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

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Andy SmithAndrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).



A Response to Goddard

Andrew P. Smith

In a series of articles, the most recent of which is "Holonic Logic and the Dialectics of Consciousness: Unpacking Ken Wilber's Four Quadrant Model", Gerry Goddard has criticized Ken Wilber's view of holarchy for ignoring, or conflating, several distinctions that Goddard refers to as "categories of holonic logic". Goddard has proposed a substantially revised model in which these categories are clearly distinguished. The revised model, while retaining at least a semblance of the four quadrant structure of Wilber's model, makes further divisions within the left-hand or interior portion of the Wilber model, as well as defines two different kinds of relationships between the upper and lower, or individual and social, quadrants. The result is a double "quadrant" model, each half of which contains six, rathert han four, domains (Wilber's model and Goddard's revision of this model are depicted in Figs. 1 and 5, respectively, of Goddard's online paper).

Goddard's model, then, seems to be more complex than Wilber's, which itself contains more than a dozen levels of holons, each of which is to be considered in four different aspects or conceptual dimensions. Having proposed a far simpler model, in which all levels of existence are represented on a single scale (see my online book Worlds within Worlds), I would seem to be even further from Goddard's views than Wilber is. Ironically, however, I agree with a good portion of Goddard's presentation, and believe that it in some respects strengthens the case for a one-scale model. The purpose of this article is to explain how.

Subject vs. Object

The first distinction that Goddard accuses Wilber of conflating is that of subject vs. object, represented in the left vs. the right-hand portion of Wilber's model. More specifically, Goddard says, "the categories 'interiority' and 'exteriority' tend to become conflated with the subjective and the objective and with mind and matter, and need to be more carefully differentiated." In Wilber's model, as I think most of us understand it, the right hand portion refers to objects or structures, while the left hand portion represents experiences of conscious entitites. Each holon is believed to have an objective or structural form--what Wilber calls an exterior aspect--but also a mode of consciousness, or interior aspect.

The conflation, according to Goddard, is between a holon's experience of objects, which ought to be a left-hand aspect, and the objects themselves, which do belong on the right. If one takes Wilber's right-hand side to be the objects themselves, Goddard argues, then one falls into the Cartesian trap of postulating a consciousness separate from the material world, yet somehow able to experience it. If one takes Wilber's right hand side to be the experience of objects, on the other hand,then the objects themselves--which is to say, the entire material world--disappears.

Goddard's solution to this dilemma is to bite the bullet and make a distinction between the experience of objects and the objects themselves. The former aspect, which Goddard also refers to as public experience, is placed on the left hand side of the Wilber model--to the right of, or "outer" to, experience of thoughts, or private experience--while the latter becomes Wilber's right hand quadrants. Moreover, to do this, Goddard argues, we must bring another holon into the picture:

"since reality cannot be pictured without the observer, we must introduce another holon which is conscious of the first holon, but to which none of the contents of the four quadrants can be directly revealed, at least through the senses!"

This additional holon (call it B) allows us to define holon A in a way that clearly relates it to, yet distinguishes it from, holon B's experience of it. Conversely, holon B is defined by the observation of A. By this move, Goddard claims, we can avoid the Cartesian trap:

"the fundamental logical condition underlying all epistemology and ontology is the relationship, not of a Cartesian subject to a Cartesian object, but of a holonic subject/object to a holonic subject/object where the objective form of the one is in some sense equivalent to the subjective form of the other"

Otherwise, Goddard warns us, "as a picture of any holon, Wilber's Four-Quadrant model is an abstraction, with consciousness disembodied and transcendent. "

I believe that Goddard has made a useful distinction here, though he of course has not solved, any more than Wilber or anyone else has, the problem of just how conscious experience is related to objects in this world. If Wilber's model has a Cartesian bias to it, as Goddard suggests, than Goddards's model has a Kantian bias. Most of us, I suppose, would regard Kant's views as definitely an improvement over Descartes', but his word is certainly not the last on this matter. In fact, not all modern philosophers accept the distinction between impressions and ideas (which as Goddard notes, correspond, more or less, to his public experiences of objects and private experiences of thoughts). For example, there is a school of thought that contends that all experiences, at least conscious ones, involve thoughts about something (Seager 1999). Those of us participating in the holarchy debate should have some sympathy with this position, because a central principle of most meditative traditions is that in the ordinary state of consciousness, we are prisoners of our thoughts. We don't actually see the tree; we think we see it. For us, virtually everything is thought. The purpose of meditation is to remove, or transcend, these thoughts, allowing direct perception to occur. And in fact when we do this, we find that the division between an external world and an interior one dissolves (see my Illusions of Reality for a further discussion of this point).

However, these considerations really don't affect the heart of Goddard's argument. Whether we are ordinarily conscious of them or not, there must be direct experiences or impressions of the world. That is, if one accepts the scientific view of perception, in which stimuli from the external world enter the brain, the initial effect of these stimuli is to generate direct perceptions, before these are further processed into thinking. Even if only through unconscious processes, these direct perceptions or impressions surely affect our subsequent thinking and other forms of behavior. This is shown most clearly by the fact that we can use them to construct an external world, the main features of which we all agree on.

Thus I accept Goddard's distinction between experience of objects and experiences of thoughts, and agree with him that it's a valuable part of a holarchical model. This distinction is in fact part of my own one-scale model of holarchy, as described in Worlds, and provides, I believe, a way of linking that model with Goddard's, and in the process, revealing another strength of the one-scale model that neither Goddard's nor Wilber's has. For in this one-scale model, these two types of experience can be differentiated by the types of holons that the perceiving holon is interacting with, rather than (as in Goddard's model), postulating two different kinds of interactions between thesame kinds of holons. The different kinds of holons that form the basis of these two kindsof interactions , in turn, follow directly from the structure of the one-scale model, as I will now explain.

Looking Up and Looking Down

In my model, the distinction between the two kinds of experience, or perception, results from the fact that any holon can look either down, at holons below it, or up, at holons above it. When a holon looks down, at lower holons, it experiences them as objects; this is Goddard's public experience. Thus we see tables, chairs, rocks, trees, other animals, and parts of our own bodies as objects. We may also see other people in this manner, though we don't always do so, as I will explain in a moment.

When we look up in the holarchy, in contrast, at holons above us, we experience thoughts, Goddard's private experience. What are these other holons, above us? They are the various forms of social structure that we belong to, from families to multi-national organizations. I realize that neither Goddard nor Wilber, nor, apparently, hardly anyone else participating in this Great Holarchy Debate, accepts the idea that human social organizations are above us in the holarchy. I have addresssed their arguments in several places, most recently in The Spectrum of Holons at this site, and will not go over all of this again here. Instead, I will pass on to another claim, which should be more acceptable, but which I believe will lead us in the same direction.

This second claim is that when we think, we are participating in social organizations or holons. Everyone, surely, accepts that there is a very close correlation between the types of mental activities we are capable of and the kind of society we live in . As Ken Wilber has recounted in so much detail (1981, 1995), certain types of thinking emerged in parallel with certain forms of human societies, precisely because these kinds of mentation require complex interactions between human beings. From this, it's a fairly short step to the conclusion that thinking is in fact a social activity, which we all take part in.

To take an immediate example, the thinking I am experiencing now, while writing this article, could only occur in me, or another person, because of a very complex set of social relationships through which language has been created, certain words have been given the ability to represent certain objects or ideas, certain combinations of words allowed to represent more complex ideas, and so forth. When I engage in this kind of exercise, I am making a number of assumptions, including: 1) there is a certain state of affairs of the world beyond my immediate experience of it; 2) this state of affairs can be represented in certain words and certain combinations of words; and 3) when I write these words, other people will see this state of affairs as I do (see Searle 1998). None of this could occur through interactions occurring solely between myself and another person, nor is any one person essential to this process. Therefore, I contend, this activity of writing--like so much else of our behavior--is a social phenomenon, a property of societies,which I am participating in.

We can also see the same relationship at work in our interactions with other people. I said earlier that when we look at other people, we can see them as objects or exteriors. This is true sometimes, but not always. If you walk down a busy street, you will see most of the people there in this way, as exteriors. But if you interact with someone you know, you are not perceiving her entirely as an object. Your interaction is very much influenced by your prior experience with that person, memories of being with her before, thoughts that perhaps compare her to other people you know, and so on, and so on. To have these kinds of thoughts presupposes that you have an image of that person that extends beyond the present moment, that is, that you can represent her in your mind. This image allows you to assume that she existed before this immediate moment when you interact with her, that she will continue to exist after it, that she thinks and feels and does certain things, and so on. So your interaction with this person, while it may involve direct experience to some extent, also involves experience through thoughts. And again, your ability to experience these thoughts is directly dependent on your existence in, and participation in the properties of, a socialorganization that has created the tools to view people inthis way.

Now if one accepts this claim--that by thinking, we are participating in the properties of certain social holons--it seems to me to be very difficult to maintain that these social holons are not higher than the individual human being. The Wilber model is very explicit in claiming that people of modern societies are situated higher in the holarchy of life than people of earlier societies, and I accept this claim. If the difference between moderns andearlier people is simply this participation, it directly follows that social organizations are higher than any individual human members of them. That is to say, the only difference between Homo sapiens today and Homo sapiens of one thousand, ten thousand or fifty to one hundred thousand years ago is the benefits of participation in a more complex set of social relationships.

This concept of participation, which I make much of in Worlds, cuts in both directions. In one direction, as I have just discussed, it implies that we are imbedded in higher-order holons. We, as individuals, are not really the highest forms of existence on earth, even without taking into account possibly transcendental forms of existence. But in the other direction, by virtue of having access to some of the properties of societies, we are no longer simply individual holons. We exist to some extent on a higher stage of existence within our (mental) level of existence. As I discuss in Worlds, this is why we can view other people, in some situations, as objects or exteriors. To the extent that we exist in higher social stages on our level, we are above the level of any pure organism, including the human organism. So when we look at strangers on the street, and simply see other organisms, we are to some extent looking down at holons below us, not at holons precisely on our plane of existence.

In this limited sense, I can find some common ground with Wilber and his supporters, who insist that society is simply another conceptual dimension of existence of human beings. It is, to the extent that we participate in its properties--but don't be fooled into believing that our participation is total. Society, and its properties, vastly exceeds the scope and depth of any single indvidual. Even a KenWilber, for example, does not know everything that our society knows. Not even close. And contrary to the implications of Wilber's model, this knowledge is not decentralized or diffuse. It is, in principle, completely accessible by any single individual--in fact, a few hundred years ago, a few outstanding single individuals perhaps did access all of it, or nearly all of it. That no one today can is a reflection simply of the much greater scope and depth of this knowledge, not that it can't take on a centralized location.

As I have discussed in Worlds and other places, the view of human beings as participating to some extent in the properties of higher stages addresses other limitations of the Wilber model. For example, by considering everything in terms of undifferentiated levels, Wilber is forced to the ludicrous implication that the relationship between modern humans and people of an earlier society is much like that between cells and molecules. Each represents a different level in his model, and the relationship between any two adjacent levels should be very much like that between any other pair. In my model, all human beings exist on the same level; they differ, as I just pointed out, according to what stage on that level they participate in. So the relationship between modern people and people of earlier cultures is not at all like the relationship between cells and molecules. It is rather more like the relationship between cells participating in different stages within an organism, e.g., between neurons in the brain, and cells in some other organ or tissue. While all analogies have their limitations, this is surely a much more accurate way to compare members of different human societies than that implied by the Wilber model.

On the other hand, the relationship of an individual who has realized a higher state of consciousness, and has truly transcended the mental level of exisence, is like that of the relationship of any lower level to a level directly below it. This, again, contrasts with the implication of the Wilber model, that this relationship is very much like that of a modern human being to one of just a few centuries ago--or of an adult to a child. Others, including Goddard (1997), have also pointed out the problems with this view.

Agency vs. Communion

The second major distinction that Goddard draws is between individuals and societies, on the one hand, and agency vs. communion, on the other. In the Wilber model, individual holons are mapped in the upper quadrants, while social holons are represented in the lower quadrants. According to Goddard, this division glosses over the key insight that any holon, individual or social, can express either agency or communion. (Closely following Goddard, I hope, I define agency as the extent to which an individual holon is independent or autonomous of other holons, either individual or social, while communion is the extent to which it interacts with these other holons):

"But the Upper and Lower quadrants of Wilber's Four-Quadrant model are apparently mapping two different logical types of holon (individual holons which include a locus of prehension and social holons which do not) rather than the polarities of any holon... If the Upper is seen as a holon in its own right (and Wilber [1995,2000] obviously means this by calling it the 'individual holon'), it must include both agency and communion. And likewise for the social holon mapped below."

Goddard considers the possibility that the two dyads could be identical--that is, that the upper quadrant of individual holons could also represent agency, while the lower quadrant of social holons could represent communion --but rejects this. Noting that Wilber has defined the agency/communion relationship with the phrase: "the more agency, the less communion, and vice versa." he observes:

"This would mean then that the more developed the individual the less developed the society, or vice versa. On the face of it, since generally speaking highly developed individuals live in highly developed societies, this is obviously absurd."

In making this point, Goddard illustrates yet another key distinction he draws, between types of dyadic relationships. Some of these, like agency/communion, he argues, have a polar relationship--the more of one, the less of the other--while others, like individual/social, have what he calls a "Janus-faced" relationship. This kind of dyad might be characterized as "more-more", in that increasing the presence of one member also increases the presence of the other. Indeed, in Goddard's view, the two members of this kind of dyad are really just one phenomenon, seen in different ways.

On the basis of this argument, then, Goddard concludes that a complete holarchy model must make the agency/communion distinction in a way that clearly delineates it from the individual/social distinction. He does this by adding not simply another division within the original four quadrant model, but an entire new set of quadrants. The result is two sets of "quadrants" (actually, six domains), one of which represents individual holons in agentic mode and the correspondingsocial holons in communal mode, and the other, communal individuals and agentic societies. This allows him, first, to preserve the Janus-faced relationships between individuals and societies in both quadrants, and second, to demonstrate that there is a direct correlation between agency/communion and the two types of perceptual relatonships between holons:

"Subject/object perceptual interactivity is the basis of the agentic individual and communal social development: subject/subject connective resonance is the basis of the communal individual and the agentic form of society."

I believe that Goddard has made an important advance by connecting agency/communion to perception, but again, I claim that a one scale model cannot only handle the same distinction, but clarify it. I begin by reminding the reader that in the previous section, I argued that we perceive objects or exteriors when we look at holons below us, while we perceive thoughts whenwe look at holons above us. So in my model, holons can be said to act agentically when they look below themselves, and communually when they look above themselves. The former is subject/object perception, the latter subject/subject perception.

I think Goddard would agree with my definition of subject/object perception. I'm pretty sure he would not agree with my definition of subject/subject perception. Though I find his definition of it (like some of his other definitions) rather vague--"a direct resonance between subjectivities within a cohesive or agentic social form"--it's clear from his subsequent discussion that he equates this with a form of perception much more common in earlier cultures:

"In the course of development from the primal human up to the modern the subject/subject way of knowing gives way to the subject/object epistemology... So as we go up hierarchically (up to the modernist period), the social holon decreases its agency and increases its communion, while the individual increases its agency and decreases its communion..."

Thus Goddard believes that individuals in our modern societies are more agentic than those of earlier societies, and tend to perceive objects (as opposed to thoughts) more than the latter individuals did. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable view. We normally think of ourselves as having more individuality and more freedom than people of earlier societies, and though Goddard states that individual holons manifest both agency and communion, there is a sense in which he equates agency with individuality, and I think also freedom, as when he says , "The agency of the 'social holon' is its cohesive structure which puts a preventative counter pressure on the developing individual". The predominance of subject/ojbect perception, on the other hand, seems to fit with our science-basedsociety,which mistrusts subjective views, and tries to base everything on empirical observations.

On closer inspection, however, I believe this view (or perhaps more accurately, this definition) of modern society does not represent the actual case. In fact, my own view is precisely the opposite. My claim is that modern individuals are less agentic than those of earlier societies, and perceive more in the subject-subject mode.

Let me begin by trying to untangle the terms "agency" and "freedom" (now), and "individual" (later), which as I just suggested, are somewhat loosely conflated by Goddard (at least in my reading of him; he never actually uses the word freedom, but I sense it lurking in the background when he correlates high individual agency with modern societies). Freedom, in my view of the holarchy, is the degree to which a holon has escaped, or transcended, certain laws that regulate its behavior. It's directly relatedto how high in the holarchy a holon stands: the higher, the freer. Agency, in contrast, I define as the degree to which a holon is independent of other holons, and has nothing to do with how high in the holarchy a holon is. Holons can be either highly agentic or highly communal at any level of existence, and indeed, a holon is most independent of other holons when it is at the bottom, not the top, of any particular level.

Let me explain this further. In my one-scale model of the holarchy, every level of existence--physical, biological, mental, and higher levels--is composed of several stages, which themselves stand in holarchical relationship to each other, though not in quite the same way as different levels do. For example, the physical level of existence is composed of atoms, small molecules, macromolecules, and still more complex molecular structures, all of which are found within cells. The biological level is composed of cells, tissues of various kinds, organs and organ systems, all found within organisms. The mental level begins wih organisms, and works its way up to societies of various complexity. In this scheme, individual holons--atoms, cells, organisms--are at the bottom of each level, while social holons--molecules, tissues, societies--form intermediate stages. While one level transcends the level below it, a stage simply transforms the stage below it. I have given precise definitions of transcendence and transformation in Worlds and other places.

It follows from this scheme that holons at the bottom of each level are (or can be) most independent of interactions with other holons. That is, when atoms exist in a state outside of small molecules and other forms of molecular structures, they are most agentic, and least communal. Likewise, when cells exist independently of tissues and other multicellular holons within organisms, they are maximally agentic, and least communal. When organisms exist outside of societies, they are maximally agentic and least communal. And conversely, atoms within complex molecular structures , cells within complex organ systems, and organisms within complex societies are least agentic and maximally communal.

In this view, then, members of modern human societies are more, not less, communal than members of earlier societies, because they are imbedded in more complex social interactions. In order to function in modern societies, people must deal with not only more relationships with other people than did members of earlier societies, but with much more complex relationships. That is, we not only have relationships with other individuals, but with social holons themselves. It simply is not true, as Goddard asserts, that

"it makes no sense to speak of the individual holon directly interacting or relating to the social holon. We can say only that individual holons interact with other individual holons, thus constituting the group; or that an individual can relate to several individuals at once through his/her 'idea' of the group."

The "idea" of the group is in fact a social holon. When I vote in an election, pay my income taxes, or serve on a jury, I am not interacting with (or only with) other individual holons. I am interactingwith social holons. There is no single individual in any of these situations with whom an interaction with would allow me to perform the particular functions that I subserve at that time. I may vote for a particular individual, but the whole concept of an election is part of a social holon. The person I vote for represents this holon, and my vote is for that representation, not for that person . I may mail my tax payment to a particular person, but again, I'm relating to that person as a representative of an organization composed of a great many people.

This understanding, in turn, leads to a much clearer view of subject/subject perception, as I define it. This is surely just another way of saying inter-subjectivity, which we all understand has reached its peak in modern society. All these interactions with other people mean we must do a great deal more of Goddard's private thinking than members of earlier societies had to do. Though our science may be very rigorous in its object-oriented view of the world, the practice of science itself, as Wilber and many other philosophers have pointed out, demands a complex web of intersubjective arrangements. Science begins with direct experience, and in one sense, perhaps, it ends there. But in between, the name of the game is communion.

And though science might be considered unrepresentative of the mentality of society at large, it does reflect the typical view. Ordinary people--by which I simply mean those who are not professional scientists or philosophers--are also much more oriented to subject/subject perception (again, as I define it) than the corresponding members of earlier societies were. Members of modern societies, I submit, think much more than members of earliersocieties did, and conversely, experience much less direct, object-orientedperceptions of the world. Again, this is a fairly uncontroversial claim, one so well-accepted that it prompted Wilber (1989) to develop the"pre-trans fallacy" argument to distinguish the earlier perception from the superficially similar form of perception of a higher site of consciousness.

Notice that this view, in contrast with Goddard's, does equate agency with individual holons, and communion with social holons. As we go up the holarchy within any single level, from individual holons to increasingly more complex social holons, there is a decrease in agency and an increase in communion. So the one-scale model of holarchy does not require a distinction between the individual vs. social pair, on the one hand, and the agentic vs. communal, on the other. I want to re-emphasize, however, that while members of modern socieies are claimed to be both higher, and more communal, than members of earlier societies, from a broader view of holarchy, there is no correlation between either of these qualities and the degree of evolution. Within any level, the higher, the more communal. But no level can be said to be more or less communal or agentic than any other. If it seems to be that way in Goddard's view, it's because, as I noted earlier, he shares the common misunderstanding that members of earlier societies were at a lower level than those of our own. To repeat, they were at a lower stage on the same level.

The preceding discussion has been intended to apply only to individual holons. What about social holons? I agree with Goddard that social holons can also exhibit both agency and communion. However, I disagree with him that the two properties are necessarily inversely correlated, with communal social holons containing agentic individual holons, and vice-versa. Since, in my view, individual holons become increasingly communal as they associate into more complex social holons, there is generally no particular correlation at all.

However, there could be a correlaion under one special set of conditions, which may (partly) explain Goddard's position. When social holons are in the process of being created--that is, when they exist within a level that has not completed its evolution--they are likely to be especially labile, forming,rearranging, breaking down, and reforming. Under these conditions, there is less regulation of the component individual holons, so they would become more agentic. Or to put it another way, such nascent social holons contain weakly interacting individual holons, which still have not surrendered much of their agency. In fact,since Goddard's entire discussion is focussed on humans and their societies, which, as I have argued before do constitute a level still in the process of evolving,we might sometimes expect to see such an inverse correlation. This observation underscores the importance of not making generalizations about the holarchy on the basis of an investigation of a single level, and particularly not our level.

What is an Individual?

Of all the terms commonly used to describe aspects of holarchy, I find "individual" one of the most resistant to a precise definition. It seems to be one of those words which we all feel we know the meaning of, and yet which meaning is very difficult to express. Individual holons can be defined easily enough, but what happens when these holons begin to exhibit communality, associating into social holons? Do they become more individual or less? Neither? Either? Or to put it another way (a way that depends on acceptance of the one-scale model), how does the trait we call individuality change as we move up in the holarchy? Goddard offers no firm answer to this question, and neither will I. But I will suggest three possible ways of understanding individuality.

The first is simply to equate it with agency. We say that the more agency and less communion a holon exhibits, the more individual it is. When applied to the one-scale model, this results in the view that the higher in any level a holon is, the less individuality it has. Thus members of modern societies have less individuality than members of earlier societies. While I believe this is a philosophically defensible position, it is counter-intuitive, defining individuality in a way different from that in which I believe most people commonly understand it.

A second way to define individuality is to equate it with freedom. Thus the higher in the holarchy a holon is, the more individual it is. This supports the more agreeable conclusion that members of modern societies have a higher degree of individuality than members of earlier societies, but it also implies that social holons have more individuality than individual holons.

The third way of defining individuality strikes a balance, literally and figuratively, between the first two positions. It says that individuality emerges from the interplay of agency and communality. I think Goddard takes this position,though he doesn't elaborate on it:

"What we normally mean by the term 'individual', is an entity which does, alternately, assert and commune; an entity which can be described as both autonomous and connected."

I will not elaborate on this idea, either, except to say that defining individuality as some kind of balance between agency and communality evokes a somewhat similar situation that arises when we try to define the term complexity, as used by scientists who study the dynamics by which living or sometimes non-livingsystems organize into new systems. Just as individuality seems to have some kind of relationship to two polar qualities, agency and communion, so complexity seems to have some kind of relationship to the opposing qualities of order and randomness. Most complexity theorists dismiss the possibility that complexity can be equated with either order or randomness itself, which has led to the proposal that it may be a (complex!) function of both, a sort of balance between the two (see Norretranders 1998).

Though it would be a stretch to equate agency and communion with order and randomness, respectively, the similarity of the two situations is hardly likely to be coincidental. Complexity is a key idea for holarchical theorists, as it underlies some theories of how higher-order holons can be created from lower-order ones. At any rate, by definingindividuality as a balance between agency and communion,we might avoid the Scylla of higher-order individual holons (i.e., holons that participate in the propetries of complex societies) that are less individual, as well as the Charybdis of individual social holons.

Conclusions and Implications

Gerry Goddard, in what I regard as a very deep and intellectually rigorous essay, has proposed a fairly significant revision of the Wilber four quadrant model, one in which two key distinctions are made. First, one holon's experience of another holon is distinguished from the other holon itself. This results in a division in the left hand or interior quadrants of Wilber's model, so that they can represent both (public) experience of objects, and (private) experience of thoughts. Second, agency and communion are treated as properties of both individual and social holons, rather than agency being considered the exclusive property of an individual holon, and communion of a social holon. This leads Goddard to propose a doubling of the quadrant structure, with one quadrant containing agentic individual holons and communalsocial holons, and the other quadrant containing communal individual holons and agentic social holons.

I'm in substantial agreement with Goddard on several points. I accept the distinction between the two kinds of interior experience--of objects andthoughts--and also the equivalence relationship thatGoddarddraws betweenthem and agency and communion. That is, perception of objects (subject/object perception) is held to be characteristic of agentic holons, while perception of thoughts (subject/subject perception) is typical of communalholons. I also like very much (n principle if not always in application) the distinctionGoddard draws between two kinds of pairings or dyads, which he refers to as Janus-faced and polar.

However, I have several important differences with Goddard. While he understands the subject/subject form of perception to be most prominent among members of earlier societies, I take precisely the opposite view, that it's most characteristic of modern humans. Second, I don't regard the agency/communion dyad as a fundamentally different kind of relationship from that of holons. On the contrary, in my view, the degree to which individual holons possess communion is directly relatedto the degree to which they are organized into social holons.

My most important difference with Goddard, though, as with Wilber--a difference which underlies the other differences I've just noted--is that I don't see the need for more than a single scale or axis to represent the holarchy. In my model, as presented in Worlds, the distinction between perception of objects and perception of thoughts is determined by the direction in the holarchy in which the observing holon is looking. When it looks down, at holons below itself, it sees objects. When it looks above, at holons beyond it, it experiences thoughts. This understanding, of course, assumes that humans, as the holon at issue in Goddard's discussion, do exist within higher-order holons. Unlike Goddard, Wilber and apparently most other theorists debating holarchy, I contend that they do--that these higher-order holons are simply the various forms of social organization in which we live.

I said at the outset of this paper that I believed some of Goddard's ideas, as applied to my one-scale model, strengthened it, and also that this model could further clarify these ideas. What I mean by this, primarily, is that my model, by bringing all holons over to a single scale, immediately implies the two kinds of perception, as well as the agency/communion dyad, discussed by Goddard. With respect to the two kinds of perception, rather than bringing a second holon into the picture, with the additional divisions within the quadrants that that entails, my model makes such holonic interactions intrinsic to itself. They are implied by the fact that not only does every holon have holons both above it and below it, but every individual holon has social holons above it, in the properties of which it participates. Thus the two kinds of perception fall out, so to speak, from my model. They are already implicit in it, without the need to make additional hypotheses or distinctions.

Likewise with agency and communion. Since my model holds that individual holons are not only imbedded within social holons, but have a lower vs. higher holarchical relationship to them, agency can simply be defined as the degree to which an individual holon is independent of these higher-order holons, while communion, of course, is just the opposite. In fact, the degree of communion of any holon can be defined very precisely in terms of the highest stage on its level in which it participates, since the higher the stage, the more complex the relationships it enters into with other holons. It is a very strong implication of my model--and I believe an additional strength of it that the Wilber andGoddard models lack--that properties like agency and communion, as well as certain others not discussed here, can actually be quantitated.

As Goddard points out, the Wilber model can't take this position on agency vs. communion, because it does not view societies as higher than their individual members. � In the Wilber model, societies are just a different aspect of individuals, relating to them in the Janus-faced sense rather than in the polar sense of agency/communion. Goddard, who accepts this feature of the Wilber model, is thus forced to make still another distinction. This leads to a doubling of the quadrants, each of which has already expanded to include six domains.

This is not to say that I don't find Gerry Goddard's model very atractive. Much of its appeal, to me, lies in its symmetry, with the different quadrants lining up so that both polar and Janus-faced dyads are paired properly. Moreover, the model spells out certain relationships which, though also present in my model, are not advertised there so clearly, precisely because they are intrinsic to its structure. Nevertheless, as I watched Goddard at work building his model, I kept thinking of Ptolemy's epicycles. A cardinal rule of not just science but all forms of knowledge acquisition is to keep schemes as simple as they can be and still explain all the known facts or issues.

Of course, the single-scale model does not explain, any more than Wilber's, Goddard's, or anyone else's model does, the mystery of how consciousness is related to the physical world. But the one-scale model, unlike those others, I think simplifies the problem by taking consciousness, in the sense of qualia or experience, out of the picture. I don't claim that consciousness emerges from brain structures, the way the latter emerge from cells, and those in turn from atoms and molecules. In my model, consciousness is outside or beyond the holarchy, yet interacts with it at every point. What I do claim (in contrast to Goddard and Wilber) is that mental phenomena, like thinking, learning, memory, and so forth, do emerge from lower holons, a claim that is increasingly supported by advances in neuroscience, computer science, cognitive and evolutionary psychology, and other areas. This being the case, these phenomena can be understood as also having an exterior form, and therefore belonging on the same scale with these lower holons. In this way, we avoid conflating them, as I believe Wilber and Goddard do, with experience. This arrangement does not deny the concept of interiority, because as I have explained above, this is accounted for by the ability of holons to look above themselves to some extent as well as below. What the model does not explain is how we come to experience interiority, or any particular mental phenomena, in the way that we do. But no model does that, and I believe it very unlikely any ever will.

While the debate over how best to represent holarchy will go on, I believe this debate should move beyond discussions of purely theory, and engage issues of practical importance. Several contributors to this site of whom I'm aware, such as Don Beck, Mark Edwards and Fred Kofman, are attempting to do this. While I have my differences with all of them, and have expressed some of these differences in this forum, I support their efforts to apply our understanding of holarchy to the problems we as humans face in our everyday lives. All of the work of this kind that I'm aware of, however, is concerned with holarchy at the level of human beings and their societies. In concluding this article, therefore, I would like to present two examples of how concepts of holarchy may illuminate our understanding of other levels as well, in ways that are of ultimate practical concernto us.

The first example is in the area of evolutionary theory. I have discussed this topic in other places, most recently in the article The Spectrum of Holons posted at this site, so I will mention it only briefly here. A strong implication of holarchy, at least in my view, is that evolution occurs at every level of existence, and through somewhat analogous processes. Working from this premise, I have argued that both Darwinian evolution and what is usually called cultural evolution can be understood as paradigmatic examples of two kinds of processes that occur on all levels of existence. This understanding not only unifies these two kinds of evolution in a broader theory; it implies the existence of several other kinds of evolutionary processes. One of these processes, which would occur at the level of cells, might well shed light on how the earliest organisms evolved. The other process, at our own level of existence, makes predictions about how the human race may evolve in the future.

The other example, which I wish to discuss in greater detail, is in the area of health and medicine. The agency/communion dyad, which plays such a central role in Gerry Goddard's thinking, should be of obvious relevance to an understanding of our body, and its disorders. Cells, like other individual holons, can express both agency, when they grow, reproduce and maintain themselves, as well as communion, when they interact with other cells in tissues and organs of the body. Normally, these two tendencies exist in some kind of balance, but this balance can be upset, resulting in certain disorders. We could thus classify these disorders into two groups, those resulting from too much agency and too little communion, and those resulting from too little agency and too much communion.

An example of the first kind of disorder is cancer. Cancer arises when the normal checks on a cell's growth are lost, resulting in abnormal growth and uncontrolled reproduction. Cancer cells are clearly more agentic than other cells of their particular type, and less communal. For example, while normal cells stop dividing when they contact other cells, cancer cells at a certain stage are generally insensitive to this kind of contact inhibition. They are likewise insensitive, or differently sensitive, to chemical messengers that also control cell growth.

An example of the second kind of disorder is provided by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). Cells that undergo degeneration may be said to be less agentic than normal, for they are less able to resist processes that threaten their ability to grow and maintain themselves. One such process is programmed cell death, or apoptosis (Offen et al. 2000.). In the body, apoptosis frequently functions as a culling process, removing cells that are either unnecessary or unhealthy or aberrant. For example, cancer cells may sometimes be eliminated in this way. But all normal cells have the potential to be destroyed by this process, and we could say that they are most likely to fall victim when their agency is relatively low.

Science knows quite a bit about cancer. We know, for example, that it usually results from mutations in certain genes. Some of these genes have been identified, and their functions determined, and from this work, a picture is emerging of how cancer begins and progresses through various stages of malignancy (Kinzler and Vogelstein 1996). In contrast, very little is known about most degenerative diseases For most of these disorders, we have a detailed description of the sequence of pathological events that unfold, but the initial causes of this pathology are not well understood. There are many theories, all supported by some evidence, but no unifying paradigm has emerged, as to some extent it has with cancer.

If cancer and neurodegenerative diseases both represent imbalances in the agency/communion dyad, however, and cancer results from mutations in certain genes, then an obvious hypothesis suggests itself: that neurodegenerative diseases also result from genetic mutations. In some cases, this is known to be true. Just as some forms of cancer are hereditary, so are some forms of neurodegenerative diseases. For example, some casesof ALS result from an inherited mutation in an identified gene (Rosen et al. 1993). These cases, however, represent only a very small percentage of all cases of this disorder. The much more intriguing question is whether non-hereditary (sporadic) cases might also result from genetic mutations. This is a much more radical idea, but again, it's suggested by the cancer model. Many forms of sporadic cancer have been shown to result from mutations that are not inherited, but develop some time during the life of the person. Sometimes these mutations are also necessary for inherited cancer to manifest itself; that is, the inherited mutation predisposes the personto cancer, by initiating certain events in the cell which may progress if, and only if, a sporadic mutation (generally, several such mutations) develops. In other cases, no inherited mutation may be involved.

Only recently have some scientists begun to take seriously the idea that neurodegenerative diseases might also result from sporadic mutations . While these researchers don't use words like agency andcommunion,the notion of a possible connection between cancer and degeneration has come from an appreciation that a balance normally exists between growth and reproduction, on the one hand, and cell interactions, on the other--and that if disorders can arise from an imbalance in one direction,they surely can also result from imbalances in the other direction. In the future,we may see this concept applied to other disorders, as well as to understanding the normal processes of the body.

In conclusion,then, while the holarchical paradigm has emerged mainly throughthe efforts of many of us to understand our relationship to a higher level of consciousness, if it's the all-inclusive scheme that Ken Wilber, Gerry Goddard, myself, and many others are attempting to make it, it should be able to illuminate processes at other levels of existence. Ken Wilber perhaps pioneered this approach in his analysis of various stages of ordinary psychological development, and their associated pathologies (Wilber 1980). While the holarchical paradigm has a natural affinity with psychology and sociology, though, a greater challenge may be to take it into the realms explored by empirical science, and show that it can be an effective partner of the latter.


Goddard, G. (1997) Airing our Transpersonal Differences (posted at this site)

Kinzler, K.W. and Vogelstein, B. (1996) Lessons from Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Cell 87, 159-170

Norretranders, T. (1998) The User Illusion (New York: Viking)

Offen, D., Elkon, H. and Melamed, E. (2000) Apoptosis as a General Cell Death Pathway in Neurodegenerative Diseases. J. Neural Transm. Suppl. 58, 153-166

Rosen, D.R., Siddique, T., Patternson, D., et al. (1993) Mutations in Cu/Zn Superoxide Dismutase Gene are Associated with Familiar Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Nature 362, 59-62

Seager, W. (1999) Theories of Consciousness (NY: Routledge)

Searle, J.R. (1998) Mind, Language and Society (NY: Basic)

Wilber, K. (1980) The Atman Project (Wheaton, IL: Quest)

Wilber, K. (1981) Up From Eden (New York: Doubleday/Anchor)

Wilber, K. (1989) Eye to Eye (Boston: Shambhala)

Wilber, K. (1995) Sex, Ecology, Sprituality (Boston: Shambhala)

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