Friday, December 31, 2010

Sam Harris on spiritual experience

We've all heard about Harris' scathing criticisms of religions of all flavor, including Buddhism. In this 2-part talk at You Tube he defends meditation and contemplation and criticizes the atheist community for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In my atheistic mind this is indeed a step towards re-visioning the great traditions by nourishing the baby while also pulling the plug on the dirty bathwater.

Also of note is that he echoes kennilingus in claiming one must take up the injunction of meditation before one can criticize its phenomenal experience. He does qualify that one can certainly criticize based on reason alone the metaphysical accoutrement of those who have such experiences. Yet the experiences themselves cannot be refuted by reason alone. And that such experience must be translated into postmetaphysical terms shorn of religious dogma to be of pertinent use in today's world.

Here's an interview with Harris on meditation. For example he says:

"I have no doubt that interesting experiences await the man or woman who prays to Jesus for 12 to 18 hours a day. In fact, I have no doubt that some of those experiences would be normative (that is, desirable and worth seeking out). I just dispute the logic by which such experiences are sought and interpreted."

In this video he argues that science can indeed answer moral questions. He decries moral relativism and entreats for universal moral values that can still express in plural ways. Without using kennilingus he contends moral development along a qualitative spectrum of better and worse, and like Habermas thinks we can find rational, intersubjective agreement as to what constitutes such values.

I also want to highlight Harris' comments about the nondual from the above interview. He was asked about his comments on the subject/object dissolution where consciousness nevertheless remains "vividly aware of the continuum of experience." He said:

"When I say that...I simple mean that nothing necessarily changes at the level of perception. If the birds are chirping you will still be able to hear them. The difference is that rather than feeling like 'you' are hearing 'them' (subject and object) there will simply be the pure experience of hearing (without hearer or thing heard)."

While he does show how awareness of phenomena continues and is not some form of cessation, It seems with this language like he might be getting into myth of the given type metaphysical territory here? But maybe since he qualifies it as a pure perceptual experience this leaves wiggle room between perception and the thing in itself? Perhaps but he doesn't go into this distinction. What he does discuss in this section is that the separate self-sense arises from the representational habit of egoic rationality, and that such representation is not necessary for perception. It is very much like L&J's distinction between false and embodied reason, but not quite in those terms. He also doesn't go into the distinction of pre-rational versus post-rational perception here.*

On criticism that such language indeed lends itself to metaphysicality he said:

"'Spirituality" or 'mysticism' both are...terrible words, but there are no alternatives in English at the moment."

*Harris does go into the pre-trans distinction with reference to Wilber in The End of Faith, much to the chagrin of Geoffrey Falk in his book Norman Einstein. Falk is though making the same argument about its metaphysical appearance and notes that Dennett, while also being a meditator, frames it thus (quoting Meyers):

"He [Dennett] just disagrees that it [meditation] gives someone insight into the nature of how the entire universe works, vs. into the nature of how the mind works."

In the interview he says something interesting about consciousness:

"The question of what happens after death is really a question about the relationship between consciousness itself and the physical world. If consciousness really is an emergent property of large collections of neurons, then when these neurons die (or become sufficiently disordered) the lights must really go out. The point I make in my book is that, while we know that mental functions (like the ability to read) can be fully explained in terms of information processing, we don't know this about consciousness. For all we know, consciousness may be a more fundamental property of the universe than are neural circuits [my highlight]. Many people have tried to invoke some of the spookiness found in quantum mechanics in support of such an idea. I've never been a fan of such efforts, however. Nevertheless, there is no result in neuroscience that rules out dualism, panpsychism, or any other theory that denies the reduction of consciousness to states of the brain. To my mind, neuroscience has demonstrated the supervenience of mind upon the brain, but the status of consciousness remains a mystery.”

However he qualifies this in a postscript to the interview:

“My remarks about the mysteriousness of consciousness (i.e. the fact that we don't know the relationship between consciousness and the physical world) were intended to convey the state of our scientific ignorance on this subject (as well as to hint at some of its conceptual difficulties). I was not suggesting that we have good reasons to believe that consciousness floats free of the brain at the moment of death. Nor was I suggesting that one need believe anything spooky about consciousness in order to meditate. Many diehard philosophical materialists have derived great benefit from meditation.

“Most atheists appear to be certain that consciousness dies with the brain. Given the state of the science, this is a false certainty. To my mind, the only intellectually rigorous position to stake out here is to say that we don't know what happens to consciousness after death. Once again, I am not suggesting that one make a religion out of this uncertainty, or do anything else with it. It is just over-reaching to say that we know that consciousness arises from neuronal complexity (or anything else). It is not, however, over-reaching to say that the faculties of mind (language processing, proprioception, etc.) arise in this way or that most religious beliefs are preposterous (they are).”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wall Street's 10 Biggest Lies of 2010

From the Huffington Post:

By Les Leopold, December 29, 2010

What a great year for Wall Street: profits up, bonuses up and, best of all, criticism down, especially from Washington. Somehow Wall Street has much of America believing its lies and rationalizations. We're even beginning to forget that Wall Street is largely responsible for the economic mess we're in.

So before we're completely overtaken by financial Alzheimer's, let's revisit Wall Street's greatest fabrications for 2010. (For the full story, please see The Looting of America.)

1."Honest, we didn't do it!"

Two years ago Wall Street's colossal greed crashed our economy. Our financial elites created and spewed highly leveraged toxic assets around the globe. These poisonous "innovations" pumped up the housing bubble and Wall Street grew insanely rich in the process. When it all burst, we learned that the big Wall Street institutions that had caused the crash were far too big to fail -- and too connected. High government officials came to their rescue with trillions in cash and guarantees -- underwritten, of course, by we taxpayers. Everyone knew this at the time. But if you asked just about anyone on "The Street" they denied all culpability and pointed the finger everywhere else: Fannie, Freddie, the Fed, the Community Reinvestment Act, tax deductions for home buying, bad regulations, not enough regulations, too many regulations, too much consumer debt, the rating agencies, the Chinese -- and on and on. Sadly, their blame-shifting strategy worked, bamboozling the media and people across the political spectrum. The GOP members of the Financial Crisis Commission are so drunk with this Kool-Aid that in their minority report, they refuse even to use the words "Wall Street" or "speculation" in assessing the causes of the crash. Hypocrites? Crooks? Morons? Take your pick.

2."The overall costs will be incredibly small in comparison to almost any experience we can look at in the United States or around the world."

Ever since Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner screwed up his tax returns we knew he was numerically challenged. But his statement to Congress on December 16, 2010, on the cost of the bailout shows a willful inability to count. Yes, Wall Street has paid back most of our bailout funds. Whoopee! Our economy is in shambles, and millions of people are suffering. With his offensive "no big deal" analysis, Geithner glosses over all this human misery, and sidesteps the hidden costs of the bailout, including the financial insurance we taxpayers provided to every giant financial company in the country via the Fed. On the open market, that insurance -- which guarantees trillions of dollars in toxic assets -- would come at a very steep price. We coughed it up for free. But that's still chump change compared to the human costs of the worst employment crisis since the Great Depression -- the lost income, the depleted savings, the ravaged neighborhoods. Then there's the capsized state and local budgets, the public service reductions, the laid off teachers, firefighters, and police officers -- all resulting from a plunge in public revenues caused by Wall Street's crash. Why aren't these costs on Geithner's balance sheet? A cynic might think Tim was priming us to accept the latest round of Wall Street bonuses. Hey -- they paid us back, so why should we care how much they earn?

3. "It's a war. It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

Steven Schwarzman is supposed to be brilliant. After all, he made billions as head of the Blackstone Group, a private equity company and hedge fund. But last August, as some members of Congress mulled about eliminating a very lucrative tax loophole, he suffered a mental meltdown and saw an impending Nazi invasion. But the awful attack never happened. Schwartzman and his fellow hedge fund honchos all held onto their unbelievable tax break: Hedge fund and private equity income is still only taxed at 15 percent rather than at the top income tax rate of 35 percent. (That's because, inexplicably, it's considered "capital gains," not income.) Taxing Schwartzman's income as income would cost him hundreds of millions of dollars -- and the prospect of this apparently triggered a shock spasm that catapulted his foot into his mouth. I'm sure my IQ isn't high enough to keep up with the genius logic behind Steve's analogy. But just who is Hitler and who is Poland in his scenario? Maybe in his grandiose conceit, his firm is as big as Poland? Or it would require a Blitzkrieg to wipe out his tax loophole? In reality, even if Schwarzman had to pay a 90 percent tax rate (as he would have under Eisenhower), it would hardly have been a hardship -- let alone World War 3. He'd still have more money than he could ever spend in his lifetime. Schwarzman should be proud though: He gets 2010's Dumbest Wall Street Quote of the Year Award. Bravo! (In 2009 the honor went to Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, who claimed he was "doing God's work."

4. "The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government."

But not by Wall Street. President Obama words of November 29th came only days before he "compromised" with the Republicans to continue the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich and to bestow an enormous estate tax gift to the 6,600 richest families in America. Mr. President, the "hard truth" is that you're slapping around public sector workers because you don't have the nerve to take on Wall Street. If you had the guts, you could raise real money by going to war with Steven Schwartzman and eliminating the hedge fund tax loophole. By the way, closing that loophole for just the top 25 hedge fund managers would raise twice the revenue than you'll get by freezing the wages of all two million federal workers! (See "The Wall Street Tax Debate that Never Was" )

5. "25 hedge fund managers are worth 658,000 teachers."

Nearly everyone on Wall Street sincerely believes that they are "worth" the enormous sums they "earn." You see, their pay is determined by the market, and markets don't lie. They reflect the high value our skilled elites bring to the economy. So we shouldn't be shocked that the top 25 hedge fund managers together "earn" $25 billion a year, even at a moment when more than 29 million Americans can't find full-time work. The outrageous economic logic of Wall Street compensation has those 25 moguls taking home as much as 658,000 entry level teachers (they earn about $38,000 per year). How can that be justified? It can't. These obscene "earnings" are the product of 30 years of financial deregulation, as well as the tax cuts and tax loopholes that our government has just extended. The hedge fund honchos get most of their money by siphoning off wealth from the rest of us, not by creating new value. I dare Wall Street to prove otherwise.

6. "To bolster the economy we need .... an improvement in the relationship between business and government (the current antagonism, even if not the primary explanation for slow hiring and sluggish investment, does seem to be affecting hiring and other business behavior)."

In this op-ed, Peter Orszag, Obama's former budget director, parrots the Wall Street line that employers aren't hiring because of "regulatory uncertainty." Mother of God, how much more certainty do they want? The Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats aren't about to let Obama seriously regulate Wall Street, even if he wanted to, which he doesn't. The truth is that employers aren't hiring because there's insufficient consumer demand for goods and services. But at least Peter Orszag is a man of his word. He personally plans to "improve the relationship between business and government" by tapping his government contacts at his new fat job at Citigroup, the nearly failed mega-bank that he helped to save at taxpayer expense. Orszag could have landed a coveted professorship at just about any university in the world. But apparently the 42-year-old wiz kid prefers Citigroup's multi-million dollar compensation package. Any bets on how long it takes for Larry Summers to cash in?

7. "Lengthened availability of jobless benefits has raised the unemployment rate by 1.5 percentage points."

You see, the unemployed cause their own unemployment, at least if you believe this assessment from a March 17th research note from JP Morgan Chase. (Next, Wall Street will call for a return of the Poor Houses.) The theory is simple -- you give people money not to work and they won't look for jobs. Still, it takes chutzpah for JP Morgan Chase, the beneficiary of billions of dollars in taxpayer largess, to criticize the unemployed for not finding jobs that aren't there, precisely because JP Morgan Chase helped to destroy them! Dear JP Morgan research staff: Five to six workers are now competing for every available job. If that's too complicated for you quants to grasp, maybe you should try a game of musical chairs in the trading room.

8. "Private employers, led by our revitalized financial sector, will create the jobs we need -- that is, if the government would just stay out of the way."

We now need 22 million new jobs to get us back to full employment (5 percent unemployment). In addition, each month the economy must generate another 105,000 jobs just to keep up with new entrants into the workforce. To get to full employment, the private sector would have to create about 630 firms the size of Apple (35,000 employees each). These numbers don't lie. Does anyone on Wall Street really believe that the private sector alone can pull off this miracle? But really, why should they care? They've got theirs, thank you very much. The painful truth that both Wall Street and Washington refuse to face is that if the big, bad government doesn't fund or create millions of new jobs, we'll face crippling unemployment for decades to come.

9. "Tim Geithner extolled 'the benefits of financial innovation' to the American economy." (Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2010)

Sorry to beat up on Tim again, but it's sometimes hard to tell who he's working for. Whenever you hear the phrase "financial innovation" put your hand on your wallet. That's the phrase Wall Street uses to justify its casinos and its outlandish profits and bonuses. People who talk about "financial innovation" are either getting big bucks on Wall Street, want more bucks on Wall Street, or hope to get a job on Wall Street the nano-second their public service ends. My question for Tim is: If Apple creates iPhones, what does Wall Street create? Warren Buffett says it creates "financial weapons of mass destruction." Paul Volcker, Reagan's Fed Chair, said there is not a "shred of evidence" that "financial innovation" is beneficial. Volcker also believes that the economy "was quite good in the 1980s without credit-default swaps and without securitization and without CDOs." Volcker gets the Smartest Wall Street Quote of the Year Award: "The most important financial innovation I've seen in the last 25 years is the automatic teller machine." How could Tim get it so wrong?

10. "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

Okay, okay, Claude Raines said that in Casablanca, not on Wall Street. But Wall Street and its defenders say exactly the same thing about their opaque derivatives games. Louise Story's excellent piece in The New York Times shows how a handful of banks have cornered the market clearinghouses for derivatives - entities that are supposed to make derivatives less risky. The big banks are limiting competition, according to Story, because they "want to preserve their profit margins, and they are the ones who helped write the membership rules." Meanwhile, Wall Street is quietly pushing to exempt its most profitable derivatives from even these rigged exchanges. So don't be "shocked, shocked" when Wall Street crashes again and we're asked to foot the bill. And that's when, not if.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009. He is currently working on a new book, How to Earn $900,000 an Hour: The Rise of Wall Street Billionaires and the New Class War, (hopefully to be published in 2011).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tarot card meditation game

The meditation alarm sounds, bring us back to the waking state from the deep, dreamless and unconscious state of cessation akin to death. While the latter is indeed a restful and rejuvenating state to repair the body-mind, too much focus on it can lead to a morbid fascination with, and for some equation with, nirvana or an enlightened state of consciousness. The coffins, ice mountains and wan skin are indicative of isolation from the dreaming, subconscious waters and the light of waking consciousness, arising from and feeding into an ascetic and monastic lifestyle cut off from the living. The trumpet then is not only to re-awaken to the waking state but to balance via the red cross the various states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep via the angel of the synthetic ego. The name of the card, Judgment, is also a key to the nature of this angel: critical discrimination that can differentiate and integrate, a function not within isolated states of consciousness like cessation. However without sufficient attention to such states via meditation we cannot bring it into conscious integration.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tarot card meditation game

During Christmas dinner mom got so pissed at dad, again, that she started throwing her lightening barbs at him with such force dad blew his top. His resultant explosion drove us kids to dive for cover. I just love the holidays and family get togethers...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The changing status of states

Continuing our discussion of states at IPS:


Personally, I think "nondual" has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid. I believe there's room for multiple "enactments."

In relation to Batchelor's comment about emptiness not denoting a particular state of absorption, if you look at Levin's comment, he describes "emptiness" in deconstructive terms (the practice of lhaktong) rather than as a discrete "state of absorption," but he then notes that the combination of mental stability and deconstructive insight nevertheless did lead to a shift (also) in his phenomenal experience. In other words, he is not (a la Wilber) describing "Emptiness" as a particular deep-sleep-like state of absorption and loss of distinctions, or as a particular Realm, but he does (rightly, I think) note that the nature of the phenomenal self-world gestalt does shift in the context of stability of mind and clear insight into phenomena as empty (dependently originated).

If you recall, Levin describes stage four work as a hermeneutic-phenomenological exercise, so I don't think he's describing only an attitude-change, but a change which involves and impacts the whole self-world gestalt. It is more than, or not limited to, a condition of longing (the latter being more akin, as I see it, to Derrida's messianism than particular Buddhist enactments).


I agree with your statement:

"I think 'nondual' has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid. I believe there's room for multiple 'enactments.'"

I think we are seeing each other's view through our own preferences and perhaps we are both right? While I'm interested in Buddhism in a general sense I'm not much attracted to its specific practices or beliefs so never took the time to enact them and likely never will. Hence I could very well be missing what Levin is describing through terms that have different meanings to me.

I might not agree though that by "attitude" I didn't mean to include "the whole self-world gestalt," or that Derrida might be limited to only a condition of longing that is only partial in relation to the Buddhist account.

Taking a step back, I'm looking over Levin's book The Philosopher's Gaze (UC Press, 1999), particularly his chapter on Levinas. As some of you know Derrida was influenced by Levinas and extended some of his ideas. Levin begins by noting that to understand Levinas one must learn how he uses philosophical terms,how he modifies their meanings to fit his ideas, which is some cases go beyond the limitations of common usage. If we are to understand his language in those accepted meanings we'd miss completely what Levinas is trying to convey. Hence one must study the entirety of his context to understand him. This is reminiscent of how Derrida* himself approaches the study of anything, by immersing in the entire context to understand the author in his own terms and meanings before deconstructing them.

Levina's language is intended to evoke a “deep, bodily felt sense” that is a “return effected by phenomenology.” It is pre-conceptual in a sense, this return to body. As we've discussed before, only in one sense, since the return is also an integrative move that is more than what was before concepts. Then Levin says this:

“When I have written of hermeneutical phenomenology I have not meant to bind phenomenology to the Gadamerian method, but rather to draw on the world's etymological and mythological order to reinforce in our practice of phenomenology a radical exposure to alterity” (238).

Hence Levinas language uses such mythological motifs and tropes that move us deeper than conventional experience based only on concept, back down into those roots of morality in the body where we are more directed connected to the other. In a way his language is magical in that it takes us to a place both before and after language by the use of language. But language is part of the equation, right in the middle of it, hence Hermes is indeed a messenger that uses language to convey meaning.

* Derrida also infamously changed the meanings of words to fit his ideas, in some instances even changing the spelling in unique ways to exemplify this. Hence he too was broadly misunderstood since the traditional philosophical meanings were applied to his words.

Following the above Levin makes clear that meaning, like being, builds on the "always already" but it extended into novelty by the "not yet." And these two are in continual relation, at least after the "fall" or "rise," depending on your interpretation, of the ego. But since its advent there is no simple return to the always already of the pre-egoic, no pristine or original awareness. The belief in the latter is in fact one of the symptoms of metaphysics, since it is now the "not yet" that transforms the "always already," but without which the not yet would not exist.

So what I was sensing through Levin's language in the original quotes above was this naive return of the always already lacking the not yet of Caputo.* My previous reading of Levin didn't think he'd make such a gaffe and in PG he is making it clear he does not. So he might be using a mytho-poetic language like Levinas with the same intent, to evoke in us through language this reconnection with both the always already and not yet? I don't know. Such language still sounds metaphysical to me! Whereas the likes of Caputo does not, so it's not like I cannot understand or appreciate such metaphorical and transportive language.** Just my preference and prejudice?

* Which by the way he was only emphasizing at that moment, as he too, like Derrida, explicate the relation of the always already to the not yet.

** Hence my interest in the hybrid bastard language of khora through dreams and images, even Tarot.

Let's look at this recent example from another Dzogchen apologist, Elias Capriles, in his article "Some preliminary comments on Wilber V" that appears at Integral World.

He criticizes Husserl's phenomenology for its reliance on “that which appears” in experience and agrees with Derrida that this is a crytpo-metaphysics based on “the immediacy of experience.” He says:

“The problem, for me, is that basing ontology exclusively on that which appears in human experience is no guarantee that metaphysical constructs will not slip into it, for in saṃsāra, to which human experience pertains, fully-fledged avidyā causes us to experience being as given, unquestionable, uneradicable, and somehow absolute; the mental subject as being in its own right and hence as a substance, and as the thinker of thought, the doer of action and the experiencer of experience; the essents we face as being in their own right and thus as constituting a series of different substances; etc. Hence an ontology elaborated on the basis of samsaric experience alone would not be really free from metaphysical fictions, as it is most likely to feature at least some of the ones just mentioned.”

Which is of course my own criticism, that certain language lends itself to these metaphysical constructs which are “illusion.” He sees the above as Husserl's claim to immediate experience when it is in fact mediated, part of his ideology. While he seemingly agrees with Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence there is a way out, through nirvana by which one can attain an “undistorted experience of the true condition of reality.” He further describes nirvana as “the immediate, direct, nonconceptual realization of the true condition of ourselves and the whole of reality.”

He criticizes Derrida for only going part way, for only deconstructing existing ontologies but for now positing one of his own like this. I think it's been amply demonstrated elsewhere this is not the case but rather that Derrida's ontology differs in not using such metaphysical language. I agree with Capriles that “the given” is a dualistic and metaphysical illusion. And that a postmetaphysical revelation, if you will, exposes this in a different way to posit an ontology. But the traidtional Dzochen language still seems to me to posit it in a way that partakes of the dualistic samsama-nirvana divide, with the latter entering into a static always already.*It seems to me that Capriles does not heed his own warning that "metaphysical constructs will not slip into it."

* And it seems Thakchoe agrees, cited in several threads elsewhere, in his book The Two Truths Debate.

In PG Levin is discussing Derrida's critique of Husserl, in that the latter uses the metaphor of light to represent this phenomenological presence. Levin agrees with Derrida in that such language "generates a virtually irresistible temptation to reify, totalize, and homogenize, and reduce the forces of temporality and historicity to a state of eternal presentness" (70). We see this same critique by Capriles above. Nonetheless, despite both Capriles and Levin's warning they continue to use the traditional Dzogchen language that seems to lead down the path into metaphysical luminosity, like a moth irresistibly drawn to light.


I do think Levin is more careful and subtle than Capriles (and Levin's explicitly Dzogchen language appears in an appendix dedicated to the Dzogchen practice, and does not show up in the articulation of his main view). I think there is a way this mythopoetic language can be held creatively, perhaps after the manner of Ricoeur's second naivety, without necessarily falling into totalizing, reifying, homogenizing patterns.

I did find the passage by Levin I was recalling. I'll type it up when I have a chance.


I found a relevant passage in Levin's Sites of Vision (MIT Press, 1999), the chapter on Derrida and Foucault. The entire chapter up to this point was Derrida's refutation of the metaphor of light and vision, equating it with the metaphysics of presence. But when the metaphor extends to how blinding light diffuses any distinctive presencing Levin notes:

“Without disputing the heliocentrism and ocularcentrism of metaphysics, Derrida will argue, however, that, contrary to first appearances, the logic of this sun-and-light-centered discourse does not in fact entail, or necessitate, a metaphysics of presence—on the contrary, the more one thinks about the matter, the more one will be compelled to acknowledge that the logic of this metaphorics actually resists, and even subverts, the possibility of presence. Thus he asks us to reflect on the phenomenology actually implicit in the logic of this metaphorics: 'Presence disappearing in its own radiance, the hidden source of light, of truth, and of meaning, the erasure of the visage of Being—such must be the insistent return of that which subjects metaphysics to metaphor.' Here we can see Derrida's deconstructive strategy at work—that is, at play: he uses the metaphorics of light to deconstruct the metaphysics of presence, that very presence that the visual generation of metaphyics has been thought to support. If this is a Hegelian Aufhebung, it is a sublation with a mischievous, chiasmic twist.

“Derrida is not the first philosopher to remind us that metaphysics uses and depends on metaphors, but he is perhaps the first one to call attention to the subversive implications, using one of the favorite tropes to make his point: just as the sun, the source of light, hides itself, can become invisible and elude our efforts at mastering the power of its light, so all metaphors are ultimately going to be disruptive of and resistant to the impulse behind metaphysics—its drive to 'dominate' presence through intuition, concept and consciousness. And if all metaphors transgress the 'proper meaning' of words, establishing affinities that are never more than partially 'appropriate,' and, in general, introduce uncontrollable semantic play into the discursive field, then metaphors of light and vision will be doubly disruptive and resistant.

“For Derrida, then, metaphysics is indeed ocularcentric. And he contests this encoding of the discourse, just as he will contest all forms of domination—hence, all frames and margins, all centers and totalities. He also believes that metaphysics has been, and still is, written under the authoritarian spell of presence, and that this too must be questioned and contested. But what he shows is that the metaphorical code cannot be reduced—not even by metaphysics—to any essentially fixated ontology. Thus, the use of a vocabulary generated by light and vision, far from supporting a metaphysics of presence, will actually negate its very possibility” (416-18).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More on states of consciousness

Continuing the previous post on states, here's more from the IPS discussion:


It's time to return to Epstein, linked to previously. He says:

"The tendency of contemporary theorists has been to propose developmental schema in which meditation systems develop 'beyond the ego’ (Walsh & Vaughan, 1980), yet this approach has ignored aspects of the ego which are not abandoned and which are, in fact, developed through meditation practice itself.

"It recognizes the indispensability of the ego while at the same time revealing how meditation practice can uniquely modify it, producing an ego no longer obsessed with its own solidity.

"This synthetic function acts as an 'organ of equilibrium' within the internal world, promoting integration and organization of diverse and conflicting inputs and components.

"The 'I' is not identical with the ego but is more precisely a component. It is described as a self-representation as agent because it sees itself as the one capable of activity.... It is an idea, an abstraction, contained within the ego.

"At the core of the self-representation as agent lies the narcissistically invested ideal ego.... The ideal ego involves a sense of inherent perfection, a 'state of being' equivalent to the Tibetan description of the 'independent I under its own power.' It is an ideal that is not recognized as such, but is, instead, deeply felt to be real, denying all transience, insignificance and mortality.

"While concentration practices can temporarily suspend ego boundaries and provide a deep sense of ontological security through the merger of ego and ego ideal, insight practices operate within the ego system itself.

"The development of mindfulness, like that of evenly suspended attention, involves a 'therapeutic split in the ego', in which the ego becomes both subject and object, observer and observed. This capacity for observing the dynamic flow of psychic events is very much a synthetic function, maintaining equilibrium in the face of incessant change.

"It is the ego, primarily through its synthetic function, that permits integration of the experience of disintegration. In true egolessness, there could be only disintegration, and such a state would manifest as psychosis.

"The ego system is certainly a target of these meditation practices, but what results is more properly conceived of as an intrasystemic reequilibration rather than a progression beyond an outmoded structure. As the moment-to-moment nature of reality becomes more and more directly experienced, it is the synthetic function of the ego, as mindfulness, that must continuously re-establish contact with the object of awareness.

"Thus, mindfulness is not a means of forgetting the ego; it is a method of using the ego to observe its own manifestations."

kela responded the following in the Epstein thread, reminiscent of what was said recently in the "context-transcendent meaning" thread:

"The upshot is that the synthetic function does no reveal a 'truer' version of reality — the 'whole' — for the true nature of reality is that we do this; that reality is fragmented collage that we put together through the function of kalpana. The 'liberating insight' is the insight into the nature of this process, not some absolute, transcendental, Ultimate Non-dual Reality beyond time and space."

Epstein commented on the ideal ego above as involving an inherent, narcissistic sense of perfection. And that concentration practices lend themselves to a fusion of ego with the ideal. Further in the referenced thread E says:

"Concentration practices do indeed evoke the ego ideal and the oceanic feeling in a manner well described by generations of analytic commentators, but the mindfulness practices, which define the Buddhist approach, seek to dispel the 'illusory ontology of the self' encapsulated within the ideal ego."

The former seems to be the "state" of consciousness typically described as causal emptiness, cessation or nirodha, which is "nondual" because all sense of separation evaporates. Given E's description it is not surprising that it is associated with, i.e., interpreted as, perfection or enlightenment from a synthetic ego (level) perspective that might have "integrated" such experiences but is not yet interpreting them postmetaphysically. Something more is required of our synthetic ego, and it is here were general egoic levels come into play.

We discussed CG's levels of ego in Bonnie's thread but her highest level seems to be this fusion with the ego ideal, the latter a very ancient brain-consciousness state. Whereas I'd say that this interpretation is rather on the low end of the formal ego spectrum, maybe mythic-rational. But then my hypothesis is that all stages higher than formop are skewed due to this mix and match of states and stages. One can have and integrate transcendent state experiences at formop within a meditative tradition without ever going beyond that level. And one can have more complex worldviews beyond formop, including postmetaphysical, without ever integrating such (natural) state experiences via meditative or awareness training of some kind.


To further discussion of the nondual state in particular, I would like to juxtapose passages from two writers who directly explore the interface of nondual experience with constructivist and postmetaphysical epistemologies, Judith Blackstone and David Michael Levin.

First, Judith Blackstone:

"My descriptions of nondual realization, based primarily on my own experience, most closely resemble those found in the Mahamudra and Dzog-chen schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Hindu schools of Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism. Although these different Asian philosophies disagree in their metaphysical conclusions about nondual consciousness, they all describe it as an innate, all-pervasive dimension of consciousness, more fundamental than one's cultural or psychological organization...

"For example, I may recognize a wooden structure with a flat horizontal surface and four vertical supports as a table. I may even feel a little hungry looking at this structure, as it looks like a place where I eat. Another person may come along who has never seen a table. Perhaps he has always eaten his meals on banana leaves on the ground. But he has seen wooden altars. So he may look at this same structure and see an altar, and even feel reverence, for it reminds him of other altars where he has worshipped. However, if both he and I have realized nondual consciousness, we will both have the same, or very similar experience of oneness with this structure. We will both experience clear, empty luminous consciousness pervading both the structure and our own body as a unity. And we will both experience an immediacy of perception, as if the structure emerged out of the pervasive space of our mind. We will both experience the structure's "suchness" or "rawness" (Trungpa, 1974). Now he and I can have a conversation about what that structure means to each of us, without disturbing our experience of unity.

"There is great enjoyment in this immediacy of perception. However, perceptual immediacy is not the only benefit of nondual realization. As I will describe, nondual realization is based on our opennes or availability for experience in all aspects of our being,including our capacity for emotion, understanding, and physical sensation... Although much of Asian philosophy conceives of nondual awareness as our "true nature," it largely ignores the qualitative experience of aliveness that emerges with nondual realization. It ignores, for the most part, how every aspect of our being, including our senses and our capacity for love, cognition, and physical sensation, becomes increasingly unfettered and responsive as we realize nonduality. Zen Buddhism describes the dissolution of the reified separate self as the "great death," but it is important to understand that it is also a great birth. I believe that the fear and the often shame-filled attempt to eradicate personal experience engendered by such Buddhist concepts as "ego annihilation" can be avoided if people know that the dissolution of their abstract self-representations results in a deepening of their human capacities" (Blackstone, The Empathic Ground: Intersubjectivity and Nonduality in the Psychotherapeutic Process)."

Next, David Michael Levin (from a phenomenological journal entry he wrote about his experience on a Dzogchen dark retreat):

"The fourth night and the following day, I began to feel somewhat different. I was in the process of developing a very different attitude: toward the practices I had been struggling with and myself in relationship to them, toward the darkness, and toward the interminable displays of light. And these changes in me were immediately reflected in corresponding changes in the environment. Briefly described, this environment was gradually beginning to feel less wrathful and more friendly -- more like a nurturing, gently encompassing presence. And, as I found myself able to put into practice the many meditative disciplines I had been learning for many years prior to the retreat (primariy the practice of zhi-gnas, calming and quieting the mind, and the practice of lhaktong, developing the deconstructive clarity of my insight into the ultimate emptiness of all passing forms), I began to see a decisive change in the phenomenal displays. The transformations of the lighting became slower, less violent; and in between the displays of forms, I saw more of a clear space. There were more frequent times when I was surrounded by large curtains, or regions, of relatively constant and uniform illumination, sometimes brownish red, sometimes pale green, sometimes a dull white. Sometimes, I found myself looking out into an infinite expanse of clear, dark blue space, punctuated here and there by tiny stars of intense white light.

"During the fourth day and fifth night, I gradually experienced the fact that there is a fifth attitude [other than seduction, resistance, disengagement that involves withdrawing into inner monologue, or disengagement that results in drowsiness]: a way out of the vicious cycle of suffering. The way out was to be found in the teachings and practices I had brought with me into the retreat. And finally, I knew this through direct experience, my own experience -- and not by a leap of faith. The calmness and relaxation I was beginning to achieve was reflected back to me by corresponding qualities in the luminous presencing of the darkness. This different lighting in turn helped me to deepen my state of calm and relaxation and continue developing a non-dual (dbyer-med) visionary presence.

"Beginning with the fifth day, then, it became progressively easier for me to experience what the Tibetans call rigpa: the simple presence of awareness. Staying in this nonduality, I could begin to experience my integration into the element of light. I felt the truth of the Dzogchen teaching that I am by nature a body of light: that I am light; that I and the phenomenal displays of light are really one. Correspondingly, the darkness became a warm, softly glowing sphere of light, an intimate space opening out into the unlimited. I felt bathed in its encompassing luminosity, an interplay of softly shimmering grey-white and blackish-red lights. I experienced a kind of erotic communion with the light, as if the light and I were entwined in a lover's embrace.

"With the development of more neutralized, non-dualistic awareness, my vision was less caught up in the antithesis of movement (gyu-ba) and non-movement (gnas-pa). With the development of my capacity for letting go and letting be [Gelassenheit], my gaze was less troubled by forms in movement. There was less need to withdraw into sleep, because rigpa is a restful aliveness. There was less need for painful staring, less need to stare the forms into fixity, because the greater tranquility of my gaze effortlessly stabilized the inevitable display of moving, changing forms. There was less visual jumping and darting about, because the gaze was not so readily seduced by the play of light into forming attachments to its transformations that would disturbed my becalmed presence. And there was less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual interpretation, because the gaze, more inwardly quiet, could let me begin to enjoy simply being in and with the lighting of the dark.

"[P]rimordial awareness ... flashes up like lightning, because it is an enlightened level of visual perception where the seer and seen meet in the lighting of Being, [a] pervasive continuum of illumination that constitutes the visual field as a whole... Seeing which issues from this level of perceptivity sees things in a way which feels well-articulated by the phrase, 'as they really are,' or by a phrase like 'in their isness'" (Levin, The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation).


I guess what I find metaphysical about the above descriptions is the importance placed on this state. Rather than a natural state to be included and integrated within a healthy egoic frame it seems the epitome of some sort of "spiritual" realization beyond and superior to ego. It is certainly beyond the I-dominated aspect of ego but as Epstein makes clear not the entire ego, and I get this sense that such focus on and elevation of the nondual state of consciousness misses this broader integration. And ironically lends itself to the type of primary narcissism Epstein notes and the spiritual materialism Trungpa is infamous for pointing out. To wit, its rampant manifestation in kennilingus and related evolutionary spiritual community.

In some respects it is like elevating sexual orgasm to some sort of mystical or divine state, another popular and state-specific notion. And we all know that sex does not equal love or sustain a relationship over the long haul, great cums notwithstanding. And ingredient, of course, without which romantic love cannot be sustained either. But magical ingredient?

I am reminded of the previous IPS thread “evolution as metapysics and spiritual violence,” as well as the previous Gaia thread on “authentic enlightenment.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The indigo dollar

"LOHAS and the indigo dollar" by Joseph Gelfer is a new article at Integral World. An excerpt:

"My aim here is not to belittle the spiritual experiences sought in the LOHAS marketplace, challenge constructions of spirituality that promote the subsuming of the ethical and religious in terms of an overriding economic agenda.

"The question is, why is the 'authentic' commercial co-option of the spiritual accepted so uncritically within LOHAS, a demographic identified, driven by and including many very intelligent and spiritually sincere people.... Numerous persuasive arguments claim that alternative spiritualities function freely in a context of late capitalism – characterised by a shift from production to consumer capitalism – so in this sense LOHAS is simply perpetuating the norm.

"I suggest that in order for LOHAS to appeal to the new progressives with their suspicion of the left, it has jettisoned one of the most explicit characteristics of the left: its economic/class analysis. Ideally, this abandonment of a leftist economic/class analysis would be replaced by something appropriate to the perceived values of the new progressives, however this is not the case. As a result, the LOHAS consumer can identify with those standard liberal values but without any of the economic awareness about what is needed to manifest them. This lack of awareness is filled with the only alternative left on the table: the late capitalist status quo. Some residual leftist understanding is alive in LOHAS, thus the need to rebrand late capitalism to something less unsavoury: conscious capitalism; triple bottom line; social profit.

"Even a cursory examination of the I-I website can identify how much it borrows from business in its presentation of a spiritual worldview. I-I is a branding machine.... Like any commercial operation, I-I has built a proprietary wall around its spiritual products.

"This is exactly the type of commodification Carrette and King write of, identifying the selling off of 'ideas and claims to authenticity in service to individual/corporate profit and the promotion of a particular worldview and mode of life, namely corporate capitalism.'

"I-I likens itself to both a gated community and a country club, simultaneously suggesting two things: first, that belonging to I-I is to be safely tucked away in an economically privileged community; second, that I-I is quite happy to articulate it as such, ignoring the economic realities that enable the existence of gated communities and country clubs.

"I-I is 'assembling a new Board of Trustees drawn from our largest donors,' so it appears possible to purchase a governing position at the evolutionary edge of spirituality (Integral Institute 2009). The irony is traditional late capitalism, on which gated communities and country clubs are based, consciously feeds upon the labour of those outside the club. By ignoring this, I-I and Zaadz are exemplars of unconscious capitalism, a result, as mentioned above, of having no appropriate economic analysis within the allegedly 'new progressive' politics."

I am reminded of a previous IPS discussion on "integral global capitalism," wherein there is a link to our even earlier discussion from Gaia. A quote from D.G. Anderson kicks off the thread saying in part:

"My purpose suggest ways in which Wilber’s holarchy flickers or mechanically reproduces in the field of metaphysics and spiritual aspiration the social and political structures of late capital, which are not integral at all."

Here are a few of my comments from that thread:

See David Loy's essay "Can corporations become enlightened?" in The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory, Wisdom Publications 2003. An excerpt:

"The system has attained a life of its own. We all participate in this process…yet with little or no sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such responsibility has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonality of the corporate economic system.

"One might argue…that there are good corporations….The same argument can be made for slavery, there were some good slave owners…. This does not refute the fact that slavery was intolerable…. And it is just as intolerable that today the earth's limited resources are being allocated primarily according to what is profitable to transnational corporations.

"My Buddhist conclusion is that transnational corporations are defective economic institutions due to the basic way they are structured…. It is difficult to see how…they can be simply patched up to make them better vehicles for our economic needs. We need to consider whether it is possible to reform them in some fundamental way…or whether they should be replaced by other economic and political institutions" (100-01).

Recall that our “integral capitalism” thread started with a reference to the Integral Life page on conscious capitalism. It’s title is “Like it or not you’re a capitalist” and it is introduced with these words: “If you shop, have a job, or own any investments, you're a capitalist. But are you a conscious capitalist?”

For one this presumes that if you engage in markets and business or exchange money you are a capitalist, which is an erroneous and revealing assumption. Cannot one do all those things without engaging in capitalism? One most certainly can. Just because money or “capital” in involved doesn’t make it capitalism. The latter is a specific economic system defined as follows from

“An economic system based on a free market, open competition, profit motive and private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism encourages private investment and business, compared to a government-controlled economy. Investors in these private companies (i.e. shareholders) also own the firms and are known as capitalists.

“In such a system, individuals and firms have the right to own and use wealth to earn income and to sell and purchase labor for wages with little or no government control. The function of regulating the economy is then achieved mainly through the operation of market forces where prices and profit dictate where and how resources are used and allocated. The U.S. is a capitalistic system.”

So what do the Integral Life assumptions reveal?

I'm reminded of one of the issues in the Kagan Supreme Court nomination, this notion of consensus between liberals and conservatives. This premise presumes that they are both legitimate ideas of equal worth, complexity and development that just need some balancing and integration. But is the presumption accurate? I think not. I agree with Wilber's general idea that the liberal worldview is a higher development than the conservative. Granted they are exceptions and contextual caveats but it's valid as a generalizing orientation. And I also agree with Wilber that worldviews are what he calls transitional structures, i.e., that as they progress they replace the previous structure. For example, in moral development one does not simultaneously hold an egocentric and worldcentric morality, and they are not balanced or integrated. The latter replaces the former. And so it is with worldviews.

So we not only have to not balance or integrate conservative with the liberal worldviews, we do not have to balance or integrate capitalism with socially and democratically run economic markets. It's not a mix-and-match, pick-as-you-choose elements from capitalism to balance with more equitable ideas from a more developed worldview-marketplace. Such "consensus" has the same assumptions of an equal and complementary relation between capitalism and social democracy as there is between conservative and liberal worldviews. Wilber is lacking in theoretical consistency on his defense (and definition) of capitalism and it has severe real-life consequences for society by continuing the inequities of a system that has outgrown any usefulness it might have had.

Another assumption from the Integral Life piece is the following:

“You believe that ‘capitalism’ can and will evolve as the consciousness of the people composing it evolve.”

This is the consciousness in “conscious” capitalism. But again, this assumes that a higher consciousness, presumably “integral” consciousness, will continue to express through a lower socio-economic system. That somehow the latter can be redeemed it we just think about it differently. It also presumes that this integral consciousness has somehow balanced and integrated the prior liberal and conservative worldviews in a higher synthesis. But recall the liberal or progressive worldview was not a balance or integration of the conservative but its replacement. And if there is such a thing as an integral worldview it too is not an integration of liberal and conservative worldviews but their replacement.

Given that the integral view, as expressed in this article (and videos), tries to balance and integrate capitalism with a so-called higher consciousness it reveals a few things. It is antithetical to its own principles of the transcend-and-replace nature of transitional structures. If fact by tying the transcend-and-include nature of “basic” structures to worldviews and socio-economic systems it regresses to the type of egoic-rational basic cognitive structure that cannot make this very distinction. It lends further support that integral conscious capitalism really is not so much an evolved worldview but more of a conservative, capitalist, Republican socio-economic view dressed up in newer, more glamorous clothing-rationalizations. It’s a view that has yet to go through the so-called “green” progressive worldview with its social and democratically run markets.

I also want to offer John Mackey's statement on conscious capitalism, as he is often held as the exemplar of integral capitalism.

Putting aside for the moment criticism of the idealistic notions of the kind of capitalism Mackey espouses, Chomsky says that laissez-faire capitalism is

“an ideal case that would never be tried by any state or other social structure that has control over its own fate. The existing societies are all state capitalist, with varying degrees of state intervention in the economy and social life.”

What does he prefer instead?

“The really preferred doctrine (at least by me) would be economic democracy, that is, control over workplaces and other economic institutions by participants and communities. There are many such proposals, and some have been implemented. It also has a rich history of popular support.”

When asked about capitalism in general he responded:

“I doubt that capitalism would be a good idea, but it won’t come to the test. The business world would never allow it, just as in the past. They have always demanded a powerful nanny state — for themselves. There are fundamental inefficiencies in market systems even in narrow capitalist terms, and a lot more wrong (a value judgment) in the kinds of values they foster. The US version of state capitalism happens to be particularly cruel.”

Mackey seems oblivious that the ruling form of capitalism is state capitalism, and such corporate control of government will not be changed by a few sincere but naïve idealistic capitalists like him promoting positive change by example. He will not even be noticed by the power elite until and unless he starts to cost them one penny in profit; then he will be crushed. In the meantime such power brokers no doubt silently nod in approval while he promotes capitalism in general, as it keeps the masses from appropriately directing their anger at the iniquitous system that is creating their turmoil.

Recall that capitalism is about private investment and investors (i.e. shareholders) own and control the business. Also recall from Chomsky that in democratic economies ownership and control of business is by participants and communities. This is key to Mackey’s conscious capitalism. Granted I appreciate the beneficial changes he wants to bring to the table, like multiple bottom lines and humane treatment of workers and the environment. But at base is still the assumption that for business to get off the ground it requires private capital investment and such investors should maintain ownership and control. He says:

“The owners/investors must legally control the business to prevent their exploitation by management and by the other stakeholders…. I am not arguing, and have never argued, for anything that weakens the property rights of the investors and stockholders.”

And what of the exploitation by the capital investment system? Is it really necessary for a business to engage in this system to get off the ground? No it is not. There are innumerable examples of businesses that find start-up funding in democratic ways, and that maintain democratic ownership and control of the business. And they not only have multiple bottom lines but create profit as well. But that profit doesn’t have to feed into the capital investment system; it can be distributed to more social goods.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An integral postmetaphysical definition of states

We're discussing this topic at the IPS forum. Following are some slightly edited excerpts:


Inspired in part by Mark Edwards' dissertation, in which he calls for clearer definition of key Integral terms, I would like to open a discussion on this important Integral term. In his work, Wilber obviously frequently uses the term, states, and discusses several types of states, but (to my knowledge) he does not give a clear, formal definition of this important concept. Because it is such a key component of AQAL, and also is held by Integralists to be such an important aspect of spiritual realization, I think it would be worthwhile to really look at what we mean by it, and possibly see if we can together craft a satisfactory "Integral postmetaphysical" definition. I ask specifically for an "Integral postmetaphysical" definition, rather than the definition, because obviously the term will be defined differently in different contexts, and at different stages.

To start, here are a few (relevant) definitions from

1. the condition of a person or thing, as with respect to circumstances or attributes: a state of health.
2. the condition of matter with respect to structure, form, constitution, phase, or the like: water in a gaseous state.
5. a particular condition of mind or feeling: to be in an excited state.
6. an abnormally tense, nervous, or perturbed condition: He's been in a state since hearing about his brother's death.

You can see right off that several "zones" are represented in these definitions. An Integral definition, or series of definitions, would include even more zone-perspectives, and IMP may suggest ways these various types of "states" can be correlated. But simple differentiation of zone-specific definitions will also be important, since I believe the failure to do this probably contributes not infrequently to conflicts and misunderstandings in Integral discussions.

As we discussed in an earlier series of threads (The Status of States), Wilber's use of certain states (particularly causal and nondual) seems still to involve certain metaphysical commitments, which we critiqued at length. But I don't recall that we really arrived at any workable, formal definition of states, or understanding of what is involved in "state training" and "state stabilization" in spiritual development or "realization," so I'd like to return to this question here, if you're interested.

One systems-theoretic, naturalistic definition of states has been attempted by Charles Tart:

"Now I shall formally define a discrete state of consciousness (d-SoC) for a given individual (and I emphasize for a given individual) as a unique configuration or system of psychological structures or subsystems. The structures or subsystems show some quantitative and minor qualitative variation in the way in which they process information or cope or have experiences, but the structures or subsystems and their energetic pattern of interactions comprise a 'system'. The operations of the components, the psychological structures,interact with each other and stabilize each other's functioning by means of feedback control such that the system, the discrete state of consciousness, maintains its overall patterning of functioning within a varying environment. That is, the parts of the system that comprise a discrete state of consciousness may vary over various ranges if we look at individual components, but the overall, general configuration, the overall pattern of the system remains recognizably the same. As an analogy, you can drive your car faster or slower, with a varying number of passengers in it, or change the color of the seat covers, but it retains its identity as the system we know as an automobile. So one may have variations in consciousness, such as being more or less activated, more or less aware of the environment, etc. that represent quantitative changes in certain subsystems or structures of the system, but they do not change the overall, recognizable configuration of the system as being that of our ordinary [waking] state of consciousness, or, for that matter, of any particular discrete state of consciousness. The way to understand a discrete state of consciousness, then, is not only to investigate the structure of the parts in a more and more molecular way, but also to be aware of the way in which the parts interact and the 'gestalt' system-properties of the configuration that arise that may not be predictable from a knowledge of the parts alone." (Tart, THE BASIC NATURE OF ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS: A SYSTEMS APPROACH)

One question that I bring to this (among many) is whether we can define states postmetaphysically, but in a way that still respects and accounts for the "profundity" and power of certain state realizations -- that still can serve, in a sense, as a horizon of aspiration, without the metaphysical trappings.


As you know this is one of my favorite topics. The link you have to the prior "status of states" thread only has the first thread. This link has all 3 threads in one document. It takes forever to load the 164 pages, if it will load at all. But if you click on the download link and open in a word document it takes only a few seconds.

This excerpt from the SOS threads is pertinent to Bonnie's inquiry in the "context transcending meaning" thread. From Feb 21, 2009, 8:42 AM I said:

"Here are some excerpts from New Developments in Consciousness Research by Vincent Fallio (Nova, 2007). For me it indicates that so-called “spiritual” states of consciousness probably arise in very early levels of consciousness and associated brain structures. Hence there is a very real sense in which “primordial” awareness is ancient, in that it arises from these early brain structures. But it is not timeless or absolute; it is grounded in our psychoneurophysiology.

'On a lower level can be found the state of alertness or of being conscious, which refers to a basic level of consciousness or matrix as a generalized state in which the system is receptive to information. This aspect of consciousness is clearly related to the concept of tonic attention, and is also related to neural mechanisms in the stimulatory reticular system, the thalamus, the limbic system, basal ganglia, and the prefrontal cortex' (81).

"And from the Feb 21, 2009, 3:11 PM post quoting Fallio some more:

'…a basic level of consciousness as a generalized state in which the system is receptive to information. In this sense awareness could be related to a tonic or basic attention; it is therefore important to realize that this type of consciousness should be understood as a 'condition for' and not so much as a function or cognitive process. As a result of this it can be affirmed that this notion of consciousness, this state of being aware, is a state that does not contain information'" (68).

And this post from Feb 22, 2009, 10:51 AM:

From The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness by Philip Zelazo et al. (Cambridge UP, 2007):

"A central goal of the practice of meditation is to transform the baseline state of experience and to obliterate the distinction between the meditative state and the post-meditative state…. Practitioners of Mindfulness/Awareness meditation aim to experience the present nowness, and this type of meditation affects the 'attentional baseline' by lessening distractions or daydream thoughts…. These qualities are thought to gradually evolve into lasting traits.

"From an empirical standpoint, one way to conceptualize these various meditative traits is to view them as developmental changes in physiological baselines in the organism" (528).


Roland Fischer's A Cartography of The Ecstatic and Mystical States might also be useful to bring in. He posits that nondual experiences of 'oneness' are related to integration of cortical and subcortical systems in the brain.


Indeed. And the cortical is the interpretative "I" and the subcortical "self" is ecstasy or samadhi. The latter is an "unlearning" and the former a cultural learning. What he doesn't discuss though is that this "self" experience of oneness requires the "I" to interpret it as part of the "integration." Those "self" experiences prior to the development of the "I" are pre-rational fusion, not trans-rational ecstasy or samadhi. He could use a good dose not of LSD but of Levin here, as well as Wilber.

I also appreciate his graph, with the "I" in the middle of both hyper and hypo scales, with the lemniscate at the bottom showing the inverse relation of ecstasy and samadhi. This is quite similar to my suggestion for the WC lattice, turning the "states" on top into a lemniscate mirror to the "stages" below, all with the "I" as the fulcrum.

And finally I like the notion that it requires dreaming or hallucinatory states, or metaphor or symbol as in art, for the "I" and "self" to communicate. Very much like what I was saying about the "bastard reason" required to apprehend khora.

Balder opens the SOS thread discussion noting that states are enacted as well, not apriori, absolute, or timeless givens. Now if we look at tonic attention described above it is pre-reflective, something naturally "given" by virtue of our embodiment and with which we are familiar long before language or the "I." In that sense it is apriori and given. It is also close to being a direct correspondence with the natural environment, mediated only by the senses, which are accurate enough to allow for pragmatic interaction (survival) with said environment. But this tonic attention, which we share with the animal world, is not ecstasy or samadhi; it requires an "I" (which is social to begin with) to differentiate and qualify experience as such. And unless you're a wolf baby you're going to get your "I" fairly quickly, only to be alienated from your tonic "self" by formal operations, more or less so depending on your culture. As Levin makes clear, while this "I" might be in part the differentiation from the "self" (and hence gets bad press as antithetical to it), without this "I" to look back and integrate the likes of the tonic "self"* an integrated body-mind is not feasible. Unless you're born a wolf baby and never interact with humans you'll never get this unadulterated tonic attention back. Or you obtain cortical brain damage maybe, which does seem the case upon entering certain integral institutions. And metaphysical interpretations of such state experiences don't help the matter, as if they are separate from stages, a point Balder also makes in his opening statement. (Which metaphysical belief is a symptom of said brain damage.)

* I put "self" in scare quotes because it is ludicrous to call it that prior to the ego, as if it is the type of inherent, timeless, metaphysical and pristine "state" we re-discover like an ultimate Self, a retro-romantic notion. This is part of what needs to change in a postmeta description.


Yes, I agree. If we want to be self-reflexive about our model-building, then we can acknowledge that the notions of "nondual states" or "pre-reflective modes of tonic attention" are themselves culture- and tradition-specific enactments. But within the model that we are trying to articulate, I am perfectly comfortable calling this form of attention an organismic (or holonic?) a priori.

He was writing before both of them, of course -- at least, before the publication of the books that make these distinctions -- but with the inclusion of these distinctions, I think his model might still be somewhat useful. Looking into this question this morning, I see that James Austin considers Fischer's view in his own reflections on the neurological bases or correlates of mystical state experiences, and he appears to consider Fischer's proposal helpful in some regards, but too simplistic in others.

Looking around the net this morning for more material from Austin, I found the following interview at Buddhist Geeks, which you can listen to at these links (Part 1, Part 2). He is arguing, in much more sophisticated fashion, something I believe I argued early on in a discussion with Julian and/or Kela on the Gaia website: that sustained meditation or spiritual practice has the capacity not only to allow us to "verbally" reconstruct or retranslate experience according to a school's particular doctrinal commitments, but to structurally transform both the organism (brain & body) and the (phenomenal) self-world gestalt.


His top-down and bottom-up attention are consistent with my understanding. However I question a couple of things. 1) He emphasizes the bottom-up as indicative of "awakening", of "perceiving the outside world as it really is," and 2) this prejudice misses the significance of an ego-allo integration. Both of these items are metaphysical interpretations in an otherwise accurate and useful phenomenological and psychoneurological perspective.

I've also been revisiting the thread on Epstein, Psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

Austin says this in an interview:

"When a person takes up the mystical path in a more formal manner, there is a sense of engagement in an ongoing practice which reestablishes, by the deepest of insights, some kind of direct relationship with the Ultimate Reality principle (however this may be defined)."

However this may be defined? Then why the metaphysical definition of a retro-romantic reestablishing with an original, ultimate given? I guess we have latitude in defining it within these metaphysical parameters? Sort of like Balder's ITC paper where one expression of this is that all religions are pointing to the same ontological given?


And not only pointing out instructions, but practices co-ordinating body energy and mind, such as directing prana, developing heat/sensation etc., which produce their own powerful and distinctive phenomonological experiences -- so a consideration needs to be given of the role/function of the "energy body" with regard to states.

Does/should an integral post-metaphysical definition of states allow at least for the possibility of the "natural state" of Dzogchen? Granted, if it's conceptualised as timeless and absolute then this is metaphysics -- but I'd like to make the point that just as the basic level of consciousness should be understood as a condition for cognitive process, so it and the corresponding neurophysiology could equally be seen as a condition for the presence of, and experience of, the "natural state".

Finally, I think the role of the heart and "head-heart interactions" bears consideration.


Absolutely (pun intended). That's part of what I was getting at above about a natural "given." As for head-heart interactions I agree here as well. Not only is there a top-down and bottom-up relationship in the brain but this applies to the body-brain relation as well, with influence going in both directions. Hence I am most appreciative of Buddhist compassion exercises (visualization or otherwise) and commitment to community service.

For me the "integral" in this is integration of all of our individual and collective aspects, not particular "states" of awareness. My guess is that said integration comes from a stage that can appreciate and integrate various discreet states and is more than the sum of states (or stages).

Since Mark Edwards is mentioned at the start of this thread, keep in mind his essay "An alternative view of states" at Integral World, Part 1 and Part 2.

More follows in the comments.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hitchens v Blair on religion

The pair squared off in a recent Munk debate. The full transcript can be found at this link. There's also a link to the video there. We're also discussing this at IPS. Here are some excerpts of our conversation so far:


So far I've only listening to their opening statements. The question framing the debate is the wrong question. Of course religion does good. And it does evil. It is not a matter of eliminating religion but of opening it to change. I'm with Wilber on the general idea of development of religion, and I think that is also (one of) the stated purpose(s) of this forum. But in the name of defending religion against the likes of Hitchens, Blair seems to decry the bad acts while not getting at their root causes, something Hitchens is quite articulate about. There is an enabling apologetics offered for religion, as if its only bad people who pervert it. This misses those metaphysical foundations that are actual causes of such acts by good people (again a point for Hitchens).

This forum explores how to make religion (aka spirituality) postmetaphysical. And yet there is still a strong tendency to defend religion as it is against the likes of atheists like Hitchens, who apparently sees no useful place for it. Perhaps in our reactive defense we enable those very metaphysical attributes that we purport to want to change, at least by giving them a pass? What harm is there in believing that Tara is "real," after all?


Hi, Ed, your points are well taken. I've also only listened to the opening statements so far, and I agree the debate itself is somewhat badly framed. As one commenter on the video pointed out, Blair only has to show one or a few good acts by religion to "win," whereas Hitchens would appear to have to demonstrate that religion never has done good -- a losing proposition from the start.

About giving religion a "pass" and not challenging some of the metaphysical bases and concurrent absolutist tendencies that lead to such harm, I also think that's a good critique and that Hitchens therefore brings an important challenge to moderates or Integralists interested in preserving "religion" as an institution or "force" in the world (even though I think his reading is excessively negative and dismissive).

But regarding your last remark about "Tara" being real (based, I'm guessing, on my discussion of Tara sometimes having ontological weight), I think you've misread me if you think I'm advocating acceptance of Tara as a "real" metaphysical or mythic being (a la the manner critiqued by Batchelor, e.g. as free-roaming beings at large in the world). I've suggested that such beings can function relatively autonomously from the directive center or the ego in the experience of practitioners, after the manner of dream figures or certain visionary experiences, but I am not suggesting they exist independently of the mind of the individual perceiving them. (There are cases in the annals of "spiritual emergency" where an individual suffers from the apparently autonomous and tormenting activity of a "guardian" or other meditatively cultivated entity, which is experienced as an external and "haunting" force. I think this is a pathological state but believe there are possibly ways to work "constructively" with such states or modes of cognitive functioning as well (without requiring a literal, mythic or metaphysical belief system. So...I'm still suggesting a reinterpretation of common traditional views.)


No no Balder, I wasn't suggesting you said Tara was real in that sense. I got the gist of your view from that thread. What I was suggesting is that to give a pass (not saying you do personally) to those who actually believe Tara IS real in a literal sense, that it is a harmless belief and might even do the believer good (again not the point), is to enable a literal metaphysical belief system that has real and often harmful socio-political consequences. As one example, (since you referenced the Batchelor thread, see "letting daylight into magic") consider the Dalai Lama's actions re: Dorje Shugdun. And recall this thread, the shadow of the Dalai Lama.

Blair bogusly insinuated that without religion people would not have the motivation to do good. What of all those atheistic, secular humanists? What of postconventional morality? No metaphysical God is needed for this kind of motivation, and to the contrary a strong case could be made that metaphysical belief is a hindrance to such "more inclusive" compassion.


My take on this is that metaphysics is not unequivocally problematic, meaning no good has ever come from holding a metaphysical worldview. I don't think that's the case. I think religion, even during its full-on mythical and metaphysical heydays, has in a number of ways been a definite "force for good" in the world -- with belief in a divine (metaphysical) being or force or "way" not only inspiring narrow intolerance or bigotry or whatever, but also inspiring people towards (relative, stage-appropriate degrees of) selflessness and altruistic or prosocial activity; encouraging moral development, deep self-inquiry or constructive self-practices, inspiring excellence in art, etc. I would say, in fact, that metaphysics has done a lot of good in the world; but that a metaphysical worldview also has limitations and weaknesses, which may manifest in mild or more extreme forms (e.g., a force for evil), depending on time and context, and that in our day and age a post-metaphysical worldview is more "adaptive" and preferable, overall (which is why I've created a forum like this!). So, while I acknowledge and agree that certain metaphysical beliefs have inspired bizarre doctrines and practices or unjust treatment of various groups of people (or other life forms) over the long, checkered history of religion, and that the "metaphysical" phase of human thought has definitely had its disasters as well as its dignities (to use Wilber's phrase), necessitating (or at least recommending) a move towards postmetaphysics, I would not want to dismiss religion or metaphysics altogether as wholly benighted things, which is what Hitchens seems to want to do.


So if you could clarify, when you write "...a strong case could be made that metaphysical belief is a hindrance to such "more inclusive" compassion." do you mean metaphysical belief per se, i.e. all metaphysical belief?


Perhaps we should revisit the thread defining metaphysics. One meaning is belief in the supernatural. Another is the rational operation of separation into stark opposition. And those are related. Hitchens touches on this in his repulsion to the supernatural and its political consequences. At base is the notion that there is an elevated state of being and that we are not born into it; we are born ignorant at best or debased at worst. And an elect priesthood is the only means by which we must be trained to liberate ourselves from delusion or sin. You find this in all religions, including Buddhism. So yes, religions "love" everyone because they can (and often must) be saved but on condition that they accept their debased condition and the particular redeeming salvation. Whereas a secular and postmetaphysical humanism doesn't require you to be saved; it is your human right to be liberated, and what debases you in the first place is not an inherent condition but a very real constructed, human condition: other humans enslaving you to such metaphysical beliefs and your "proper place"* within them.

* kosmic addressing is the kennilingus version of this.

To continue with reference to Buddhism, the Bodhisattva vow is that one refuses personal liberation until every other sentient being is also liberated. This seems on the surface to be a postconventional compassion since it applies to everyone. But it depends on what we mean by liberation and how you get there. The not-so-metaphysical version is freedom from attachment by a clingy ego, by this separate sense of self. When we get rid of this metaphysical separation of self and other etc. we experience nondual equanimity. I'm fully with this part of the program, even though it's not "enlightenment."

But mixed with this is a type of liberation from rebirth in the physical realm for those who do not take the Bodhisattva vow, who believe that they can go into a metaphysical reality beyond the physical body and not be born again into a physical body with its inherent "defilements." Even the Bodhisattvas believe in this, but chose to forgo this never-to-be-reborn into a body until all sentient beings are liberated and then we all go off to what, rainbow bodies in heaven? So the latter metaphysical base belief taints even the first version of liberation. First one has to be indoctrinated into the particular Buddhist's sect's "view" to receive the teaching instructions, the injunctions, in order to practice "correctly" to achieve release from attachment as verified by the community of the adequate. But part of that verification is that one interpret whatever personal experiences one has within the view of the system. And the view of the system contains the aforementioned metaphysical separation between ultimate and mundane, spiritual and material planes, etc.

So even though there is an apparent love to have everyone be "free," it's the group's usually metaphysical view of what "freedom" means. If you don't do and interpret it right, get the appropriate validation, you ain't saved. You might still get some "compassion" in that you are now a poor, lost soul going to hell, or stuck in delusion, or whatever, but this seems more like a projected relief that the saved one isn't so damned. It still seems like an ethnocentric compassion as distinguished from one that proceeds from the base that we all have inalienable rights that don't have to be earned, that we do not need to escape a hell we didn't deserve by virtue of birth.


I was born with Original Sin, or so I was told via the catechism in primary school. At age eight I was convinced I had a vocation to become a priest, though later on in life an individuation dream gave clear insight into how, within the culture I was born into, and those unconscious family dynamics, my psyche at the time didn't have much of a chance let alone choice. I was, on some level at least, attempting to fulfill my vocation by undergoing training at a seminary to become a priest, from age twelve to fifteen, at which time I was expelled. The shame and indignity of that stung me partially awake and I shouted up to the sky one night that winter "If I'm not good enough for you then you're not fucking good enough for me!" and broke free, at least from those shackles. But original-not-good-enough stains deep, and I've no doubt a good case could be made that I succumbed again to the siren's call, not too long after pulling myself out of several years of slow self-destruct, in discovering buddhadharma. But I don't think it's as straightforward as that, and just as my Jungian guide-to-become-therapist helped me see how it was psyche's move towards individuation that expelled me from those earlier confines, my trajectory over the last thirty odd years, initially within Tibetan buddhism (it's amazing how many catholics and jews ...maybe even catholic jewish atheists... one can come across within Tibetan buddhism) to the present time where I no longer particularly identify as buddhist let alone Tibetan buddhist, hasn't been much of a conventional one, influenced as it's been by psyche's seeming continuing move towards individuation. And the point is I don't think I'm in any way unique in this. And so I don't think westerners are necessarily enslaved by the buddhist priesthood. Even in the beginning, during a few years dalliance with Gelugpa teachings, I heard the Dalai Lama exhorting people to really take to heart the advice contained in that very traditional and classical text, Ashvagosha's Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion, that one should not just uncritically accept anything and everything ones spiritual teacher might say/ask/demand of one, but decline if it went contrary to ones personal compass.

With regard to the buddhist priesthood, you suggest that it's real enslavement begins in persuading people to think/believe they are in a state of ignorance/delusion in the first place, and, as you put it, an elect priesthood is the only means by which we must be trained to liberate ourselves from delusion or sin. For myself I don't see it that way, and I don't see why any dharmaists, lamaist or other, need to. I choose to take a view, a view which places me in the metaphysicalist camp, that my state or condition is already perfect as it is, rather than debased, and that all my circumstances, experiences, interactions etc. are manifestations of this self-perfectedness. And my experience is that whenever I rediscover this no-thing and am able to relax into 'it' I don't have at that time any consideration of the aforementioned view; that the degree & depth to which I am 'in' this no-thing increases my capacity to be informed and graced by its gifts, and to bring them into my life and relationships; that the whole process does seem to be contributing to me becoming a better human being; that I am commonly distracted from connectedness with this no-thing, and that to increase my capacity to be less distracted I choose, for the time being at least, to maintain a suspension of disbelief with regard to many and various notions that would be categorised as metaphysical, because they do seem to be useful in helping me continue with an ongoing experiment in seeing where this kind of practising of deepening into this no-thing, and integrating it into my life, might lead me. All of this my choosing, my choice of what I consider to be enactive participatory spirituality. I'd like to know how this might be "... a hindrance to such "more inclusive" compassion" ... and could you please say a little more about this "more inclusive compassion", how it's defined in your eyes?

We cross-posted. I'll read and digest your latest post when I have more time.


I'm with you lol in seeking a life path that brings peace and equanimity, clarity and compassion. And I'm not being critical of you as a person for your chosen path of Dzogchen, which apparently provides you with these qualities to some degree. Part of what I'm talking about though is this acceptance of the metaphysical underpinnings of any religious belief system, including yours, which you readily admitted to above as an acceptable trade-off. So some questions I have are: Are there nonmetaphysical methods and views to get one to the same, or similar, place? And what are the consequences of the metaphysical underpinnings to a religious system's methods/views?

As to the inherent, natural state of rigpa I agree on the surface this doesn't appear to be the same as original sin. It appears we are originally blessed instead, but somehow sentient beings lose this original purity and have to regain it. As you noted, "distractions" keep you from naturally abiding in it, aka defilements. So what is the cause of these defilements? I'm guessing it's that nasty ego thing that separates us from Eden. But this is a lot like the Bibllical account of Eden that was lost in the Fall, the latter the source of original sin. I'm not familiar with Dzogchen and how they arrive at a similar fall from original grace but per above my guess was the ego. So this defilement sets up our metaphyiscal duality again with all the consequences I discussed above, creating a "spiritual" path to enlightenment versus an ongoing defilement.

As to a more inclusive compassion, I briefly touched on that above too. Take away the dualistic metaphysics and we are stuck with having to provide equal rights to everyone here and now because there's no place else to go, to get away from sin or defilement. We provide inalienable rights by virtue of being born into such a society. Granted it might not work so well in practice but the idea is right.

And it's also no surprise that "democracy" as a political system for all was enacted after the "Enlightenment" period in history, that is, the Age of Reason (and ego). It is not a defilement but the means to social liberation! But not by itself, as I've said before, since it has to be integrated with the kind of awareness like rigpa. But this integration is neither (and both) what the eastern traditions of enlightenment or the western traditions of rational Enlightenment say it is. Freud meets Buddha indeed. To paraphrase and update and old saying (i.e., "open the tradition"): If you meet Freud and Buddha on the road just introduce them to each other.

Friday, November 26, 2010

George Herbert Mead

Jurgen Habermas took great pains to refute the philosophy of the subject as metaphysical thinking. To do so he made ample use of Mead, devoting an entire chapter to him in his book Postmetaphysical Thinking (MIT Press, 1993). Following are excerpts from that chapter, “Individuation through socialization: On Mead's Theory of subjectivity.” Commentary will follow in the comments:

"Humbolt expends great effort in analyzing the use of the personal pronouns; he surmises that the specific conditions for the unforced synthesis of linguistically reached understanding, which simultaneously socializes and individuates the participants, are to be found in the I-you and the you-me relation, which is distinguished from the I-s/he and I-it relations" (163). [Note: this is key to you kennilinguists, who don't have an adequate place for the 2nd person.]

"Mead will be the first to make use of the performative attitude of the first person toward the second person and above all the symmetrical you-me relationship as the key to his critique of the mirror-model of the self-objectifying subject and it relationship to itself" (163).

"A totally different meaning is invested in the claim to individuality that is put forth by a first person in dialogue with a second person" (167).

"Self-consciousness is articulated not as the self-relation of a knowing subject but as the ethical self-reassurance of an accountable person" (168).

"The ego, which seems to be given in my self-consciousness as purely my own, cannot be maintained by me solely solely through my own power, as it were for me alone; it does not 'belong' to me. Rather this ego always retains an intersubjective core because the process of individuation from which it emerges runs through the network of linguistically mediated interactions. Mead was the first to have thought through this intersubjective model of the socially produced ego (170).

Here's more on Mead from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry. There is much here toward how we define “postmetaphysical”:

"In Mind, Self and Society (1934), Mead describes how the individual mind and self arises out of the social process. Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead analyzes experience from the “standpoint of communication as essential to the social order.” Individual psychology, for Mead, is intelligible only in terms of social processes. The “development of the individual's self, and of his self- consciousness within the field of his experience” is preeminently social. For Mead, the social process is prior to the structures and processes of individual experience.

"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 [dualistic, metaphysical] 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. 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.

"The emergence of mind is contingent upon interaction between the human organism and its social environment; it is through participation in the social act of communication that the individual realizes her (physiological and neurological) potential for significantly symbolic behavior (i.e., thought). Mind, in Mead's terms, is the individualized focus of the communicational process; it is linguistic behavior on the part of the individual. There is, then, no 'mind or thought without language;' and language (the content of mind) 'is only a development and product of social interaction.' Thus, mind is not reducible to the neurophysiology of the organic individual, but is an emergent in 'the dynamic, ongoing social process' that constitutes human experience.

"The self, like the mind, is a social emergent. This social conception of the self, Mead argues, entails that individual selves are the products of social interaction and not the (logical or biological) preconditions of that interaction. Mead contrasts his social theory of the self with individualistic theories of the self (i.e., theories that presuppose the priority of selves to social process). 'The self is something which has a development; it is not initially there, at birth, but arises in the process of social experience and activity, that is, develops in the given individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals within that process.' Mead's model of society is an organic model in which individuals are related to the social process as bodily parts are related to bodies.

"The self is a reflective process, i.e., 'it is an object to itself.' For Mead, it is the reflexivity of the self that 'distinguishes it from other objects and from the body.' For the body and other objects are not objects to themselves as the self is.

"It is, moreover, this reflexivity of the self that distinguishes human from animal consciousness. Mead points out two uses of the term 'consciousness': (1) consciousness may denote 'a certain feeling consciousness' which is the outcome of an organism's sensitivity to its environment (in this sense, animals, in so far as they act with reference to events in their environments, are conscious); and (2) consciousness may refer to a form of awareness 'which always has, implicitly at least, the reference to an I in it' (i.e., self-consciousness). It is the second use of the term consciousness that is appropriate to the discussion of human consciousness. While there is a form of pre-reflective consciousness that refers to the 'bare thereness of the world,' it is reflective (or self-) consciousness that characterizes human awareness. The pre-reflective world is a world in which the self is absent.

"Mead's concept of sociality, as we have seen, implies a vision of reality as situational, or perspectival. A perspective is 'the world in its relationship to the individual and the individual in his relationship to the world.' A perspective, then, is a situation in which a percipient event (or individual) exists with reference to a consentient set (or environment) and in which a consentient set exists with reference to a percipient event. There are, obviously, many such situations (or perspectives). These are not, in Mead's view, imperfect representations of 'an absolute reality' that transcends all particular situations. On the contrary, 'these situations are the reality' which is the world."