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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

A Brief History
of Integral World

Part V: Confronting a New World-Order

Frank Visser

These two contradictory narratives can be formulated in their strongest ("steelmanning") and their weaker ("strawmanning") forms.

Since our last installment, Part 4 of "A Brief History of Integral World", which was published in March 2021, over 200 new essays were submitted and have been published. Time to take stock again. By far the most frequent contributor was Joseph Dillard, with over 40 essays. Not only related to the Ukraine war (more on that below), but also with whole series on polycentrism (or multi-perspectivalism) and on emerging worldviews. Other well known Integral World authors (Corbett, Benjamin, Visser and Reynolds) sent in between 15 and 25 essays. And then there were occasional contributions by oldtimers David Lane, Peter Collins, Jeff Meyerhoff and Ray Harris, but also a few newcomers, Brent May and Jan Krikke. And in the summer of 2023, AI made huge inroads into the Integral World website, mostly due to my own fascination—some would say infatuation—with ChatGPT.

2022: The War in Ukraine

As if a worldwide pandemic in 2020-21 wasn't enough, the years ahead would shake the world even more. In February 2022 Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine in a "special military operation", and this fact generated a plethora of essays on Integral World, leading up to no less than 38 newsletters filled with war-related content. Joseph Dillard started with a provocative essay called "Is Putin red and the West green?", reversing the conventional good guy/bad guy scenario. Where the mainstream media fully support Ukraine in its defense against an aggressive neighbour, which seemed to violate its own principle to respect the borders of nations, contrarian voices could also be heard. Was NATO expansion and US manipulation a key factor in triggering this disaster? Or was Putin trying to restore the greatness of the Russian Empire by rewriting history to his own liking? Obviously, two narratives clashed here that did not tolerate any middle ground. Yet, we decided to explore this explosive territory head-on.

These two contradictory narratives can be formulated in their strongest ("steelmanning") and their weaker ("strawmanning") forms. Let's try this as an example:

Steelmanning the Russo-Ukrainian War
Mainstream narrative Contrarian narrative
Ukraine wants to align with Europe, which Russia doesn't allow. It invaded Ukraine under false pretext. Ukraine needs all the support from the West it can get. Russia needs to be defeated. Russia felt threatened by NATO expansion and the re-orientation of Ukraine towards the West. It wants to protect the Russian Donbas population and aims at a more multipolar world order.

This is how the opposing views are usually formulated:

Strawmanning the Russo-Ukrainian War
Mainstream narrative Contrarian narrative
Putin wants to restore the greatness of the Russian empire, by founding an authoritarian theocracy, eventually leading to an Eurasian expansion and a demise of the US hegemony. Ukraine has been the victim of a US-lead coup which goes against the population and can be characterized by militarism, nazism and satanism; thoroughly decadent and nihilistic.

The integral view naturally aligns with the mainstream narrative. Ukraine is seen as taking the bold and risky step from a former Soviet-dominated country to a true democracy, with multiple parties and fair elections. Russia is depicted as authoritarian and fiercely anti-modern, celebrating the values of family, army and religion. Orange/Green seems to be at war with Blue/Red, following Spiral Dynamics. How is this different from "our system is best"? And wouldn't Russia feel the same?

Dissenters from the mainstream narrative are usually accused of being Putin-lovers, but that need not be the case (although it sometimes is). Some are just deeply worried that a further escalation of this conflict can lead to WWIII (Chomsky being one of them). More often than not, the arguments are a mix of truth and propaganda, on both sides of the battle field. But what definitely does not help is exchange the mainstream habit of black-and-white thinking in which Russia is all-bad and the US/West is innocent, for the opposite version, in which the US/West is an all-bad Empire and Russia just has good intentions. That is going to the opposite extreme. Disentangling these tropes has been the goal of the many essays that can be found on "Thoughts About the Ukraine Crisis".

2023: AI has come of age

More recently I have started to experiment with ChatGPT, one of the popular applications using artificial intelligence to "converse" with human beings in natural language. This opened the opportunity to go back to the ground covered in the past decades on Integral World by human authors, some of which have been very productive indeed, and see what digital agents can offer by wading through billions of web pages on the internet. Originally, my expectations were not very high. When I started to test the first public versions of Bing Chat and ChatGPT (and later Google's Bard), the results more often than not were embarrassing. When sources were provided to back up the statements made by these bots, the URLs provided often were either wrong or irrelevant. What's going on here? But when I started to query ChatGPT for more abstract topics, such as global warming, the nature of evolution or metamodernism, it turned out to be a valuable resource.

This enthousiasm was not shared by most of the main authors of Integral World, to my honest surprise. The texts spit out by the bot in a matter of seconds were considered to be dull, non-human, without emotion or pedantic. But that was exactly what I had in mind. We have had emotional exchanges back and forth, with many repetitive moves, during many years, and even though I enjoyed taking part in these, there comes a time that one longs to more factual, matter-of-fact like expositions of the often multifaceted subjects we tried to cover.

This too can be captured in the following diagrams:

Steelmanning the use of Artificial Intelligence
Human Intelligence Artificial Intelligence
Essays written by human intelligence are engaging, original and well-referenced. Essays generated by artificial intelligence are more objective and informative.

Of course, this case can not only be steelmanned, but also strawmanned:

Strawmanning the use of Artificial Intelligence
Human Intelligence Artificial Intelligence
Essays written by human intelligence are often too biased and emotional. Essays generated by artificial intelligence are boring and off-putting.

See what I mean? In both cases it is so easy to slip into polarized thinking about complex matters such as war or of emerging technologies such as AI that may transform our economy. We need to be a bit more discerning to make the best use of both. You can check out for yourself if the (62 and counting) AI-generated essays (or "conversations") are useful or not on the page "My Interview Sessions with ChatGPT", later renamed to "My Conversations with the Bot" (paraphrasing the New Age bestseller "Conversations with God").

Miscellaneous Topics

The fact that AI seems to some to have overtaken Integral World (or shall we say it was a "coup"?) should not withhold anyone to submit essays written in the good old-fashioned way. That goes without saying. All the more so if you dislike the current technological turn. To those cynics who say "what has all this to do with Wilber and integral?" I would suggest: a lot has already been said, and more than most are willing to tolerate. The Integral landscape has diversified considerably, with Integral Life, Integral Stage, Integral Global and Integral World. Who knows, new perspectives on old topics are always possible, as the essays on metamodernism or kosmic dynamics clearly demonstrate. Integral World remains a platform for critical reflection on all things integral, perhaps more than the other avenues. All contributions since March 2021 can be found on the "What's New?" page—they defy easy categorization. They range from vaccination, perspectives, emerging worldviews, multi-perspectivalism, integral cosmology, some left-overs from the pandemic, geopolitics, science mysteries, Adi Da Samraj and Donald Trump.

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