Sunday, March 6, 2011

The embodied challenge

Here's another oldie but goodie from the IPS thread by this name, excerpts following:

Lakoff & Johnson, in Philosophy of the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999), make some bold statements that challenge many of our preconceived assumptions about not only spirituality but the very nature of consciousness itself. Often for us integralists the latter is intimately tied to the former, as if through consciousness or awareness practice we attune into the nature of existence. Here is their challenge:

“The very existence of the cognitive unconscious…has important implications for the practice of philosophy. It means that we can have no direct conscious awareness of most of what goes on in our minds. The idea that pure philosophical reflection can plumb the depths of human understanding is an illusion. Traditional methods of philosophical analysis alone, even phenomenological introspection, cannot come close to allowing us to know our own minds.

“There is much to be said for traditional philosophical reflection and phenomenological analysis. They can makes us aware of many aspects of consciousness and, to a limited extent, can enlarge our capacities for conscious awareness. Phenomenological reflection even allows us to examine many of the background prereflective structures that lie beneath our conscious experience. But neither method can adequately explore the cognitive unconscious—the realm of thought that is completely and irrevocably inaccessible to direct conscious introspection” (12).

The cognitive unconscious operates via embodiment, and as such through differentiation and categorization. They continue:

“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is the categories we form are part of our experience. They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience…. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, get ‘beyond’ our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that” (19).

L&J spend considerable effort providing numerous empirical neuro-cognitive studies supporting these theses. It seems odd to me that neither the integralists nor the more general developmental researchers take this work into consideration, much less how it challenges many of the assumptions and premises of their theoretical models and experiential practices of “everything.” Given that 95%+ of our mind-bodies are unconscious perhaps we should rename our endeavors as “theories of less than 5%”?

Tom Murray is an exception in the integral community in that he specifically addresses this issue, which he calls “epistemological indeterminacy.” He has an article in Integral Review, 2:6, 2006 called “Collaborative Knowledge Building and Integral Theory,” and he provides an abstract and summary at this link. Here are a few excerpts from the latter:

“The sources of EI include: The cognitive nature of concepts, claims, and models; The fuzzy or graded nature of concepts (terms and categories); The metaphorical nature of abstract concepts and the radical interdependence of the meaning of one or idea with that of many others, such that none of them is unambiguously primitive (to identify some as primitive is to take a perspective); That statements (propositions or claims) are indeterminate because their constituent concepts are indeterminate; claims are true “to the extent that” the situation referred to corresponds with the most typical or representative exemplars of the conceptual categories used; Models, theories and frameworks are indeterminate because their constituent concepts and claims are indeterminate; and because they, by their nature, are approximate, abstractions, and simplifications over actual occurrences, and the choice of what to leave out depends on one’s perspective; The meaning of abstractions depends on references to real examples (positive, negative, near, extreme, boundary, etc.); yet real examples can never be fully described (again, what properties are ignored depends on one’s perspective); there is a dialectic process of refinement between an abstract idea and the set of examples used to explain it.

"Psychological and social sources: Individuals bring a variety of distortions to their interpretations, including their goals, values, knowledge, history of experiences, and unconscious motivations and biases, making “pure” objectivity impossible; The brain creates a “society of minds” in that people can entertain or even believe conflicting things or use conflicting models (as conscious beings we are not of “one mind”); The meaning of a concept, belief, or model is constructed intersubjectively and idiosyncratically; meaning evolves in and through individual interpretation and social processes of meaning negotiation; meaning is dynamic, fluid, and distributed.

"Philosophical or truth-related sources: There are many meanings of truth, and many criteria for determining validity, and the truth or validity of a claim or model depends on which of these is used (usually these choices are not articulated); Validity has procedural, communal, dialectic, and perspectival elements, which together can make determining the validity of a claim or model a complex and indeterminate process. Integral theories are primarily organizational or explanatory, making their validity depend more on issues of meaning-generation and practical usefulness than on empirically determined truth. (In the section “Validity Criteria for Integral Theories” I listed a number of criterion).”

Here’s an article Murray wrote for Integral Leadership Review, VI:4, October 2006. An excerpt follows:

“I have introduced the construct of ‘epistemic sophistication’ to unify a set of skills, attitudes, and knowledge, because they are closely intertwined. As used here epistemic sophistication is not as a precise aptitude that can be measured or calibrated against developmental models.

“For developmentally structured skills you can’t skip steps, i.e., you can’t bring someone from A to D without helping them fully experience B and C. A corollary to this is that there are certain kinds of tasks, thinking or perspectives that are not accessible at each developmental stage (but are accessible at higher stages). Development through stages is a gradual process of personal construction that cannot be forced but can be supported. One reason that it is important to consider developmental issues is that a person will interpret a state or experience according to the stage (technically ‘structure stage’) that they are at (Wilber 2006, p. 115).

“Though developmental research has discovered important principles about human behavior in general, caution must be taken not to pigeonhole or limit people when applying these theories to individuals. Research shows several reasons why such level labeling is too simplistic. First, each developmental “line” is composed of a number of constituent capacities that may develop semi-independently. For example, Schommer-Aikins’s(2002) has discovered that there are at least five semi-independent factors in ‘epistemological understanding’ (a subset of epistemic sophistication), each of which can evolve at a different rate.

“Second, individuals do not maintain one average level of intellectual or epistemological skill, but rather show different levels of skill in different contexts…. Kurt Fischer states, that ‘the skill level that a person displays…cannot be considered independently of the context in which that skill is assessed’ (Fischer & Farrar 1987, pg. 647).

“Even though I agree that epistemic sophistication is acquired developmentally, I propose that the issue is sometimes more one of un-learning and of letting go than of learning.”

And recall this from the “real and false reason” thread:

Tom Murray wonders about “the limitations of models and relate that to hierarchically structured formal developmental models. Constructs such as reflective abstraction, hierarchical integration, subject-object transformations, and hierarchical complexity assume a particular… ‘mathematics’ of developmental growth” (343-4).

While he accepts that hierarchical complexity might suffice for certain measurements, he also wonders is things like wisdom and compassion might need a different type of modeling.

“We may need to rely more on human gestalt reasoning, which can recognize more complex or subtle patterns than current mathematical and computational tools can assess” (352).

Let’s look now to how the cognitive unconscious makes an appearance in philosophical discourse before it was reiterated in neuro-cognitive scientific terms. Martin Morris (cited below) discusses the notion of Habermas’ lifeworld:

“The lifeworld reveals only a portion of itself in any dialogue because it exists as a phenomenological ‘background’ of pre-theoretical, pre-interpreted contexts of meaning and relevance….the vast proportion of lifeworld convictions always remain in the background during any discussion…. The lifeworld itself cannot be the proper them of communicative utterances, for as a totality it provides the space in or ground upon which such utterances occur, even those that name it explicitly….it remains indeterminate” (235-6).

Speaking for the lifeworld as if one could step outside of it and know it directly inevitably leads one to “invoke a cosmology,” a “metaphysics of the thing-in-itself” (239).

Here’s Habermas on the lifeworld from Postmetaphysical Thinking (MIT Press, 1992):

“This background…constitutes a totality that is implicit and that comes along prereflexively–one that crumbles the moment it is thematized; it remains a totality only in the form of implicit, intuitively presupposed background knowledge. Taking the unity of the lifeworld, which is known only subconsciously, and projecting it in an objectifying manner onto the level of explicit knowledge is the operation that has been responsible for mythological, religious and also of course metaphysical worldviews” (142-3).

Then again, embodiment isn’t restricted to one’s biological body. Hence such references as the above to the intersub-objective “lifeworld.” In The Meaning of the Body (U of Chicago, 2007) Mark Johnson talks about our different bodies: biological, ecological, phenomenological, social and cultural (275-8).

“…embodiment means not just the physiological body…but the body-in-space, the body as it interacts with the physical and social environment….we are born into social and cultural milieus that transcend our individual bodies in time” (5).

In section 2 of the article Rohrer goes on to discuss the various meanings of embodiment depending on the context, from philosophical to phenomenological to socio-cultural etc. In section 3 he even has a chart illustrating which domains the different methodologies investigate, similar to Wilber’s zones. Section 4 shows how the diverse methodologies are linked and integrated.

Rorher goes into artifacts, including language, and how we interact with them as part of our socio-cultural embodiment. In that regard he discusses (with Johnson, cited below) the concept of continuity, originally elucidated by Dewey. This eliminates the dualism between inside and outside, or between body and mind, due to the foundations of mind in the basic bodily functions of perception and sensio-motor movement. However while grounded in these basic functions more complex functions evolve like abstraction and self-reflexivity that cannot be simply reduced to the earlier foundations. Here we are on the same page as Wilber and developmental studies in general like the MHC.

However continuity is also applied to the individual-social dimension, thus not maintaining this duality. That is where the socio-cultural meanings of embodiment come into play. They recognize that “cognition does not take place only within the brain and body of a single individual but is in part constituted by social interactions and relations.”

Mark Edwards criticisms are relevant here, particularly his three-part essay “The depth of the exteriors” (cited below). It becomes clear that Wilber and developmentalists generally see continuity within an individual but not in the individual-social matrix. Edwards sees this as an individual-interior reduction. This manifests in Wilber’s emphasis on Piaget with little to no integration of Vygotsky, Cooley or Mead etc. Not surprisingly there is also little to no integration of the modern-day heirs to that pragmatic tradition, the cogscipragos like Lakoff, Johnson and Rohrer. Edwards goes on to how this duality can be reconciled within the AQAL framework.

Here’s another take on the critique of the fully conscious subject, aka the metaphysics of presence, and how it relates to the notion of individual-social “continuity.” From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Merleau-Ponty:

“Merleau-Ponty does not intend to suggest…an absolute awareness of one’s own ’subjectivity’…. Lived relations can never be grasped perfectly by consciousness, since the body-subject is never entirely present-to-itself….There is ambiguity then, precisely because we are not capable of disembodied reflection upon our activities, but are involved in an intentional arc that absorbs both our body and our mind (PP 136). For Merleau-Ponty, both intellectualism and empiricism presuppose ‘a universe perfectly explicit in itself’ (PP 41), but residing between these two positions, his body-subject actually requires ambiguity and, in a sense, indeterminacy.

“Merleau-Ponty seems to be suggesting that the relationship that we have to ourselves is one that is always typified by alterity, on account of a temporal explosion towards the future that precludes us ever being self-present…. There can be no self-enclosed ‘now’ moment because time also always has this reflexive aspect that is aware of itself, and that opens us to experiences beyond our particular horizons of significance. Indeed, it is because of this temporal alterity, that Merleau-Ponty asserts that we can never say ‘I’ absolutely (PP 208).

“Given that he rarely makes any distinction between the structure of our relations with others and the structure of our relations with the world, his descriptions also pertain directly to the problem of the other, which has come to be accorded of lot of attention in recent times under the auspices of what is frequently termed alterity. Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmic ontology ensures that in some sense the other is always already intertwined within the subject, and he explicitly suggests that self and non-self are but the obverse and reverse of each other (VI 83, 160)…. the alterity of the other’s look is always already involved in us, and rather than unduly exalting alterity by positing it as forever elusive, or as recognizable only as freedom that transcends my freedom, he instead affirms an interdependence of self and other that involves these categories overlapping and intertwining with one another, but without ever being reduced to each other.”

A quick point on the above statement: “both intellectualism and empiricism presuppose ‘a universe perfectly explicit in itself.’” This was also a point in the “real and false reason” thread, the presupposition of false reason as being perfectly explicit. That would be more of the “intellectualism” side of the above. The more “empirical” side would be the more phenomenal, meditative approaches, at least those that assume a fully conscious awareness of reality-as-such.

Pertinent to this discussion is of course G. H. Mead, but we’ve gone over him at length before (see link). Just a tad from that discussion follows:

“The essence of Mead’s so-called ‘social behaviorism’ is his view that mind is an emergent out of the interaction of organic individuals in a social matrix. Mind is not a substance located in some transcendent realm, nor is it merely a series of events that takes place within the human physiological structure. Mead therefore rejects the traditional view of the mind as a substance separate from the body as well as the behavioristic attempt to account for mind solely in terms of physiology or neurology. Mead agrees with the behaviorists that we can explain mind behaviorally if we deny its existence as a substantial entity and view it instead as a natural function of human organisms. But it is neither possible nor desirable to deny the existence of mind altogether. The physiological organism is a necessary but not sufficient condition of mental behavior (Mind, Self and Society 139). Without the peculiar character of the human central nervous system, internalization by the individual of the process of significant communication would not be possible; but without the social process of conversational behavior, there would be no significant symbols for the individual to internalize.”

Here is a brief review of the book Pragmatism and the Unconscious (Amherst 2001) wherein the author draws connections between Mead, Pierce and Lacan:

“The social psychology of George Herbert Mead provides perhaps the closest analogue to Lacan’s treatment of intersubjectivity we may find in the twentieth century.”

So let’s look a Lacan’s notions of the unconscious and intersubjectivity. From

“The unconscious is less something inside the person as an ‘intersubjective’ space between people.”

From an interview with Lacan:

“…things continue to function alone and discourse continues to articulate itself, but ‘outside the subject.’ And this place, this ‘outside the subject,’ is exactly what we call the unconscious….In other words, if I have tried to elaborate something, it is not a metaphysical theory but a theory of intersubjectivity.”


Edward, Mark (2003-04). “The depth of the exteriors” in the Reading Room at Integral World.

Habermas, Jurgen. Postmetaphysical Thinking (MIT Press, 1992

Johnson, Mark. The Meaning of the Body (U of Chicago, 2007)

Johnson & Rohrer. “We are live creatures” in Body, Language and Mind, volume 1, Mouton de Gruyter, 2007, 17-54.

Morris, Martin. “Between deliberation and deconstruction” in The Derrida-Habermas Reader, U of Chicago Press, 2006, 231-53.

Murray, Tom (2009). “Intuiting the Cognitive Line in Developmental Assessment: Do Heart and Ego develop through hierarchical integration?” Integral Review, December 2009, Vol. 5, No. 2

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