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."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What "is" the differance?

It struck me that Derrida's descriptions of khora and differance sound reminiscent of Wilber's description of consciousness per se in Integral Spirituality (Shambhala, 2007). For example Wilber says in Chapter 2:

"This happens to fit nicely with the Madhyamaka-Yogachara Buddhist view of consciousness as emptiness or openness. Consciousness is not anything itself, just the degree of openness or emptiness, the clearing in which the phenomena of the various lines appear (but consciousness is not itself a phenomena—it is the space in which phenomena arise)" (66).

Compare with this from Deconstruction in a Nutshell (Fordham UP, 1997):

“But something like khora is 'indeconstructible' not because she/it is a firm foundation, like a metaphysical ground or principle... Rather her indeconstructibility arises because she is...the space in which everything constructible and deconstructible is constituted, and hence...older, prior, preoriginary. Far from being a likeness to the God of the monotheisms...[it] is better compared to...the incomparable, unmetaphorizable, desert-like place without properties or genus....which is not be to confused with the Eternal, Originary Truth...of the intelligible paradigms above” (97-8).

I went into an exploration of Wilber's use of CPS on pages 4 and 5 of the IPN thread, how I think he uses the distinction metaphysically. So let's see how Derrida might be different. “Let us then, like the fool...ask 'what' differance 'is,' in a nutshell....[it] doesn't 'mean' anything at all” (99). After that quote Caputo launches into a discussion of linguistics, about how any word can only be defined in context with other words, and how that definition will change depending on the context of different words around it. In that sense meaning is all within relative context, and yet that differential between meanings, that space or interval in which meaning takes place, is itself not part of the context or meaning. Thus there is not one “essential” meaning of any word because it is contextualized within this play of differences, the play itself being a groundless ground in which meaning takes place.

This seems different than Wilber's metaphysical ground wherein all forms arise. The latter seems much more like Plato's archetypal realm of Ideal forms that step down into the sensible world and “in”form it. Granted Wilber doesn't see them as “pre-formed” but rather much more amorphous involutionary and morphogenetic “potentials.” Still, it seems this is part of the involutionary versus evolutionary dualistic scheme with one side being origin and absolute, with the other being result and relative. Derrida's differant khora is both outside and within that duality, not taking sides, as it were, but providing the stage upon which they play out their differences and similarities.

“He does not stake out the ground of a higher principle but concedes a certain an-arche at the bottom of our principles. Derrida is not denying that we have 'principles' or 'truth'.... He is just reinscribing our truth and principles in the an-arche of differance, attaching to them a co-efficient of 'contingency.' For the only 'necessity' he acknowledges is the necessity that precedes all oppositions...inscribing them in a vast and meaning-less receptacle called differance. This is why you cannot ask what differance 'is,” for its 'meaning' or 'truth'....[it] but points a mute, Buddhist finger at the moon” (102).

This differant khora is thus a way to keep meaning open so that it doesn't become fixed and rigidified. All possibilities reside therein so that different contexts as yet unseen will provide new meaning. It requires that we are ceaselessly pushing out boundaries and testing our limits, boldly going where no one—except perhaps Jean Luc and crew—have gone before.

Or maybe those Buddhists to whom Wilber refers? Balder and Bonnitta have made the case for a similar type of open, groundless ground that is in Dzogchen. Maybe so. And that perhaps Wilber, while using that Buddhism, still retains some metaphysics in his interpretation?

As context we discussed many similar themes in the Meillassoux thread, where contingency was explored as a non- or postmetaphysical ontology. As one example I said:

I just read Caputo's interesting review of a book about a debate between Millbank and Zizek. Here are some excepts highlighting my point from the next to last post, and related to what I've read so far about Miellassoux:

"The core theoretical debate in this book goes back to Hegel, about which Milbank and Žižek share considerable agreement. For Hegel, the fundamental motor of time and becoming is dialectical reconciliation of the members of a binary oppositional pair in virtue of which each one tends to pass into the other on a higher level. But Žižek rejects Hegel's invocation of "reconciliation" of opposites in a happier harmony. For Žižek the next step, the negation of the negation, does not mean a step up (aufheben) to a higher plane of unity but instead a more radically negative negation in which we are led to see that this mutual antagonism is all there is and that we are going to have to work through it. The unreconciled is real and the real is unreconciled. The only reconciliation is to reconcile ourselves to the irreconcilable, to admit that there is no reconciliation, and to come to grips with it. The negation of the negation leaves us with a deeper negation, not with an affirmation. It is not that the spirit is first whole, then wounded, then healed; rather such healing as is available to it comes by getting rid of the idea of being whole to begin with. The antithesis is already the synthesis (72).

"Žižek provocatively suggests an odd kind of 'positive' unbelief in an undead God, like the 'undead' in the novels of Stephen King, a 'spectral' belief that is never simple disbelief along with a God who is never simply dead (101). God is dead but we continue to (un)believe in the ghost of god, in a living dead god. If atheism ("I don't believe in God") is the negation of belief ("I believe in God"), what is the negation of that negation? It is not a higher living spirit of faith that reconciles belief and unbelief but a negation deeper than a simple naturalistic and reactionary atheism (like Hitchins and Dawkins). Belief is not aufgehoben but rather not quite killed off, even though it is dead. It is muted, erased but surviving under erasure, like seeing Marley's ghost even though Scrooge knows he is dead these twenty years; like a crossed out letter we can still read, oddly living on in a kind of spectral condition. Things are neither black nor white but shifting, spectral, incomplete. We have bid farewell to God, adieu to the good old God (à Dieu), farewell to the Big Other, Who Makes Everything Turn Out Right, Who Writes Straight with Crooked Lines, who maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Still, that negation of negation does not spell the simple death of belief but its positive mode in which belief, while dead, lives on (sur/vivre). This unbelief would be the 'pure form' of belief, and if belief is the substance of the things that appear not, Žižek proposes a belief deprived of substance as well as of appearance. Žižek mocks Derrida mercilessly, but when spaceship Žižek finally lands, when this buzzing flutterbug named Žižek finally alights, one has to ask, exactly how far has he landed from Derrida's 'spectral messianic.'"

Remember this from the comment to my last post, from DIAN:

“When we think of Plato we think of the two worlds or regions allegorized in the cave: the upper world of the intelligible paradigms, the sphere of invisible and unchanging being in the sun of the Good that shines over all, as opposed to the sensible likenesses of the forms in the changing, visible world of becoming.... When presented with a neat distinction or opposition of this sort—and this distinction inaugurates philosophy, carves out the very space of 'meta-physics'—Derrida will not, in the manner of Hegel, look for some uplifting, dialectical reconciliation of the two in a higher third thing, a concrete universal, which contains the 'truth' of the first two. Instead, he will look around—in the text itself—for some third thing that the distinction omits, some untruth, or barely remnant truth, which falls outside the famous distinction, which the truth of either separately or both together fails to capture, which is neither and both of the two" (83)

Recall Balder says this in the M thread:

"What isn't clear to me is whether this completely invalidates the evolution of meaning-systems that Kegan describes, or whether it just undermines the 'closure' we might expect any new emergent meaning-making system (including a meta-system like Kegan's) to exhibit.... If contingency is taken at an extreme...[then] there is no possibility of speaking of 'systems' at all."

Perhaps you can see from above that Derrida (and perhaps M, not sure) is not taking contingency to an extreme, that it doesn't undermine meaning and truth, just grounds and opens the latter's closure?

And as kela noted in the M thread "his [M's] idea of unreason sounds somewhat anarchic to me." Recall the an-arche of khora/differance above, and the type of reason that apprehends it from this excerpt of the "con and decon pomo" thread quoting DIAN:

"Plato says it is not a legitimate son of reason but is apprehended by a spurious or corrupted logos, a hybrid or bastard reasoning."

One of M's critiques or correlationism in that thread was that it accepts ontology as unknowable. To the contrary it would indeed appear one can apprehend it with a bastard form of (un)reasoning much like his own.

And this from DIAN:

"The last thing Derrida is interested in doing is undermining the natural sciences or scientific knowledge generally. A 'deconstruction' of natural science...would be to keep the laws of science in a self-revising, self-questioning mode of openness to the...'anomaly' the upstarts, the new ideas" (73).

But this is not done in an arbitrary fashion by simply questioning the underlying principles of science or any knowledge base without having a firm grounding in that base. For one must first know the thing one deconstructs inside-out from the point of view of those holding such knowledge. For example:

"To read Aristotle and Plato well one must learn Greek, learn as much as possible about their predecessors, contemporaries and successors, about their religions, social, historical and political presuppositions, understand the complex history of subsequent interpretations of their works, etc." (78).

It is this type of thorough understanding of Plato that Derrida brings with his deconstructive reading, and the implications are right in Plato's text.

"The very idea of a deconstructive reading presupposes this...classical reading....only after that reading, or through it, or best of all along with it, does a deconstructive reading settle in.... The idea is not to jettison the classical discipline but to disturb it by way of exploring what systematically drops through its grid and, by so disturbing it, open it up" (76-7).

One of Wilber's criticisms is that deconstruction is not a praxis that leads to a direct apprehension of emptiness, it's all words and concepts, all lingusitic, all "relative." As we can see, it most certainly is a practice that leads to apprehension, albeit a different praxis and a different, non-relative (and non-absolute) emptiness.

Also for reference here are the links to the prior Gaia threads on Derrida and Desilet's synergist spirituality. The documents are so large that Google docs sometimes cannot load them for viewing but you can download them quickly and then open them in any word processing program. I did so just now with the Derrida thread. It is 183 pages so you can see why sometimes (ofttimes) Google docs has difficultly displaying them. (Desilet's thread is "only" 155 pages.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Context-transcendent meaning?

Here are some posts from a discussion by this name at the IPS forum:


I am researching a working paper tentatively called "The search for context-transcedent meaning." In this post-metaphysical age, is there any context - independent knowledge or context-transcendent meaning? If maybe so... what kinds of categories, notions, meaning-drivers, values do you suppose they would be?


It depends on what you mean by "context," i.e., in what context are you referring to the term? If you mean can we have meaning or knowledge without a physical body, then I'd say no and any such assertion is one of the many definitions of "metaphysical." But if you mean cultural context, then the embodied realists Lakoff & Johnson would say a qualified yes. For example, in Philosophy of the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999) they note that "there is no poststructuralist person, no completely decentered subject for whom all meaning is arbitrary, totally relative, and purely historically contingent" (5-6), all because we are embodied and that is a qualified universal beyond solely cultural constructs.

If you mean can knowledge or meaning be category-free, as if categorization is some kind of cultural context, then L&J would say no. "The categories we form are part of our experience.... We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience" (19). Just as there is no strictly poststructuralist person there is no strictly phenomenological person who can discover or experience reality as it is sans embodied categorization (5).

Also regarding cultural contexts and constructs, I quoted the following on p. 3 of the con and decon pomo thread:

"That Derrida here could be said to hint towards a form of context-transcendent meaning based in ‘otherness’, that is to say, outside the realm of ‘ownness’ and thus in between subjects, is not picked up by Habermas.... Critchley then argues that there might be a universal, ‘undeconstructable’ ethical moment in deconstruction."

Ironically Derrida was labled a relativist by the constructive postmodernists like Habermas, Griffin and Wilber. But as that article and John Caputo make clear that is just a straw man Derrida knocked down by their own inherent misunderstandings. For example this from Caputo, from Deconstruction in a Nutshell (Fordham UP, 1997):

"Every deconstructive analysis is undertaken in the name of something...affirmatively un-deconstructable.... What is neither real nor ideal, neither present nor future-present, neither existent nor idealizable" (128).

That is, deconstruction only operates on the relative, a relative that assumes a universal but only through an unconscious (or sometimes conscious) ignorance of its relative compliment. However there is a (quasi) universal beyond such relativity, beyond such cultural constructs like language, that doesn't partake of its dichotomies.


How about pre-reflective meaning?
Something like Heidegger's in-dwelling

Where do our categories-in-experience come from?
Is there a kind of pre-reflective existential situation?


I would think Heidegger's in-dwelling or pre-ontological understanding -- which, of course, is a significant topic in Levin's work -- would be such a candidate. In The Listening Self, Levin explores this (as I expect you're aware) through the concept of Zugehorigkeit, the infant's "primordial" experience with the pre-reflective field of hearing, which is later "recovered" through the phenomenological-hermeneutic task of his Stage IV work (Gelassenheit). As Levin stresses, there never really was an absolutely pure experience of total presence -- never, perhaps, an entirely context-free experience or field of meaning -- but this pre-ontological experience nevertheless approximates that (from the point of view of the conventional self), as a field of experience that is " global, holistic, syncretic, synergic, ek-static," and can be appreciatively recovered through spiritual, existential praxis. In the passage I quoted on my recent Levin thread, he adds some additional archetypal images to represent the qualities of this pre-reflective / post-reflective condition: "the 'uroborus,' roundness, wholeness, openness, receptiveness, embodiment, feeling, communion with the matrix of [experience]."

Are some of these terms in line with what you are exploring in your paper? As a field which is at least self- or ego-transcendent, if not entirely free of all possible contexts (the assertion of which would likely push us into metaphysical territory)?


Pre-reflective experience, of course. Even so our embodiment delimits what pre-reflective experience will be. That's where inherent, basic-level categories come from, our embodiment that developed in relation to the environment, and why those basic categories are so close to a 1-to-1 representation of that environment. Notice the terms Balder uses above for the reflective, recontextualization of that experience: global, holistic, syncretic. Compare this with the descriptions of basic-level categories discussed in the “real and false reason” and “integral postmetaphysical nonduality” threads.


I guess what I am trying for -- what I would love to put in the article, is some direct understanding or phenomenology of what it might mean/ be that some awareness, understanding, experience, knowing ... is context transcendent. Isn't there ANYTHING in you/ your life/ your existential situation/ your experience that you feel is true or real without interpretation, or pre-reflectively? or is your primordial existential situation/ experience/being/ embodied presence enfolded in an interpretive or reflective understanding?

And when you go "check into" that something that might be pre-reflective, or non-whatever ... how might you explain (with metaphor after the fact) what that was like?


OK how do we normally cognize experience? We feel there is a self somewhere inside our head maybe 2 inches behind our left eyeball or some such. Or maybe not so much of a self but a vantage point of existing “in here” and interpreting what is happening “out there”. When that meaning making basis of division of re-presenting stops, it is not so much a “transcending” of context to a new meta-context or synthesis of opposites but the previous ways of interpreting based on the that division flush out of awareness so there is no longer an intuited “in here” vs “out there”. You talked about figure and foreground perspectives and that is not quite it as there is still a meaning making division between the two i.e. we accept the division or differentiation as actual. (Although shifting figure and fore/background exercises can help begin to loosen the belief in said separation.) I don’t feel pre-reflexive gets to it either as when “in here” and “out there” lose all meaning, “before” and “after” is flushed out as well.


The idea here being that there is some process of a-waring that is not defined by the scholastics, but seems inevitably to require constantly being brought into new context, depending not only on the period or culture, but also, on an individual basis either i-thou, or i-awe.. and that the "dharma" is not something that is formulaic, but a process that continually re-news its form or structures... so perhaps it is this process that is context-transcendent, but the forms are context-dependent.

Now I am thinking of a kind of Platonic Ideal - which i do not like or adhere to-- brought into the post-postmodern era. That the forms are not "shadows" of separate Ideas outside the cave, but are elementals of their generative process... the generative process is like a "developmental modality" that itself transforms through time, so what arises through the process, evolves.


"...require constantly being brought into new context, depending not only on the period or culture, but also, on an individual basis either i-thou, or i-awe...and that the 'dharma' is not something that is formulaic, but a process that continually re-news its form or structures.... Now I am thinking of a kind of Platonic Ideal."

I know from our past conversations that you think Derrida is not a candidate for what you seek but perhaps that has changed? Nevertheless I find a lot of him in what you describe. For example, as to your point about the singular event free from the formulaic context, here's Caputo in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (IUP, 1997):

"Like the singularity of an event whose uniqueness makes each occurrence both an unprecedented first time and an unrepeatable last time.... The wholly other is any singularity...[that] we cannot lift up, cannot generalize, cannot universalize, cannot formalize" (51-2).

And as to a kind of Platonic ideal, recall D's take on Plato's khora:

"Derrida's concern is with 'something' which is neither the one nor the other, which is anterior to both, something which is not a thing, 'something like an indeconstructable khora,' not because it is invulnerable to deconstruction but because it is 'the very spacing of de-construction'" (53).

DIAN (cited above) devotes the entirety of Chapter 3 to Derrida's take on Plato's khora. A sample:

“Khora is not a universal (abstract place in general), nor a particular (a contained place), but something radically singular: place itself—within which multiple places are inscribed” (95).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Con & decon pomo continued

I will be referencing some sources in this post that were cited in the comments section from the last post, so check out those comments for the citations. And all of this comes from my posts at the IPS discussion forum on the topic.

More from Gare:

[criticizing Fichte] "it is inconceivable that an Absolute I could become conscious of itself, Schelling argued that the self-conscious I needs to be explained as the product and highest potentiality of nature....he claims, moreover, that the 'unconscious' stages through which consciousness emerges can only become conscious to an I that has developed out of them and realizes its dependence upon them" (34).

"Hegel's attack on Schelling provoked a sustained response from Schelling, who defended and elaborated his philosophy to expose the defects in Hegel's philosophy. He charged Hegel with producing a self-enclosed dance of abstractions dealing with essences without any place for existence. The crucial move made by Schelling was to show that a system of reason cannot explain the fact of its own existence" (38).

He does later on though note that process philosophers are in a better position to integrate early and late Schelling since they start from Schelling's early work whereas poststructuralists reject it (47). We'll see about that! Especially in light of the American pragmatists, one being Pierce who is cited as one of those process folks who adopted Schelling's early works.

The following are some excerpts from Schelling's entry in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy regarding his early work. Tell me this doesn't sound like Desilet's descriptions of Derrida as "not one, not two," I dare you! The latter rejects Schelling's early work indeed.

"The model is a magnet, whose opposing poles are inseparable from each other, even though they are opposites....the ‘principle of all explanation of nature’ is ‘universal duality’, an inherent difference of subject and object which prevents nature ever finally reaching stasis. At the same time this difference of subject and object must be grounded in an identity which links them together, otherwise all the problems of dualism would just reappear.

"One aspect of being, the dark force, which he sometimes terms ‘gravity’, is contractive, the other expansive, which he terms ‘light’. Dynamic processes are the result of the interchange between these ultimately identical forces. If they were wholly separate there would either be no manifest universe, because contraction would dominate, or the universe would dissipate at infinite speed because expansion would dominate. The result would be the same: there would not be a world....the One comes into contradiction with itself and the two forces constantly vie with each other. Differences must, however, be grounded in unity, as otherwise they could not be manifest at all as differences.

"This interaction between what is contained in itself and what draws something beyond itself is also what gives rise to consciousness, and thus to an inherent tension within consciousness, which can only be itself by its relation to an other."

(For some not familiar with Desilet, he participated in a couple of threads at the old Gaia forum. Here are links to two of those threads: Derrida and synergist spirituality. They are stored at Google documents which is sometimes slow in loading these large documents, and sometimes they don't load at all due to system overloads. Keep trying and eventually you'll get them.)

Here's what Mead said about Schelling, from Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century (Read Books, 2007):

“The antinomy in knowledge, instead of being the indication that we are trying to know something we cannot know, is the very process by means of which knowledge itself arises. The antinomy is a stage in the process of knowledge” (120-1).

He then goes into an examination of the Sophist tradition of ancient Greece, how they used “the dialectic” to trap opponents in contradictions. For when one sets up a universal definition there will always be particular instances that refute such “orienting generalizations.” Socrates was the champ at such sophistry but for him “it was a means for getting back to certain fundamental realities” (121). That fundamental reality is that there is no perfect, ultimate or universal category as such. Nonetheless, it is in positing such universals that we discover this through the process of antinomy, the process of differánce (not difference) as such! It is a postformal dialectical relationship between the universal and the particular that is not one, not two.

Mead went into an investigation of Kant as prelude to Schelling, given the former's influence on all subsequent philosophical investigation. So let's take a brief look of his critique of metaphysics from a concise, reliable source, the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. First off, K said that we cannot know the thing-in-itself by reason alone, but that reason and sensibility (experience) combined might enact such knowledge. Reason alone generates a "formal" dialectic and irreconcilable contradictions. This type of reasoning generates an a priori world of ideas from which the world of form depends. Sound familiar? (See real and false reason thread.)

Given this split or antinomy reason seeks to find ultimate or transcendental causes to ground all conditions, to find the ultimate generalization to ground all particulars, to seek "theories of everything." Which of course presumes an ultimate as already given to be found, the now infamous myth of the given. However, this propensity of reason to seek out the ultimate or unconditioned has its functional use if not taken metaphysically, "so long as they are construed 'regulatively' and not 'constitutively.'”

Continuing with Kant's SOP entry, what the author means by regulative use is "as devices for guiding and grounding our empirical investigations and the project of knowledge acquisition." To construe constitutively "is provide the concepts through which we might access objects that could be known through the speculative use of reason." Take away the literal belief in an ultimate but use conditional generalities (quasi-ultimates via metaphor) as categories to organize, manipulate and add meaning to events. Here we seem some roots of the American pragmatists and their offspring the cogscipragos in grounding reason is empirical events and embodiment sans the metaphysical commitments. And again, in this way the ultimate and the particular are in relation, not diametrically opposed, both and neither.

However it doesn't appear Kant went all the way to this conclusion, instead postulating a transcendental idealism (at least according to Mead) as the solution to the antinomies. It seems Fichte went along with this but it was Schelling that took the more "pragmatic" turn.

By transcendental idealism I mean that Kant thought the “categories” were not only inherent to the mind but also the objective world, that they were originary or causal. So even though one could not know the thing in itself with reason alone, one could apprehend it nonetheless because the categories were inherent in the sensible world and in our intelligible mind and this was the connection point. All of which transcended our reason because these ideal categories existed both within and without us. Kant started us down the postmetaphysical trail but this remnant of it remained behind to haunt his philosophy. A remnant we still see in Wilber's transcendental subject (that he got from Fichte and manifested in his transrational “states”) and mathematical models like the MHC with their ideal Platonic forms.

Now Kant was right that the categories are inherent to our mind but not like he envisioned. We know from Lakoff & Johnson (see real and false reason thread) that categorization is indeed inherent to the way or brain-mind works and it cannot be otherwise. But they do not extend this to the world in itself as a causal agency that we just apprehend. We certainly utilize our categorization to organize and manipulate the world for our benefit but they don't confuse this with this remnant myth of the given; they still maintain this every so small separation that we don't actually know the thing in itself but nevertheless well enough within our relationship with it to effect useful change. Recall they warned that because this gap is small it is easy to make the confusion that it is nonexistent which led us down the primrose path of false reason, i.e. metaphysicality.

In criticizing Fichte Schelling turns us back from the transcendental subject (object) by noting it is not originary but arises from the unconscious processes of nature and thus not transcendental in the sense Fichte intends. This was also his criticism of Hegel, who also maintained originary “essences.” While the early Schelling went along with this agenda, the mid- to late Schelling did not. Hence you get Wilber citing early Schelling, Fichte and Hegel as corroborating evidence for his own transcendentalism while ignoring later Schelling and the subsequent American pragmatism that sprang from it (e.g. Mead), and the cognitive science movement that evolved from that (e.g., Lakoff & Johnson). But Wilber himself was not “originary” in that, getting it from the likes of the constructive postmodernists like Griffin, who still retain (as Pedraja notes) a “centeredness” in Whitehead's philosophy.

And along came the likes of Derrida, who Hampson asserts is not strictly of the deconstructive variety but also constructive. The likes of Griffin and Wilber, themselves emphasizing one side of this coin with their essences and formalisms, cannot see like Hampson that Derrida combined both sides in his postformal dialectics. Recall above the quotes from Schelling's mid to late period on the relation of opposition and compare with Desilet's discussion of Derrida.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Constructive and deconstructive postmodernism

Continuing the theme from the postformal enaction post, Hampson in his Integral Review article “Integral re-view postmodernism” (link in previous post) discussed how Wilber distinguishes construction and deconstructive postmodernism. The latter is a lower level of postformal development (green) while the former is a higher postformal development (teal and above). Aside from Hampson questioning the validity of deconstruction as relativistic he also questions this placement and suggests that perhaps they are both sides of the same postformal coin (level).

In this regard Mark Edwards (2010) says this:

“I regard integral metastudies as a counterpart to the more typical forms of decentering and deconstructing postmodernism which seeks to identify and give voice to the personal story, the local history, the grounded experience, and the marginalized instance. These two postmodern activities are fundamentally different and provide critical counterpoints for each other’s development. Decentering, pluralist postmodern research is not something I believe is to be integrated within an integral metastudies. Decentering postmodernism and integrative postmodernism are complementary forms of knowledge building. Where integral postmodernism develops abstractions, decentering postmoderism develops grounded stories. Where integral postmodernism creates imaginative generalized frameworks, decentering postmodernism creates particular narratives and personalized accounts of human experience.

“This is not a developmental modernism versus postmodernism battle. It is an ongoing complementarity (e.g., Plato and Aristotle). An integral metastudies should not be seen as a rational project of integrating every perspective, concept, paradigm, or cultural tradition within its domain. There must be some things that, by definition, lie outside of its capacities to accommodate and explain. Consequently, an integral metastudies needs a decentering postmodernism that it cannot integrate, that lies outside of its scientific and systematic purview, which continually challenges it and is critical of its generalizations, abstractions, and universalizings. The decentering form of particularizing postmodernism is not something that integral metatheory can locate or neatly categorize somewhere within its general frameworks. Decentering postmodernism will always provide a source of critical insight and substantive opposition to the generalizing goals of an integral metastudies. In the same way that postmodernism often misunderstands integrative approaches as just some form of scientific monism, there is a danger that integral researchers can misrepresent the decentering and localizing concerns of postmodernism as simple relativism” (408 - 09).

Recent work on metatheory suggests that postmodern decentering is itself a form of metatheory, a compliment to the more constructive kind. For example in the special Integral Review issue on metatheory Steven Wallis (2010) says:
"It may be noted that six of our authors describe metatheory as making implicit assumptions explicit analysis of assumptions analysis of underlying structure, and the analysis of structure. These are essentially deconstructive approaches.

"In contrast to this deconstructive approach, metatheory may also be understood to integrate multiple theories. The two approaches may be inseparable as one cannot combine integrate two theories without also integrating the assumptions, structures, and concepts of those theories. In short, metatheory (as the study of theory) may be conducted in at least two ways. It may be integrative (where multiple theories are combined). It may be deconstructive (where theories are parsed into their constituent components for analysis and/or recombination). Either way, the process leads to the creation of a metatheory, metatheorum, or a 'theory of theory'” (78).

In the same issue of IR Latha Poonamallee sees Advaita non-dualism as one of the deconstructive metatheories. She says in "Advaita (non-dualism) as metatheory":

"Another school of thought takes the position that examining metatheory as a constellation of ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions is a useful one. This paper is more aligned with the latter view that an examination of the underlying assumptions about theorizing can increase 'theoretical consciousness'and provide an alternate framework for inquiry” (190).

I will have more to say about nondualism as a legitimate metatheory in itself later, which disagrees with using such traditional notions of nondualism because they retain metaphysical elements.

Edwards, M. G. (2010) ‘Of Elephants and Butterflies: An Integral Metatheory for Organizational Transformation, in Integral Theory in Action: Applied, Theoretical, and Critical Perspectives on the AQAL Model, Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (Ed.) Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp.385-412.

Wallis, S. (2010) "Toward a science of metatheory," Integral Review 6:3, July.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mark Edwards' Ph.D. dissertation

can be found at this link: "An integral metatheory for organisational transformation." In Chapter 8.4 he details the inadequacies of the AQAL model. On p. 224 he lists lenses that are missing, including system dynamics, social mediation, postmodern decentering and evolutionary process. It sounds like a partial table of contents for my critiques over the years. In my modesty I'm almost embarrassed (not) to note that I'm given an honorable mention in his Acknowledgments.

You might also check out his blog over at the Institute for Integral Studies. Here's a post on altitude sickness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What is postformal enaction?

Commons et al recently published an article that is available at Integral World called "Why postformal stages of development are not formal but postformal." To justify this claim they use the mathematical model of hierarchical complexity (MHC). The rationale is that a stage is higher if it is more complex based on 3 principles:

"Axiom 1...posits that...higher order actions are defined in terms of two or more lower-order actions; Axiom 2...that the higher order action coordinates lower-order actions; Axiom 3 states that the ordering of actions is not arbitrary."

Here we have the infamous Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis and higher integration. Otto Laske reiterates this in his recent ITC presentation wherein he says:

"Dialectical thinking preserves the essential gift of formal logic – making distinctions – but subordinates the latter’s “A is always A” to the notion that “A is never only A but always already non-A, and therefore always tends toward synthesis in Aprime....only to become thesis again for a subsequent cycle of dialectical motion and comment. However, one need not fear the 'bad infinity' Hegel found in formal logical thought since A-prime is a qualitatively transformed A, not something that remains on the same level of complexity that A was located on."

It is this very thesis of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (TAS) on a new level that is questioned by some postmodern, postformal thinkers. Granted the likes of the MHC might agree that they have advanced beyond formal operations but only to the next stage, often dubbed pluralistic or relativistic in kennilingus. That they haven't yet accepted the premise of TAS is by definition a lower order of complexity. But I think it is at this postmodern juncture that there is a legitimate debate as to what constitutes a more pragmatic, postformal enaction. It may or may not be more "complex" in terms of the MHC's math, but is further complexity really the measure of your postformality?

This very issue was discussed on the old Integral Review form in response to Gary Hampson's article "Integral reviews postmodernism." While much of that discussion has since disappeared from IR's archive I retained much of it at Open Integral in 3 links: Parts 1, 2 and 3. Therein Bonnitta Roy begins by asking:

"It is my feeling that dialectics in the above forms, is formal, not postformal, because it relies on the positing of opposite pairs, which it considers in some kind of tension. I believe that post-formal thinking sees dialectical pairs as self-defining, and therefore the tension is ‘resolved’ or ‘dissolved’ before the is any kind of movement toward synthesis. This open up into entirely new ways of thinking/perceiving more in terms of 'constellations'(hunting for the right words here) and what the Buddhists call co-dependent origination."

So is classical Hegelian dialectics, even upgraded in the MHC, itself postformal or just an extension of formal operations? In “The evolution of consciousness” Gidley talks about the difference between research that identifies postformal operations (PFO) from examples of those that enact PFO. And that much of the research identifying PFO has itself “been framed and presented from a formal, mental rational mode” (109). (Commons admits that "whereas the Model’s unidimensional measure is linear, the tasks it measures are nonlinear performances" (306).) Plus those enacting PFO don’t “necessarily conceptualize it as such” (104), meaning the way those that identify it do, i.e., from a formal operational (FO) mode. Is the way PFO is identified through FO really just a FO worldview interpretation of what PFO might be? Especially since those enacting PFO disagree with the very premises of the FO worldview and its 'formally' dressed PFO?

Gidley sees it more from a Gebserian aperspective:

“For Gebser, integral-aperspectival consciousness is not experienced through expanded consciousness, more systematic conceptualizations, or greater quantities of perspectives. In his view, such approaches largely represent over-extended, rational characteristics. Rather, it involves an actual re-experiencing, re-embodying, and conscious re-integration of the living vitality of magic-interweaving, the imagination at the heart of mythic-feeling and the purposefulness of mental conceptual thinking, their presence raised to a higher resonance, in order for the integral transparency to shine through” (111).

Because the MHC assumes that it is only an objective and quantitative model that purports to eliminate qualitative content and distinction (formal, metaphysical claims), you find very different descriptions of the postformal levels than one might in the more domain-specific models like cognitive or ego development. For example see Torbert’s "Cultivating adult postformal development." He defines formal operations as being logic oriented whereas the first postformal stage a Strategist seeks “to construct an explicit and distinctive integrative theory of self and world that recognized development (e.g., theories such as Hegel)” (185). So far this sound more like an extension of formal logic I’ve been criticizing. However he also notes that the Strategist is “aware of paradox” and “relativistic” (186) so this is not quite in line with Hegalian dialectics.

The next stage though, Magician/Clown, has some interesting characteristics. For example: “ego identity disintegrates, creates mythical events that reframe situations, blends opposites, treats time and events as kairatic, symbolic, alalogical, metaphorical” (186-7). Here we get into the kind of postformal dialectics discussed at length in an Integral Review forum on Gary Hampson’s article (cited above). The whole notion of a Hegelian dialectic is replaced by understanding that core dualities cannot be “resolved” into a higher integration but rather a Magician “blends opposites” dynamically according to context through analogical, metaphorical narrative. This is further reinterated in his last stage, Ironist, who “cultivates a quality of awareness and action that highlights dynamic tensions of the whole enterprise” (189).

Nothing of this sort is seen in the MHC. As Hampson’s article suggests, “the way out [of postmodernism] is through it.” I suggest Hegelian models like MHC have yet to sufficiently go through this “stage” and hence, much like Wilber, continue to conflate, exaggerate and project formal operations into postformal stages via more "complex" yet possibly less "integrated" perspectives.

This is just the tip of a very big iceberg. To be continued.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More on dynamic systems

Here's a link to a very technical paper called "The 'dynamic turn' in cognitive linguistics." The abstract:

"The introductory sections of this paper ask the following basic questions about the proper goals of linguistic theory: Why did linguistic structuralism fail as an explanatory endeavour? Why is the understanding of the dynamics of language a primordial goal of linguistic theory? In order to give an explanation of the notion "dynamics" basic notions of dynamic systems theory are introduced informally. Following these questions the paper considers major proposals by Talmy, Lakoff and Langacker and asks how they account for the dynamic aspects of causing/enabling (Talmy's force dynamics), for iterated metaphorical mapping (Lakoff) and for syntactic composition ("construal" in Langacker's terminology). The ad-hoc pictorial models proposed by these authors are compared to mathematically controlled models in dynamic semantics (based on catastrophe, bifurcation and chaos theory). Shortcomings and advantages of the informal and pictorial versus the mathematical description are discussed. The dynamics of phrasal and sentential composition is currently one of the central topics of neurodynamic models based on ERP and fMRI brain scanning. This perspective must be further developed in order to specify the possibilities of future dynamic semantics of natural languages."

Manuel de Landa was mentioned above. In his article "The geology or morals" he discusses both hierarchies and meshworks. Of the latter he uses the example of the autocatalytic loop as studied by Varela and Maturana via autopoesis.

"They are dynamical systems which endogenously generate their own stable states (called 'attractors' or 'eigenstates'), and they grow and evolve by drift. . {9} An example of the first characteristic are some chemical reactions involving autocatalysis (as well as cross-catalysis) which function as veritable 'chemical clocks', in which the accumulation of materials from the reactions alternate each other at perfectly regular intervals . This rhythmic behavior is not imposed to the system from the outside but generated spontaneously from within (via an attractor)."

We've seen this same process described above. Drift happens when a new, unplanned reaction appears from the internal processes thereby complexifying the aggregate, but it isn't generated by an external demand or a higher whole. Again I'm reminded of Bortoft's whole-in-the-parts rather than some overriding whole beyond the parts.

De Landa however is not an apologist for a merely rhizomatic universe in distinction from a hierarchical one. He says:

"The dichotomy between hierarchies and...meshworks, should be understood in purely relative terms. In the first place, in reality it is hard to find pure cases of these two structures....hierarchies give rise to meshworks and meshworks to hierarchies."

This is one reason I like Fisher's approach to altitude in that he combines both. I'm still a little unclear though about the mathematical modeling he uses to measure altitude if it is of the strictly hierarchical type, especially when there is dynamic systems math which seems more appropriate in measuring such dynamic systems as human development.

[Balder noted]: Wilber doesn't talk frequently about meshworks, except in passing, as I recall, but other Integral theorists do, such as Marilyn Hamilton. Here's something on meshworking from her website:

"What is Meshworking Intelligence?

Meshworking intelligence creates a "meshwork" by weaving together the best of two operating systems — one that self-organizes, and one that replicates hierarchical structures. The resulting meshwork creates and aligns complex responsive structures and systems that flex and flow.

Meshworking intelligences are triggered in the brain by dissonance (ie. constraints) in the environment. The brain's capability of re-organizing itself and releasing new potentials allows for the emergence of new values systems and new capacities. At the same time meshworking intelligence utilizes hierarchical structures and capacities to create sorting and selecting mechanisms that allow the brain to make survival choices. As values systems emerge, a level of complexity develops where our brains can meshwork hierarchies and make hierarchies out of meshworks.

Meshworking intelligence uses imagination, courage and powers of attraction. It articulates designs from the meshing of the diversities in people and thereby releases and reorganizes new intelligences that are currently locked and blocked in silos of sameness.

Meshworking catalyzes a shift in the system, so that new capacities emerge and the system reorganizes itself into something more internally resonant and externally coherent with life conditions.

So What?

Because communities and cities are emergents and artefacts of human life, they are outcomes of the brains that have created them. The meshworks in them seem to be fractal patterns that emerge at all scales of human systems. We can better understand how cities work and evolve by recognizing that their communities reflect evolving capacities to meshwork hierarchies and to make hierarchies of meshworks.

An enormous value of meshworking is that it embraces both the realms of the objective and interobjective space of physical people and built structures, and calls forth the capacities that lie in the subjective and intersubjective zones of the City. These are the inner domains of intention, purpose and culture.

Meshworking intelligences contribute to research, planning and management in the city.

Now What? Three simple rules for applying Integral City Meshworking Intelligences

Catalyze fractal connections within the human hive.
Build communication bridges across silos, stovepipes and solitudes.
Enable meshes and hierarchies that transform, transcend and transmute capacities."

[my responses] Let's take a closer look at the Commons article I cited above. The MHC describes two kinds of complexity, horizontal and vertical, which is often translated as heterarchy and hierarchy. The latter type of complexity is described in 3 principles:

"The hierarchical complexity of tasks, or actions, is defined in words as follows. Actions at a higher order of hierarchical complexity: (a) are themselves defined in terms of actions at the next lower order of hierarchical complexity; (b) organize and transform the lower-order actions; (c) produce organizations of lower-order
actions that are new and not arbitrary. These next higher order actions cannot be accomplished by those lower-order actions alone" (308).

The kinds of meshwork processes described above "produce organizations that are new and not arbitrary," and contrary to one of the MHC tenets, are "accomplished by those lower-order actions alone," not a "higher-order action." MHC modeling is to me a fine example of, in Commons' own terms, using a linear model to describe non-linear processes. Hence we get such "representational" limitations.

The catalyst in the meshwork process is an "attractor," which arises from within the process, not without like a higher-order action coordinating the process.

My research led me back to Visser's ITC presentation on evolution. He reiterates Wilber's insistence on Spirit as skyhook pulling the process of evolution upward, since it existed apriori and "came down" via involution. Or in more materialistic terms, teleos is the driving force, or eros. It's the same idea in the MHC, with its ideal Platonic forms existing apriori and pulling up simpler parts into higher whole, the latter initiating the process mysteriously before they were actually created by the simpler parts in known evolution.

Visser explores Darwin's natural selection as a better explanation, as does Dawkins in The God Delusion. All of which is supported by scientific evidence on how chemicals react via autopoeisis to create novel, more complex stews. Note that natural selection is not random chance, the boogeyman of teleosiacs like Wilber and Commons. What drives or motivates change in natural selection, instead of God, is, well, nature. Things change in the environment and to survive processes and beings must adapt to those environmental forces. I am reminded of the "original" Spiral Dynamics model (before integral) that placed emphasis on life conditions as what drives evolution, not some inner (or spiritual) structures pulling it up. More later.

So how does one develop to a higher stage, if the higher stage is not pulling it up? See this article by Sara Ross discussing the fractal nature of transition steps. An excerpt:

"Adaptation characterizes the transition steps, and is the process by which changes in stage come about. The steps describe the process of adapting: learning to perform tasks at the next order of hierarchical complexity" and

"The stages of hierarchical complexity are the axiomatically defined, mathematically specified performances of tasks. The empirically based transition steps’ dynamics are not yet mathematically specified (although they are partially described by signal detection theory)" (365).

I'm still leery of claims like this: "it's use of purely quantitative principles" (362). I just don't think there is such an animal and the nondual cogsciprago tradition would surely agree.

Moving on, the transition steps are an expanded version of Wilber's fusion, differentiation and integration but using 8 steps instead of 3. The equilibrium of one stage is upset when new task challenges arise that cannot be solved within the status quo. This leads to deconstruction and antithesis, followed by vacillation between the former equilibrium and challenge, into a chaos of mix and matching, and finally synthesis and integration of the new elements.

The foregoing is again just a description of the process, but what is the motivator, the catalyst for this change process? "Equilibrium is supported by reinforcement. These initial steps ensue in the face of a drop in perceived reinforcement to continue the previous task behavior" (366). So someone(s) or something(s) in the environment no longer reinforce a particular performance; it is no longer good enough. New behaviors are tried and either reinforced or not. It might be for example that a parent says "goo goo" is baby language and you're a big boy now, it's time to use more appropriate language. The education system is a fine reinforcer and mover along the trajectory of development, at least up to formal logic.

The next section gets too technical for my understanding so I cannot comment. But aside from the above brief mention of reinforcement there was no further discussion of the catalysts of change, just further descriptions of modeling the what of change, not the how.

Returning to teleos, Maturana and Varela say in Autopoiesis and Cognition (Springer, 1980):

"Teleonomy becomes only an artifice of their description which does not reveal any feature of their organization, but which reveals the consistency in their operation within the domain of observation. Living systems, as physical autopoietic machines, are purposeless systems" (86).