An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology from the University of Western Australia. He has worked with people with disabilities for almost twenty years. He is currently writing a book on the interpretation of sacred writings from an integral theory perspective. Mark Edwards and his band ?Myriad Things? have just released their new CD ?Into the Sun?.

Response to "A one-scale model of holarchy"

Mark Edwards

Many thanks for you kind words on my essay. Your lengthy message deserves a considered response. I might see if Frank wants to post this on his site but before I do that please let me know if you would agree to this reponse going "public".

Some general comments

Andy Smith is obviously a very inventive and eloquent writer. I find his ideas quite interesting and imaginative. His ideas on the qualities of holons and their analogous characteristics throughout The Great Chain of Being bear some close consideration and have the potential to add considerably to the explication of Wilber's holarchic model of evolution. Within the context of these points there is much, however, that I do not agree with in Andy's writings. Here are my main points of agreement:

The qualities of Holons

Andy has added to, reshaped and amended some of Wilber's tenets of evolutionary development to develop a more refined discussion of holonic development particularly through the fundamental phases of Kosmic evolution. These ideas deserve careful consideration.

The view from Here

The various discussions in Andy's work on the differences that are perceived at various points along the holarchy are very interesting and are worthy of futher development. They can add to Wilber's ideas on cross-level analyses of world-views (see his intro to Vol 8 of the CW). There is one major qualification here though that I felt Andy does not sufficently recognise in his discussion on perspective, and this is the qualitatively different place in perspective analysis that the mental realm occupies. This is the realm par excellance of symbolising, imaging, theorising, and modelling other realms of existence. It is this holonic level that has the capacity to produce models of all other levels (and how they might appear objectively and feel subjectively) and to test for the accuracy of those conceptions of reality. Other realms either do not have this capacity or else are not concerned with pursuing that endeavour.

The problem of dualism

I support Andy's attempts to solve the dualistic problems that Wilber's 4-quadrants model sets up. Andy seems motivated to a large degree to pursue his unifying endeavours by the need to overcome the problems of dualism that immediately arise once the subject /object, many/one dichotomies are openend up. The 4-quadrants model at first glance seems to fall into this double dualism dilemna. I agree with Andy that the model needs a more dynamic and integrated feel to it to overcome the devil of dualism. My approach lies in the process direction as examplified by the Integral Cycle of Knowledge. Andy's approach lies in the attempt to structually reduce the quadrants into a collapsed linear model. I don't think that the answer lies in this direction. This brings us to some further areas of disagreement that I have with Andy's work.

The 4-quadrants

Andy's ideas are mainly based on the attempt to bring Wilber's 4 quadrants into a single developmental line. I think this attempt is not successful and not warranted. Wilber's elaboration of the quadrants model untangles many confusing and reductionist tendencies that currently exist in all other evolutionary/developmental and postmodern models of reality. Getting rid of these refinements simply adds once more to the confusion. In any case Andy's levels/stages dimension is mathematically indistinguishable from Wilber's individual/social dimension. Wilber's model is a multiplicative one and Andy's model is an additive one. Wilber separates lines of development according to the quadrant factors. Andy puts levels and stages together in the one bag: For example, in Wilber's language - 3 levels X 2 quadrants = 6 ontological categories; in Andy's laguage - 2 levels plus 3 stages in each level = 6 ontological categories. The result is the same.

Getting rid of the interior/exterior dimension will only result in conceptual befuddlement. For example, the subject/object distinction lies not only at the heart of the scientific endeaviour but also lies at the motivational base for overcoming suffering and alienation. Wilber's dimensions are empirically based in that he has analysed hundreds of models from a huge mass of scientific and cultural data and ended up with an elegant and very parsimonious framework. Andy's model ends up being rather confusing in that it entangles self and other and one and many into a system that bears little relationship to lived human experience. I would say that Andy's approach on the subject/object distinction is more reductive than integrative.

Wilber's holon ranking rule

Andy misapplies the holonic rule. Wilber's major emphasis on the rule is to use it within an evolutionary quadrants and not between quadrants. The value comparison of individuals against collectives is not at all what Wilber is about. This is why he makes the distinction between average mode of development and the advanced edge of individual awakening.

Seeing the Transpersonal

Andy does not agree that the transpersonal can be studied objectively. Well, as I point out in my paper, "The Integral Cycle", this is something that is very much occuring at the moment despite what Andy may think. Whole departments within some institutes are dedicated to the endeavour (e.g. the Max Plank Institute for Human Development). It is possible, it is being done, I did my Masters thesis on the area, go and have a look at the libraries of scientific research literature on postformal reasoning, mystical experience, the psychology of meditation, wisdom research, dialectical intelligence, transpersonal studies, religious experience, the psychometrics of spiritual and peak experience. There has even been a scientific study of the relative veracity of the Wilberian Pre/Trans Fallacy distinction against Washburns Dynamic Ground model.

Andy doesn't believe we can see the transpersonal when we have not reached that level. Well Andy what can I say - I am sure that you have seen the sun set over the ocean, or gazed at a hazy moon on an Autumn night, or looked into the eyes of a smiling face. The thing about being human is that we have the opportunity to see what is there at anytime.

The order of Holons

Andy's ideas are very concerned with the relative order of holons and their analogous qualities. While there is a lot to be said for the holarchic approach, there is a tendency for thinkers in this area to let the whole thing run away into a hyperbolic discussion of higher and lower, primitive and advanced, and unfortunately Andy drifts into this area quite frequently, and actually makes some quite outlandish statements on the relative capacities of individual and cultures. Aboriginal cultures are not lower on the holonic scale, the uneducated masses are no less perfect than the enlightened masters, tribal societies are not any less representative of the good, the true, and the beautiful than nation/state cultures. Why? Because we have advanced nations which are constituted from the representation of tribal kinship systems, we have aboriginal systems of cultural and spiritual development which are so complex and evolved that we can't really say where they land on the holarchy, because we have indiginous societies that are so advanced that they can teach us about new rational, transpersonal, individual and collective paths to a healthier world. As a supporter of the Integral endeavour, and of the holarchic model in particular, I also enthusiastically insert the following reminder, "The first will be last and the last will be first". Let's all put that in our holarchic peace pipe and smoke it for a couple of millenia.

Thanks again for your stimulating thoughts Andy. I wish you all the best with your endeavours.

September 2000

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