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Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year’s clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See:


Integral and the Dynamics of Bubbles

Joseph Dillard

We have to ask ourselves, "What beliefs do I hold that are so fundamental that I cannot live without them?

A common meme in today's world is that we are trapped in grossly over-inflated financial bubbles that will eventually burst. When they do, this will send economies and probably global societies into recession if not outright depression. There is a great deal of hand-wringing about this predicament but no solutions show sign of gaining traction. This is probably an indication of not only deep psychological investment in the dynamic of blowing bubbles, but addiction to them. If that is the case, what might be some of those psychological factors be that cause humanity to blow economic bubbles that lead to civilizational collapse?

Can the dynamics of financial bubbles be applied to systems of belief? For example, can they be applied to Wilber's belief in Eros instead of scientific explanations for evolution? Can they be applied to the widespread denial of anthropogenic global warming despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? Can they be applied to the anti-vaxxer delusion that vaccinations do more harm than good? Can they be applied to governments, like those of the US, other NATO countries, and Israel, who arm terrorists and so are terroristic, even while proclaiming they act to further democracy and protect human rights? Can they be applied to our common tendency, even among integralists and “evolutionaries” to vote for politicians even when they are shown to be acting against our own interests and those of humanity?

According to Charles Hugh Smith, financial bubbles manifest three dynamics.[1] The first is “human greed, the desire to exploit a windfall and catch a work-free ride to riches.” (The quotes below are from Smith.) Is there an analogous dynamic in the psychology of holding on to dogmas in the face of overwhelming realities?

Instead of greed, the underlying process that inflates and maintains ideological bubbles is a false sense of self, that is, one that is built on interior realities that are not congruent with objective and collective evidence. Perhaps this could be seen as a form of greed for self-certainty, but in any case, it is both deep and entrenched in humans. It describes one possible function of the truths that Wilber, along with most of us, derive from intense interior, upper left quadrant personal experiences via meditation, altar calls, mystical or near death experiences. Interior experiences can so validate our sense of self that they take precedence over and over-rule challenging or contrary evidence from the exterior quadrants. In such cases, we do whatever is required to maintain our sense of self, because to do otherwise generates cognitive dissonance so fundamental that it threatens our fundamental assumptions about who we are and what is real.

The second dynamic of financial bubbles boils down to the axiom of “Deep Throat,” of Watergate fame: follow the money.

Financial manias arise when there is no other more productive, profitable use for capital, and these periods occur when there is an abundance of credit available to inflate the bubbles. In our current economy, corporations have sunk $2.5 trillion in buying back their own stocks because this generates the highest work-free return. This reflects two realities:

Corporations can't find any other more productive, profitable use for their capital than buying back their own shares (enriching the managers via stock options and the 10% of American households who own 93% of the stocks)

Thanks to the Federal Reserve and other central banks injecting trillions of dollars of nearly-free credit into the financial sector, corporations can borrow billions of dollars to play with at near-zero rates that are historically unprecedented.

Borrow billions at 2.5%, pour it all into buying back your own stock and reap the gains as your stock rises 10%. Recall the basic mechanism of stock buy-backs: by reducing the number of shares outstanding, sales and profits go up on a per share basis--not because the company generated more revenues and profits, but because the number of shares has been reduced by the buy-backs.

To understand how “follow the money” relates to integral and other True Believers, we have to understand Wilber's material, emotional, mental, transpersonal, and non-dual relational exchanges. These are forms of wealth, and we center our identity on the ones that we believe will most support our sense of self and develop it in ways that make us more “wealthy.” Money itself, as well as the entire field of economics, although framed as symbolic mental exchanges, are fundamentally material exchanges.

For mystics, the relational exchange bubbles in which the self is invested are transpersonal and non-dual, involving practices of meditation and other mind-clearing and purifying activities. For scholars and scientists focused on mental relational exchanges, curiosity, skepticism, and empiricism are the preferred methodologies. Economic bubbles involve the inflation and bursting of material relational exchanges. For most of us, most of the time, including mystics, scholars, economists, politicians, lawyers, employers, and employees, emotional and material relational exchanges are our focus, because we are caught up in interpersonal dramas and security concerns, as evidenced by our focus on interpersonal communication, comfort, and security. Whoever we are, and whatever relational exchange preferences we have, we keep investing our resources, time, and identity in those particular relational exchanges. The result is a massive psychological bubble that is addictive and that we keep blowing up, destroying both balance and any chance at authentic overall development.

The third dynamic of financial bubbles is that

as the bubble continues inflating beyond any rational valuation, rational investors throw in the towel and join the frenzy. Once again, this willingness to abandon rationality is partly fueled by greed and also by a dearth of other more attractive investments.

In terms of psychological bubbles, this third dynamic tells us that belief supersedes rationality. Reason is used to generate rationalizations to validate belief, but all the while we believe we are being completely rational. A good example of this was the debunking of the heralded econometric research by Harvard economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart validating austerian, trickle-down economics. Even among the most rational and professional of us, even among the most saintly and spiritual of us, reason easily becomes a prisoner of dogma in order to validate our delusional sense of who we are. We think we are being highly rational and objective, or trans-rational and transpersonal, when in fact we are pre-rational and prepersonal because we have not incorporated out-group perspectives into our own. This is the third dynamic that inflates the bubble identity called “self development.”

What are the consequences of these three bubble inflating dynamics? We can draw analogies from the consequences of bubbles for economies.

A bubble economy is a sick economy, for bubbles are proof there is too much capital chasing too few productive uses for that capital. The Fed and other central banks have created trillions of dollars, yuan, euros and yen for corporations and financiers to play with, and to a lesser degree, for home buyers to play with via low mortgage rates and federal guarantees on mortgages.

The result is that we have false prosperity based on a false sense of self. In the case of Wilber, politicians, gurus, CEOs, and ourselves, we are legends in our own minds. Our in-group members validate our delusional, bubble identity because they share it and do not want their own sense of self-worth challenged. With the help of our “friends” (and co-conspirators), we end up focusing on priorities that merely inflate delusional bubbles instead of advancing authentic overall development. There is too much ego chasing too few productive uses for the self.

When your real economy is sick and offers few productive uses for all this excess capital, that only adds fuel to the speculative fire.

All bubbles burst, regardless of other conditions. In the realm of economics,

creating more trillions won't change this, adding more gamblers to the casino won't change this, claiming a bubble economy is healthy won't change this and promising a trade deal with China won't change this.

In the realm of human psychology, further inflating our favorite relational exchange won't change this; expanding our in-groups to get more people to validate our delusional sense of self won't change this; claiming our favorite delusion is healthy, true, or “spiritual” won't change this; and promising 2nd Tier utopia if only 10% of the population embrace integral won't change this.

Smith adds a fourth dynamic to bubbles: “Nobody believes bubbles can burst until it's too late to get out unscathed.” We would rather die wrong than give up our delusions, because what appears to be the loss of all meaning for living is experienced as a fate worse than death. Therefore, we are much more likely to continue to inflate our delusional bubbles and die when they burst than to face them and deal with the inevitable profound cognitive dissonance that results.

Are there any solutions to this dilemma and fundamental existential predicament?

First, we need to assume that our sense of self, whatever it may be, is based on self-destructive delusions that are like bubbles that are inflating until they eventually burst. We are not the “chosen” exceptions to this rule. We are not elites. We are not exceptional. We live in a state of hubris. The cure is in the adoption of profound, authentic humility.

Second, we have to recognize that our humility is unlikely to be authentic but instead phony, superficial, and in the service of whatever relational exchanges we are inflating to validate our identity.

Third, out of this awareness we need to make a priority out of getting regular reality checks from out-groups, those who do not share our delusional belief systems and who are not chasing the relational exchanges that we are addicted to. There are two types of these out-groups, those we hate, dislike, or simply ignore as irrelevant, which serve as objective or interobjective sources of objectivity in the LR quadrant, and those which can serve as subjective or intersubjective sources of objectivity. We are also largely ignorant of this second variety of out-group because it is represented by the characters in our dreams and the personifications of life issues of central importance to us.

Fourth, we have to cultivate ethical behavior as defined and determined by these out-groups. Ethical behavior can be understood as respectful behavior, which is itself defined as reciprocal, trustworthy, and empathetic behavior. This is not our own definition of respectful behavior based on our own upper left quadrant intent, but reflects how lower right quadrant, social and interobjective, and lower left quadrant, cultural intersubjective out-groups interpret our actual behavior.

Without such a priority and process, we lack the reality checks that prevent us from blowing up bubbles based on a delusional sense of self, regardless of how authentic and true doing so may feel. We can see this issue in Wilber's steadfast investment in Eros over scientific explanations for evolution, because to accept such explanations is a threat to his entire world view and his sense of identity that is simply too immense to contemplate. But Wilber and integral are only examples. We have to ask ourselves, “What beliefs do I hold that are so fundamental that I cannot live without them? For what beliefs would I prefer to die than question or give up?” Once we identify such beliefs we need to ask ourselves, “What do objective and subjective out-groups think of these beliefs?” Who would I be, what would my life look like if I took their perspectives?

We may initially experience revulsion at this very thought, but if we move beyond that reactivity, which is a defense put up by the self, into actual identification with the perspectives of these out-groups, we pop our bubble, at least for the moment, and find ourselves living in a relatively bubble-free space.

This practice is no cure-all, because as soon as we stop identification with out-group perspectives we return to the comfort of our habitual addictions to our favorite relational exchanges, in support of our habitual sense of who we are. Perhaps the most fundamental hubris is the belief that we have outgrown the Atman Project. Therefore, this practice has to become an ongoing yoga, transpersonal discipline, or integral life practice, of letting air out of our continuously inflating bubbles. It would seem that we either take up such a practice or choose both life and death in a delusional bubble reality.


[1] Charles Hugh Smith, "The Inevitable Bursting Of Our Bubble Economy", September 11, 2019,

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