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.


  1. Here's a post by Desilet in the postformal dialectics thread:

    "For Derrida, every dualism to which one could point is 'both/and' (and, if you prefer, 'neither/nor'). Not everyone who reads Derrida positions him this way, but Gary does (if I read him properly in his article) and I think he gets Derrida right when pointing out, along with Caputo, that Derrida offers more than 'pluralistic relativism' (see page 134). And in a section following this one Gary says (in discussing the Pre/Trans Fallacy)from a subtler, postformal perspective, Stanislav Grof comments, 'the distinction between pre- and trans- has a paradoxical nature; they are neither identical, nor are they completely different from each other.' And further, Gary notes, 'Here both conceptual agency (or difference) and conceptual communion (or mutual identity) are foregrounded' (page 145). This view of oppositional 'structure' aligns with Derrida and deconstruction. Gary also notes that this resembles the 'integrative-but-fluxing dialectic between wave and particle' in physics.

    "Derrida foregrounds both identity and difference and in any particular instance these do not necessarily have equal status. Every dualism implies 'essential difference' i.e., one cannot be reduced to the other) and 'essential relation' (i.e., one does not occur without the other). This paradox maintains a simultaneity of difference and identity all the way to the core of oppositions such that it cannot rightly be said that either duality or nonduality best describes the situation."

  2. And here are some quotes from Hampson's referenced article:

    “Caputo reports here that deconstruction is beyond...pluralistic relativism.

    “Derrida’s comments here are therefore not coming from a relativist perspective.... Furthermore, deconstruction itself is clearly articulated as being beyond the relativism of unbridled equivocity: Derrida sees relativism as self-limiting, confusing, unintelligible.

    “A plausible hypothesis, then, would be to consider that these comments from Derrida centre around the perspective of The Magician—a level beyond Wilber’s Teal / Integral / “post-postmodern” / Yellow vMeme.

    “Derrida rationally differentiates deconstruction from destruction and indicates that deconstruction is a constructive activity. He also explicitly reflexes upon its subtle dialectical quality. His writing demonstrates a high level of developmental maturity, in which deconstruction is recognised and reflexively enacted in a post-relativist, dialectical, construct-aware mode. Derrida and deconstruction are clearly something Other than that signified by Wilber in his use of the term, deconstructive postmodernism” (134-5).

  3. So we have to wonder then, if Derrida as "construct aware" can be convincingly supported by viable evidence from Cook-Greuter's own system, how it is that her and Wilber can skew him as "merely" relativistic? Where is the disconnect? Might it have something to do with my earlier questions, of postformality construed by a formal system as part of the problem? As Gidely observed, there is a difference between those who measure this stuff versus those who enact it.


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