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 Morin is a contemporary integral thinker that Sean Esbjörn-Hargens compared to Wilber and Roy Baskhar (unpublished source).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)

Organisationism vs. Organicism

It is important to notice the difference of level between organisationism which we believe necessary, and traditional organicism. Organicism is a syncretic concept, historic, confused, romantic. It starts from the organism seen as a harmoniously organised whole, even when it carries within itself antagonism and death. Coming from the organism, organicism makes of it a model of either macrocosm (organicist conception of the univerrse), either human society; Thus, an entire sociological movement of the last century tried to see in society an analogy to the animal organism, minuciously looking for equivalences between biological life and social life.

On the other hand, instead of trying to find phenomenal analogies, organisationism looks for common organizing principles, the evolving principles of these principles, the characteristics of their diversification. From there, and from there only, phenomenal analogies can possibly find some meaning. [...]

This conception, we just denounced its romantism. It is only fair now to correct ourselves. Romantic organicism, like during theRenaissance, like in Chinese philosophy (Needham, 1973), has always thought that the organism behaves according to a rich and complex organization, that it cannot be reduced to linear laws, to simple principles, to clear and distinct ideas, to a mecanist vision. Its virtue is in foreseeing that the living organization cannot be understood according to the same logic than the machine, and that the logical originality of the organism is best translated by the complementarity of terms, which according to classic logic are antagonistic, repuslive, contradictory. In a word, organicism supposes a rich and complex organization, but does not propose it. (p. 39-40)

Holism-Organicism vs. Complexity-Organisationism

Complexity vs. Holism

On the way to complexity, we see that classic alternatives lose their absolute character, or rather change their character: to "either/or" we substitute both a "neither/neither" and a "and/and". Such is the opposition between unity/diversity, chance/necessity, quantity/quality, subject/object; Such is, let's say it now, of the holism/reductionism alternative. In effect, reductionism has always elicited a "holistic" opposing movement rooted in the preeminence of the concept of globality, or wholeness. But every time, wholeness has been no more than a plastic bag wrapped around anything in whatever way, and wrapping around it too well: the more wholeness becomes full, the more it becomes empty. Instead, we want to reveal, beyond reductionism and holism, the idea of a complex unity, which connects analytic-reductionist thinking to wholeness thinking in a dialectic that we will further define later. (p. 72)

Complexity vs. Formless Metaphysics

There is such a complexity in the universe, we have found so many contradictions that some scientists think of going beyond thiscontradiction through what we can call a new metaphysics. These new metaphysicians look into the mystics, in particular from the East, and in particular buddhists, the experience of the void which is the whole, and of the whole which is nothing. They perceive here a sort of fundamental unity where everything is connected, everything is in harmony, we could say, and they have a reconciliated - even euphoric - vision of the world.

In my opinion, by doing so they escape complexity. Why? Because complexity is where we cannot overcome a contradiction, or a tragedy. In some respects, current physics is discovering that something escapes time and space, but it doesn't negate that at the same time, there is no doubt we are also in space and time.

We cannot reconciliate these two ideas. Do we have to accept them as is? Accepting complexity, it is accepting a contradiction and the idea that we cannot bypass contradictions in a euphoric vision of the world.

Of course, our world includes harmony, but this harmony is connected to disharmony. It is exactly what Heraclite said: there is harmony in disharmony, and vice versa.


1. These excerpts are translated from Introduction à la pensée complexe (E. Morin, 2005)