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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

The Linguistic Uncertainty Relation

About the Orientational Value of Fundamental Dualisms
in the Work of Ken Wilber

Dennis Wittrock

I recently thought up some, in my opinion, interesting ideas while pondering upon the inescapably dualistic nature of language. Especially in his earlier books, Wilber puts a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the articulation of verbal and conceptual expressions is only possible under the spell of dualisms. In language, he says, it is impossible for us to escape those dualistic pairs mutually causing and determining each other in the first place. Our language is the conceptual framework with which we cover the undivided reality, abstract some apects and verbally separate them from each other.

This here is "left" and that here is "right". Whooooosh immediately a conceptual gap is created, reaching from one end of the Kosmos to the other end and cutting it into two halves, one of which is labeled "left" and one of which is labeled "right". That only happens in our own imagination, of course, but it takes an inspection of the mind by means of the mind in other words: a self-referential mind - to recognize and understand this conceptual character of imagination. Otherwise, the mind is moving within its own abstractions without knowing THAT it is using language in this way, looking at the world through conceptual glasses while ignoring the fact that it is wearing these glasses - and without even knowing that its view is distorted. It appears to be characteristic of mature vision-logic that concepts become transparent to themselves (think, i.e., of Hegel and Jean Gebser's Transparenz [transparency]).

As soon as the mind is becoming aware of language as language, this inevitably leads to contextual thinking. While grasping any event verbally, contextual thinking is always aware of the fact that it can only express one choice among many possible alternatives (necessarily leaving several others unexpressed). With contextual thinking, a person is aware that it is impossible to express absolute meaning (because this whole context is again only a part of the next, holarchically deeper context) and that the overall language-business has to remain an infinitely receding regress of patchworks. This may occassionally lead to the burning desire to overcome the conceptual mind and its inherent duality (by progressing to the nondual wave).

My first central thesis is that integral theory, as formulated by Wilber, leads to an increased awareness of the Fundamental Dualisms of the conceptual mind. Wilber pushes language to its extreme limits. Again and again, he points to the magical border of the unspeakable impossible to cross with mere words. What are these Fundamental Dualisms? Quite simple: inside and outside, individual and collective, whole and part. In Wilber's model, these Fundamental Dualisms constitute the Four Quadrants and Holons.

Wilber approaches this unsurmountable borderline as closely as possible - by making these fundamental decisions (that establish fundamental perspectives on reality) - to bring orientation into thinking. And that brings about this is my second central thesis the enormous orientational value these Fundamental Dualisms release within the framework of integral meta-theory. Within such a theory, it is unavoidable to ask yourself the following questions: "Am I referring to the inside or to the outside perspective of this event? Am I speaking about it in individual or collective terms? Am I focusing on the whole-aspect or on the part-aspect of this occasion?" You are getting clear about on which side of the dualistic equation you are focusing in any particular moment, well aware that there is still the other side and fully accepting that within any linguistic framework, it is literally impossible to focus on both sides at the same time.

This seems to be analogous to quantum physics and to Heisenberg's uncertainty relation. Heisenberg found out that you can clearly focus on the position or on the speed of quantum particles, but never on both at the same time. The choice of the conceptual "glasses" (focus on position or focus on speed) has a direct impact on the results of the experimental inquiry. The merely reflecting observer of pregiven reality the "mirror-of-nature"-paradigm soon became obsolete. Reality changes due to our experimental inquiries. Thus, modern physics was thrown back at its own previously unquestioned conceptual premises.

In analogy to this quantum-theory of modern physics, one could think of Wilber's philosophy as a kind of integral quantum-semiotics. Semiotics is the theory of signs, and for Wilber integral semiotics means a semiotic theory based on the AQAL model (signifiers UR, signifieds UL , syntax LR, semantics LL, combined with at least ten levels of conciousness). According to my view, the Fundamental Dualisms inside and outside, individual and collective, whole and part are unavoidable and irreducible quantums of thinking. Within the noosphere, these quantums constitute everything else, while they themselves cannot be avoided.

In other words: you can't think any simpler than Wilber does which is meant as a compliment, not as an insult J. His Fundamental Dualisms are the bottom line of anything that can be reasonably asserted. What do we do without them ? Right - absolutely nothing. Therefore, reality "jumps" into one of the four quadrants and presents itself as holarchical through and through whenever we focus a little bit closer. Holons are nothing else than abrupt quantum-jumps within the part/whole duality according to the measure and focus of our own thinking. The alteration of measurement and focus enacts and co-creates an accordingly different reality.

Reality is co-created by the observer, and this process of creation can only manifest itself within duality as duality. Integral theory is a massive inquiry into the nature of reality - and therefore also a massive co-creation of reality. It is Spirit-in-Action. It is the paradigm shift from the "mirror-of-nature"-paradigm (subject passively reflecting objective reality) to the paradigm of enactment (subject enacting and co-creating reality), as discussed in Sex, Ecology, Sprituality. The latter paradigm is again structured in a contextual manner, because in order to interpret the result of any inquiry, it is necessary to consider the subjective, objective, intersubjective and interobjective contexts in all four quadrants.

I once showed the four quadrant map to one of my philosophy professors. She said: "This model has no explicative value at all. It arranges the different scientific disciplines within its framework, but it doesn't explain how these different perspectives actually relate." I pondered quite a while upon that. Although Wilber indicates numerous correlations between the four quadrants, the actual nature of the connection between them remains unseen. They still stand somehow apart from each other. And although he repeatedly mentions their close interrelationship and tetra-evolution, it seems as if they are still separated.

I think that the quadrants are truly irreconcilable for the simple reason that they are always already ONE. The four quadrant model is an extremely useful combination of Fundamental Dualisms that constitute four possible fundamental combined perspectives on undivided, nondual reality - advanced conceptual glasses with an "integral multiperspective-lense". When you put on those glasses, the four lenses constantly shift to enable a smooth change of perspective as comfortably as possible.

Or picture these glasses as two four-sided pyramidal prisms with their tips pointing in the direction of the world. You can easily keep a complete view, but as soon as you focus in order to see the details more clearly, your gaze rests in one of the four quadrants. You can focus on any other quadrant at any time you wish (that is the big advantage of this new type of glasses), but then you necessarily leave out the other three quadrants. And while taking the complete view of the scenery, the conceptual refractive lines are catching the eye in an unaesthetical manner.

Don't get me wrong: I am a keen supporter of this model for the simple reason I believe it is the best dualistic outlook on reality currently available. In my opinion, these integral glasses are a big evolutionary step forward compared to glasses with only one lense (e.g. UR only - atomistic scientism, or LR only holistic scientism) or compared to glasses with fractured lenses (aperspectival madness).

Fortunately, integral theory does not only cover ALL QUADRANTS, but also ALL LEVELS. That way, Wilber reminds us that there were times when we didn't wear conceptual glasses at all (prerational waves) and that we won't always be confined to wear those glasses (transrational waves).

What a relief! With those huge integral monster-glasses you sometimes look like a complete idiot whose head gets dragged down to earth by the weight of the lense-construction a little"heavy-headed", if you will. We can take those glasses off - but as soon as we try to do so, we lose our grip and lose our hands in no-thingness. Suddenly we realize there isn't anybody who is wearing glasses - only our own original face as transparent clarity, right from the onset.

Dennis Wittrock ; [email protected]

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