Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ken Wilber - Response to Critical Theory in Defense of Integral Theory

Apparently the long drought of new writing from integral philosopher Ken Wilber has come to an end, which can only mean his health has improved considerably - that alone is great news. He says he has completed Sex, Karma, Creativity, which is volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy, first volume being Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1996).

These pieces are two long endnotes, and one excerpt, written "in response to recent articles on Critical Theory and Integral Theory, and, while appreciating certain aspects of Critical Theory, come out strongly in favor of Integral Theory." As Bruce Alderman mentions in his post about these new excerpts, Wilber likely means "critical realism" in his title, which is a very different thing than critical theory.

For clarity, critical realism "highlights a mind-dependent aspect of the world, which reaches to understand (and comes to understanding of) the mind independent world." Wilber's main point here, with which I disagree, is that CR in hardly integral because he denies the role of consciousness in the evolution of the universe - he describes the CR position as "ripping consciousness out of the Kosmos and leaving “the real” to be merely a denuded “ontology”."

What fails to be mentioned here is that we can combine CR philosophy - the idea that there is an ontologically "real" universe out there, the mind independent world - with the fields of emergence and complex adaptive systems, thereby removing the anthropocentric necessity of consciousness being an organizing principle of the universe.


January 17th, 2013

The following are two long endnotes, and one excerpt, from my recently finished book, Sex, Karma, Creativity, which is volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy, whose first volume is Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. They were written, in part, in response to recent articles on Critical Theory and Integral Theory, and, while appreciating certain aspects of Critical Theory, come out strongly in favor of Integral Theory. –Ken Wilber

Chapter “Individual and Social,” endnote 4:

[1] 4. Integral Theory (IT) and Critical Realism (CR) share many items in common, but there are some deep differences as well. To begin with, Critical Realism separates epistemology and ontology, and makes ontology the level of the “real”; whereas, for Integral Theory, epistemology and ontology cannot so be fragmented and fractured, but rather are two correlative dimensions of every Whole occasion (part of the tetra-dimension of every holon). Realism maintains that there are ontological realities that are not dependent upon humans or human theories—including much of the level of the “real”—including items such as atoms, molecules, cells, etc.—and IT agrees, with one important difference: IT is panpsychic (a term I’m not fond of, preferring “pan‑interiorist,” meaning all beings have interiors or proto-consciousness, a la Whitehead, Peirce, Leibnitz, etc.)—to wit, atoms do not depend upon being known by humans, but they do depend upon being known by each other. The “prehension” aspect of atoms (proto-knowing, proto-feeling, proto-consciousness) helps to co-enact the being or ontology aspect of the atoms for each other—their own epistemology and ontology are thus inseparable and co-creative. The atom’s prehension is part of its very ontology (and vice versa), and as each atom prehends its predecessor, it is instrumental in bringing it forth or enacting it, just as its own being will depend in part on being prehended/known/included by its own successor. If, for the moment, we leave Quantum Mechanics out of the picture (see below), none of this depends on humans for its existence or being, and yet the atom’s prehension-feeling-knowing is an intrinsic part of this level of the “real.” Consciousness is not something that can be sucked out of being to leave an awareness-free “ontology” lying around waiting to be known by some other sentient being; consciousness, rather, goes all the way down, and forms part of the intrinsic awareness and intrinsic creativity of each ontological being or holon. Whitehead’s “ultimate category”—namely, “the creative advance into novelty”—is part of the prehension of each and every being in existence, and the creative-part cannot be ripped from the being‑part without severe violence. To postulate the most fundamental level of reality as merely ontology—being without knowing or consciousness or creativity—is basically a 1st-tier move that shatters the Wholeness of this and every real occasion.

Likewise, spiritual transcendence (Eros) reaches all the way down as well. In IT’s neoWhiteheadian view, each new moment comes to be as a subject (with all 4 quadrants), and it prehends (tetra-prehends) its predecessor, which is now an object (in all 4 quadrants) for this new subject. The new subject “transcends and includes” the old subject (now as object), and thus they mutually co-create each other: the old subject that is now object and is included in the new subject helps shape the new subject itself, by the simple fact of being included in it, actually embraced by it, and thus to some degree determining it. Likewise, the new subject, in including the old subject, is instrumental in bringing it forth or enacting it, co-creating its very being as a new object as it does so—and the new subject then adds its own degree of creativity, consciousness, or novelty, and thus actually co-creates a new being in the very act of prehensive unification. This “transcend and include” goes all the way down to the smallest micro‑subatomic particles, and all way through the actual meso developmental levels (where, as Kegan puts it for human development, “the subject of one level becomes the object of the subject of the next”—which is the meso view of Whitehead’s prehension—namely, that “the subject of this moment becomes the object of the subject of the next”—but acting now on a larger, higher, more complex, more conscious level), and all the way to the macro practices of meditation, where transcendence is the overall goal and occurs through the objectification of state-stages from gross to subtle to causal to True Self to ultimate Spirit (with each state-stage transcending and including its predecessor—the subject of one becoming the object of the next). This Eros (which certainly can be viewed as spiritual) is a primary driver of evolution itself, starting all the way back with the Big Bang and all the way through to ultimate Enlightenment. As Erich Jantsch put it, evolution is “self-organization through self-transcendence,” and that “transcend and include” is the very form of the moment-to-moment unfolding of reality.

Further, what CR describes as “real”—or “the intransitive level”—is actually and mostly turquoise reality. This is not the same “real” that is found at the red level, the amber level, the orange level, the green level, or the indigo level. If CR described what it meant by “ontology” to someone at red, they would flatly disagree, with CR’s version of ontology being “over their heads.” In fact, what most sophisticated thinkers today call “ontology” is actually the turquoise level of being-consciousness—and not as a mere description, but a real ontic-epistemic structure of the universe. These levels of being-consciousness are not just levels of a human being, but levels of the Kosmos itself (and those different levels are different worlds!). So I am certainly not saying that this “turquoise reality” or ontology isn’t real, only that it is inseparable from the prehensive-knowing-consciousness of the turquoise level of being-consciousness itself. There is no way around this—precisely because of panpsychism (such as subscribed to by Leibnitz, Whitehead, or Peirce). The turquoise level looks at the atomic level, the molecular level, the cellular biological level, etc., and concludes they have a reality in and of themselves—an ontology—but not only is it describing those levels as what they look like from turquoise—even if we ignore that part—they are overlooking the prehensive-consciousness-knowing dimension of the atoms, molecules, and cells themselves, an epistemic dimension that co-creates the ontic dimension with the being aspect of those holons (and vice versa)—again, epistemology and ontology are two different dimensions of the same Wholeness of the real occasion, and cannot be fragmented without genuine violence to the Kosmos.

Thus, for example, take molecules during the magic era. “Molecules” did not “ex-ist” (meaning, “stand out”) anywhere in the magic world—there was nothing in the consciousness of individuals at magic that corresponded with “molecules.” But we moderns—we at turquoise—assume that the molecules existed nonetheless—if they didn’t ex-ist, they did what we might call subsist (I agree). This is similar to CR’s transitive (ex-ist) and intransitive (subsist)—with one major exception: as noted, IT is panpsychic—epistemology and ontology—consciousness and being—cannot be torn asunder. What we call “pre-human ontology” is actually a pre-human sentient holon’s epistemic-ontic Wholeness, and not merely a disembodied, floating, “view-from-nowhere” ontology. A molecule’s prehension-knowing-proto-feeling is an inseparable part of its being-ontological makeup at the molecular level, and both are necessary to co-create each other. Ignoring prehension (and consciousness) just leaves ontology-being for the molecule, and epistemology-consciousness is just given to humans (or higher mammals), not to all sentient beings—they only get being, not knowing. But if a human consciousness-knowing is not involved in co-creating the ontology of atoms, molecules, or cells, their own consciousness-prehension is involved, all the way down (a la Peirce and Whitehead).

Further, when we actually get down to explaining what this subsistence reality is—the “real”—it changes with each new structure (red, amber, orange, green, etc.). What we glibly call “atoms” ex-ist at orange; those become sub-subatomic particles at green (mesons, bosons, gluons, etc.); those become 8-fold-way quarks at teal; those become 11-dimensional strings at turquoise. We can’t say what the atomic level is except from some structure of being-consciousness, and each structure discloses a new ontology, a new world. (That ontology is there, is real, but is co-created by the prehensive holons at that level.) Again, this is not to reduce ontology to epistemology, but rather claim they are complementary aspects of the same Whole occasion. (In short, I disagree with both Kant and Bhaskar—or I agree with them both, depending on how you look at it.)

This reminds me of Varela and Maturana’s brilliant analysis of the world (the “reality”) of a frog. Prior to Varela and Maturana, most biologists followed some form of eco-systems theory and described the reality of the frog as existing in various systems of nature. But Varela and Maturana pointed out that that was actually what the frog’s reality looked like from the scientist’s point of view, but not from the frog’s. The frog’s “view from within” (zone #1) consisted only of various patches of color and motion, smells and sounds; it did not have the cognitive capacity to stand outside itself and picture the entire system of which it was a part—only the scientist did that (using zone #8). Reality, for the frog, was the immediate view from zone #1, and the best the scientist could do was attempt to capture that using zone #5—a 3p x 1-p x 3p—namely, the objective scientist, while studying an objective organism (3p), attempts to take the organism’s “view from within” or “biological phenomenology” (1-p)—two phrases Varela often used. Varela pointed out that this “view from within” was not the actual 1st-person view of the frog itself that the scientist is directly observing (that would be the frog’s zone #1), but the exterior version of the frog’s inner view (or zone #5; i.e., the view from the inside of the UR, not the inside of the UL). The point is that the frog enacts its own reality—its own epistemology or consciousness brings forth and co-creates its own ontology or world (the closest to which the scientist can get is zone #5)—and the scientist himself likewise enacts, or can enact, his own view of the frog’s reality, which many scientists believe is generally a systems view (#zone 8), but more truthfully is a zone #5 version. But in both cases, the being and knowing are two dimensions of the same actual occasion, whatever it is. But merely using a systems view is a deeply anthropocentric view of the frog’s real world, and claiming to know the frog’s actual world (zone #1) by using the scientist’s tools (zone #8) does grave violence to the frog’s actual interior.

Thus, according to IT, the level of the “real” described by CR doesn’t exist as CR describes it. Rather, in IT’s view, in actuality it is either the product of both the prehensive-feeling-knowing plus holonic-being-isness of each of the holons at the particular level of the real being described (e.g., quarks, atoms, molecules, genetics) and their relations—all of which are tetra-enacted and tetra-evolved; and/or it is the result of the way the world emerges and is tetra-enacted at and from a particular level of consciousness-being (e.g., turquoise) of the scientist. In the latter case, the real is not created by its mere description by the particular level of consciousness-being, but rather actually emerges as a level of the real with the emergence of the deep structures of the particular level of being-consciousness. (Again, these levels of being-consciousness are not just levels of human beings but levels of the real Kosmos.) These levels of being-consciousness (red, amber, orange, green, turquoise, et.) are not different interpretations of a one, single, pregiven reality or world, but are themselves actually different worlds in deep structure (an infrared world, a red world, an amber world, an orange world, a green world, a turquoise world, etc., each of which is composed of Nature’s or Kosmic habits tetra-created by the sentient holons at those levels, as are atomic, molecular, cellular, etc. worlds).

The deep structures of these worlds are the nondual epistemic-ontic Whole occasions, but this doesn’t prevent them from being fallible when it comes to humans’ attempts at disclosing and discovering and describing the real characteristics of the Whole; i.e., the surface epistemic-ontic approaches are fallible (which is one of the reasons that multiple methodologies—epistemologies that co-enact and co-create correlative ontologies—and vice versa)—are so important: the more methodologies used, the likelier the deeper Wholeness (the deeper unity of being-consciousness) will be accurately disclosed and enacted in more of its dimensions.

These deep features of the real are—a la Peirce—not eternal pregiven realities of a one world, but Nature’s habits that have been engraved in the universe through the interaction of semiotic-sentient beings (that go all the way down—including quarks and atoms—which is why there are proto-conscious-feeling-knowing beings present from the start to actually create habits—they are living and conscious beings capable of forming habits!—instead of prehension-free ontologies that have no living choices, and thus must blindly obey laws, something both Peirce and I, among others, find unintelligible. Further, according to Peirce, it is the fact that each semiotic being—all the way down—has in its tripartite makeup an interpretant that means the holon’s being is determined in part by interpretation, all the way down—and this, he says, is “inescapable”).

Which brings us to another point. Originally, CR was created as a way to explain and justify the results of scientific experiments (as Karl Popper asked, paraphrasing, “How is it that science actually works? It works because there is a real ontology that can rebuff it”). But it is not clear at all that the types of realities disclosed by science and scientific experiments are the same ones that work with morals, hermeneutics, aesthetics, and introspection, to name a few of the multiple methodologies that exist out there and address different object domains and zones. To claim that only scientific experiments give “real” results is perilously close to scientism, and simply adding other disciplines on top of science is actually to reduce those dimensions to merely scientific methodology itself. Reducing all dimensions to science certainly strikes me as being far from an integral move. I am much more satisfied with the (at least) 8 fundamental methodologies that disclose different object domains (and whose injunctions or paradigms enact or bring forth or co-create those various domains, which, again, are not just lying around out there waiting to be stumbled on by a scientific methodology—that belief is what Sellars calls “the myth of the given.”)

(More recently, Bhaskar has introduced spiritual realities and consciousness into his scheme. But dumping consciousness on top of an ontological scheme that was developed without it is, well, cheating. The whole scheme has to be done over, using consciousness as an intrinsic part of the scheme from the very beginning, and not simply importing it after the scheme has been developed without it. The chances that the scheme will have anything real to do with actual consciousness is slim indeed, as consciousness becomes a dues ex machina to the main frame.)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly mention the claims made on behalf of Quantum Mechanics (QM), which has, if nothing else, been taken as the most successfully precise scientific model ever invented (one estimate put it at a million times more precise than Newtonian physics). The central concern of QM centers around what is called the “collapse of the wave packet” (which means, simplistically, this: around 1925-6, both Heisenberg and Schroedinger came up with a set of mathematical equations describing the existence of a subatomic particle. Heisenberg’s was a complicated S‑matrix equation, and Schroedinger’s a simpler calculus wave. They were quickly shown to be interchangeable in results, and thus Schroedinger’s wave equation, being the simpler of the two, soon became the standard form of QM—“the collapse of the wave packet” refers to the collapse of Schroedinger’s wave equation version). Max Planck (who had introduced the quantum revolution in 1905 by suggesting that energy does not come in a continuum but rather exists in discrete packets or quanta) noticed that if you take the square of the results of the Schroedinger equation, you would get the probability of the specific location (and/or a set of other characteristics) of the particle in question (but you get only two characteristics at a time—and—the catch—the more you find of one, the less you can find of the other). The results of this inability to determine both variables was able to be put in a precise form as what became famously known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which basically brought an end to strict causality in the physical sciences (and presumably removed “causality” from the Realists level of the “real”). But the real kicker came from the fact that, prior to actually measuring the particle to gain some information about it, the particle existed only as a probability—you literally couldn’t say it existed or it didn’t exist. Moreover, the type of measurement that you performed on the particle determined the type of being that you actually evoked—different measuring methods gave you different beings with different qualities. This lead John Wheeler to say that we lived in a “participatory-observation” universe. QM has now been found applicable in scales from the very smallest to the very largest, as well as in brain interactions, biology, etc., and remains, for what it does, “the most successful physical theory of all time.”

What is remarkable about this theory is how firmly it unites epistemology and ontology—the two, in fact, co-evoke each other. A different epistemology brings forth a different ontology, and a different ontology will correlate with a specific and different epistemology—each of them, as it were, bringing forth the correlative dimension (or co-creating it).

I don’t want to over-emphasize the role of QM in Integral Theory. I do want to point out, however, that—starting with Karl Popper—the role of science in CR has been pervasive, but science has been changing in profound ways that CR seems not to have kept up with. If ever there was a case of “means of knowing” governing in many ways “modes of being,” QM is it, undeniably. And given that QM is the most successful physical theory in history, one’s “ontology” should probably line up with it.

I might mention that it’s not just the existence of the 4 quadrants that is important—many theorists include the 4 quadrants—but rather their being 4 different dimensions of the same occasion, moment to moment, that is distinctive with IT. The 4 quadrants, further, go all the way down, and this means that consciousness itself goes all the way down, as in intrinsic part of the very fabric of the Kosmos itself. This is what sets Integral Theory apart from so many other theories. Aspects of consciousness—which itself is primarily an opening or clearing in which subjective and objective phenomena can emerge—include:

—creativity (as part of the very opening in which newness and novelty can appear, and the means by which it can appear)

—an automatic epistemic-prehension of the preceding moment (which co-creates or helps bring forth the being or ontology of the present moment—its being “grasped” is what brings it forth, and its being prehended by an interpretant, a la Peirce, is what gives the unavoidable interpretive twist to its being)

—while, at the same time, the include part (of transcend and include) means the previous moment, once subject but now object of the new subject, is included or literally taken into the being of the new subject, thus altering the new subject’s very being or ontology in the specific act of inclusion—again, epistemology-consciousness and holonic-being are co-creative and co-determining as two aspects of the Whole real occasion. Sucking epistemic-consciousness-feeling out of the holon, leaving only its dead and denuded being or ontology is effectively to kill the being in question, and anthropocentrically to transfer all the epistemic-knowing-feeling-consciousness dimensions to humans alone, who then propose theories about this denuded level of being that they call “the real.” This is tragic.

—also, as regards the “include” part of “transcend and include”—while the transcend part is Eros, or Spirit-in-action (or Spirit-in-self-organization), and is injecting Spiritual creativity into every moment (thus making evolution “self-organization through self-transcendence,” as Erich Jantsch put it)—while that is happening, the include part is taking care of those aspects generally known as “causality” and induction. If the degree of creativity or novelty in a holon-being is extremely small (as with, say, a quark), then the previous moment’s including component will be by far the strongest determinant of the new subject, and the new subject will seem completely deterministic (having little creativity to counter the causality). But Whitehead points out that no being’s creativity is absolutely zero, only vanishingly small, and thus strict determinism or strict causality doesn’t exist (the same as maintained by QM). Further, the higher on the Great Nest that a holon appears, the more novelty and creativity it possesses—so a physicist can predict where Uranus will be, more or less, a 1000 years from now, but no biologist can tell you where my dog will be 1 minute from now. But for those holon-beings with little creativity, the “transcend and include” mechanics accounts for an answer to Hume’s critique of both causality and induction (i.e., accounts for their existence, even as both become less and less the higher the degree of development and evolution).

I do want to repeat that there is much in CR that I appreciate. I particularly appreciate having an ally against the relativism of extreme postmodernism (even if, alas, I still find problems in how CR goes about doing this, by ripping consciousness out of the Kosmos and leaving “the real” to be merely a denuded “ontology”). But its heart is in the right place, one might say, and Bhaskar himself is a truly extraordinary human being, and everything a philosopher should be, in my humble opinion (it reminds me, somewhat grandiosely, I guess, of what Habermas said about Foucault after their famous meeting—“He’s a real philosopher”—praise indeed from Habermas). The funny thing is, several theorists have pointed out how CR and IT can be brought into general (and even quite close) agreement, with a few fundamental changes: me, accept ontology as “the real”; and CR, accepting epistemic-ontic as correlative dimensions of the same actual Wholeness of sentient holons going all the way down. As I read CR, I keep seeing it subtly—very subtly—reducing everything to ultimate anchorage in the essentially prehension-free Right-Hand quadrants (and I’m sure CR sees IT as subtly reducing everything to the Left-Hand quadrants). But my position is, and remains, that all 4 quadrants are equally real, equally present, tetra-enacting, and tetra-evolving, and anything less than that (along with levels, lines, states, and types, fulcrums and switch-points, Integral Methodological Pluralism, and Integral Post-Metaphysics) can scarcely be called “integral.”
Read the other two excerpts, beginning here.

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