsistent.
4. All quotes from Goddard are from his 2000 article.
5. Though Goddard arrrives at very much the same conclusion that I do, he does so, I would say, for
the wrong reason. The fundamental problem, to repeat my view, is that all the interactions of any
individual do not constitute a society; a society involves all the interactions of many individuals.
Goddard glosses over this problem completely, apparently taking the view that an individual holon can
be equated with all the individuals in the society (see footnote 3 for the problems with this view). For
Goddard, the problem is that society is something more than all these individuals and their interactions.
However, as I will discuss below, this is inconsistent with his view, and Wilber's, that societies are not
higher than their individual members. Indeed, it is precisely because society is something more that it
should be represented on the same scale as the individual, but higher.
6. In both my model and Wilber's, human beings can exist on different levels (or stages), but for the
purposes of this argument, we can of course compare two people of the same degree of development.
7. I'm ignoring here the production of artifacts, also a part of society, because I believe it doesn't
affects the basic argument. It shouldn't, because in the Wilber model, other organisms and also cells
have societies and social dimensions, yet there may be no artifacts involved.
8. Thus he points out that when an organism moves, all of its cells move, whereas no society can force
all its members to do anything. The appropriate analogy would be the relationship of human beings not
to any society, but to a higher level of existence, including the entire earth. Such a level of existence
might be ableto affect the movement of the earth, or have other global effects, and in doing so, it would
affect everyone on the planet. Indeed, though science regards the movement of the earth as resulting
from purely physical forces, there are holarchical models in which planetary movements are simply the
physical manifestations of higher levels of existence (Ouspensky 1961).
I also want to point out that though an organism can move all its cells, that is about the only thingit
can do to them. Most of any cell's behavior is determined by its genetic makeup and its interactions
with neighboringcells. The fact that it moves when the organism moves is completely irrelevant to its
existence, surely having no effect on whatever experience it has of itself and its world. This point, at
the very least, demonstrates that using higher in the holarchicalsense to support a particular political
system is overly simplistic.
If one wants to compare the relationship of humans to their societies, the more appropriate analogy
would be that of cells to tissues or atoms to molecules. Tissues do exert considerable control over their
cells, but it's not absolute--thus we have cancer and many other disorders, for example. Molecules are
often imagined to be immutable groups of atoms, but in most molecules, some atoms can and often do
come and go.
As I have noted elsewhere (Smith 2000a), because societies are still evolving, we should not expect
analogies with lower forms of existence to be perfect. Yet within certain limits, we can see these
analogies. Consider the bonds between members of a reasonably normal, healthy family, for example.
Can they be broken? We may move great distances from other members of our family, and we may
become emotionally estrangedfrom them, but surely there are bonds that are never broken. This is
precisely why estrangement is such a traumatic experience--because there are connections between us
and other members of our family that we retain for life.
Another example is provided by the taboos on exhibiting certain forms of behavior, such as urinating
and defecating, in public. While in principle we are free to do so, the bonds that prevent us from
doingso are very strong, and very few people break them. As Marcuse (1964) noted long ago, the
strongest degree of control society has over us is exerted through forms of behavior we experience as
wanting or not wanting to do. This is the way control is exerted in healthy holarchical relationships.
9. The best example of this I have seen is David Deida's article "Ken Wilber is a Fraud".
10. To say that single-parent families tend to have less communion than two-parent families is not to
say that any particular bond between one member and another member in such families is necessarily
weaker than a bond between any two individuals in a two-parent family. As I have discussed
elsewhere (Smith 2001d), the degree of communion, or complexity, of a social holon depends on not
only the strength of particular interactions, but their total number. There tend to be fewer interactions
in a single-parent family, just because only one parent is present. Moreover, the bonds that parents
form with both themselves and their children are generally sronger than those children form with each
other, so the presence of the second parent provides a set of especially strong communal interactions.
11. Of course, there are significant, and growing, numbers of people in all developed countries pushing
for a union of their countries. This simply reflects, in my view, the beginning of the emergence of a
higherlevel of existence which transcends all societies.
12. When I equate "stopping thought" with communication or communion, I mean it in the sense that
meditative knowledge is obtained by following the injunction which says: stop thought. As I discuss
at length in Illusions of Reality (2000b), the effect of following this injunction is to incorporate energy
(raising our level of consciousness and being), and this is a process of communion with a higher level
13. However, this correlation is not found throughout the holarchy, which is another weakness of the
Wilber model. Since this model consists of a series of levels, and since development of interiority
parallels social development in some levels, it should do so in all levels. In the one-scale model, in
contrast, interiority parallels social development only within any particular level. There is no necessary
relationship between one level and another level. This is yet another example of how the concept of
stages within levels can resolve inconsistencies in the Wilber model.
14. Seager (1999), p. 49.
15. Wilber provides the example of a person moving his arm, with the person the dominant monad. But
why did the person move his arm? In order to grasp something? Because it was uncomfortable?
Because it was in someone else's way? Because another part of his body moved? There are many
reasons why one may move an arm, and each reason may involve somewhat different parts of the
brain, and usually, feedback from cells in the arm as well. So the dominance relationship is not nearly as
clear-cut as Wilber makes it out to be.
16. It might be argued that the mixture formed by two gasses is not really a communal association of
social holons, but just a larger heap. This is basically true, and underscores a point made earlier: when
a social holon is fully evolved, it can enter into communal associations with other social holons
without affecting the agency of its individual member holons. But we can say that to the extent that an
emerging social holon has any organization at all, it will more freely enter into relationships with other
social holons the more agentic its individual members are.
17. This is a problem for my model. If exterior and interior are perfectly correlated, one- two- and
three-dimensional perception should be associated with social holons or stages of existence with those
number of dimensions. On our level of existence, these correspond to families, tribes and some
larger,more complex form of social organization. But in fact, as discussed here, the three dimensions of
perception all seem to be associated with holons on the bottom stage, while the fourth emerges with
family structures. As I have discussed in Worlds, a correlation may possibly be made between
three-dimensional perception, which is associated with the lowest, nonsocial vertebrates, and the
lower-dimensional forms of perception, associated with invertebrates. The vertebrate/invertebrate
distinction, in my model, corresponds to that between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, on the
biological level, and between reactive andinert atoms, on the physical level.
It may be that this lack of correlation is related to the fact that our level of existence is still evolving.
Though I have discussed here these forms of perception only in relationship to our level, my model
implies that analogous forms of perception should occur on lower levels of existence. And in fact, as
discussed in Worlds, on the biological levels, the dimensions of experience do seem to correlate with
the exterior dimensions of holons.
19. My dimensions don't correspond exactly to those understood by mathematicians, either, but I
explain the difference, and use my definition consistently.
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