Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Andrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).
More Dialogue with Gerry Goddard>
Andrew P. Smith
Gerry Goddard and I have been having a very interesting, and for me certainly, rewarding dialogue. It began when I wrote a response, called "Quadrants Translated, Quadrants Transcended"(QT), to his earlier article, "Holonic Logic and the Dialectics of Consciousness: Unpacking Ken Wilber's Four Quadrant Model". He responded with "Quadrants Re-instated." This is a response to his response.
Before addressing specific issues, I want to point out that since I wrote QT, I have written another article, "Who's Conscious?", that further discusses Goddard's model of holarchy as well as Ken Wilber's. This article, as it happens, picks up on a point that Gerry made near the end of his response to QT, concerning the inability of both my model and Ken's to represent both individual and social holons as well as individual and social dimensions or aspects of these holons. Thus I will not be discussing this issue much here, though it's a central focus of Goddard's model, and it's certainly fair to say no one can appreciate this model without considering this issue.
I will, though, consider all the other points that Gerry raised, as I understand them, in the same order as he raised them. To save time and energy, I will jump right into these issues without a proper introduction, so those who have not read our earlier exchanges may not immediately appreciate the larger context in which our debate is going on. However, as we go along I will try to discuss new issues in light of previous ones, and in this way recreate this larger picture to some extent.
Gerry and I have some very substantial differences, and I will at times slug away at him, but as I told him in a personal message, I have great respect for both the depth and the rigor of his thought. I think he sees things that Ken hasn't seen, and he's helped me see them, too. Indeed, my most recent paper, "Who's Conscious?", is a direct result of ideas and issues his writings introduced me to. I think we all understand that identifying problems is as important as solving them. Gerry has certainly identified some problems.
Looking up and looking down
A major part of my response to Gerry was concerned with his distinction between public (sensory) and private (thought) perception. Gerry uses this distinction to argue that the Wilber model does not adequately distinguish holons from perception of holons, from there working into a view that dstinguishes society from the interactions of its members. I accept the public/private distinction but maintain that the first occurs as a result of an individual holon looking down in the holarchy, at holons below itself, while the latter reflects holons looking above themselves, at social holons on higher stages of the same level. These relationships play a key role in my bringing both the social and the interior aspects of holons into a single scale. That is to say, I don't ignore the interior aspect or dimension of holons. I maintain that it can be understood to some extent as the relationship of individual holons to the social holons.
Gerry begins his response to this by commenting on my view of private mind associated with a holon looking up:
It is true that the social is interiorized as individual psyche (there is no private language etc. - Wittgenstein), but that does not make individual interiority identical with the social/collective.
I've never said the two were identical. In the first place, consciousness in my model is outside or beyond the holarchy, realized by holons to an extent paralleling their position in the holarchy, so what I consider genuine interior experience is not the result of any particular holarchical relationship. I am saying that the kind of interiority experienced, public or private, reflects looking down or looking up, but even here I'm not postulating an identity relationship. I'm not saying private experience is identical to the social/collective, any more than I'm saying that public experience of, say, a tree, is identical to the tree. The tree, rather, determines the content of our public experience at that moment, and in somewhat the same way, I say that the nature of the social holons above us determine the content of our private experience.
I suppose one could say my one-scale model is inadequate in the sense that there is just the individual holon and the social holon. I have not specifically indicated any interactions between them, though as I discuss at length in Who's Conscious?, I do recognize these interactions. But I would just say that the interactions are implied throughout the model. It's assumed that a holon on a particular stage or level has the possibility of interacting with certain other holons, and these various possibilities generate the various kinds of perception.
The consciousness of interiority, possible only as it is distinct from exterior perception, can arise only at the higher human levels; namely, the psycho-social levels beyond the original homo sapiens hardwired brain. Certainly, the experience of material objects occurs fundamentally through the senses, and sensory qualia are at the lower levels of the hierarchy...The distinction of private and public perception is a conscious differentiation at the human level and not before.
This is a very critical point, for as we shall see later, it forms a large (if somewhat tacit) basis of Goddard's critique of my one-scale model, and in particular, of his rejection of my contention that societies are higher than their individual members. In fact--and here is an example of where I think Gerry has recognized a key problem that may be the really fundamental issue separating my one-scale model from the Wilber and Goddard models--this is just one argument that Gerry uses to make a larger point: that there is something fundamentally different about our level of existence as compared to lower levels, something that goes beyond the usual emergent relationships that arise as any level transcends the one below it. I will return to this more general point later, but here I begin with the specific example, Goddard's claim that public and private perception differentiate only at the human level.
I disagree very strongly with this claim. I think he is generalizing a holarchical principle or trend based on siimply his understanding of one level of our existence, our own. I do agree with him that the public/private distinction is much better developed in us than in other holons on our level, which is to say lower organisms. If we limit our discussion to this level, we have no disagreement whatsoever. It does not follow, though, that a similar distinction does not exist on lower levels. That it does is supported both by logic and by evidence.
First, the logic. Why do we have private experience, that is, what purpose does it serve? Why is it true, as Goddard says, that "the social is interiorized as individual psyche"? As I have emphasized many times, I believe it's the way individual holons within a social holon communicate. In order for our societies to function, we have to have some way of representing other people--not simply when they are present, but when they aren't, and not simply people we know and interact with directly, but people we don't know and interact with indirectly. We do this by thinking about them, by processing our direct sensory public experience of them in various ways. Maybe not all our thinking serves this function, but a lot of it does, and arguably this is why thought originally evolved.
Now given that this is the purpose served by the private/public distinction, it logically follows, to me, anyway, that holons in social organizations on lower levels of existence would also make this distinction. Examples of such holons would be atoms in complex molecules like proteins, and cells in complex tissues like the brain. Like our societies, complex molecules and complex tissues depend on a very large number of interactions among their individual holons, and for these interactions to occur, these individual holons, just like us, must have a way of representing each other to themselves. If they can't do that, their behavior won't be coordinated. This is their private experience.
Now for the evidence. It's well known that both atoms in complex molecules and cells in complex tissues (the brain) are able to receive information from multiple other holons like themselves, perform some kind of computational operation on these inputs (summation, e.g., or vector addition), and exhibit some output. This computation process has definite analogies to certain forms of human thought, which is to say, the exterior behavior of these lower holons is analogous to our own exterior behavior. Now of course we have no idea what, if any, interior experience a cell, much less an atom, has. But given that a) we all believe that all holons have interior experience, and b) this interior experience is correlated with exteriority on our own level (viz., the nature of our thoughts is correlated with certain forms of behavior), doesn't it follow that certain holons on lower levels also can make the public/private distinction?
Does this mean that they think just like us? Of course not. Everything is much simpler, less complex and sophisticated, on these levels. So I agree with Goddard that private experience of holons on lower levels is not developed nearly as much as ours. But I also believe--contra Goddard, apparently--that their public experience is also not as well developed, and for the same reason, because they are simpler. Our sensory impressions of the world are certainly much more complex and detailed than those of, say, a cell. So the distinction between the two types of experience, which is what Goddard's argument is directed at, is in one sense as well developed in these lower holons as in us. In another sense, of course, it isn't, because we are more conscious of everything, public and private, than these lower holons are. But with this caveat, the distinction, in my view, is a function of the degree of social organization, not of the degree of holarchical development.
Finally, Goddard takes issue with my claim that sensory perception or public experience can really be understood as a holon looking down:
When we perceive an object (either a pure object or the objectness part of a living organism) the "perceiver" consists not simply of the higher conceptualizing levels somehow "looking down" on the world, but a relative integration of all compound levels down to the levels of physics...
Well, so what? Using this logic, I could say a cell (a higher form of life) does not assimilate a molelcule (a lower form of life), because the assimilation involves lower holons in the cell all the way down to other molecules. An assimilated molecule comes into contact with the cell by interacting with specific molecules on its surface, and interactions with still other molecules follow as it enters the cell and is processed. Of course. But the important point is that we can identify a holon called a cell, and from its perspective it's assmilating something. That something is lower than it is. Other, lower holons within the cell have a different perspective, and in fact I have discussed this "law of perspective" at length in Worlds within Worlds and in other places. None of this means we can't pick out one particular holon and say that a particular process, from its perspective, is an interaction with a lower holon.
In summary, Gerry and I agree on a distinction between public and private experience, though my view of the latter is somewhat different from his (more on that later). We also agree that private experience is higher in the holarchy than public. Where we disagree is that I believe this higher vs. lower distinction is all we need to make; with it, we can define the two kinds of experience as interactions on a one-scale model. Gerry, in contrast, believes there is a horizontal distinction to make as well, leading to a division of the Wilber model's interior quadrant into two sectors.
In order to demonstrate that my view is inadequate, Goddard has argued that a) there is no identity between private experience of an individual holon and the social holon it's a member of, an identity I'm not claiming exists; and b) it's a oversimplification to say that public experience involves a higher holon perceiving a lower holon, a point I regard as true but irrelevant. Public experience is looking down from the perspective of the perceiving holon. What is oversimplified, then, is the perspective itself--this holon is generally not aware of all the other interactions going on below it. When I look at a tree,I'm not aware of all the molecular and cellular processes going on in my brain. But the fact that I'm not doesn't mean we can't say that I, a higher holon, am perceiving a tree, a lower holon.
Finally, and most important, Goddard believes the public/private distinction only emerges on our level of existence, which I deny. I'm sure most people would agree with Gerry here; my position is a very radical one. However, it seems to me that the common belief that we have a privileged kind of experience is another aspect of what I have called elsewhere the new anthropomorphic fallacy. Earlier people believed the earth was the center of the universe, and that human beings were the special creation of God. Modern people--well, some of us--reject those views, but most people, including Wilberites, still believe we are the highest holon on earth (or one aspect of this holon, anyway). I think the desire to believe this is one reason--not the only reason, but a significant one--why Wilberites reject the idea that societies can be higher than their individual members. As I will discuss later, this is a key difference between my model, on the one hand, and both Wilber's and Goddard's, on the other.
Another aspect of this fallacy, which I think Goddard's thinking exemplifies (and to repeat, I'm aware I'm in a very small minority here), is to believe that our particular level of existence is in some special way different from preceding levels. Well, it certainly is, in the sense that each new level has properties that the preceding lacks. The key question is, is its relationship with the immediately preceding level fundamentally different from the relationship of the latter with the level preceding it. In other words, are there certain general principles and relationships that hold on every level--deep or meta-rules, if you like--or do new ones emerge on our level? I'm committed to the former idea, while Goddard, I'm quite sure, accepts the latter. While I think the issue is an open one--it certainly can and should be vigorously debated--I have attempted, in this discussion of public/private experience, to provide arguments against at least one kind of evidence that Goddard has marshalled in his favor.
Before moving o, I want to point out another reason I believe so many people view our level of existence as special. The Wilber model distinguishes interior from exterior properties of holons, claiming that all holons exhibit both. I agree. But all our knowledge of lower levels of existence is of exteriors--we don't know what a cell or an atom experiences, if anything--and conversely, much of our experience of ourselves and our societies is interior. This just reflects a major point I made earlier, that when we look down we see exteriors, and when we look up we see interiors. So even though both types of dimensions are to be found in all holons, we have a natural bias towards seeing lower holons as having poorly-developed interiors, while not fully appreciating the exterior aspects of our own level (we can see our bodies and our behavior, but we can't see the exterior of a society, surely). I think it's this bias that leads Goddard to see private experience only on our level, and more generally, to say, as he frequently does, that the lower levels are not good models for our understandingof higher levels. They are certainly inadequate in this respect, but there's a big difference between limited analogies and no analogies.
People may think they are not biassed in this respect, that they always keep in mind that all holons have both interiors and exteriors, but I find much evidence that indicates otherwise. For example, in Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, Wilber approvingly quotes Rupert Sheldrake, who argues that we can't use information we currently have about molecules and cells to tell us anything about human societies beyond certain general exterior features. That much is true. But Sheldrake, with Wilber following, goes on to argue from there that the analogies of lower levels of existence with the higher are therefore very weak,to the point of being virtually irrelevant. This is the fallacy of seeing the lower as purely exterior. If we want to find lower level phenomena that are analogous to the interior properties of individuals and societies, we must use interiors of the lower levels, not exteriors. We seem to have no such access to these interiors, so maybe this project is not possible. But the fact that we don't know what the interiors are like doesn't prove that they don't have analogies with higher interior properties. And as I suggested earlier, what we know about exteriors of lower levels in some cases suggests that there are in fact some important interior analogies as well.
We have seen that in my model, private mind, what I call subject/subject perception, reflects individual holons looking above themselves at social holons (or at other individual holons of their kind). Another reason Goddard disagrees with this is because he believes that individual holons can never interact in any way with social holons. To refute him, I noted that we as individuals interact with our social organizations all the time--for example, when we pay our taxes or vote. Goddard does not accept this example, for reasons I confess I don't understand very well. He does admit that:
Certainly, in the common usage of 'individual' and 'social', people probably tend to mean what Smith means which is the interactive relation of the organism with its environment
I think Goddard's disagreement stems from his view that societies are more than the just the interactions of individuals: "the social holon is not just the communions of individual holons." I certainly agree that societies are more than their individual members--as we shall see later, it's precisely because of this that I insist that we must view societies as higher--but it doesn't follow, to me, that the latter can't interact with the former. Goddard, if I understand him correctly, seems to believe this is somehow logically impossible. I will need further discussion with him to clarify this point.
Another point of contention between us centers on the agency/communion dialectic. Goddard and I disagree over whether modern humans are more or less communal than members of earlier societies were. I believe they are, Goddard believes they are more agentic. We do agree that there's an inverse relationship between people and their societies, which means we also have opposite views on societies. That is, I believe modern societies are more agentic, while earlier ones were more communal. He responds to my contention in this way:
When Smith says modern humans are more communal than earlier humans he is correct in the sense that they are structured by more levels of communions...But what has increased here is the complexity of the individual maintaining itself in an autonomous and self organizing, self-directing fashion as well as the complexity of communal valency (in linguistic terms). It has more autonomy or agency in relation to the social holon at its own level than the subordinate individual had in relation to its social holon (more conventional pressure to conform to the prevailing mores and specific paradigms). Also, the higher level social holon is more and more fluid, open, changing and global, less monolythic; hence, more communal.
In my original response to Goddard, I tried to draw a distinction between agency, freedom and individuality. I can agree that modern people are (or might be) more individual than their ancestors, and also that they are freer, but it doesn't follow, to me, that they are more agentic. I have discussed this issue at some length in my latest article, Who's Conscious?, and refer Goddard and other interested parties to that. Here I will simply quote a long passage from that article (slightly modified):
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?
In this article, I discuss, in a similar vein, the evidence that members of earlier societies were more agentic than us.
It may be that Gerry and I are arguing over definitions, but if so, I don't think the argument is less important for that. I believe that we should strive to define our terms as precisely as possible, and I think some of my disagreements with him result from the fact that his definitions are not precise enough. As suggested in the above passage, Goddard has a sort of intuitive understandingof agency and communion which I believe, on closer examination, does not hold up. I define agency/communion very precisely. Communion is the degree to which a holon enters into holarchical relationships--with other holons of its own kind, or with higher social holons. Period. Agency is defined as the degree to which it enters into relationships with holons below itself. These definitions allow us to understand agency/communion in terms of relationships between holons on a single scale, and thus, as I discuss in Who's Conscious?, make redundant two other properties of holons defined by Wilber, self-transcendence andself-immanence. By my lights, these two terms are identical to communion and agency, respectively. Furthermore, my definitions of agency and communion often, though not always, lead to an inverse relationship between the two.
Of course, no one is obligated to accept my definitions, but I think they convey very much what people usually mean by these terms. Because of the precision of definition, people should always know what I mean by the terms, whereas I quite often don't know exactly what Wilber or Goddard mean when they use the terms. In other words, whatever flaws my model has, I think it has a degree of internal consistency that Wilber's and Goddard's lack.
Goddard also suggests that my definition of agency has pathological connotations:
For Smith, agency is greater at the lower stages of any of his levels when it is most independent of other holons and is strongest at the very bottom as embodied in the nature of the most maverick and dissociated entities. In fact, he seems to equate agency with dissociation and alienation.
The first sentence is more or less correct, but I don't mean to equate agency with "dissociation and alienation." The problem here, and I think it's a recurrent one in my dialogue with Gerry, is that many of the terms people commonly use in discussing holarchy have multiple meanings, which tend to become more value-laden on higher levels. (This is one reason why I prefer to stick to a few terms like agency and communion, and define them precisely). One might certainly refer to an agentic atom or cell as dissociated in some contexts, but the word doesn't carry the connotations on these levels that it does on our level. In my view, a holon can be highly agentic or highly communal without being unbalanced or in any other sense pathological. For example, highly agentic holons are simply those which first appear on a newly-emerging level of existence (the holon experienced through higher consciousness?) , as well as holons on established levels that have not formed social organizations (micro-organisms, many invertebrates). Highly communal holons include ourselves.
I see pathology more in terms of deviant behavior (obviously a potentially very controversial view, which I really don't want to get sucked into a long discussion of here). For example, in our society of highly communal members, criminals are typically individuals who exhibit what I regard as a high degree of agency, which is to say, their behavior is not shaped as much by communal interactions. It is more (I can hear some people cringing) like the behavior of lower, less social organisms. These interactions normally inhibit us from freely expressing negative (and also positive) emotions, bodily functions, and so on. I don't mean to say all pathologies can be understood in this way, or that it is not possible for highly agentic (again, by my definition) people to live in our society in a non-pathological way, but I do believe every society has a certain typical or average agency/communion relationship, and that it's difficult for most individuals to vary much from this average.
As noted earlier, Gerry and I both make a distinction between subject/object perception and subject/subject perception. I think we're somewhat close in our understanding of the first, but we're far apart on the second. I was very much aware of this when I wrote my original response to his article, and I did not try to hide this fact. I did feel, however, that he didn't define his view of it very well, and I'm pleased to see he now says a little more:
Subject/subject is not awareness of the (left interior)LEFT (i.e. private thoughts). It relates the individual holon to the other individual holon in a way distinct from the subject/object sensory and cognizing perception.
I gather from all this that what Goddard means by subject/subject perception is just glimpses of a higher state of consciousness. This is my understanding of "genuine" intimacy, art and creativity. In fact, to me, this is the perception exhibited by the emerging new individual holon on the next level of existence. In Who's Conscious? I refer to it as zero-dimensional perception, because there is no subject/object distinction, and I further contend that it's not restricted to the higher level of consciousness, but is characteristic of newly emerging individual holons at any level of existence. Hence the pre-trans fallacy, which I think is familiar to most readers at this site.
This is obviously an extremely valuable type of perception to have, but I think Gerry would agree with me (even if doesn't accept my interpretation that it has to do with a higher level of existence) that it's not universal, or commonly experienced, in the same way that both subject/object and what I call subject/subject (private mind) perception is. He might argue, and I think he does, that it's becoming more common, and I may agree with him there, but the fact remains that an awful lot of human perception involves somethingthat is neither subject/object nor what he refers to as subject/subject.
However, the above passages suggest to me that what Goddard calls subject/subject perception may involve more than just contact with a higher state. I think some of what goes into art and intimacy and creativity (perhaps the lesser forms of all of these) is simply very pure subject/object perception. The artist sees the scene, the lovers see each other, more freely from thoughts than is usual. Higher consciousness is like this, but so is lower, subject/object consciousness. Finally, the last passage quoted above, if I understand it correctly, is talking about what I would still consider private mind phenomena.
In conclusion, while I have a better idea of what Gerry means by subject/subject perception, it still is not defined precisely enough to satisfy me. I think it can be equated with what I call zero-dimensional perception. But in any case, I see nothing that's not covered in my three basic kinds of perception. All of these forms of perception can be defined very precisely in terms of holarchical relationships. Still further, again referring to that recent article, these forms of perception can be connected with agency/communion, as subject/object perception in my model is agentic, while subject/subject is communal. This understanding results in a tremendous degree of unifcation in the holarchy model, allowing us, I think, to see relationships that were not clear before, and to jettison terms that are either not well-defined or are now rendered redundant.
The bottom line: people may not agree with me, but I think they can understand exactly what I'm saying. I'm still not clear where Gerry's view of subject/subject perception fits in the holarchy. It's above subject/object, but also bears a horizontal relationship to it. Perhaps he means a transcendent/immanent relationship? I'm not sure, but to me, this is confusing.
Philosophy of Mind
Gerry has clarified the relationship of his views to those of Kant. We have no quarrels here--I'm probably not qualified to debate him in this arena, anyway--but I do think he is underestimaing the difficulty of creating any conceptual model of reality that deals with consciousness in a coherent way:
the 'hard problem' is a hard problem for the scientists and naturalists who prima facie reject the intelligibility of a transpersonal or transcendent perspective...those with intellectual integrity who are not prepared to jettison hard common sense concerning the undeniable reality of experience, finish up with a hard problem!
I've had a great deal of experience with a higher state of consciousness, and I still don't have a clue how to relate consciousness at any level to other phenomena. Neither, quite obviously, does anyone else. I've never heard Ken say anything particularly illuminating on the subject, and wouldn't dream of holding that against him. (In fact, it's evidence of his good sense; he puts his energies into more solvable problems.) It's a very hard problem.
The Single Axis Model
I am particularly grateful to Gerry for devoting nearly half of his response to my ideas about holarchy, and in particular, my one-scale model. I would expect him to defend his ideas against the points I raised against them, but to continue on and offer a detailed critique of my model in general is going above and beyond the all of duty. While a few others have offered me some feedback, both positive and negative, no one else has put as much effort into this as Gerry obviously has. I want to say at the outset that Gerry's comments show every evidence of not only having read a lot of my work, but of understanding most of my points very well. If we still disagree, it's usually not because he is confused, or misinterprets what I'm saying.
I noted in the beginning that Gerry believes that there is a major difference of some kind between the lower levels of the holarchy and our own, a difference that is in some way more than the new properties that emerge going from one level to the next. Earlier, I argued against his claim that only holons on our level experience what he calls private mind, and I call subject/subject perception. Now he continues on this theme:
This structuration into higher individual forms of lower level communions does not take place in the same fashion after the level of organisms is reached. Thus atoms associate to form molecules etc., but once complex organisms are formed it is not through the similar associations of these organisms to form biological super-organisms which describes development, but rather, the process continues in an individual and intra-organismic fashion. It is at this point, certainly, that the associations of complex organisms must be mapped on a different axis than the lower level associations of atoms, molecules and cells; therefore, the distinct axis of the "social holon" becomes imperative. And it is this point which is pivotal in Smith's alternative view.
Well, it's only pivotal because Goddard insists on putting a pivot--this supposed jump in the nature of new properties emerging as we come to our level--at this particular place. In fact, the process at higher levels does occur in the same fashion as at lower levels. Just as atoms associate into molecules, humans associate into societies. Just as atoms, by virtue of being in molecules, realize new properties, so humans in societies realize new properties. From our individual perspective, we refer to this realization as development occurring in "an individual and intra-organismic fashion." This is perfectly true from our perspective, just as from the atoms' perspective, they are developing further in an individual and inter-atom fashion. Being well above atoms and molecules, we describe what happens in molecules a little differently. We say that the new properties belong to the molecules, and that atoms realize them to varying extents because of their participation in these molecules. If we have different perspectives on the two levels, it reflects, as I suggested earlier, that we see only exteriors when we look down, whereas much of what we see on our own level is interior.
Goddard continues by criticizing, if I understand him correctly, both my view and Wilber's for not making a distinctions between societies and the communal interactions of individuals. Possibly my latest article, Who's Conscious?, will to some extent alleviate his concern. In this paper, I make the distinction between individual and social aspects of individual and social holons, though I still insist that the one-scale model can adequately depict these relationships. Gerry also argues that my calling some of Wilber's lower social holons heaps is incorrect:
It is not true that the macrocosm (including galaxies, solar systems with planets capable of sustaining life) is just a giant random heap -- it is a macrocosmic order in its own right. Heaps are piles of non-reactive and non-communal atoms as Smith points out, but the universe as a whole and its fields of space/time/energy which inform galaxies and solar systems are surely not just heaps
I agree that the organization of atoms and molecules throughout the universe is not totally random, but it's far closer to that of an ideal heap than even, say, an ant colony, let alone a human society--or for that matter, the molecules in cells. The same atoms are found in galaxies as in the smallest molecules in cells, but the latter are more complex, and exhibit a greater degree of emergence. This is why I refer to a spectrum of holons. There may be no organization of holons that is totally random, but we can classify most of what we see as much closer to one end of the spectrum, the heap, then to the middle, the social holon, or the other end, the individual holon. On these terms, this is a no-brainer: galaxies and planets are much, much closer to the heap end than are human societies. No rational classification scheme could consider these two types of holonic groups to be of the same type. I'm sorry, folks, but this is lunacy (literally as well as figuratively--equating the organization of moons with that of societies).
By the way: the fact that the stars and planets are "informed" by space/time is irrelevant to this argument. A pile of rocks is also so informed. Everything in the universe is. It's just that the effects of space/time are more noticeable, to us, when they concern very large masses of matter.
Goddard now turns to a discussion of my criteria for distinguishing individual from social holons. In an earlier article, I argued that the criteria used by FredKofman, a Wilber supporter who adopts Ken's positions virtually without argument, don't work, and offered another set which I claim lead to a better classificaction. Before discussing these criteria individually, Goddard makes this general observation:
it is not possible for Smith to establish by means of these criteria a case for persuading us to accept his particular account since they already embody his conclusions. That is, they are definitions of his concept of the individual/social distinction rather than supporting arguments... if he is trying to demonstrate his thesis by means of these criteria, he is again begging the question
Talk about a red herring. Of course my criteria embody my conclusions! So do Kofman's and Wilber's criteria embody their conclusions. The individual vs. social distinction was not handed down to us on stone tablets. We have decided to make this classification, based on the observation that some holons seem to be different in certain ways from other holons. Then it comes down to definiing what these differences are. Anyone can define any set of criteria he or she cares to. The key point is: are these critieria applied consistently? I have argued that both my criteria and Wilber's are not always applied consistently, but that his inconsistencies are much worse. A prime example, just noted above, is that he somehow comes up with the notion that planets and galaxies bear the same kind of relationship to their individual holons as human societies do to us.
Goddard then considers my criteria one by one. With respect to reproduction, he points out that I have described memes as reproducing, so reproduction is not really limited to cells and organisms. This is a very perceptive point--Gerry is very good at spotting problems like this--and it's true I'm using reproduction in a loose sense here. But any theorist in this area (Dawkiins, Blackmore, etc.) will tell you that reproduction of memes is very different from that of cells and organisms, because, for one thing, it's not faithful to the original. And in any case, memes (like viruses, which can reproduce faithfully), are not autonomous, which brings us to my second criterion.
With respect to this criterion, Goddard argues:
Smith states that "an organism...can sometimes live outside of social organizations..." But this is already defining social organizations as higher.
What I said, at least in my response to Fred Kofman, was "an individual holon, unlike a social holon, can exist autonomously outside of a higher-order holon." There is nothing circular about that, because the criteria I use to distinguish individual from social holons are not the same criteria I use to distinguish higher from lower (for the latter, I have no problem with using Wilber's criterion; as we will see later, he's the one who doesn't apply it consistently). I do agree that the statement Goddard quotes is circular, and I may have been careless in defining individual in a way that presupposes what social is. But, to repeat, if one sticks with the criterion as given in the my response to Kofman, there is no circularity.
As further evidence for problems with the criterion of autonomy, Goddard adds, "a biological organism, no matter how agentic socially, cannot exist outside of an ecosystem". There are two points I will make in response to that statement. First, and most important, I don't agree with it. There are very simple invertebrates (at the bottom of our level of existence, right where my model says highly agentic organisms should be), the needs of which are so rudimentary that they can or could exist in a situation that hardly qualilfies as an ecosystem. They can, for example, live on plants or on agentic cells like algae. Since the plants or cells they consume can exist in the absence of these agentic organisms--indeed, for many millions of years did so exst--there is an absence of the reciprocal relationships we generally associate with ecosysems. The organism is dependent on the plants and cells, but not the reverse.
Note very carefully that I'm not saying here that no ecosystems are present, a critical point to an argument I will later make. The plants and/or cells may form an ecosystem of their own. But very agentic organisms, while dependent on this ecosystem, are not necessarily included or imbedded in it. They in fact are higher than it, not the other way around, and have an agentic relationship to it. They assmilate portions of it. So they are in fact livingoutside of the ecosystem. Not free of it, but not a member of it, either.
Of course, any time you have more than one holon, you have some set of interactions, so you can talk about a system, and in my view, the beginning of something higher. This goes back to my point about there being a spectrum of holons. Just as there may be no pure examples of heaps--totally random groups of holons--there may be no examples of organisms able to live totally free of something slightly higher. It's a matter of degree,and the degree can be very low, almost vanishingly so.
This leads us to my second point. Most ecosystems have very weak emergent properties (compared, for example, to those of human societies), and so even the more complex ones are only slightly higher forms of life, in my model, than organisms. InWorlds, I discuss the available evidence in relationship to the question of whether ecosystems can be said to have truly emergent properties. Some ecologists seem to think they do, other evidence suggests that they don't. Overall, I think , it's fair to say that ecosystems are not so much a higher stage of existence as a sort of emerging stage (much as water is not a genuinely higher stage of existence above atoms, because its emergent properties don't completely transform the properties found in the world of atoms. Only a somewhat more complex molecule like an amino acid does that).
Goddard concludes his discussion of my criteria:
Smith is using examples from the lower levels of the vertical axis and defining the social holon as the communions of individual holons. But he hasn't demonstrated that we are logically compelled to do this.
Well, we aren't logically compelled to do to much more than say that two plus two equals four. But surely the holarchy will be more consistent, coherent and powerful if we can demonstrate that certain fundamental principles and relationships exist on all levels. I don't expect anyone just to assume that they do. But in Worlds I have provided much evidence for these relationships, and I don't see other people providing evidence against them.
Goddard then turns to a discussion of my criticisms of Wilber's classification of individual and social holons.
But then he goes on to say of Wilber's list of social holons, "Are these different holons really that similar in their organization? I say emphatically no, for one major reason. Some of them -- galaxies, planets, and crystals -- are not higher in the holarchy than their individual component holons, while others -- ecosystems, families, tribes, communities -- are." But Wilber never said that galaxies, planets and crystals are "higher" (any more than he thinks ecosystems etc. are) which is precisely why he maps them horizontally.
Yes, Gerry, you're right, Wilber never said that any of these holons are higher--and Wilber is wrong. Some of them are higher, not by some pie-in-sky criterion I invented, but by Wilber's own criterion of asymmetry, as discussed in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. If I'm not going to be allowed to use that as a justification for saying that some holons in this group are higher than their individual members while others are not, then I really can't have a dialogue with Wilberites. But we are coming to that issue very soon.
Smith argues that galaxies, planets and crystals do not have emergent properties beyond their constituent atoms; but then in parentheses he acknowledges that this is not quite true of planets. This should hardly be relegated to an aside for it is a most central point.
It's an aside because it's just one more example of Wilber's inconsistency, lumping emergent and non-emergent groups of holons in the same category. This is not a problem with my model that I'm tryingto sweep under the rug, because I don't use Wilber's classification. It's a problemwith his model. It has so many little inconsistencies like this that I don't have the space to go into detail discussing all of them. I prefer to concentrate on the major ones. To which we now turn.
Criteria for the higher/lower vertical distinction
One of the key differences between my model of holarchy and both Wilber's and Goddard's is that I contend that societies are higher than their individual members. Indeed, this is arguably the key difference. Accept my view, and the need for a separate quadrant for a social dimension disappears. Societies can be placed on the same scale as individuals, above them as higher stages in the same level of existence. When this notion is connected with the relationship of perception to higher and lower interactions, as discussed earlier here and in more detail in Who's Conscious?, much of the interior properties of holons can also be placed on the same scale (always excepting what Irefer to as the hard aspects of consciounsess). Hence, the one scale model.
As I have said many times before, by any criterion I'm aware of, societies are higher than their individual members. I have often wondered how any supporter of the four-quadrant model, which hinges so crucially on the point that societies are not higher than their members, could fail to see this, what he would actually say when confronted with this problem. Goddard provides two answers. The first is another red herring:
the emergence criterion as a generally accepted basis for the idea of successive levels: Smith (2001a) argues that human societies specifically demonstrate emergent properties not manifested by any single member and are hence higher than human organisms. He gives an example of a large building pointing out that it is the "product of society, not of individual human beings." Admittedly, it is the product of human cooperation! It is the product of the communions of individual holons which Smith defines as society. And of course, these individuals are informed by larger socio/cultural factors. But this 'society' which allegedly stands higher than the individual organism (as considered biologically identical with original homosapiens) has also been informed by individuals. There is no such thing as a pure collective; there are, logically, only individual/collectives.
Good grief. So what else is new? Scientists have been aware of this for more than fifty years. Molecules are informed by their atoms. Tissues are informed by their cells. I don't know anyone who would debate this. I also know of no one, other than Goddard, who thinks it has any relevance to the question of higher vs. lower. Do we agree that I'm higher than my individual cells, tissues and organs? But I'm informed by them. Does that mean I'm not higher, after all? Please.
Goddard's second tactic is even more astounding, though hardly an original ploy. When the rules seem to defeat you, change the rules!
The underlying assumption here is that any concept of emergent properties, or something 'greater than the sum of its parts', implies vertical holarchy. Actually, it characterizes vertical holarchy but is not confined to it (a necessary but not a sufficient condition). This confusion occurs because science, not recognizing polar holonic (or complementary) logic, puts things into one logical sequence and is thrown into a tiz wuz over such "paradoxes" as the wave/particle nature of light, or the sudden 'emergence' of experiential properties from complex brain structures. On both sides of the individual/social holonic divide there are different emergent properties.
If Goddard really believes this, he should write more than a response to my article. This should be the subject of an entire book. Everyone I know accepts emergence and verticality as virtually synonomous. Yes, there are some strange things going on in the quantum world, but to suggest that the existence of these phenomena is a sufficient rationale for throwing out this association (selectively, mind you! Only on the issue of societies vs. their members! We're not saying that cells and molecules are on the same level, or cells and organisms are on the same level! But why not!? Surely if quantum phenomena can explain the emergent relatiionship of societies to us, it can do even better in explaining the emergent relationship of lower holons to each other) is a conceptual leap that makes my earlier assumption that the relationships on lower levels of existence are analogous to those on higher look positively...well, logical.
So much for any problems with the criterion of emergence. Goddard then takes on the criterion of asymmetry, Wilber's stated preference in determining higher vs. lower:
if we eliminate all organisms, we will eliminate all societies. But the converse is not true; eliminating all societies will not eliminate all organisms"; ergo, societies are above organisms as the latter are above cells etc. But for one thing, the 'social holon' of a biological organism is a biological ecosystem so the elimination of the social holon will certainly eliminate the organisms. It cuts both ways evenly
The social holon of any biological organism is not the ecosystem, in my model. It's a society of these organisms. I define the social holon in this manner, because it makes societies more consistent with social holons on lower levels, and also, because as I noted earlier, ecosystems have weak emergent properties.
Now of course, no one is obligated to accept my definition, and Goddard is correct--again, showing every evidence of understanding my position and its implications-- when he says:
This argument depends on Smith's point about communing individual holons as alone constituting the higher level holon...
However, my position, as far as I can tell, is also Ken Wilber's position. I don't think he defines human societies as including ecosystems. Like me, he defines lower level social holons as groups of a single type of individual holon, so to be consistent, he should also define human and animal societies that way, and I think he does. But in any case, whether he does or doesn't, if one does not accept this position, and instead takes Goddard's position that the society includes the ecosystem, one still can't use the rule of asymmetry to demonstrate that societies are not higher than their members. Why not? Because there is still an asymmetric relationship. It's true, adopting Goddard's point of view, that eliminating all ecosystems would eliminate all organisms; the reverse, however, is not true. Eliminating all organisms would not eliminate all ecosystems. It seems that this rule is telling us that ecosystems exist to a large degree below, not above, the organism, and indeed they do, since they consist to a large extent of plant life. While some plants are dependent on organisms for their survival, not all are. So just as some molecules, for example, would survive the elimination of all cells, or some atoms the elimination of all molecules, so some ecosystems would survive the elimination of all organisms. As Ken Wilber points out graphically in SES, this is even more true with respect to just human beings.
So I see nothing in Goddard's arguments to refute the notion that societies are higher than their individual members. I might add that, critical as this issue is to the Wilber model, even if he or Goddard could successfully resolve it, they still would not be out of the woods. Wilber also says that molecules transcend atoms, and thus makes them a distinct level of their own. But molecules don't transcend their atoms. As I have discussed at length elsewhere, the relationship of molecules to atoms is quite different from that of cells to atoms and molecules, or of organisms to cells. That's why I identify molecules as social holons rather than as individual holons. I also identify tissues, which I have never heard Wilber discuss in the context of his model, as social holons. Wilber can't correctly classify either of these types of holons as individual holons, yet his only other option is to classify them as social holons, as I do. To do this is to concede that at least some social holons are higher than their component individual holons.
I will conclude by emphasizing that to say this is not to say that there are no social or individual aspects of holons. My most recent paper, Who's Conscious?, argues that while both individual and social holons exist, they both have both individual and social aspects or dimensions. This discussion may possibly address Goddard's obviously deep concern that society is more than just the interactions of its individuals, and that both my model as well as Ken's is leaving something out. But while I agree with Gerry when he says:
Smith's correct assertion that we cannot say of a specific holon (for we have already in identifying the holon classed it on one side or the other) that it is both social and individual, does not refute the fact that relationship of 'individual' and 'social' constitutes a polarity and hence not a holarchic containment.
neither does it support the idea of polarity. This most recent paper of mine in fact argues that these individual and social dimensions of holons can be represented quite adequately in terms of higher/lower relationships in the one-scale model.
Goddard thinks my model does not adequately represent the idea of a higher level of existence:
society is a moving toward a higher level, a level unlike any on the Outward arc (i.e. up to the centaur in Wilber's terms). This higher level is an integration of individual and collective within a dimension which is truly holarchically higher than both. And this particular holarchic relation of the transpersonal levels to the personal and prepersonal levels (the 4-quad model as mapped) certainly cannot be mapped according to the structural and physical level paradigm of molecule-in-cell.
So far, no problem. The sentence, "The higher level is an integration of individual and collective within a dimension which is truly higher than both" is a perfect description of what happens, in my model, when cells emerge from complex molecules, organisms from complex multicellular holons (as concisely expressed, for example, in criterion three of what an individual holon is). He then says,
this particular holarchic relation of the transpersonal levels to the personal and prepersonal levels (the 4-quad model as mapped) certainly cannot be mapped according to the structural and physical level paradigm of molecule-in-cell.
The phrase "according to the structural and physical level paradigm" is very telling. Recall that earlier I said I believe one reason why Goddard and many others think there is something special about our level of existence is because we see interiority--directly experience it--there, but see only the exterior on lower levels. I gave an example of someone falling into this trap, Wilber himself. This phrase of Goddard's, it seems to me, is another example. Gerry is completely ignoring the interior properties of lower holons.
But if the individual was already subsumed in society, then the transpersonal would not be a genuine integration of the individual and the collective. From Smith's view, we can't even say that the individual self surrenders to and becomes subsumed in the larger whole at this higher level because it is already a part of the larger whole called society. A mystical transcendence of ego in this view would mean that it is society that is realizing itself as a part of Spirit. So when a deep meditator has an experience of cosmic oneness which includes a connective oneness with all beings, it is apparently not that person whose self boundaries have opened, but society which is having the experience and being transformed! This doesn't even make sense to me!
Without trying to address exactly what Goddard is saying, let me just say very briefly how I see it. I think we agree that all holons have exteriors as well as interiors. If there is a higher level of interiority, then it should be associated with a higher level of exteriority. This is the structural aspect of the transformation. In my model, the higher level of existence is the entire earth, an individual holon analogous to, though far more complex than, an organism or a cell. It transcends all societies. As members of a society, we participate in their properties, just as lower level individual holons participate in the properties of their social holons. One aspect or fruit of this participation is a certain kind of consciousness. As the new, higher level holon emerges, we have the possibility of participating in its properties as well. This is the higher state of consciousness, and I think many people have, to varying degrees, experienced some of this participation.
This view leaves many questions unaddressed. Do we just participate in the properties of this higher level, or do we actually realize it, become one with it? Certainly the latter at some point. Our identity shifts entirely to it. I believe, but am not sure, that this kind of shift occurs only with new levels of existence, not stages. That is, I don't think we can ever identify with any social organization in the same way that we can identify with the next higher level of existence. I believe this not because of any implications of my model, but on the basis of meditative experience. I also don't think social organizations themselves, being social not individual holons, can identify with the next higher level. But this is all very speculative. Wilber believes social holons have no localized consciousness, and though I offer some arguments against this position in Who's Conscious? I still have no firm position on the issue.
I will just add that Iím obviously more concerned with the levels of the holarchy that all of us have some experience of than the higher, transpersonal levels. Of course higher levels of consciousness are essential in any modelóthey are really what distinguishes such models most from currently accepted scientific paradigmsóbut given that they are by definition beyond thought, itís very difficult to say very much about them. If my model doesnít imply something that is obviously false about these higher levels, then Iím pretty satisfied.
Gerry Goddard has raised some perceptive points, and I'm sure many of my answers to them won't satisfy him. But as I have said again and again, the most important of our differences concerns the relationship of individuals vs. societies. Recognize that societies are higher, and the social quadrants collapse onto the individual, for the lower level social holons in the Wilber model are clearly not well-enough conceived to support this distinction. Frankly, they have the appearance, to me, of being cobbled together so that there would be some inter-level consistency in the quadrants. When the social is united with the individual, we can then debate how much of the interior, which is clearly related to the social, can also be.
I think the burden of proof is very clearly on Wilber and his supporters to demonstrate why the social is not higher than the individual. Gerry Goddard's arguments against the criteria of emergence and asymmetry, inadequate as they are, are probably as good as any that can be devised. I think he gave it an excellent shot, given that this position has virtually no ammunition at all with which to defend itself. And as I have discussed in detail in other places, the fact that societies fulfill criteria for being higher than their individual members is only one of a great many other reasons for viewing them in this manner.
But Gerry's latest response suggests that there is an even more fundamental difference between us, and I'm very grateful to him for identifying this issue. It revolves around how we view our level of existence in relation to others. Gerry believes that certain relationships and processes emerge on our level that are quite unlike anything to be found on lower levels. I believe that everything on our level has some analogy, even if not a very strong one, to some process or relationship on a lower level. So we're special, in my view, but not too special. The more I read and re-read Gerry Goddard--and a thinker of his depth and originality deserves and needs more than one reading--the more I come to see how so much of what he has to say is informed by this central assumption--just as he has already recognized that so many of my ideas stem from the assumption that there are universal principles and relationships in the holarchy, so that we can apply lessons learned from the physical and biological levels to our own level. Call them our respective biases. I see nothing wrong with having a bias. If it's not a useful one, its implications and consequences should eventually make that clear.