Response to Critical Realism in Defense of Integral Theory

Ken Wilber
January 17th, 2013
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The following are two long endnotes, and one excerpt, from my recently finished book, Sex, Karma, Creativity, which is volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy, whose first volume is Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.  They were written, in part, in response to recent articles on Critical Realism and Integral Theory, and, while appreciating certain aspects of Critical Realism, come out strongly in favor of Integral Theory. –Ken Wilber

Chapter “Individual and Social,” endnote 4:

[1] 4.  Integral Theory (IT) and Critical Realism (CR) share many items in common, but there are some deep differences as well.  To begin with, Critical Realism separates epistemology and ontology, and makes ontology the level of the “real”; whereas, for Integral Theory, epistemology and ontology cannot so be fragmented and fractured, but rather are two correlative dimensions of every Whole occasion (part of the tetra-dimension of every holon). Realism maintains that there are ontological realities that are not dependent upon humans or human theories—including much of the level of the “real”—including items such as atoms, molecules, cells, etc.—and IT agrees, with one important difference: IT is panpsychic (a term I’m not fond of, preferring “pan‑interiorist,” meaning all beings have interiors or proto-consciousness, a la Whitehead, Peirce, Leibnitz, etc.)—to wit, atoms do not depend upon being known by humans, but they do depend upon being known by each other.  The “prehension” aspect of atoms (proto-knowing, proto-feeling, proto-consciousness) helps to co-enact the being or ontology aspect of the atoms for each other—their own epistemology and ontology are thus inseparable and co-creative.  The atom’s prehension is part of its very ontology (and vice versa), and as each atom prehends its predecessor, it is instrumental in bringing it forth or enacting it, just as its own being will depend in part on being prehended/known/included by its own successor.  If, for the moment, we leave Quantum Mechanics out of the picture (see below), none of this depends on humans for its existence or being, and yet the atom’s prehension-feeling-knowing is an intrinsic part of this level of the “real.”  Consciousness is not something that can be sucked out of being to leave an awareness-free “ontology” lying around waiting to be known by some other sentient being; consciousness, rather, goes all the way down, and forms part of the intrinsic awareness and intrinsic creativity of each ontological being or holon.  Whitehead’s “ultimate category”—namely, “the creative advance into novelty”—is part of the prehension of each and every being in existence, and the creative-part cannot be ripped from the being‑part without severe violence.  To postulate the most fundamental level of reality as merely ontology—being without knowing or consciousness or creativity—is basically a 1st-tier move that shatters the Wholeness of this and every real occasion.

Likewise, spiritual transcendence (Eros) reaches all the way down as well.  In IT’s neoWhiteheadian view, each new moment comes to be as a subject (with all 4 quadrants), and it prehends (tetra-prehends) its predecessor, which is now an object (in all 4 quadrants) for this new subject.  The new subject “transcends and includes” the old subject (now as object), and thus they mutually co-create each other: the old subject that is now object and is included in the new subject helps shape the new subject itself, by the simple fact of being included in it, actually embraced by it, and thus to some degree determining it.  Likewise, the new subject, in including the old subject, is instrumental in bringing it forth or enacting it, co-creating its very being as a new object as it does so—and the new subject then adds its own degree of creativity, consciousness, or novelty, and thus actually co-creates a new being in the very act of prehensive unification.  This “transcend and include” goes all the way down to the smallest micro‑subatomic particles, and all way through the actual meso developmental levels (where, as Kegan puts it for human development, “the subject of one level becomes the object of the subject of the next”—which is the meso view of Whitehead’s prehension—namely, that “the subject of this moment becomes the object of the subject of the next”—but acting now on a larger, higher, more complex, more conscious level), and all the way to the macro practices of meditation, where transcendence is the overall goal and occurs through the objectification of state-stages from gross to subtle to causal to True Self to ultimate Spirit (with each state-stage transcending and including its predecessor—the subject of one becoming the object of the next).  This Eros (which certainly can be viewed as spiritual) is a primary driver of evolution itself, starting all the way back with the Big Bang and all the way through to ultimate Enlightenment.  As Erich Jantsch put it, evolution is “self-organization through self-transcendence,” and that “transcend and include” is the very form of the moment-to-moment unfolding of reality.

Further, what CR describes as “real”—or “the intransitive level”—is actually and mostly turquoise reality.  This is not the same “real” that is found at the red level, the amber level, the orange level, the green level, or the indigo level.  If CR described what it meant by “ontology” to someone at red, they would flatly disagree, with CR’s version of ontology being “over their heads.”  In fact, what most sophisticated thinkers today call “ontology” is actually the turquoise level of being-consciousness—and not as a mere description, but a real ontic-epistemic structure of the universe.  These levels of being-consciousness are not just levels of a human being, but levels of the Kosmos itself (and those different levels are different worlds!).  So I am certainly not saying that this “turquoise reality” or ontology isn’t real, only that it is inseparable from the prehensive-knowing-consciousness of the turquoise level of being-consciousness itself.  There is no way around this—precisely because of panpsychism (such as subscribed to by Leibnitz, Whitehead, or Peirce).  The turquoise level looks at the atomic level, the molecular level, the cellular biological level, etc., and concludes they have a reality in and of themselves—an ontology—but not only is it describing those levels as what they look like from turquoise—even if we ignore that part—they are overlooking the prehensive-consciousness-knowing dimension of the atoms, molecules, and cells themselves, an epistemic dimension that co-creates the ontic dimension with the being aspect of those holons (and vice versa)—again, epistemology and ontology are two different dimensions of the same Wholeness of the real occasion, and cannot be fragmented without genuine violence to the Kosmos.

Thus, for example, take molecules during the magic era.  “Molecules” did not “ex-ist” (meaning, “stand out”) anywhere in the magic world—there was nothing in the consciousness of individuals at magic that corresponded with “molecules.”  But we moderns—we at turquoise—assume that the molecules existed nonetheless—if they didn’t ex-ist, they did what we might call subsist (I agree).  This is similar to CR’s transitive (ex-ist) and intransitive (subsist)—with one major exception: as noted, IT is panpsychic—epistemology and ontology—consciousness and being—cannot be torn asunder.  What we call “pre-human ontology” is actually a pre-human sentient holon’s epistemic-ontic Wholeness, and not merely a disembodied, floating, “view-from-nowhere” ontology.  A molecule’s prehension-knowing-proto-feeling is an inseparable part of its being-ontological makeup at the molecular level, and both are necessary to co-create each other.  Ignoring prehension (and consciousness) just leaves ontology-being for the molecule, and epistemology-consciousness is just given to humans (or higher mammals), not to all sentient beings—they only get being, not knowing.  But if a human consciousness-knowing is not involved in co-creating the ontology of atoms, molecules, or cells, their own consciousness-prehension is involved, all the way down (a la Peirce and Whitehead).

Further, when we actually get down to explaining what this subsistence reality is—the “real”—it changes with each new structure (red, amber, orange, green, etc.).  What we glibly call “atoms” ex-ist at orange; those become sub-subatomic particles at green (mesons, bosons, gluons, etc.); those become 8-fold-way quarks at teal; those become 11-dimensional strings at turquoise.  We can’t say what the atomic level is except from some structure of being-consciousness, and each structure discloses a new ontology, a new world.  (That ontology is there, is real, but is co-created by the prehensive holons at that level.)  Again, this is not to reduce ontology to epistemology, but rather claim they are complementary aspects of the same Whole occasion.  (In short, I disagree with both Kant and Bhaskar—or I agree with them both, depending on how you look at it.)

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