Sunday, September 2, 2012

An integral postmetaphysical definition of states of consciousness

I was re-reading this IPS thread this morning, to which we often return in the forum. States of consciousness seem to be one of those keys around which an integral frame revolves. I've excerpted a few of my initial posts below to refresh the memory and revive these recurrent issues. I also delve into Mark Edwards' critique of kennilingus on states and then criticize his critique in some regards. See the thread for much more.

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).

Balder then referenced A Cartography of The Ecstatic and Mystical States to which I replied:

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.

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.

For example this from part 1:

"The current integral theory model of states is committing a category error, the Pre-trans Fallacy #2 to be precise, when it proposes that individuals access transpersonal states and/or realms when they enter into the natural states of dream sleep and deep sleep. This error has important implications for the whole of the Integral theory of states. 

"How on earth...could Ken...the great surveyor of this previously unknown territory of the PTF errors, lose sight of this core landmark on the AQAL map in his treatment of states? Well, I have a few suggestions. One is his unswerving reliance on some aspects of the pre-modern Vedantic view of states."

Edwards notes near the end of Part I that there is indeed a "given" in the Atman is Brahman principle, "that God is present all his fullness." But this is a metaphysical given versus the kind of given I'm talking about above. While I agree with him that this given is not the same from a more developed perspective, that this state is not realized until later, this metaphysical remnant remains and will be expressed more in Part II.

I appreciate Edwards' caution beginning Part II that pre-modern spiritual traditions were not aware of stages leading to egoic identity and hence made many pre-trans conflations. Even Vedanta and (Vedanta influenced) Vajrayana, while avoiding some of these PTFs, nonetheless is a "tangled mixture" still clinging to other conflations that Wilber retains. Edwards' worthy goal then is to differentiate between the pre-trans elements within these traditions, focusing on Vedanta.

Edwards notes the PTF notion of a "return" to a primordial, nondual unity, which of course is only after a "fall" from grace, said fall caused by the dual (Devil) Ego. Hence we often find retro-romantic notions of returning to a pristine origin before the fall. Even Edwards' presentation of the "true" Maharshi, who apparently does not equate deep sleep with the causal realm, nevertheless maintains the metaphysical idea that there is a "true" causal realm that must overcome the "illusion" of maya. Ironically the Devil is quite tricky to be hiding in the midst of such supposed nonduality.

Not surprisingly Wilber comes to our rescue in asserting that it is the self-system (aka ego) that integrates all of the various aspects of psyche. (See for example his "outline of an integral psychology," particularly page 4.) And that a strong, healthy ego is prerequisite to take such a journey into transpersonal nonduality, lest the trip be into psychotic dissociation. But again, Wilber is a mixed bag here, often framing such transpersonal integration withing traditional views and their own confusions, particularly with reference to states.

Now here's an interesting section from Part II, quoting Osborne on Maharshi:

"In fact, one name for the true state of realised being is the Fourth State existing eternally behind the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is compared with the state of deep sleep since, like this it is formless and non-dual; however, as the above quotation shows, it is far from being the same. In the Fourth State the ego emerges in Consciousness, as in sleep it does in unconsciousness."

Aside from the metaphysical words like "true" and "eternal" it is significant in that the Fourth State (was that Virginia in the US?) "the ego emerges in consciousness." The ego, hmmm. Edwards' diagram following this quote are illuminating in showing the pre-personal states of deep sleep, dreaming, rational ego, and then transpersonal "structures of identity" which integrates all of them.

And yet what does the integrating? What gets us past the ego? I.e., could it be done prior to the development of an ego? Can we ever go back to a state or stage that was before the ego once it emerges? Obviously we can enter nondual states of awareness where the ego is temporarily suspended, but is it the same state as before the ego came along?

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