Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cube & coffee

Lexi Neale’s AQAL Cube from Indistinct Union by Chris Dierkes
I was hoping to get to this a little earlier, but I’ve been very busy recently. Lexi Neale (whom I have no previous or other contact or knowledge of other than this essay) has written a very intriguing and challenging piece on the Ken Wilber blog offering a pretty radical re-interpretation of AQAL Integral Philosophy. He calls it the AQAL Cube–versus what he sees as Wilber’s AQAL Square.
Warning: His essay is heavy-duty intellectually and so will be my response.

I won’t bother trying to summarize his entire essay. It’s quite sophisticated and deserves to be read a couple of times, think about it. There’s an enormous amount in there. I’m just going to jump in. Neale writes:

Expanding the AQAL domain from Square to Cube may also entail expanding existing definitions, and in the course of this paper I will make every effort to clarify how and why an existing definition could be expanded to embrace the new territory being described. I will also try to preserve existing definitions. For example, the two AQAL Squares of the AQAL Cube will not be given “upper” and “lower” designations, because in AQAL Theory these apply to the quadrants of any AQAL Square. The two AQAL Squares of the AQAL Cube I will henceforth refer to as “below” and “above”; our possessive or material being below, and our non-possessive or non-material being above; or consciousness structures below, and the identity states inhabiting those structures above; or Empirical Consciousness quadrants below and Intuitive Consciousness quadrants above. These differentiations will be further clarified through the course of the paper.

You may notice here a potential re-metaphysicalizing of Wilber’s post-metaphysical turn. The distinction between our material being and our non-material knowing is potentially very mistaken. Namely the subtle knowing self is not non-material. It is rather a different form of materiality–or rather is both consciousness-materiality. In fact on this point, Neale seems to be contradicting himself by having a quadrant above–quadrants inherently involve materiality.

So on one hand we may see Neale as basically arguing for a renewed perennial philosophy in light of AQAL theory. The names so far most associated with that trend in integral world are Frank Visser and Alan Kazlev. The basic idea is that there are worlds above the gross material. Again calling it non-material is not helpful. Referring to layers of materiality would be better. Wilber’s view on this can be read here where he describes how gross material evolution must evolve so that the higher subtle energies-matter can shine through in this world. This is part of what he calls post-metaphysics or maybe better is called a deeply immanent this-worldly transcendence.

On the other hand, Neale may be onto something. But how I think about what he is onto is different than how he sees it. More on that point in a second.

But first…one of the difficulties with Neale’s works is that he is focused on the Quadrants. Now this is a fair assessment of Wilber’s work. Wilber tries I think unfortunately to fit all of the pieces of his theory into the quadrants. Levels and lines are show inside the quadrants. And as Neale correctly points out this screws up meditating deeply on the difference between states and structures. Whenever Wilber does a states/stages distinction he reverts to the Wilber-Combs Lattice which as you will note is not a quadrants view. Pretty much admitting you can’t fit that into quadrants. Much less types (which as a result don’t show up in Wilber’s work very much). And so on.

If however, we take an idea that is in Ken’s work but has largely been neglected–though picked up by Mark Edwards among others–quadrivia, then it can change. [Sidenote: Mark doesn't use the term quadrivia but it's essentially interchangeable with Ken's understanding]... Ken’s ideas of the quadrants is that they are four dimensions of any occasion. The occasion would be in this case the state and the quadrants the 4 dimensions of that state.

Also Mark Edwards and Daniel O’Connor have both pointed out the mis-identification of perspectives with quadrants in Wilber’s work and have shown how you can separate perspectives (modes of being) and quadrants (dimensions of being) out from one another and then relate them. Within what by Neale’s terms would still be called an AQAL Square.

I think Lexi has picked up on those points and they are wise ones to pick up on, but one can still have a non-AQAL Square view while still “just” having the quadrants. The Cube in those regards is not necessary.

In simpler terms, I think a lot of his criticism of the AQAL Square is a legitimate criticism of how Wilber too often tries to squish everything from AQAL into the quadrants with unhelpful results. A more nuanced take (like O’Connor’s/Edwards’) doesn’t I think have those reductions.
So to come back around to the real question: what is going on with this Cube and does it contribute anything? I think it does but I think it does in a way different than the author himself does...

But here again I have a slight disagreement with Neale (again I think). I think he is treating the levels in Wilber’s spectrum as an already essentially built structure. Again there are some (for me) worrying tendencies towards a re-metaphysicalizing. As Wilber says what we know draw as the level violet to ultra-violet may in the future become built as multiple stages.

They really aren’t there. Yet. And to the degree they are in an individual they are very deep but very thin. Plus they have no technological-social-behavioral-cultural matrix upon which to manifest those tendencies at this point in Kosmic development.

Still, this point about how the Tiers evolve I think is a stunning insight. It also seems to me not necessary to have to accept the idea of 2 planes (Empirical and Intuitive) in order to accept the Tier-driver hypothesis. States and stages can be subsituted for Empirical and Intuitive. In the first-tier they are the same. Or rather since they are fused, they don’t show up at all really. That was Wilber’s brilliant insight in critiquing Perennial Philosophy. In 2nd-tier they are differentiated. In third they shift. My sense of the shift is that is not (metaphorically) best described as above/below, but that’s a point of debate I’m open on. What I think is not helpful for sure though is reading that above/below distinction back down through the levels and then critiquing the earlier levels for being “reductionistic” when in reality, it’s more like, that information simply isn’t available in that world.

The Graham Harman Grant from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

My contribution to the Graham Harman grant for his groundbreaking work here. You should contribute too. For just a few cents a day you can help lift a suffering Latour and Harman out of obscurity and promote their philosophical vision. It’s less than the price of coffee! Can you live with the knowledge that Harman and Latour are suffering while you buy your expresso? Support the Graham Harman grant now! Not only will you be helping Harman, but you’ll be getting a great book!

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