Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Andy SmithAndrew 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).



Concluding Remarks to Gerry Goddard

Andrew P. Smith

Gerry Goddard and I are in agreement on at least one important issue: our debate has reached the point where further argument is not very helpful. I'm very glad he's said his most recent response will be his last, because I, too, would like to move on, though as I said before, his arguments have opened my eyes to issues that I believe need further exploration. I will feel a debt to him in my future writing, whether I agree with him on specific concepts or not, and I will certainly continue to read with great interest his forthcoming work. I want to add that Gerry has been the model of an intellectual opponent in this exchange, unfailingly courteous to me and respectful of my ideas, even as he as has sought to make our differences as clear as possible. In my final response, I will engage in some more hardball rebuttal, but I also have some concessions to make.

It's only words

Gerry suggests that we are to some extent in a conflict over terms. I feel that we are indeed in some places, which is why I insist on definitions as precise as possible. The single most important definition any holarchy model must come to grips with is that for verticality: what exactly do we mean when we say one holon or form of existence is higher than another? In various writings, I have suggested three ways to define verticality, all of which lead to the same classification of holons: as the emergence of new properties; as an asymmetric relationship; and as complexity. I still wait to hear from Goddard or Wilber or any other believer in the four-quadrant model how they define verticality. It can't be by any of these criteria, for if they did so, they would classify societies as higher than individuals. They keep saying that societies are not higher than individuals, but they have yet to provide a definition of higher that consistently generates all the higher vs. lower relationships in the holarchy that we agree on (organisms, cells, molecules, atoms, e.g.) yet which also indicates that societies are not higher than individuals. Wilber claims he uses the asymmetric criterion, but I have shown that by that criterion societies are higher than their individual members (more on that later).

Once we have defined verticality, then we can define the difference between individual and social holons. As I said in "Nothing Special", there is some arbitrariness in this, and different people may use somewhat different critieria. But whatever problems my definitions may have, I disagree very much that they're circular, as Goddard claimed in "Quadrants Re-instated"and seems still to believe. I think I adequately addessed this charge in "Nothing Special", and will not go over that again, though later I will return to the general issue of begging the question.

My point was that the real test of our definitions lies in the resulting degree of coherency or consistency in our models. To that, Gerry replies:

Internal coherence (and it is debatable here, who, or who is not, being coherent) is certainly important but not a sufficient criterion for persuading another to accept one's viewpoint rather than some other alternative.

Well, OK, but then what is a sufficient criterion? If we're comparing two models, and one is more consistent and coherent than the other (I say this for the sake of argument even if everyone doesn't agree that one is in fact more so than the other), on exactly what grounds do we still continue to favor the other model? Maybe this is my bias as a natural scientist, but where I come from, consistency is a major way in which we distinguish good theories or models from bad, particularly when there's not a lot of evidence to bring to bear on certain points. For example, as I have said before, anyone can define individual and social holons any way he wants, but if his classification is seriously inconsistent with his criteria, that in my book is a major problem. If some social holons are quite clearly higher than their individual members by any criterion of verticalilty that anyone has proposed, while others are not, that is also a major problem.

Another way we decide between competing models is by simplicity, which Goddard seems to think doesn't apply here:

the use of Ockham's razor is only good within a certain paradigm, say, within science or within a broadly Jungian framework, not across different basic frameworks, because what constitutes "adequacy" is itself paradigmatically defined.

I guess I don't understand Goddard here. I believe "science", broadly understood, is what all of us are about. Certainly we're discussing some phenomena that can't be studied empirically, but that doesn't mean, as Wilber has said many times, that an approach with some of the basic elements of the scientific method is not applicable.

More specifically, I believe Goddard's model, mine and Wilber's can be compared by the degree to which they unify ideas or relationships, explaining phenomena or processes in terms of the minimum number of principles. I think Gerry would agree that my model is simpler than his or Wilber's, so the question is, has its simplicity come at the price of omitting or distorting relationships that their models have adequately represented? Again, I wait to hear Goddard, Wilber or any other supporter of the four-quadrant model tell me exactly what I have left out. (And don't tell me it's the marginalization of women, because I don't see that anywhere in Wilber's model). Gerry has spent considerable effort pointing out what he regards as flaws in my model, and he may be right in some cases, but these flaws don't weaken the case for the kind of model itself that I've proposed.

In this last response, for example, he has taken me to task for ignoring horizontal polarity, for distorting his views on individual and social aspects of holons, and for being overly zealous in trying to derive universal principles from a consideration of lower level holons. Horizontal polarity, as Gerry describes it, is not a fact of existence that any model has to explain; it's a way of looking at things that he happens to adopt (more on that later). That I haven't always understood his views is unfortunate, and I have tried to pay more attention to what he's saying, but of course this is irrelevant to the adequacy of my model. That I may go too far in using my model to derive principles is a fault of application, not of the model itself.

How We're Different

In "Nothing Special", I argued that Goddard seemed to believe that there were entirely new principles operating on our level of existence, as exemplified by the division of public and private experience. Goddard now insists that I misunderstood him:

As I said in my article "Quadrants Re-instated", the division between experience disclosing an inner and outer world which I draw on the Left, goes all the way down (i.e. biologically -- further down is matter which is pure undifferentiated unconsciousness)...

Perhaps I did misunderstand him. I'm really not sure now. The passage from his earlier "Quadrants Re-instated" that led me to my original conclusion was:

The consciousness of interiority, possible only as it is distinct from exterior perception, can arise only at the higher human levels...The distinction of private and public perception is a conscious differentiation at the human level and not before.

I took this to mean that Gerry believed there was no public/private distinction at lower levels, glossing over the important phrase "conscious differentiation". I guess it depends on what Goddard means by that phrase. So let me see if I have it right now. We agree that lower level holons are conscious to some extent, and that (contrary to my early understanding of Goddard) these holons, like ourselves, can have both public and private experience. Where we humans differ from lower level holons, according to Goddard--and I guess he would regard this as an emergent property on our level--is that we not only have both forms of perception, but know that we do. I think I can accept that, though I wouldn't say positively so without further reflection. If I don't accept it, I will be in any even lonelier position than I had imagined I was in before, because I'm sure anyone else would agree with Gerry here. In any case, it seems that Gerry and I have another important area of agreement which I had not appreciated before. Frankly, I'm very glad to see that.

Gerry concludes:

All I am saying is that we cannot derive these principles by privileging, or simply extrapolating from, the particular processes and structures of the lower levels which are uniquely lower level instances of the overarching principles.

I agree there are limits to extrapolation. But it's difficult to work in the reverse direction, because the emergence of new properties on higher levels means that there is nothing quite like them on the lower levels. I like Wilber's diagram of the relationship in SES, where levels are represented as a series of concentric cylinders, with higher levels including the lower. This diagram directly implies--in my way of looking at it, anyway--that anything we find on a lower level will have some analog on a higher level, while much of what we find on higher levels, being in the outer part of the cylinder, will not be observable on lower levels. So while certainly we can't learn everything about higher levels by consideringlower levels, the latter really do seem to be the best place to find universal principles--the common central core of the cylinders, to to speak.

Lower level Social Holons

While I have directed most of my arguments against Wilber's conception of social holons towards human societies, I have also insisted that Wilber's definition of galaxies and planets as lower level social holons doesn't make sense. Goddard continue to take issue with this:

the associative interconnections of atoms in molecules and molecules in cells... must be distinguished from the other pole which includes the evolutionary movement from galaxies to planets to biological ecosystems etc. .

How could there be any life forms if it weren't for planets and solar systems and suns and galaxies. Are we just lucky that these 'heapish lumps' formed in the way they did so that presto, life could happen on their surfaces?

Most scientists believe that the formation of stars and planets and so forth can be explained quite well from basic physical laws--vastly more easily, for example, than we can understand our own mental phenomena. So if someone wants to say that these were not formed in the way that science says they were, that there was some larger purpose to it all, the burden of proof is really on him, in a way that it isn't when we discuss consciousness. I think that by calling these social holons, Wilber is trying to put some purpose into their formation, to say that massive heavenly bodies formed in such a way that further evolution became possible. I really have no problem with this (I see no evidence for it as yet, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen like this), but it doesn't change the basic fact that the relationship of galaxies and planets to atoms and molecules simply is not like that of societies to individuals. Celestial bodies are much more like heaps. That doesn't mean they can't promote the further evolution of life; it just means we should call them heaps, and stop pretending they are anything remotely like social holons as we understand them at other levels. I've been over all this before and won't do so again.

I want to repeat a point I made in "All Four One", though. Wilber claims (in Part II of his interview with Shambhala, available at their site) that higher level social holons transcend and include lower level social holons, just as higher level individual holons transcend and include lower level individual holons:

a social holon does not transcend and include individual holons; rather, a social holon transcends and includes the previous social holons in its own line of development.

In other words, planets transcend and include galaxies; Gaia transcends and includes planets; human societies transcend and include Gaia. I don't know how in the world Wilber defends this position, but it certainly isn't by using the term transcend in the same way it's used for individual holons, when we say, for example, that cells transcend atoms, or organisms transcend cells. Again--pardon my French--this is lunacy. Speculative philosophers often find themselves arriving at positions that are clearly ludicrous. When this happens, the sensible ones back away, and try again.

Vertical vs. Horizontal

A major point I have made all along, not just in argument with Goddard but in other recent articles posted at this site, is that societies are higher than individuals, and that most if not all relationships that Wilber and Goddard define (partly or completely) in terms of horizontality can be understood in vertical terms, e.g., agency/communion. I'm not completely denying the existence of horizontal relationships; Gerry is not quite correct when he says, "Everywhere Smith reduces polarity to verticality." I do define communion as in part horizontal relationships between holons of the same kind (same stage on same level). Though I add that such relationships generally result in the formation of higher-order holons, not all the communing holons within these higher-order holons participate in the higher properties, and so may remain in a basically horizontal relationship. And of course, I accept Wilber's concept of translation, as horizontal change of holons (though even there, the event in my view involves vertical changes of holons related to the translating holon). But certainly horizontal relationships play much, much less of a role in my model than they do in Gerry's. I'm actually grateful to Gerry for clarifying this point for me. Because he is such a strong believer in horizontal relationships, he was perhaps more aware of this facet of my model than I myself was.

In any case, I have noted that societies are higher than individuals by the criterion of emergence as well as by asymmetry. In "Quadrants Re-instated", Goddard tried to counter the emergence argument in two ways (or so I thought at the time), by noting that societies are informed by their members, and by claiming quantum phenomena as evidence of non-vertical emergence. I found both of these arguments weak, to say the least. With regard to the first, Goddard now says:

Smith answered rather exasperatedly, "Good grief. So what else is new? Scientists have been aware of this more than fifty years. Molecules are informed by their atoms." etc. Did I say anything to dispute this?

Well, if Gerry didn't dispute this, why did he raise the point? His discussion of society's being informed by individuals came at the beginning of a section where he tried to argue against my claim that societies are higher than individuals. My understanding was that he believed that if societies were informed by individuals, the concept of emergence was somehow negated. Apparently I misunderstood him, and I'm sorry about that, but my exasperated remark was simply intended to emphasize that the notion that societies are informed by their individuals has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether societies are higher than individuals. If Gerry did not intend it in the context of that argument, I don't understand why he brought it up.

With respect to the quantum phenomena argument, Goddard now says:

When I make the point that Smith cannot use the argument that emergence implies verticality to prove that lateral polarity is non-existent, he accuses me of astoundingly resorting to the tactic of changing the rules. No, I am simply pointing out that he can't legitimately use this rule to prove the non-existence of lateral polarity.

I'm not trying to prove the non-existence of lateral polarity. Gerry doesn't seem to understand that I don't have to. Since most people, again, do equate emergence and verticality--if we didn't, we couldn't have a holarchy in the first place--the burden of proof really is on those who believe there can be an emergent horizontal relationship. What is the evidence for this? Goddard's evidence is to suggest quantum phenomena. But even supposing they can account for emergence at higher, human levels (unproven), and even assuming that such phenomena are not in fact examples of verticality (debateable), it's logically inconsistent to apply these only to the individual/society distinction. If quantum phenomena can result in emergent relationships that are not vertical, why not claim that atoms, molecules, cells and organisms are all on the same level? Why have a holarchy at all? (See Fritjof Capra!) Indeed, if there is any possible explanation (quantum or otherwise) for how societies and individuals could be on the same level despite having an emergent relationship, how in the world do we know that all holons are not on the same level? If emergence is, as Gerry claims, a necessary but not sufficient condition for verticality, what is sufficient? He never says.

I'll say quite honestly that I had no idea at all why Gerry could believe that societies and their members exist on the same level until I found this passage in his last response:

the individual and social at level 6 and 7 stand in lateral relation. This is a lateral relation which is non reductive. The social at any level is indeed "more" than the individual, but the individual at that same level is also "more" than the social -- otherwise for one thing, there could be no social development, no leading edge individuals, and no individuals who are beyond the conventional stage social as there certainly always have been (Jesus, Buddha, Ramana Maharshi etc.).

Maybe I haven't read enough of Wilber's recent writings, but this is the first statement I have ever seen, by Goddard, Wilber, or anyone else, that provides me with some insight into what their reasoning is on this issue. I was very glad to see it. But how strong is this reasoning, how persuasive is it?

Consider, first, the examples of individuals Goddard gives: Jesus, Buddha, and so on. All of them very rare, to say the least. Now if I want to make the point that societies are higher than, or more than, their individual members, I can come up with any number of examples of higher properties, even in the simplest animal societies let alone the most complex human ones. But when Gerry wants to argue that individuals can be more than their societies, he is forced to pick really rare human beings, not at all typical of most of us. Even if we grant him that leading edge individuals don't have to be saints, they constitute by very definition a tiny portion of the social population. That, alone, suggests to me a fundamental asymmetry in the relationship, that individuals and societies are not on the same level (or stage, in my terminology).

But what about these rare individuals? Are they more than their society? I would say that they have some realization of a higher level of existence beyond our own. To the extent that they do, they have transcended our level, so it's not correct to say that "the individual at that same level is also "more" than the social". Or to put it another way, to the extent that such individuals are still part of society, that society also realizes this higher level of existence. Jesus, for example, seemed to have had certain experiences which very few other people have had. But the fact that almost no one else in his society may have had similar experiences doesn't mean that these experiences were not part of that society. Why did he have these experiences? How did it happen that he could? Did he just in a sudden flash become enlightened? I doubt that very much. Presumably he engaged in certain meditative practices. But how did he learn about these practices? Did he invent them all by himself? Again, highly unlikely. Clearly society--an organization of individuals with properties that none of the latter alone exhibit, or fully exhibit-- helped make his experiences possible, and so equally clearly we are justified in saying that his experiences were not just his, but society's, too. Just because they weren't distributed evenly to everyone else doesn't mean they aren't a social property.

Maybe this is a difficult part of my model to understand. At all levels of existence, individual holons can participate in the properties of higher social holons on the same stage, and in the limit, in the properties of an individual holon on a higher level. This means that different individuals within the same society can differ in the degree to which they participate in that society's properties, as well as in the properties of a higher social holon or individual holon in which their common social holon is contained. So one individual can be considered higher than another in the same society.

Again, this is an advantage of looking at lower levels, where these relationships are much clearer. There are atoms in complex molecules, and cells in complex tissues, which have properties more advanced than most atoms or most cells in these holons. There may also be atoms that participate in the emergent properties of the cell, or cells which participate in the emergent properties of the organism. Precisely because these atoms or cells are enfolded within the molecule or tissue, respectively, one can't say that their properties are not part of the molecule or tissue. If an atom realizes some of the properties of a cell, for example, so does the molecule it's within. So we don't say that the atom is more than the molecule, or the cell more than the tissue. No need for any quantum spookiness. We say that the atom within the molecule may realize properties that other atoms in that molecule don't, and likewise with the cell within the tissue.

The bottom line is that however one wants to describe the relationship of an atom to a molecule when that atom realizes higher properties, it clearly does not imply that the atom is in some sense more than the molecule. It can't be, because molecules are so constituted that any properties of any of their atoms are also their properties. This demonstrates very clearly that leading edge holons can be found within holons we all agree are higher than they are. Thus the existence of leading edge holons per se is no argument against verticality--it doesn't prove verticality, but neither does it disprove it.

The preceding discussion also addresses these later comments of Goddard's:

Smith is putting human society above humans as individuals. To me this means individuals at, say, level 7 are enfolded holarchically within level 8...I said (at the end of a longer quote), "There is no such thing as a pure collective there are, logically, only individual/collectives." (What I meant by 'pure collective' refers to that purely social holon Smith places at, say, level 8 standing holarchically above the individual at level 7 -- they can't be on the same level because that would make Wilber and me correct).

The only sense I can make of Smith's further comments here is that when I say "individual/collective" he understands the relation in holarchical and vertical terms whereas my precise point is that they are polar and horizontal (holonically interdependent at each level) so we can't properly map the individual at level 7 with the collective at level (or higher stage) 8!

This is a prime example of what I mean when I say I don't feel Gerry uses precise definitions. After reading the above passage, I'm still not sure what a pure collective is. But let me try to play with the term a little. Is there such a thing as a pure molecule or a pure tissue? From some points of view they seem to be discrete units; from other points of view, they are very much made up of the interactions of individual holon components. I suppose someone could say that there are logically only cells/tissues or atoms/molecules, not tissues or molecules. But look where this reasoning takes us. Logically, there are no cells, but only atoms/molecules/cells, and no atoms, but only quarks/electrons/atoms, and so forth. I think again it goes back to Gerry's idea of some holon's being informed by its member holons. I find the concept of informed, like that of pure collective, very vague, but whatever Gerry means by it, it applies to higher/lower level relationships (ones we all agree are higher/lower) throughout the holarchy, so it can't be used as an argument that societies are not higher than their individual members.

The point, to me, is that we can distinguish properties of molecules that no atom has (even though some atoms may partially realize them), and we can likewise distinguish properties of societies that no individual has. Whether these properties make a molecule or a society a pure collective is a matter of definition. It's not a matter of definition that societies can be placed above individuals with just as much justification as molecules above atoms. It's really a matter of evidence, a point I will now elaborate on.

In "Quadrants Re-instated", Gerry made one further argument against my claim that societies are higher than individuals. Specifically, he argued that the critierion of asymmetry did not necessarily imply this conclusion. I didn't address this claim in "Nothing Special", because I didn't understand it. It has taken me a long time to figure out what in the world he was talking about:

But I would answer that the criterion of what makes a modern kind of human (as a member of modern society) is different from the criterion which differentiates agentic and communal holons at the levels of atoms, molecules and cells. The lateral symmetry necessary to establish a horizontal relation between individual and social holons cannot then be simply applied to the particular hierarchic structuration of atom-in-molecule-in-cell. To use the molecule example, agentic and communal molecules exist at the same level so that some of them (the communal ones) will be wiped out by the elimination of all cells (because they only exist as such in cells), but some (the agentic ones) will remain at that subordinate level. But in the example of modern humans, there will be no humans remaining at that level -- only those humans at a subordinate level. It is not the case that communing humans alone will be wiped out leaving the agentic ones. Therefore Smith's logic does not prove that claiming symmetry between individual and social holons implies that no hierarchy can be found anywhere. To put all these cases into one category is to commit a category error. He is again, prima facie, defining the social holon strictly as the communions of individual holons

Well, I hate to engage in "tis, tisn't", but even before accusing me of "prima facie, defining the social holon strictly as the communions of individual holons", Goddard has brought in, prima facie, "the lateral symmetry necessary to define a horizontal relation between individual and social holons..." In other words, he seems to be presupposing that individual and social holons are at the same level, precisely what we are trying to determine. I'm sorry, Gerry, but there is no lateral symmetry between us. I'm not presupposing that the social holon is strictly the communions of individual holons--and even if I were, that would not be presupposing that social holons are higher than individual holons. That is to say, while I do believe that communions always lead to higher forms of life, I can get to higher forms without this assumption. It's only after I get there that I look back and say, yes, this is an implication of higher.

When Goddard says:

But in the example of modern humans, there will be no humans remaining at that level -- only those humans at a subordinate level. It is not the case that communing humans alone will be wiped out leaving the agentic ones.

he's presupposing the Wilber definition of levels, not mine. By my definition of levels there will be humans left on the same level, and by my definition of agency, these will be more agentic humans. But that's all right, I'm open to using Wilber's definitions, so that no one can accuse me of begging the question. If we want to use Wilber's definition of levels, however, we have to be consistent. Why has Wilber said that modern humans are at one level, but earlier humans are at a lower level (whereas I put them on different stages of the same level)? What specific properties of modern humans have indicated to him that they deserve to be ranked on a higher level? Whatever answer Wilber or Goddard comes up with to that question, I guarantee that by applying the logic behind that answer consistently to lower levels, we will come up with conclusion that agentic cells, for example, exist at a lower level than communal cells, or agentic atoms on a lower level than communal atoms1. Because as I have discussed elsewhere, the differences between communal and agentic cells are easily as great as the differences between modern humans and any other members of our species one wants to compare. Indeed, in my book Worlds within Worlds and other places, I make a point of emphasizing that agentic cells are lower forms of existence than communal ones, and I represent them on the same level of existence as the latter only because I make the distinction between levels and stages, with some individual holons on any level higher than others because of their participation in higher stages. Had I, like Wilber, not made this level/stage distinction, I would have put them on a lower level.

So go ahead, let's use the Wilber model and say that we eliminate all societies and we eliminate all human beings on that level. We eliminate all organisms and we eliminate all cells on that level. The cells remaining are not on that level. They have different chromosomes, different organelles, other different exterior properties, and though I can't prove it, I believe very different interior experiences. Therefore, organisms are societies of cells, no higher than their component cells. And we can apply the same logic all the way down, to show that cells or molecules are societies of atoms.

I have gone into some detail here, because in addition to disposing of any residual claims that societies are not higher than individuals, this argument, I believe, shows that not everything is a matter of "one's own terms which constitute the very point under debate". There is such a thing as evidence, which can be applied to anyone's terms. When I say that Ken Wilber's representation of different societies and their members on different levels is inconsistent with putting all cells on the same level, I'm not simply expressing an opinion. There is an enormous amount of scientific evidence to back up my claim that the kinds of cells that exist outside of organisms (eukaryotic, not to mention prokaryotic, which Ken does put on a different level) are at least as different from those that exist within organisms (particularly mammalian neurons) as human beings of earlier eras differed from us. Even Fred Kofman, who buys into the four-quadrant model without any significant reservations, admits that there are no scientifically detectable differences in many of the brain structures that Wilber is ranking on completely different levels. Wilber's SF1, SF2 and SF3 are all purely hypothetical.

I really believe that Gerry Goddard--along with Ken Wilber and everyone else who supports the four-quadrant model or some version of it--is desperate to prove that societies are no higher than individuals. They have so much at stake here (the integrity of the individual, in the classic Hollywood tradition!) that they simply can't admit that they're wrong, that a huge number of arguments--the ones Goddard has addressed are only the tip of the iceberg--don't simply indicate that societies are higher than individuals, but demonstrate that this siingle assumption results in a cascade of inconsistencies and incoherencies in the model. That's why Goddard grasps desperately at quantum phenomena as an explanation of emergent horizontal relationships, never mind that we could just as well apply the same explanation to any other relationships in the holarchy. That's why he tries to argue that human societies are ecosystems, even though Wilber himself doesn't take this view, and even though this view, too, leads to the conclusion that societies are higher than their members. And that's why he has finally come down to doing exactly what he has been accusing me of doing--and the argument still collapses. When one assumption causes so many diverse problems, it's time to abandon that assumption.

Comparison of Models

My paper "Who's Conscious" included a table in which I compared individual and social aspects of individual and social holons, in my model and Goddard's and Wilber"s. Gerry seems to think I misrepresented his views in some respects. I won't argue with this, since I did have some trouble trying to convert the terms in his model to the ones I was using. He certainly has the last word on what he means or would mean by individual and social aspects of individual and social dimensions. I will add that I agree with him that "agentic" is a better term than "individual". I used the latter term because Wilber uses it in his four-quadrant model, and since that model was the focus of my comparison, I wanted to retain the original terminology.

However, he also tries to correct my model, saying "He has thoughts only under his social interior (i.e. my communal individual interior), whereas they should be posted also under his individual interior." The way in which I define individual interior does not include thoughts. Thoughts in my model are a social property which individuals participate in, and so are social interior aspects of these individuals. Individual interior aspects refer to those properties not dependent on an individual holon's membership in a social holon, as thoughts clearly do.

This is all, of course, a good example, of how different definitions not only lead to different conclusions, but conclusions that can't even be properly compared. In retrospect, it probably was not a very good idea for me to try to interpret Goddard's model in a framework in which it could be more directly compared to mine, but as Gerry said, I gave it my best shot.

Another area of confusion is subject/subject perception,which we define very differently. Gerry says I was wrong to put it above subject/object perception. It's certainly above it using my definitions of these two terms. My understanding that it was also above it using his definition. He said, as I recall, that it was both above but also in horizontal relationship to subject/object perception. However, I can't find that passage now, so I will simply accept that I misunderstood Gerry here.


In "Quadrants Re-instated", Goddard said he found appeal to lower levels useless in understanding the transpersonal level. I thought at least some of his problem was that he was looking at these lower levels simply as exteriors. He now clarifies his view:

My conception is that the transpersonal levels are to be conceived as a Return arc where the Outward arc structures (shown in Wilbers 4-Quad) are integrated in a way fundamentally different from the way that, say, level 7 integrates level 6, or level 5 integrates level 4. So of course, the physical level model would, for me, be inadequate to map this particular transcendent integrative process where the archetypal and dialectical either/or which informed the levels of the Outward arc becomes a both/and -- an interpenetration of consciousness and unconscousness a la Washburn.

OK, now I understand his thinking here much better. However, I'm still not sure that the lower levels are irrelevant to our understanding of the transition to the transpersonal. If they are irrelevant, this would then be an example of where some level was indeed special, where some new principles or relationships were in operation that were not in operation on lower levels. But is that the case? Note, first, that the idea of a return complicates the Wilber model, and is found necessary, by Goddard, Washburn and others, in large part because as Goddard notes, the relationship between the transpersonal level and the levels below it seems very different from the relationship of the lower levels to each other.

All of this is avoided by accepting the ideas of stages. Then we see that what Wilber calls lower levels are in fact stages within the same level, and so are expected to have a different relationship to themselves from their relationship with the transpersonal, which is a higher level. As Goddard says, "the Outward arc structures...are integrated in a way fundamentally different from the way that, say, level 7 integrates level 6, or level 5 integrates level 4." I would say this is because levels 4-7 are stages, which transform, not transcend each other, whereas the higher Wilber level is a true level that transcends all the lower levels (to this extent, Goddard is correct when he says that I use the concept of vertical in two different senses).

Unlike Washburn, who developed his model because of certain psychological observations he felt did not fit the Wilber model, I came to this insight because on the two lower levels, the physical and biological, the distinction between transforming stages and transcending levels is very apparent. I simply extended this relationship to the our level, and came up with what I believe is a much easier way of understanding at least some of Washburn's observations. This is an example of what I mean when I contend that my model unifies and simplifies more than Wilber's does. I understand that someone is now working on a re-interpretation of Washburn's and Grof's ideas in light of my one-scale model. Stay tuned.


I found the following passage to be perhaps the most interesting and illuminating of any that I have seen in Goddard's dialogue with me:

When Andrew asks the question, "Why do we have private experience, that is, what purpose does it serve?", he poses a question that I would never ask; a question that is of scientific interest but certainly not the path of enquiry I tend to follow to arrive at any of my conclusions. (In fact I have trouble getting my head around it just as surely as Smith seems to have trouble getting his head around my holonic, archetypal, and dialectical polarities). While I do not reject science at all, I am approaching my modelling from a more theoretical perspective based on a concept of archetypal and dialectical polarities (reaching back to Plato, Hegel, Jung and in many ways to Wilber).

I don't think one has to be a scientist to want to know why certain forms of behavior evolved, or even to believe we can understand that behavior better if we have an answer to that question. This approach to inquiry is usually called evolutionary psychology, but it goes far beyond that particular discipline. Why do people meditate? Wouldn't anyone who wanted to understand spirituality want to ask that question? Wouldn't anyone who actually meditates want to ask that question? Isn't meditation itself a form of asking, and answering, that question?

This approach can certainly help us understand the holarchy, and I believe may make it possible for us to move on from the "personal terms" impasse. In Worlds, I pointed out that one way to understand the evolution of holarchy is that it's the most efficient way of using energy. By combining holons into larger holons, which in turn form still larger holons, life can build more complex forms with much less expenditure of energy than if the most fundamental holons were used all the way up. For example, cells synthesize large molecules not atom by atom, but by synthesizing small molecules, like amino acids, which are then put together into proteins, which are then put together into larger complexes, and so on.

By asking this question, what purpose does something serve, we not only gain insight into why holarchy has emerged, but why it has taken the form it has. As I discuss in "Excelsior", the answer to this question helps us understand why there are, according to my model, both stages and levels of existence. Stages of social holons are the most efficient means to build up complexity, but levels of individual holons are the only kind that can reproduce themselves and so exist autonomously. I believe that by not simply proposing a model of holarchy, but showing why the kind of organization that model posits should emerge, the case for that particular model is greatly strengthened. This takes us beyond simply classification, which--as so much of my dialogue with Gerry demonstrates--is inherently somewhat arbitrary, and allows the model to be tested and compared more rigorously with alternative models. And I don't just mean other "scientific" models. If there is any scientific concept that is accepted in some form by everyone in the tradition that Gerry follows, it's energy.

In any case, just as Gerry doesn't reject science, I don't reject other approaches, though as I said earlier, I think all valid inquiry is scientific in the broadest sense, that is, in employing the strands of knowledge acquisition discussed by Wilber and elaborated for example in an article by Mark Edwards at this site. This means that at some point claims have to be backed up by evidence of some kind. This evidence doesn't have to be molecular, or cellular, or physiological. I accept evidence in the form of certain kinds of experiences, even if these may be more difficult to validate. But when Gerry says he bases his model on "archetypal and dialectical polarities", I want some evidence that these polarities are horizontal in nature--that they have to be understood in this way. When he defines subject/subject knowing as

the way we know another beyond or behind the surface experience of him or her as an object; it is a co-presence of being, a harmonic resonance of being more primal than verbal communication, an 'in-synchness', an intuitive way of knowing.

I want to know how this is different from the experience of higher consciousness, and if it is, what the evidence is for this kind of knowing. When he says there is no such thing as a pure collective, and claims that:

individual organisms are indeed interacting, but they are also features of time-space physical and biospheric fields which suggest a 'social holon' which indeed is not reducible to individual holons interacting

I want to see the evidence for these fields.


1. Goddard's example of communal and agentic molecules doesn't apply here, because molecules are not individual holons in my model. One reason I don't classify them as individual holons is precisely because they don't exist outside of cells, in an agentic form. There are virtually no autonomous molecules in nature, except for very simple ones that exhibit a very low degree of emergence above their component atoms. But if one wanted to persist in this argument, anyway, the holarchical differences between these very simple molecules (e.g., water, carbon dioxide) and those found in cells (proteins, DNA) are even greater than the differences between agentic and communal cells, or the differences between any members of Homo sapiens.

Comment Form is loading comments...