Have a listen»
Posts in the Quote Series
Setting the Context
Have you ever, amongst a small group of friends, set out to solve “the problems of the world”? Was it a lively discussion, fueled by adrenaline or man-made stimulants? Did it finally conclude with consensus that you had not come up with the solution? After all, you may have reasoned, “We are not in the inner circle: this stuff is way above our heads.”
Unfortunately, those in the inner circles of power, with access to privileged information and with the best of intentions, also have not been able to tackle those big, existential issues. Albert Einstein was once quoted to say, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Did he foresee this looming impasse?
As the 21st century dawned, we became increasingly aware that the problems of the world were serious, growing more acute, and had no solution in sight. But this feeling was seen from two different perspectives as society became increasingly polarized. Some folks were unsettled by the rapid pace of change and wanted a return to their “tried and true” traditions. Others welcomed progress, but were frustrated by the inability to address the accelerating problems.
The 20th century had been wildly unprecedented in many ways. Einstein was the public face of science. He ventured beyond orthodox thinking to imagine the universe in its actual state, where time and space are two sides of the same coin, rays of light can be bent, and tiny atoms have the capacity to unleash terribly destructive forces. And he was far from alone.
Other brilliant thinkers advanced the understanding in many fields of inquiry, which has filtered down into society in forms such as cellphones and life saving medical devices. But the darker side of that century kept popping up and seemed impossible to define and subdue. And, well into this century, the remedy remains elusive.
Please listen to our recital of selected passages from Chapter 5 as author Terry Patten describes the features of Integral Philosophy and his role in its emergence. Could this be the sort of thinking needed to solve our problems that Albert Einstein prescribed?
Selected Readings From A New Republic of the Heart
Recitations by Anneke Edson, David Chasteen, Sallie Justice, Phil Justice, and Ed Prell
Chapter 5: The Integral Revolution – Part One
CHAPTER OVERVIEW: (Pg 11)
Chapter Five introduces an integral way of understanding our multidimensional reality, appreciating how all human perspectives are partial views of a larger truth. Beyond the cognitive, emotional, and spiritual limitations of our typical fragmented thinking are more holistic perspectives that offer a basis for a “radical integral ecology.”
(Pg 101 & 102) To make progress in addressing the crises imperiling humanity and Earth, we must find ways to effect radical transformations in our understanding and knowing. I will describe a way of understanding and knowing —often referred to as the integral approach—that I have found extremely valuable in my own trajectory of learning. My experience has shown me that this approach educates and enlarges our cognitive capacities for addressing many kinds of challenges—and for making fuller use (theoretical and practical) of the holistic, spiritual, scientific, and evolutionary perspectives.
(Pg 102) Over the last two decades, one of the most significant trends in contemporary culture, and one of the most needed, has been the emergence of an integral impulse—an instinct to see through confused categories and myriad specialties to apprehend what’s really happening as a whole. Our language, habits, and minds tend to draw lines dividing up reality in ways that are real only to our minds.
(Pg 102) Our specialized knowledge domains create fragmented perspectives on our world—which is incredibly complex and fast-moving, but in fact undivided and whole. Reality is an undivided whole in which we can discern a dance of whole systems that are themselves composed of smaller wholes, and so on, “all the way down” to our very cells, molecules, atoms, and quarks. One term for such an understanding of wholeness-in-diversity is the word “integral.”
(Pg 102 & 103) From 2004 to 2007, I participated in an extraordinary experiment in integral culture. In late 2003, integral philosopher Ken Wilber and his nascent organization, the Integral Institute (I-I), announced its first public seminar for early the following year. . . . Wilber’s ideas had attracted thousands of intelligent and interesting people, and a community of discourse constellated around his work.
(Pg 103) Because the investigation was so alive, many of us were inspired to take the integral project into new frontiers, cooperating with scholars and practitioners in many fields, especially those working closely with the structures and stages of adult development.
. . . At the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, I-I essentially went into hibernation for a decade, while many of its initiatives were advanced by a great number of new, independent enterprises.
(Pg 103 & 104) The integral movement continues to grow, interpenetrating many other leading-edge initiatives. Instead of being focused only on furthering “the integral project,” it has become an integral evolutionary ecosystem—a loose-knit network of practitioners, scholars, and communities who creatively cooperate with practitioners in many areas of culture and society. That mutual dynamism is lighting up new pixels of the next new emerging picture of human consciousness and culture.
(Pg 104) Wilber’s integral philosophy is widely used, even at some of the highest levels of government and business. Although it has numerous detractors, it nonetheless provides critical attitudes, approaches, and analytic frameworks that make it possible to follow an evolutionary trajectory, grounded in wholeness, into—and, hopefully, through—the crises we face.
(Pg 104) Many embrace the label “integral”; but many other cultural innovators aren’t self-consciously “integral,” and yet reflect and express what I recognize as a growing integral awareness. A diverse body of lively discourse continues within and beyond the integral community, and that emergent conversation is critical to how I think it will play its full and absolutely critical cultural role.
THE INTEGRAL FLAVOR
(Pg 104 & 105) Phenomena really do appear to be different from different vantage points. But even people who know better are frequently drawn to “either/or” thinking. In that frame, one person or viewpoint is right and another is wrong. It is at these moments of impasse that integral theory illuminates new possibilities. Integral theory does not ask, “Who is right?” but “How do we make sense out of multiple apparently contradictory perspectives?”
(Pg 105) This insight frees us from the traps of false certainties, into a much wider awareness. It makes “epistemic closure”—the closed-minded certainty that we are right—yield to “epistemic humility”—the embodied understanding that knowledge is a process that is always evolving, so it is best to be curious and open and to always question our certainties. Fortunately, this is not the exclusive province of integral evolutionaries. It is also reflected in popular sentiments like “The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.” Such an attitude enables us to listen, and to hear, so that we can find ways to bridge the divides between us that are harming us all.
(Pg 106) This integral disposition, because it is essentially holistic at heart, tends not to get involved in the timeworn disputes between left and right, progress and nature, science and spirituality. It understands and appreciates the partial truths in the attitudes of conflicting worldviews.
(Pg 106) It can be intensely proscience without falling into rigid scientistic skepticism. It is rational, and yet is also emotionally connected and intuitively awake. It is spiritually awake without falling into magical thinking or naive belief. It consistently intends action without indulging reaction. It orients to possibility. And it takes the long view.
(Pg 106 & 107) Some integral awareness has begun to color the thinking of mainstream figures from Pope Francis to Barack Obama to David Brooks. . . . If we choose to lean in and engage with their insights, we can discover some tangible hope for our collective future.
INTEGRAL ATTITUDES AND ALTITUDES
(Pg 107) Wilber’s integral theory not only invites an open and engaged attitude, it also offers some key “orienting generalizations” that reveal how different perspectives relate to each other. Wilber observes the universal structure of how the world’s great spiritual traditions map the process of “waking up” from the dream of separated existence into wholeness and then into high meditative states of consciousness, and he recommends meditation as a central integral practice. He distinguishes this, however, from the equally important process of “growing up” into a more conscious and complex order of mind, which we will discuss here.
(Pg 107) Shifts in how we think occur across the human life span in a remarkable process that builds in complexity and self-reflection. New capacities for understanding experience arise when one’s very patterns of thought and perception can be contemplated.
(Pg 107) . . . while an infant is completely subsumed in and identified with his feelings and sensations, like hunger, the developing child begins to observe those sensations and make choices in relation to them—deciding, for example, to postpone lunch in order to play.
(Pg 107 & 108) New stages of development offer us greater degrees of freedom from instinctive responses, habits of thought, or patterns of feeling. . . . It’s as if we have a higher altitude, a “bird’s-eye view” from which to see it all. . . . But there are distinctions between their characteristics and capacities.
(Pg 108) . . . historically significant worldviews are powerful, multigenerational, large-scale systems of agreement that dictate how we frame reality and our own identities. They take root only over time. A truly integral worldview, according to Wilber, would necessarily embrace the enduring insights that come from each of the previous waves of cultural development. We can understand this by looking at just three major structures—the premodern (or traditionalist), modern, and postmodern worldviews.
(Pg 108) The premodern worldview is authoritarian, religious, and traditional. The modern is achievement-oriented, egalitarian, and rational. Postmodern worldviews emphasize compassionate sensitivity to self and others, challenging objectivity and expressing liberal, pluralistic ideals.
(Pg 108) These worldviews exist in a historical relationship: premodern, traditionalist cultures began about five thousand years ago, modern about five hundred years ago, and the postmodern only 150 years ago—emerging more fully in the liberation movements of the 1960s. The tensions between these worldviews are the all-too-familiar stuff of our current “culture wars.”
(Pg 108 & 109) Integral philosophy offers a potent potential synthesis that includes and transcends traditional, modern, and postmodern perspectives on reality. It recognizes that the later historical worldviews are built on the foundation of those that came before, and yet appreciates that even the more advanced perspectives tend to be blind to certain values and realities that the other worldviews see and care about strongly, and blind also to the critical interdependence of these worldviews.
(Pg 109) Because an integral disposition is able to contain and be comfortable with apparent contradictions, when fully mature it is able to naturally, spontaneously, and comfortably include certain aspects of the dispositions of all worldviews. . . . A mature integral worldview has the potential to skillfully rise above the fray, accept the value of all the other viewpoints, and reweave the cultural fabric.
Summary & Preview of What is Next
At the turn of this century, no solution was on the horizon for the multitude of complex problems that we collectively faced. At about the same time, Terry Patten was joining Ken Wilber and other thought leaders in a bold exploration into Integral Philosophy which sought to understand reality in all of its aspects, guided by validated scientific inquiry and enduring spiritual wisdom.
This group did not hesitate to cross the artificial barriers of academia’s departments of study in its far reaching considerations, just as nature does not build fences and erect “No Trespassing” signs. From this deeply profound and liberating search, Patten became inspired to incorporate the foundations of integral thinking into his visions of how we can be the change we hope to see in the world.
Let’s exercise that mobility to illustrate one of the integral principles of partial truth. An aerial photograph of your house looks starkly different from one taken from your front yard. Each photo is a true depiction of your house, but only partially true because each photo obscures many features of the house. The impression is totally different because they are taken from different points of view.
This principle of partial truth holds up when the object under consideration is a situation, such as disputes over water rights, on which different parties disagree. And, as with the house photos, all parties may rightly claim an accurate account as they express their point of view. Integral theory holds that when these accounts are held as “true yet partial,” there is no right or wrong.
It postulates that the best resolution is reached by cultivating an inclusive, and therefore more wholistic, understanding. We accomplish this by opening ourselves to the creative solutions that naturally emerge when all the individual viewpoints are considered and integrated as part of a whole and larger picture requiring one collective way forward. This results in a meeting of minds that benefits all.
People of good will have always been able to work out disagreements. However, and especially in our current era of conflicting worldviews and heightened tensions within and between nation states, the parties often jockey for advantage and see the situation only from their own worldview. The bargaining positions can become laced with exaggerations, deliberate omissions, and outright lies. These increasingly ominous scenarios call for more integrally inspired and skilled voices on all sides.
In the next part of Chapter 5, Terry will delve into the underlying reasons for differing worldviews and why they are so contentious.