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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
MY CONCEPTION OF INTEGRAL
Integral Philosophy has been extensively formulated by Ken Wilber, from his four quadrants to his eight zones, including a multitude of lines, levels, types, etc. . However, there is also an openness to alternative views of what “integral” may mean, through the dedicated overseeing of the Integral World website by Frank Visser . In this essay I would like to formulate what my own conception of integral is, focusing upon an integration of what is generally considered to be scientific and artistic disciplines and modes of perception.
LOGIC AND EXPERIENCE
I have a thorough appreciation of Wilber's four quadrant model of integral, though far less enthusiasm for his extended eight zones that he describes in his recent book “Integral Spirituality” (c.f. ). I have described some of my differences of opinion with Wilber and concerns about Wilber's organization Integral Institute in my essay “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” . There is certainly a great deal of value in viewing an integral life in the context of being productively engaged in the individual subjective, individual objective, cultural, and social domains or quadrants. However, I believe there is also a valid reason to think of integral in perhaps the more basic framework of uniting the scientific and artistic domains, either focusing upon the individual subjective quadrant or across all four quadrants. This is the essence of what my article “Integral Mathematics”  is based upon, viewing the disciplines of pure and applied mathematics in their respective artistic and scientific domains, across all four quadrants. But no matter how much I try to convey to others the artistic nature of pure mathematics, I know that mathematics is still composed of logical thought in its essence, and the same can be said of philosophy. When I describe myself as an experiential philosopher, as I have conveyed in my book on modern religions , I am viewing the logic of philosophical thought uniting with the artistic spiritual mode of life experience. In a similar way I am viewing the logic of mathematical thought uniting with the artistic creative theoretical insights upon which pure mathematics is based. Wilber describes three distinct modes of knowing in his book “Eye To Eye” , and what I refer to as the experiential mode goes past the point of logic per se and enters the spiritual and trans-rational realm that Wilber devotes so much of his philosophy to. Of-course one must be careful to not fall into what Wilber has described as the Pre-Trans Fallacy , a theory which I have written about in relation to an artistic view of mental disturbance in my article “Integral Psychology And An Artistic View Of Mental Disturbance” .
Clearly mathematics and philosophy are both primarily disciplines of thought, and people generally consider these to be scientific disciplines and modes of inquiry. On the other end of the scale are disciplines and modes of study that are generally viewed as artistic, including music, dance, art per se, drama, poetry, fiction writing, etc. However, there is undoubtedly a significant degree of logical thought that goes into these “artistic” disciplines, such as Bach counterpoint, drawing in perspectives, dance choreography, formats of poems, plots of stories, etc. Once again, it is a matter of balancing the artistic and scientific modes of inquiry, or the logical and experiential context of life. I am focusing upon Wilber's individual subjective quadrant, as this is what has the most interest for me. It has been a life-long quest for me to give vent to the various logical and experiential domains that comprise who I am. Although I have made my living as a mathematics professor and instructor, I have always needed to be engaged in my combined logical/experiential modes of pure mathematics, experiential philosophy, and classical & popular piano. I often have the experience of transcending my mind after a few intensive early morning hours of doing mathematics, regularly through practicing my classical piano pieces, and less regularly through various forms of dance. I have occasionally experienced art per se in this way as well, though I have little talent for drawing and painting. I describe my conception of integral by the name “natural dimension,” which refers to it being natural to be integrating these logical and experiential, or scientific and artistic domains of life. To give more of an illustration of what these domains have meant to me personally, I would like to present a few excerpts from experiential essays I have written about mathematics, music, philosophy, dance, and art. These essays were all written in an experiential stream of consciousness mode a number of years ago, but they remain very true for me today .
A Natural Dimension Of Mathematics
What is a natural dimension of mathematics? Mathematics is truth and beauty within the spirit of the mind. Mathematics is the most natural subject in the world.
Mathematics is pure thinking--thinking with no reason to think other than the joy of thinking. It's like playing. Should not all of learning be like playing? Perhaps even all of life should be like playing. When a child plays, he/she does so because it is fun. When a “pure” mathematician does mathematics, he/she does so because it is fun. Thinking is fun. It stimulates the brain. It feels good to solve problems--the more abstract, the better. At first glance, it may seem pointless to work on an abstract mathematical problem that has no present or foreseeable future use in practical application. Why do it? Because it's where it's at! Doing pure mathematics expands the mind. There is no pressure; i.e. no externally enforced pressure. It just sort of happens. It sort of stays with you as an unanswered question. Could it be? Is it possible? It presents the possibility of a major breakthrough; a real discovery. You start building something, and it just goes on and on. After a while, the process of building takes on its own autonomous identity. The builder can look apart from his/her creation and see something truly beautiful. A set of axioms--interwoven together in such a fashion as to produce a substance of proved theorems--which lead further to more complex proved theorems--which lead further, ad infinitum. The subject of theoretical mathematics is limited only by a human being's patience, tolerance, and creative intelligence. And it is all true! It can be proven--to the highest form of human cognitive endeavor, growing and experiencing over thousands of years of human brainwork.
But what exactly is the point of all this theoretical fuss? The point is that doing mathematics can be a purifying action. One can remove oneself from the horrors of our world and society, for hours upon end, while still using all of one's mental faculties. There is no need to constantly meditate and lose your mind. Try accepting and developing your mind. Take a break from the world. Relax, and think. Start slow, real slow. Soon you will discover the truth I am speaking of. You will know something certainly and clearly, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It will feel good. And when you discover your piece of knowledge, you will want to discover more. Why? Because it's fun! Get it? The whole god-damn thing is really enjoyable. It's challenging and exciting. There's a chance for the highest of noble achievement, and the most frustrating experience of stagnation. But it is really all quite harmless. It's all in fun--all in jest. It's only a natural dimension of mathematics.
A Natural Dimension Of Music
Music is so basic to me that it has taken all this time before I could write about it. (please keep in mind that these excerpts are from essays written in the late 1970s and early 1980s (c.f. [9). I began taking piano lessons when I was six years old, and studied classical piano for nine years, including three years at the Brooklyn Conservatory Of Music. When I was eight years old I began composing and writing music, under the guidance and influence of my brother Marvin, and I continued this until I was eleven. I have composed four sonatas, eleven popular songs with lyrics, a duet, and a number of other little pieces. I still possess nearly all of my works, but my career as a composer ended at age eleven. However, my childhood career as a composer is the basis for all of my musical creativity. When I improvise at the piano, melodies come into me almost unconsciously; what is happening is that I am returning to my lost youth, as indeed it has been lost for many years. When I was a kid, I used to want to be both a concert pianist and a famous composer. I truly thought of the legacy of “Bach, Beethoven, and Benjamin.” Later on, when I reached adolescence, I stretched this list to “Bach, Beethoven, The Beatles, and Benjamin.” And then I turned 16, I stopped my classical piano lessons, I spent a few months taking jazz lessons, and I learned the art of improvisation at the piano. Ten years later, I am renewing my study of jazz piano and improvisation. What has happened in the intervening ten years? Not very much of music--that is for sure.
But now I find that I am indeed a strange animal. I have two Masters' degrees--one in mathematics and one in counseling--and what do I choose to do with my life? Become a jazz musician. It's quite “natural,” really. I'm finally beginning to understand why “Demian” (a novel by Hermann Hesse ) had such an impact upon me. Return to who you really are--find your true “self”--all power comes from within. It is no wonder that all my unconscious, long suppressed energies and basic stuff of life were jolted by this poetic and beautiful book. It is no wonder that Hermann Hesse was to become my spiritual and philosophical mentor. And the almost unbelievable thing is that it has taken me nearly five years of working on and attaining two Masters' degrees in other fields to finally find myself. I am “me” and I know who I am now. In the present timeframe I truly understand what I mean when I say that “I live in a natural dimension.”
A Natural Dimension Of Philosophy
I begin this essay with a quote by Frederick Nietzche. “It may be necessary for the education of a genuine philosopher that he himself has also once stood on all these steps on which his servants, the scientific laborers of philosophy, remain standing…..” . Arthur Schopenhauer was a philosopher who was highly influential on Nietzche, and Schopenhauer wrote an essay called “Man's Need For Metaphysics”  in which he passionately decries the artificial erroneous nature of academic university philosophy and stresses what the true nature of philosophy is. And what is the true nature of philosophy? That, once again, is the intrinsic joy of thinking, but this time thinking about the world, life, death, God, Self, souls, the origin of the universe, etc. Philosophy is as wide as is pure human thought. To me, when one open up his/her mind to think about life, he/she is philosophizing. Is it unfair of me to say that I am a philosopher?
A Natural Dimension Of Dance
What is a natural dimension of dance? Like mathematics, music, and art, dance is a natural form of human experience. It is very related to music. It starts out with a rhythm--a rhythm of life. This rhythm or beat gets inside of you. It makes you want to move. Alas--we are beginning to see a natural dimension of dance. Total organismic experience must incorporate dance--or bodily movement. Natural physical expression is dance. True dance relates to the inner freedom of the individual. When a person is feeling free, he/she will have much energy and will feel like moving his/her body. The individualistic way in which he/she moves his/her body is his/her own natural dimension of dance. At odd occasions when I am alone, I find my own natural dimension of dance. When I listen to the Broadway show music of Pippin, I feel especially free and happy--and I dance--all over the living room. I whirl and I jump and I swing. I got the rhythm--and it matters not that I alone see this. When I worked at Fernald State School For The Retarded and was alone with the retarded residents (now referred to as “mentally deficient“) in my care and we would be listening to some rock music on the radio--sometimes I would dance. And the retarded residents would wonder what the hell was going on as I would be flying all over the room in leaps and spins and complicated flashy footwork. Yes--that was a natural dimension of dance…..My mother understood a natural dimension of dance. She loved dance--it made her feel alive. She danced when she had trouble walking. So I know that dance is in me--to a great extent…For I firmly believe that anyone who truly experiences a natural dimension of music cannot help but also experience a natural dimension of dance.
A Natural Dimension Of Art
I have so far written “On A Natural Dimension Of Mathematics” and “On A Natural Dimension Of Music.” Mathematics and music are both areas in which I have obvious ability, skill, and training. I can pretty much fit into society's classifications of “mathematician” and “musician.” But as far as art is concerned, my pictures warrant nothing more than laughter and/or ridicule from those who see them. For they look like nothing more than a simple child's drawings. And this is indeed exactly what they are--a simple child's drawings. Art--to me--is as important as mathematics and music. The few times that I have drawn have been very precious to me. The times that I use art are when I am deepest into my self--with no-one around--either physically or psychologically. I go through a Hessian experience and I emerge with a picture. The picture is the cathartic experience for me. What is internal to me comes out in color. I know that I have produced pure art because when I have finished my picture I see all my mental processes represented in my drawing, so that the burden is relieved from me and I can once again join in life. This is a very beautiful experience for me to go through--and is precisely what I mean by a natural dimension of art. For the process of natural dimension has nothing to do with society's judgment of merit of the external product. Whether the process is involved with music, mathematics, internal reading, internal writing, or art, the theme is identical. I am emerging--from my deepest innermost self through some kind of creative medium--to a tangible product in the external world. The product might be concrete thought, words on paper, musical sound, color and figures, etc., but the process is always the same. This is why I find it so interesting that some of my products are raved over while other of my products are laughed at…I used to say that mathematics were my friends that didn't exist. I love mathematics--for these non-existing friends have helped me through many a lonely and desperate hour. These friends have stimulated my own abstract thought processes and have shown me a very basic thread of my own self. But I have come to a point where I need something more than friends that don't exist. I need real live portions of my self--packed in various forms and symbols that are obvious to me and invisible to others. These are my playmates for when I am alone. Of-course it feels wonderful to be able to have a few other people who understand and appreciate my art forms….. I want to convey my feelings of what is a natural dimension of art. I want to complete the set of natural dimension activities….. There's more--much more--if I care to delve into my childhood; but I don't care to right now. Let me first do some more drawings.
I have presented the preceding five illustrations of what I refer to as my natural dimension activities to illustrate what integral means to me in a very personal way. The logical and the experiential are inseparable to me, just as the scientific and the artistic balance each other out in my own life. This conception of integral was one of the prime attractions that led me to Ken Wilber to begin with. I think back to my initial meeting of Wilber in his Denver apartment in 2003 and our discussion about uniting these aspects of thinking and feeling, or art and science. Yes--this is what I view as the most important and significant aspect of Ken Wilber's Integral Philosophy. Wilber's emphasis upon the spiritual or trans-rational components, which I think of in terms of an experiential philosophy, has been what has inspired me the most in his writings. The four quadrants, the lines, levels, types, and perhaps even the eight zones are all intellectually stimulating philosophical ideas to think about. But the conception of integral as uniting the logical and experiential modes of inquiry while incorporating the spiritual component into philosophy is what I believe is at the basis of an integral philosophy.
NOTES & REFERENCES
1) See Ken Wilber, “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 1995) and Ken Wilber, “Integral Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 2006).
2) See the Integral World website at www.integralworld.net
3) See Elliot Benjamin, “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” (www.integral world.net, 2006).
4) See Elliot Benjamin, “Integral Mathematics” (www.integral world.net, 2006).
5) See Elliot Benjamin, “Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé” (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2005; available by contacting the author at [email protected]).
6) See Ken Wilber, “Eye To Eye” (Boston: Shambhala, 1983, 2001).
7) See Chapter 7 of “Eye To Eye.”
8) See Elliot Benjamin, Integral Psychology And An Artistic View Of Mental Disturbance” (www.integralworld.net, 2006).
9) See Elliot Benjamin, “Art And Mental Illness” (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2006; available by contacting the author at [email protected]). These essays were all written in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
10) See Hermann Hesse, “Demian” (New York: Bantam Books, 1925, 1965).
11) See Friedrich Nietzche, “The Portable Nietzche” (Walter Kauffman, editor), (New York: Dover, 1965) and Friedrich Nietzche, “Basic Writings Of Nietzche” (Walter Kauffman, editor and translator), (New York: Modern Library, 1968).
12) See Arthur Schopenhauer, “The World As Will And Representation” (two volumes), (New York: Dover, 1969).