Saturday, 12 January 2008

Integration vs. Disputation

The following are my contributions to a discussion about Integration vs. Disputation in the a Facebook group.

You can see the whole conversation here:

Integration vs. Disputation

Integration looks to see how to bring together seemingly contradictory points of view and present them as aspects of a larger whole. These aspects of the larger whole can then all be seen as part of something which they all have a valid place in. So integration looks for a viewpoint which includes and encompasses all the viewpoints and gives them a place in that totality.

Disputation is more about putting seemingly contradictory points of view into opposition with one another, and trying to see if one or other can score points against the other, or undermine the other, or defeat the other.

I'm not saying that Disputation is not useful ever. Just that at the moment I think Integration is more something that is missing from the public discourse.

To elaborate Integration further, Wilber has used this line a thinking to show how the internal viewpoint, looking outwards from the point of view of a subject, and the external viewpoint, looking in from the outside, both belong in the same universe. Whereever there is an interior there is also an exterior.

If you are inside it is easy to think that the view looking out is the only valid viewpoint. If you are outside it is easy to think that the only valid viewpoint is the one looking at the subject from the outside.

Integration theory moves in the direction of saying that both of these viewpoints are valid. It provides us with a clear understanding of how it is possible that they can BOTH be valid. It doesn't do this by ducking the issues. It does it by providing frameworks where all the different viewpoints can be seen as having a place, and hence a validity.

On the other hand it does not shy away from giving scales or value judgements w.r.t. those viewpoints. Viewpoints which are more encompassing are considered to be more "significant". Viewpoints which are less so are considered to be more "fundamental".


Thanks for responding.

Ken Wilber's idea is more that it is possible not just to take a little bit of everything, but to take the whole of everything, and place it in a framework which is sufficiently all encompassing that the validity of all perspectives can be appreciated.

Wilber uses a common 2 dimensional grid, and on one dimension he puts Interior and Exterior, and on the other he puts Individual and Collective.

This gives you 4 quadrants: Interior-Individual (I), Interior-Collective(We), Exterior-Individual(It), Exterior-Collective(Its).

The idea is that the language used in each of these quadrants has its own validity. And to assert the validity of the language of I, does not need to negate the validity of the language of It.



It seems a bit scary entering the fray in this group. Seems like to an extent the self-righteousness of the Anti-religious members is just as fanatical as the self-righteousness of the Religious ones.

The real advance of human development comes from giving up self-righteous on all sides. Religious people need to do that. So does everyone else.

The difficulty is how to suggest to people that they give up being self-righteous without sounding like I am being even more self-righteous than they are. ;-)

That makes the job of people who care to listen at least as much as they speak... which is not easy. (So thank you again.)


I wonder if you will allow me to respond in a slightly round about way?

When people stand in front of a work of art, they don't typically tend to ask "is this painting right, or wrong?". It is much more natural to ask the question "is this painting beautiful or ugly?"... "do I like it or don't I like it?"

You might even respond by saying "this painting has no place being in a gallery... it is a grotesque idea to suggest that this is art or that it deserves my attention".

But whatever response you gave, you almost certainly would not say, "I think this artwork is 'wrong' " ... the question of whether a persons expression of their vision of life, or their point of view on life is "right" or "wrong" is simply the Wrong question.

I think the domain of questions that should be used to determine good and bad religious ideas are much more like the kinds of questions that we ask about works of art, than about works of engineering.

What I want to know when I go across a bridge is "will it hold up?"

To ask about a work of art "will it hold up?" is simply a mistake.

To ask about religious ideas are they Right or Wrong is the same kind of mistake.


Well, in a way, I think we agree.

The criteria of validity in different domains is different.

In the realm of "It" and "Its", I want to know that the drug I'm taking has been tried out on several thousand rats and none of them died any sooner than would have otherwise been expected.

In the realm of "I" and "We", I can marvel at how other people's views of the world and of life can be so different to my own. The very old and very young in particular.

When someone says "My artwork can change the laws of nature", in the realm of "It" and "Its" that is for the most part simply wrong. At the very least I would expect a community of the adequate (peer review in scientific journals etc.) to be convinced before I would take them seriously.

In the realm of "I" and "We" they might be joking, or being ironic, or being poetic, or they might be insane... who knows! The statement might be funny, or stupid, or annoying, or arrogant, or self-righteous even. On the other hand it might give me access to some spiritual insight I hadn't seen before. In the realm of "I" and "We" the one thing they certainly wouldn't be, is Wrong.

In order to be Wrong, you need to at least be a candidate for being Right. And in the realm of "I" and "We" there are no such candidates.

What gives our communities trouble, is mixing up domains of discourse which usefully can be kept distinct from each other.

This allows me to see that the ideas of "Allah" and "Jesus" may both be beautiful (or ugly) (and that is the interesting question) without having to confuse myself with questions about whether either of these ideas has been tested on rats.


If we are going to talk about "God", and I get the feeling that the point of this group is that we shouldn't be, but if we are then I would say that the kinds of conversations to have about her are different in each domain of language.

We can talk about God in any of the domains. The mistake is to mix up the criteria of adequacy from one domain with the ideas that really are coming from a different one. You can mix these up, I'm just saying isn't necessary. And if you don't most of the pain and suffering about religion just goes away.

The realm of It/Its refers to "Exteriors", the view of something from the outside. What kind of "It" might be being referred to in the case of God is slightly beyond me. Possibly we might think of God as being the universe. If we did that then I'm not quite sure what kind of physics experiment we could conduct that would allow us to look at the Universe from outside of the universe, and I'm not quite sure what it would tell us, even if could do that experiment.

The realm of I/We is the one we are familiar with in terms of talking about God. "My relationship with God", "My beliefs", "Our culture", "Our religion"... on and on and on, yada, yada, yada.



I think possibly we are saying similar things in slightly different ways.

I think I can summarise my suggestion by saying that I think religions and religious ideas are more a matter of art than a matter of science. More a matter of the interior-collective and interior-individual domains than anything than yields to exterior analysis. And we should be encouraging religious people to think of themselves in this way as spiritual artists belonging to different traditions.

As such the useful question to ask about religious ideas, religious rituals and religious practices are which are the most beautiful or spiritually nurturting, rather than which are the least wrong when subjected to laboratory analysis.

Good artists rarely care about whether their artworks are justified or logical. Very often the meaning of a great artwork is ambiguous, powerful and compelling yes, but somehow just out of reach from easy illucidation.

Art is designed for all kinds of purposes, not only just to make us happy, but also to provoke, inspire, unite, entertain, poke fun at, tease, reconcile, amuse, evelate, console, comfort, rebel against, make us laugh, make us cry, make us appreciate our friends a bit better, ... we could go on endlessly with this list, right? Could it not be that religious ideas, rituals and practices have this same endless range of intentions?

As I see it we need a way of framing religion that would allow religious people to see themselves as part of the same club, rather than different clubs. And thinking about religious mythology as a kind of art would allow this to happen.

It would also allow some non-religious types to consider the value of religious practice without thinking it needs to be lab-tested.

Thank you for discussing it. I have enjoyed and benefitted from the discussion.


Well I apologise for my comment about self-righteousness. I didn't say that your group is self-righteous - I don't think I said that (although that is a lot of reading now for me to be sure) - just some of the attitudes expressed by some members in it. I suppose that is with same with any debating-type group.

On the more interesting matter of whether or not religious people are making metaphysical claims, one of the things that is useful about the 4 quadrant idea is that we can at least initial give people the benefit of the doubt. If we were to think of those "metaphysical claims" as belonging to either the interior-individual or interior-collective domains, we don't have to tell people that they are wrong... those claims simply become a part of the artwork of their culture or their personal spritual journey.

We might want to tell them that their artwork is ugly or less beautiful than our own. We might want to say that their artwork is less nurturing or humorous or entertaining that our own. We might want to say that their artwork is less consoling or comforting than our own. We might want to point out that our own artwork gives us a deeper inner peace in the face of life's tragedies than theirs gives them. Etcetera. Etcetera.

But we would not want to tell them that their artwork is wrong. "Wrong" does not belong in the world of the interior... only the world of the exterior.


The question of metaphysics is at the heart of this whole conversation. That was where it began.

The question is how to integrate the metaphysics of science with the metaphysics of spirit.

One approach in the past has been to use one as a denial of the other, typically science as a denial of spirit.

The 4 quadrant approach proposed by Ken Wilber (I, We, It, Its) provides an easy way to marry the two together without denying anything.

In simplest terms you say that one is how things look from the outside (science), the other is how things look from the inside (spirit).

They both then have their place. They both then have their own domains of validity and don't need to be put into opposition against each other.


My suggestion is that reality does not choose our metaphysics for us. Reality only chooses our physics.

As Richard Rorty says: "The world does not speak Newtonian mechanics or Einsteinian relativity because the world does not speak... Only human beings do that." Or something like that. (See "Contingency, Irony and Solidarity".)

Metaphysics isn't physics. Its what we wrap around physics.

Metaphysical claims aren't claims about external reality. They are proposals about how to FRAME that reality, not claims about the content of that reality. And that leaves the field of choices for wrappers wide open.

As such a metaphysics does not make claims about reality. Rather it makes claims about the artistry of its own design. Metaphysics aims to provide the most appealing way of FRAMING everything.

So metaphysics doesn't make "truth claims" in the sense that Medics and Engineers make truth claims. Rather it says that "if you frame reality like this then it is more enjoyable, or more entertaining, or more coherent, or more inclusive, or more beautiful, or easier to say to someone, or quicker to write down, or scientists get to be more productive because they are not being hampered by religious zealots, or more of us get on better, or it can integrate a more complete picture of human experience, or... " Etcetera. Etcetera.

Reality forces us to accept that Drug X is more effective than Drug Y in treating disease Z.

Reality does not enforce any particular kind of framing on us. However if 6 billion people (and rising) are to stand any kind of chance of getting on with each other the needs of humanity may do.

I think the question becomes: what kind of metaphysics serves us best?

It may be unconfortable that there isn't a single right answer to the question of metaphysics. But to make that assertion is not a cowardly ducking of the issues. I think it is rather brave, in fact.

There is an unfathomable mystery at the heart of all existence, at the beginnning and end of time, and at the centre of being a human being. It is not being self-deceptive to want to engage with this mystery in as honest a way as each one of us is able.


Well that sort of gets to the heart of what I'm saying.

My suggestion is that metaphysics doesn't need to be an arguement against theology if you make your metaphysics big enough. If you make your metaphysics big enough you can integrate science and spirituality, and make a "marriage of sense and soul". Rather than thinking that one is an argument against the other.

That is why I was warning against self-righteousness. Because there is a mystery at the heart of all of this. Because there is a mystery there isn't one right answer to the question of metaphysics. However some versions of metaphysics are just a lot more intelectually satisfying, like the 4 quadrant view.

The 4 quadrant view is a kind of metaphysics which makes it possible to see how physical reality and spiritual awareness can coexist, belong together even, in the same universe without having to sideline either of them.


The 4 quadrant view does not shy away from value judgement of what is more or less significant, and what is more or less fundamental.

Magical thinking and mythic thinking are both kinds of thinking which are considered to be "pre-rational". In the development of human societies they get incorporated and transcended by rational thinking. Rational thinking has a higher place in the hierachy. (Wilber calls it a "Holarchy", because the higher levels incorporate and transcend the lower levels... include them inside themselves.)

Interestingly enough the development of human consciousness does not need to stop at the rational level... Wilber outlines a whole series of Post-rational levels of thinking.

The tendency of rational people is to dismiss the Post-rational along with the Pre-rational. For the most part this may be fair enough, because (as I understand it) there isn't much of any society in the world today that is operating at the post-rational level.

There is also a tendency to mix up post-rational with pre-rational thinking into one great big mess of confusion. This seems to happen particularly with people who are into "new age" stuff.

I did a quick google search and found this... I don't think its particularly complete, I remember there being more levels out after rational, but it does give the gist. 8-)


To come back to your point about the rationalism being hindered by religion and post-rationalism being hindered by rationalism, Wilber thinks that the inclusion of the lower levels allows for the arising of the higher levels. Without the lower levels there is no foundation on which to build the higher levels... He has done a load of investigations into human development theory (like Piaget) and cultural development that he uses to back up this claim.

Sorry to go on about Wilber! Its just that his idea of integration is a very appealing one to me. Perhaps it is off topic for this group, but I was invited to join, and when I thought about some of the things I read being said here, that was what it made me think of.

Incidentally, I notice I need to be careful because "religion" is a big group.

If we are talking about magical and mythical thinking then Wilber agrees that Rational thinking is at a higher level than that.

However some spiritual practices (and intellectual practices) are designed to elevate human consciousness beyond the rational level. Meditation in particular seems to point in this direction, and I wouldn't want to be too quickly dismissive of prayer, pilgrimage, or other less obvious kinds of spiritual rituals.

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