Quora answer: What is the Integral Theory?

May 22 2014

Integral Theory: What is wrong with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory?

Integral Theory is a sham. It is a poor excuse for not thinking.

Now that we got the basic negative attitude toward it out of the way, we can look at the phenomena more dispassionately.

Integral Theory is the opposite of noduality. Integral Theory doubles dualism to create a four-fold category system that supposedly covers everything in the universe. It is supposed to be “integral” because it covers everything in this huge umbrella categorization. That categorization is based on the doubling of the basic mind body duality of the western tradition, the I-it, into the We-everything. Non-duality on the other hand questions exactly these kinds of distinctions and posits that there is an alternative to them that is not comprehended by that doubled distinction.

There is nothing “Integral” about Integral Theory.

If we use the B. Fuller definition of Integral which is basically Tensegrity and one step up from Synergy, then what is Integral is something that has dynamic structural resilience. Doubled dualistic distinctions just don’t have them. Dualisms are not robust because they cause the world to fall apart into realms that cannot be put together again.

We do not need a big categorical umbrella that covers everything. It is nihilistic because it levels everything to itself, and thus covers over differences that do not fit.

So what is Integral Theory, it is sophism, pure and simple and Plato warned us about sophism. But of course if you don’t know anything about our tradition then that warning is falling on deaf ears.

What is better?

Well just plain old dualism is better than the intensification of Dualism that so called Integral Theory proposes.

But what is much better than dualism is nonduality. Non-duality says Not One! Not Two! Not Many! and certainly Not Four!

What it does is that it problematizes making  any distinction at all in the first place, even a distinction that would posit “Oneness”.

An example from modern philosophy is Badiou’s idea of the Multiple in Being and Event. It is the heterogeneity prior to countability. It is based on his critique of Deleuze’s so called false heterogeneity of the rhizome in the Thousand Plateaus or Anti-Oedipus behind which is a Univocal Being. Instead Badiou substitutes Set Theory as the basis of understanding Being, but posits something before the difference between the empty set and the null set, the basic dichotomy out of which set theory produces the numbers.

But there are many nondual systems in other traditions, like for instance the idea of Emptiness in Buddhism and the idea of Void in Taoism, or even more sophisticated ideas such as those in DzogChen or Fa Tsang’s Hua Yen Buddhism.

The best work on the complexities about making distinctions is that of G. Spencer Brown in Laws of Form along with the work of Bricken and Hellerstein. Basically this is a rediscovery of Pervasion Logics of India within our tradition.

So lets talk about Sets and Masses. These are duals of each other, where Sets emphasize difference between Particulars within a neutral upper level structure called a Set. On the other hand masses emphasize the sameness of instances within an emergent mass. Both of these have their own logics. The logic of sets are syllogistic and the logic of Masses is pervasion logic. This pervasion Logic is the type of logic developed in China and India independently but is more or less unknown in the West but appears more or less as Venn Diagrams in our tradition. Interestingly higher level Venn diagrams are incommensurate and so that means that Pervasion Logic has a hidden complexity that set theory lacks.

The nondual between these I have called Ipsities in an Aggregate, where the Aggregate is an instantiation of a Multiple of Badiou. Examples of ipsities in an Aggregate are flocks of birds, schools of fish etc., where the ipsity is a Kantian singular. Anything taken as Suchness in relation to its nondual heterogeneity with respect to other things with which it has a Wittgensteinian Family Resemblance would be an Ipsity. We indicate them by saying This or That with respect to the indicated Thusness.

Now most natural things are ipsities in aggregate swarms. The way that these are understood traditionally are as Tattvas from the Shavite tradition which became the Dharmas in Buddhism.

So from this it becomes clear that nonduality does not mean that we cannot say anything, or indicate or conceptualize what it means. Rather nonduality has structure and can be talked about like we talk about dualities. We choose to talk about things in terms of duals in our tradition and that is not the only answer, with a little bit of care we can indicate the nondualities around us without falling into dualistic fallacies where we are talking about nonduals in dualistic ways.

Statements we know from the Buddha are examples of this kind of nondual talk, where it is called skillful means. The example is the Tetralemma in Buddhism which was honed into a logic by Nagarjuna.

We say X, not-X, both X and not-X, and neither X nor not-X not all at one time as Aristotle said in his Metaphysics but one statement at a time as appropriate in a conversation such as those held by the Skeptics like Sextus Empiricus. The Skeptic like the Buddha is one whose speech ultimately closes to become equivalent to silence. This silence of the Buddha on questions like what whether there was a god or not, and other antimonies showed that there was an alternative to the antimonies of Reason which leads to dualism and nihilism. Nihilism is the production of artificial extreme dualistic opposites that are in conflict and contradiction with each other, which we realize are really the same. See Rosen’s Nihilism.

Emptiness is what is beyond or prior to the distinctions of the Tetra-lemma. So it is something that cannot be touched by distinctions, and thus it problematizes all distinctions. What is indistinct is suchness, and when we indicate it then thusness, and when we distinguish it then it becomes this or that.  Emptiness is the answer to nihilism that uses nihilism against itself. Nihilism must start out with distinctions that it intensifies into nihilistic opposites. But if we do not accept the first distinctions by which the nihilistic opposites are built up then we disarm the production of nihilism and do not allow it to arise in the first place. Emptiness tries to get us to go back to that original already always lost origin prior to making distinctions in the first place. In nihilism the dualisms, or doubled dualisms when we realize that they are the same then we experience alienation and anomie, i.e. loss of meaning and loss of our position in the group that accepts the nihilistic distinctions we come to reject. if we don’t allow the nihilism to arise then we don’t experience that loss of meaning and our place in the world that nihilism leads to. Buddhism tries to help us see how that is possible, as does Taoism, DzogChen, Zen, Hua Yen Buddhism, Sufism etc. in different ways.

But we do not have to appeal to Non-dual traditions beyond our own to come to the same realization. What we have to do is to reject dualism, and the intensification of dualism like we see in so called Integral Theory, and cling to the nondual in all cases. Nonduality is in Logic as the discontinuities between the Logical Operators. Once you realize that the discontinuities between and, or, nand, nor is real and cannot be gotten rid of by any kind of argument logical or otherwise, then it is just a matter of realizing that it is emptiness that makes up those discontinuities, and the discontinuities in their essence were merely the Void before the striations of the Logical Operators arose. So there are two kinds of nondual interpretations of Existence which are Emptiness and Void, where void is prior to the arising of the differences between the logical operators and emptiness is what exists as the real distinctions between them once they have arisen. DzogChen says that this difference itself is a duality and thus moves to resolve it back to suchness.

As Badiou says the One and Plurality arise out of the Multiple via the appearance of the ultra-one (with Ultra Being). The arising of the Ultra One is an emergent event. Emergence is the dual of Nihilism and thus hyper-Nihilistic. So Ultra Being is a singularity in existence that distinguishes Emptiness and Void. The only way to get around this is to posit that there are deeper nonduals beyond Emptiness and Void which we can call Manifestation. This is the tact taken by DzogChen and Fa Tsang in Hua Yen Buddhism and by Sufism in Islam. We use Manifestation in the sense defined by Meister Eckhart, see The Essence of Manifestation by Henry. Eckhart was in our tradition and so we can appeal to him to understand deeper nonduals within our own tradition without having to appeal only to non-Western sources. But of course Eckhart was influenced by “Heathan” Sufis. But since Islam is just a nondual heresy of the Western tradition, by going to Sufic sources we are not really leaving the tradition, but only appealing to its Other, which based itself on its own Othering of dualism.

All this is to say that the way we can know what Integral Theory is, is by understanding it in relation to nondual traditions and their formulation of the nondual. And when we do that we realize that conceptually it is an intensification of dualism, and thus an intensification of nihilism, and therefore not a good route to go down from a theoretical point of view. The reason it is popular is that it takes the dualism of the Western Tradition and doubles it and then presents it back to us as if it were something new. It is nihilistic when we realize that it is merely the repetition of the dualism that got us into trouble in the first place which was the dualism between mind and body, which is the premise for the Republic of Plato as a decent into Hell. Socrates is going down to the harbor of Athens to see a new foreign goddess brought into the city for the first time. It is on his way back from this descent into Hell that he is stopped forcefully and the dialogue ensues at the home  of his host about the nature of Justice, but which basically sets up all the structures necessary to articulate the Western worldview. But all these structures are based on the primary distinction between mind and body, which is precisely what Descartes instituted as the basis for Modern Philosophy which he instituted which was taken up by Kant and has been in place ever since producing the major problematic of the Western Philosophical tradition which has worked to overcome that dualism in different ways. Integral Theory reveres this problematic and produces an category system that merely intensifies the dualism rather than trying to overcome it. So all the progress our tradition has made, for instance in the attempts of Heidegger to get beyond subject/object dichotomy with the idea of Dasein in Being and Time is lost. And what we get instead is a nihilistic classification system that really does not tell us anything we don’t already know about the world, and thus locks us in even deeper into the inherent nihilism of our tradition rather than setting us free of it to make non-nihilistic distinctions as nondual traditions attempt to do.

In effect so called Integral Theory is poison for the intellect. The fact that so many have eagerly drunk that cool aide and stopped thinking due to ignorance of their own tradition, is not surprising, but is a sad commentary on the anti-intellectualism of our age and just how lost we are as what Nietzsche called the Last Men who just stand blinking . . .  blinking . . .

No responses yet

Comments are closed at this time.

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog