Monday, April 30, 2012

Translated Excerpts from a French Integral Theorist

Edgar Morin, French sociologist/philosopher
I often found that the best way to understand a complex idea is to understand how it's different from other similar ideas. Understanding what something is NOT is an essential part of understanding what it is: it clearly delineates the boundary. It's an aspect of Integral Theory that was immediately appealing to me, it emphasizes differentiating between things that are seemingly identical, looking deeper than the surface of things.

It's a quality I discovered recently in the French philosopher Edgar Morin, and it made me want to offer you a few translated excerpts in this post. Morin is a contemporary integral thinker that Sean Esbjörn-Hargens compared to Wilber and Roy Baskhar (unpublished source). Sean suggests that while Wilber's work focuses primarily on psychology and spirituality (Upper-Left quadrant), and Bashar's on the intersubjective realm (Lower-Left), Morin's "Complex Thinking" finds coherence in systems of systems (Lower-Right).

Here are some chosen excerpts1 that integralists might find, if not familiar, at least relevant to how they think about Integral Theory. Enjoy! (all emphasis below are mine)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No, it's not "in" a quadrant

I'd like to debunk a simple mistake that some early enthusiasts of Integral Theory tend to make: the idea that we can sort actual things in the quadrants. It's not what Integral Theory says, even if Wilber himself can often make this linguistic shortcut.

The mistake is to consider the quadrants as reified categories within which one can sort things:

  • ideas are in the Upper-Left quadrant (UL), 
  • my body goes into the Upper-Right (UR), 
  • our culture in the Lower-Left (LL), and 
  • our political system is Lower-Right stuff (LR). 

This simplification is useful at first to explain the quadrants, but really it's more complex. For Integral Theory, quadrants are dimensions of holons, and every holon has four - except for groups, which have only two. So it doesn't mean anything to say that an entire object "is in one quadrant." Saying that is a reification of our own perspective on that object. It is reducing the object to only one of its dimensions, and reifying this dimension as if it was a thing in itself.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Integral Scholars: Let's Bring Scholarship To The Web

A few days ago I discovered an article in the New York Times about "Open Science" that strongly resonated with me. It covers a topic that I have been chewing on for some time: the potential for scholars and specialists of all sorts to leverage the power of the Internet to revolutionize the way knowledge is created, accessed and legitimized. Then a question came with it: why isn't the integral community more active on the open web(1)?

Corey DeVos from Integral Life says to Integral Chicks that before Integral Naked (2006), the Integral community had trouble finding itself and interacting with each other, whereas today the problem has changed: dialogue happens mostly within the community and we need more dialogue with the exterior. We can find Integral content online—mostly "pop integral" I would say—but in many ways the Integral discourse is de facto closed due to obstacles like monthly fees and premium memberships. Technically it's on the web, but not openly so. As to the scholarly discourse(2) in particular, it seems almost absent(3). And this is the discourse I'm interested in for this post.

This situation is not specific to the integral discourse. It illustrates a deeper current in the academic world and there are reasons for it. Such a closed system makes sense given the (outdated) technological structure it was designed for, and the conventional business model deriving from it. But it carries serious drawbacks too. Think compartmentalization of disciplines, lack of innovation, or the ivory tower effect dissociating the scholar from the "real world". For the integral movement, which prides itself  for being leading edge, trans-disciplinary by nature, and open to meeting people "where they are", it is a disappointing state of affairs.

I would love to see that change, and I think it's becoming more and more possible. The technology supporting a more open scholarly discourse is developing and science is likely heading in that direction anyway. Jason Priem has an interesting blog about the growing scholarly use of social media and a manifesto for new scholarship metrics—both of which shed some light on this trend. I would really like to see the Integral community a bit more open to—if not invested in—this evolution. Would it not only be consistent with its overall purpose?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why We Need More Spiritual Discrimination

Borrowed and adapted from Campus Ministry
Today, I could have benefited from a so-called "Integral Awakening Skype Session" to foster my "transformational process"... But I chose not to, just like I choose not to attend to the plethora of spiritual events available in the Bay Area, and here is why.

You would think that the Bay Area is the best place to nurture your spiritual side given the vivid subculture and the diversity of practices available. And yet I find myself rather closed to the spiritual market here, as if too much exposure to it had made me dull. Is it a personal disposition? Maybe, after all I grew up in a quite secular environment. But really, the red flag to me is the lack of discernment by spiritual teachers about spirituality itself.

Spirituality is an intimate relationship with reality, it requires observing and experiencing this relationship directly, exploring the territory by yourself before relying on maps others have drawn before you. So it produces an interesting paradox when you live in a culture imbued with spiritual concepts. You are called to encounter them in discussions and readings, and even though you're talking about existential and ultimate concerns, you end up sometimes using them more or less casually.

I don't know you, but I find it difficult to keep giving a special meaning to a spiritual concept like "awakening" or "epiphany" when I read about it in promotional emails.