Zak Stein: Integral Meta-Theory – The What and Why

An excerpt from: Stein, Z. (in press). Beyond nature and humanity: reflections on the emergence and purposes of metatheories. In Bhaskar, Esbjorn-Hargens, Hedlund-de Witt & Hartwig (Eds.) Metatheory for the 21st century: critical realism and integral theory in dialogue. New York: Routledge.

by Zak Stein

Meta-theory as humanity’s vocabulary of self-transformation

[With] self-consciousness comes the possibility of transforming ourselves by adopting new vocabularies, redescribing, and so reconstructing our selves and discursive institutions. While all of us are in some sense consumers of such new vocabularies, it is the special calling of some to produce them. And among those producers some take the construction of unique, potentially transformative vocabularies as the project by commitment to which they understand and define themselves. Among that group, some seek to produce those new vocabularies precisely by trying to understated the phenomena of sapience, normativity, conceptuality, reason, freedom, expression, self-consciousness, self-constitution, and historical transformation by subversive, empowering vocabularies. Those are the philosophers. They are charged neither with simply understanding human nature (human history), nor with simply changing it, but with changing it by understanding it.

—Robert B. Brandom (2009, p. 150)

We humans are a self-interpreting species for whom the practice of recollecting and redescribing ourselves is a crucial necessity. For us the reconstruction of identity is a continuous process wherein the past is selectively crafted into a history. It is a creative and self-constitutive exercise. We come to know each other and ourselves not by exchanging resumes (mere inventories of events), but by telling our stories. And our stories change as we do; they reflect what actually happened and what we think is worth remembering, they reflect who we were, who we are, and who we would like to become. Neglecting this retrospective task results in identity confusion, leaving us fragmented, meandering, and directionless. Some argue that the species as a whole faces an impending identity crisis as the unchecked proliferation of informational and biological technologies create abrupt discontinuities in the intergenerational fabric of the lifeworld, catapulting us out of history and into forms of life that are incongruent and incomprehensible (Habermas, 2003; Fukuyama, 2002). These concerns about possible futures appear realistic when they are seen in the context of the obvious identity confusions that already characterize large swaths of the academy, especially in the humanities and social sciences (Kagan, 2009; Menand, 2010). The disciplines traditionally responsible for the self-interpretation of the species do not have a coherent interpretation of themselves.

This paper expresses a certain understanding of the origins and purposes of meta-theories. Remembering (recollecting and redescribing) who we are as metatheorists should go a long way toward bringing order to the disorder and fragmentation of the academy. The proliferation of robust meta-theories should in turn foster the emergence of more substantive and coherent voices in the public sphere, which is otherwise becoming increasingly irrational, inarticulate, and superficial. What follows is a certain type of scholarly intervention. It involves an historical reconstruction of core intellectual themes that have shaped a given field, addressing this reconstruction to participants in that field, and thus affecting how they understand their efforts. Both Brandom (2002; 2009) and Habermas (1971) have executed projects of this type—in philosophy and critical theory respectively—and both have discussed the unique methodological issues involved. The reconstruction of a cumulative trajectory or tradition is both a discovery and a creation. It is also both descriptive and prescriptive. We remember what we think is worth remembering, which depends in part on who we want to become, yet who we want to become is a reflection of who we think we have been all along. This kind of complex hermeneutic exercise is indispensable for assuring the continuity of intellectual traditions. Retrospective reconstructive work sets the necessary staging for concerted constructive efforts.

Importantly, these kinds of reconstructions are always partial. The story I tell here is but one story (and a regrettably brief and unelaborated one at that). There are other stories worth telling. And I encourage the reconstruction of different stories. In one sense this paper can be read as having a merely expressive intent, as opposed to its being read as if it were crafted to persuade or convince. This does not mean what follows is arbitrary or irrelevant, or that it cannot be persuasive. The long tradition of expressive philosophical projects—from Schelling, Nietzsche, and Emerson through Derrida, Rorty, West, and Brandom—would suggest quite the opposite. Many have been influential while yet only claiming to express themselves, especially regarding issues too deep to really argue about. So while I am adopting a somewhat unconventional argumentative strategy, it is not an unreasonable one.

Read more on Zak’s blog>>>

For part 2 on Integral Meta-Theory and Human Capital>>>

For excerpts from the new book in progress by Zak Stein and Marc Gafni on A New Politics of Outrageous Love>>>

Listen to a dialogue with Zak Stein, Richard Barrett and Marc Gafni and more>>>

Ken Wilber on Integral Wisdom – Audio

Ken WilberIn Ken’s talk at the 2014 Board Meeting, he talked about the different implications of the term World Spirituality versus the term Integral Wisdom.

In 2012, Marc and Ken initiated a two-year conversation with the leadership of the Center about what the think tank’s formal name should be. We began as The Center for World Spirituality, and then, the name evolved to The Center for Integral Wisdom. In the end, our decision is to call ourselves iEvolve: Evolving the Source Code of Culture: The Center for Integral Wisdom. Within that context, one of our lead projects is the World Spirituality Project.

Listen to Ken Wilber’s talk on Integral Wisdom from the Board Meeting in February 2014 and read the transcript below:

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Ken Wilber: Integral Semiotics

[Note: The following is an excerpt from volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy, tentatively entitled Sex, Karma, Creativity—the first volume of which was Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I have finally finished volume 2, and am doing all the horrid little details required to get a book ready for publication.

The following deals with a topic I find essential: the nature of linguistic meaning—or semiotics—and how a truly Integral approach fundamentally changes how we understand this.

One of the basic moves is to understand that the referent, or “real object,” being represented by any linguistic sign doesn’t exist “out there” in a single, pregiven, unchanging reality, but rather exists in a particular and specific worldspace—a particular quadrant, or level, or line, or state, or type—and can only be “seen” or “experienced” by yourself finding that particular worldspace and moving your consciousness to it. Thus, a word like “dog” can be seen by virtually any sentient being with a brain and eyes, and it exists in the sensorimotor world. But what about “God” or “Buddha-nature” or “Spirit”? Those are simple signifiers like “dog”—that is, a material mark claiming to represent a reality. But that reality is not just lying around “out there” in a single, pregiven, sensorimotor world—and thus those referents have often been taken to be meaningless.

But my point is that they all, in fact, exist in a specific worldspace that can itself be discovered and experienced—such as the causal or formless state of consciousness, particular stages of meditation, specific peak experiences or altered states. When one is in those worldspaces—and not simply staring at the sensorimotor worldspace—then the actual referents (the “real phenomena” of each referent)—can be clearly seen or experienced. And this changes the nature and meaning of semiotics altogether, by asserting that any given referent of a particular signifier exists in a specific worldspace, and in order to experience that referent appropriately (if it exists at all), the subject must get itself into that particular worldspace, and only then look around for the referent. Integral Semiotics offers a comprehensive map or framework of most of the known worldspaces available to humans, and thus offers a Map that allows us to understand the Kosmic Address of a particular referent, and hence know where to look for any referent indicated by a signifier. Since most of these worldspaces do not possess simple location or material form, they are likely to be denied reality by most realist, empirical, or behavioral schools—where in fact they are home of the vast majority of those things most humans hold valuable. Integral Semiotics is thus a matter, not just of linguistics, but of emancipation.—Ken Wilber]

Integral Applications

The Center for Integral Wisdom supports leaders, developers, theorists, and students who are working to apply Integral theory and practice together with the Unique Self Dharma in the world. The approaches to Integral knowledge are diverse, but each cuts vital “grooves in consciousness” which makes advancing knowledge easier for all who follow. Whether the application is part of the world of art, business, medicine, politics, or another domain, CIW helps to call attention to Integral thinkers and artists and facilitates real world problem-solving.

Some Applications of Integral Theory & Practice

Integral Business seeks to apply the potential of Integral Theory to making Conscious Entrepreneurs drivers of the evolutionary impulses at work in our economy. Businesses participate in a complex ecosystem and shape every dimension of our lives, making it necessary to harness their power to move beyond profit and capital acquisition to conscious co-creation and the creation of generative change. Sometimes considered a part of the movement for “conscious capitalism,” Integral business is all about bringing more levels of awareness into the world where you probably didn’t expect them.

Integral Economics seeks to bring together the discipline of economics with the meta-discipline of Integral theory, offering a structural framework for reframing and resolving problems in capitalism and society. Integral economists attempt to model the dynamic processes whereby higher-order development proceeds in methods of value exchange. In contrast to positivistic economics, it includes culture and subjectivity which are difficult to quantify and model–not only in behavioral psychology and systems theory, but also in interiors and interpretation. Conscious Capitalism is one of those applications.

Integral Leadership is a field of theory and practice aiming to identify ways of creating independent and generative people, systems, and environment through trans-disciplinary approaches. It seeks to cultivate an Integral “style” of leadership which involves identifying the worldviews and values involved in a situation and interacting in ways that are skillful, appropriate, and flexible. Integral leadership bridges seemingly contradictory approaches to the theory and practice of leadership and puts leadership in the service of the multitude of global challenges faced today. Unique Self Coaching is designed to help you become the leader you are.

Integral Education initiatives have been tried in virtually all levels–primary, secondary, university, and adult education. Integral educational theory incorporates different theories for every developmental perspective. It sees individuals as being in the process of growing up, and in that place, the educator’s path affects the students. It incorporates perspectives on meaning and purpose into the classroom, allowing discussion of matters of ultimate concern. It provides a non-dogmatic, humanistic, values-based orientation with the potential to shape education for generations to come. Unique Self adds an important dimension to it.

Integral Medicine attempts to find a path beyond the prevalent objectivist models of medicine emphasizing systems along with subjectivist methodologies which emphasize psychological, spiritual, and humanistic aspects. It attempts to honors medicine both as a science and as an art. Board Members of CIW and physicians Venodhar Rao Julapalli, M.D. and Vinay Rao Julapalli, M.D., F.A.C.C. have spoken in their CIW White Paper of “True Self medicine,” which is contrasted to separate self or false self medicine, and then evolves into Unique Self Medicine which reconceives the self’s health within the context of the cosmos at large.

2015-03-03_EmergenceProjectIntegral Politics is developing an inclusive, balanced, and comprehensive approach to politics which is inspiring a new generation of political theorists and politicians. It typically eschews exclusive adherence to ideologies of the left and right in favor of trans-partisan systems of thought able to encompass multiple ideological perspectives. Theorists such as Steve McIntosh have developed visionary applications such as a proposal for a world federal constitution which is able to meet the challenges of our time and ameliorate poverty and war.

Integral Ecology is a multi-disciplinary methodology which applies aspects of Integral theory to over eighty schools of ecology, seeking deeper, more inclusive approaches to addressing the planet’s core needs. In an influential formulation by Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, who also serves as Academic Chair for CIW, it employs a framework of eight ecological worldviews, eight methodologies, and four terrains. It is not merely an approach for academics, however. Anyone who wants to include more in their experience and perception of nature can benefit from taking Integral perspectives.

Integral Psychology seeks to honor and include virtually every aspect of human consciousness. It offers comprehensive models of consciousness drawing on ancient and modern schools of philosophy, psychology, and therapy. Integral psychological includes developmental perspectives which identify stages or waves of consciousness from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious or pre-personal, personal, and trans-personal. Another hallmark of integral psychology is the attempt to synthesize wisdom from the East and the West into a new conceptual order.

Integral Art seeks to transform art theory and practice by allowing artists to embrace the fullness of who they are and facilitating wide and generous critical appreciation. It has been defined as art which transcends any one “quadrant” or “level” to include and make beautiful multiple perspectives. A variety of artists have been influenced by the Integral worldview in literature, visual art, poetry, music, and cinema. The question of “what constitutes Integral Art?” is an ongoing inquiry.

Integral Methodological Pluralism

An Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Ken Wilber’s groundbreaking book Integral Spirituality – A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World

We start with the simple observation that the “metaphysics” of the spiritual traditions have been thoroughly critiqued—“trashed” is probably the better word—by both modernist and postmodernist epistemologies, and there has as yet arisen nothing compelling to take their place.

So this chapter begins with an overview of the methodologies available that can be used to reconstruct the spiritual systems of the great wisdom traditions but with none of their metaphysical baggage.

Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) involves, among other things, at least 8 fundamental and apparently irreducible methodologies, injunctions, or paradigms for gaining reproducible knowledge (or verifiably repeatable experiences). The fundamental claim of AQAL Integral Theory is that any approach that leaves out any of these 8 paradigms is a less-thanadequate approach according to available and reliable human knowledge at this time.

The easiest way to understand IMP is to start with what are known as the quadrants, which suggest that any occasion possesses an inside and an outside, as well as an individual and a collective, dimension. Taken together, this gives us the inside and the outside of the individual and the collective. These are often represented as I, you/we, it, and its (a variation on first-, second-, and third-person pronouns; another variation is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; or art, morals, and science, and so on—namely, the objective truth of exterior science, or it/its; the subjective truth of aesthetics, or I; and the collective truth of ethics, or thou/we).

Figure 1.1. Some Details of the Quadrants

Figure 1.1 is a schematic of some of the phenomena found in the quadrants according to reliable knowledge communities working with them. (Don’t worry if some of the terms are unfamiliar; we will cover the important ones later.)*

We often refer to any event as a holon—a “whole/part,” or a whole that is a part of other wholes—and thus each of the items labeled in the various quadrants can also be referred to as a holon (e.g., in the UR quadrant, a molecule is a holon that contains whole atoms and is contained by whole cells; in the UL, a concept is a holon that contains whole symbols and is contained by whole rules, and so on). Now here, as they say, is where it gets interesting. If you imagine any of the phenomena (or holons) in the various quadrants, you can look at them from their own inside or outside. This gives you 8 primordial perspectives—the inside and the outside view of a holon in any of the 4 quadrants. perspectives—

* As introductory statements we say things like, “The quadrants are the inside and the outside view (or perspective) of the individual and the collective.” More technically, with reference to these perspectives, we differentiate between the “view through” and the “view from.” All individual (or sentient) holons HAVE or POSSESS four perspectives through which or with which they view or touch the world, and those are the quadrants (the view through). But anything can be looked at FROM those four perspectives—or there is a view of anything from those perspectives—and that is technically called a quadrivium. For example, a chair, as an artifact, does not possess four quadrants, but it can be looked at from those four quadrants or perspectives, which is then a quadrivium of views of or about the chair. An individual holon (like you or me) has an I, we, it, and its dimension-perspective (and hence a view through); an artifact does not, but I can look at the artifact from each of those perspectives or each quadrivium. Likewise, the 8 zones are “8 quadrants,” and the 8 methodologies are “8 quadrivia.” See appendix II.

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Integral Worldview & Theory (AQAL)

An Excerpt from the “Introduction: An Integral Approach” from Ken Wilber’s groundbreaking book Integral Spirituality – A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World

During the last 30 years, we have witnessed a historical first: all of the world’s cultures are now available to us. In the past, if you were born, say, a Chinese, you likely spent your entire life in one culture, often in one province, sometimes in one house, living and loving and dying on one small plot of land. But today, not only are people geographically mobile, we can study, and have studied, virtually every known culture on the planet. In the global village, all cultures are exposed to each other.

Knowledge itself is now global. This means that, also for the first time, the sum total of human knowledge is available to us—the knowledge, experience, wisdom and reflection of all major human civilizations—premodern, modern, and postmodern—are open to study by anyone.

What if we took literally everything that all the various cultures have to tell us about human potential—about spiritual growth, psychological growth, social growth—and put it all on the table? What if we attempted to find the critically essential keys to human growth, based on the sum total of human knowledge now open to us? What if we attempted, based on extensive cross-cultural study, to use all of the world’s great traditions to create a composite map, a comprehensive map, an all-inclusive or integral map that included the best elements from all of them?

Sound complicated, complex, daunting? In a sense, it is. But in another sense, the results turn out to be surprisingly simple and elegant. Over the last several decades, there has indeed been an extensive search for a comprehensive map of human potentials. This map uses all the known systems and models of human growth—from the ancient shamans and sages to today’s breakthroughs in cognitive science—and distills their major components into 5 simple factors, factors that are the essential elements or keys to unlocking and facilitating human evolution.

Welcome to the Integral Approach.

Read further: An Integral or Comprehensive Map>>>


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