Excerpt C: The Ways We Are in This Together
Intersubjectivity and Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos


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  •      [Note: The following is a rough draft of certain portions of volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy (whose volume 1 was Sex, Ecology, Spirituality). Feel free to share this with anybody you wish, but do not take it as the final draft that can be authoritatively quoted. Certain issues of terminology, especially in the math, are still being decided. I am posting these rough drafts simply to share various thoughts as they unfold. As drafts, they contain typos, repetitions, etc. Feedback and correx welcomed but not requested. We expect to publish volume 2 next year; its working title is "Kosmic Karma and Creativity," although the inside joke about the Kosmos trilogy is that we were going to try to have the word "sex" as the first word in each of the three titles. So, um, "Sex, Karma, and Creativity"; or "Sex, God, and the Big O." Nevermind. Anyway, we hope to have it out next year, along with 3 more volumes of the Collected Works (CW9: Boomeritis with its endnotes and sidebars--a total of about 900 pages; CW10: A Theory of Everything, essays, interviews, forewords; CW11: Kosmic Karma and Creativity, also around 900 pages). This present excerpt is one of 7 or so excerpts of first drafts that I am posting of KKC (Excerpts A and B are already on this site; the rest will be posted on Pretty much everybody is calling KKC "wilber-5"; after vacillation, I agree, for what it's worth. In any event, the following excerpt is the first that really gives a flavor of this post-metaphysical approach. All of the previous elements are, of course, transcended and included in the new approach; but they are radically reconceptualized in a way that has no historical precedents. Does it work? See what you think.... KW.]

    Part I. INTRODUCTION--Systems Theory versus Hermeneutics: Why Both Are Important (page 1)


          In Excerpt A ("An Integral Age at the Leading Edge"), we summarized the evidence suggesting that a cultural elite, representing less that 2% of the adult population, was entering psychosocial waves of development that could best be described as integral, and that this 2% might very well be the harbinger of integral waves of consciousness to follow in the culture at large. It is a paradoxical situation, in a sense, in that this "elite" is the first to actually embrace a radical inclusiveness, an inclusive not shared by the other 98% of the population at this time (although they, too, might develop into this inclusive and integral orientation). But the integral waves of consciousness, however conceived, have at least one thing in common: an understanding that "Everybody is right."

         This means that the chief activity of integral cognition is not looking at all of the available theories--whether premodern, modern, or postmodern--and then asking, "Which one of those is the most accurate or acceptable?," but rather consists in asking, "How can all of those be right?" The fact is, all of the various theories, practices, and established paradigms--in the sciences, arts, and humanities--are already being practiced: they are already arising in a Kosmos that clearly allows them to arise, and the question is not, which of those is the correct one, but what is the structure of the Kosmos such that it allows all of those to arise in the first place? What is the architecture of a universe that includes so many wonderful rooms?

          One such suggested architecture of the Kosmos is called AQAL (pronounced "ah-qwil," short for "all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types..."). The pragmatic correlate of AQAL metatheory is a set of practices (or meta-paradigms) referred to as Integral Methodological Pluralism, which attempts to honor and include the many important modes of human inquiry already arising in this spacious Kosmos.

         We particularly focused on the quadratic aspects of this methodological pluralism, where "quadratic" refers to four of the most basic dimensions of being-in-the-world, dimensions that are so fundamental they have become embedded in natural languages as variations on first-, second-, and third-person pronouns (which can be summarized as "I," "we," "it," and "its"). As we saw, these represent the inside and outside of the singular and the plural: hence, the four quadrants ( subjective or "I," objective or "it," intersubjective or "we," and interobjective or "its"). A few aspects of these four dimensions are indicated in figure 1.

          We also saw that human beings, over the decades and sometimes centuries, have developed time-honored methods of inquiry that enact, bring forth, and illumine these basic dimensions of being-in-the-world. For example, phenomenology and introspection enact, bring forth, and illumine the first-person singular dimensions of being-in-the-world ("I" or subjectivity, the UL quadrant); hermeneutics and collaborative inquiry enact, bring forth, and illumine the first- and second-person plural dimensions of being-in-the-world ("thou/we" or intersubjectivity, the LL quadrant); empiricism and behaviorism enact, bring forth, and illumine the third-person singular dimensions of being-in-the-world ("it" or objectivity, the UR quadrant); and ecology, functionalism, and systems theory enact, bring forth, and illumine the third-person plural dimensions of being-in-the-world ("its" or interobjectivity, the LR quadrant). Of course, there are many other important modes of inquiry, but those are a few of the historically most significant, and certainly ones that any integral methodological pluralism would want to address.

    click to enlarge

          We also saw that the collective or communal dimensions--the intersubjective and interobjective dimensions--are not something that can be derived from the interactions of subjects and objects, but rather, the intersubjective and interobjective dimensions are there from the start, along with subjectivity and objectivity, and not something that "comes after" subjects and objects. Nor, however, do we go to the other extreme and imagine that, for example, intersubjectivity is somehow more fundamental than subjects and objects, or that subjects and objects "come after" or "out of" intersubjectivity (if so, any genuinely individual creativity would be nullified, which we have ample reason to believe is not the case). The four quadrants are not four different occasions but four different perspectives on (and hence dimensions of) every occasion. (That is, various perspectives--such as first-, second-, and third-person--are not merely perspectives on a pregiven single event, but rather bring forth and enact different aspects or dimensions of an event, and hence these perspective-dimensions are ontically not reducible to, nor interchangeable with, each other.) The whole point of a quadratic approach is that all four dimensions arise simultaneously: they tetra-enact each other and tetra-evolve together.

          The pre-quadratic approaches that imagine one of these dimensions to be prior or fundamental--and the others to come after or out of the allegedly prior dimension--are caught in what we called quadrant absolutism, which takes a favorite dimension and absolutizes it, making it the ground out of which all other dimensions must issue. (Modernism tends to privilege objectivity; postmodernism tends to privilege intersubjectivity; ecology tends to privilege interobjectivity, etc.) We also saw examples of wave absolutism, stream absolutism, and type absolutism. Such absolutisms seem contrary to the spirit of an integral methodological pluralism, which is guided, as we saw in Excerpt B, by the heuristic principles of nonexclusion, enfoldment, and enactment. Accordingly, such absolutisms would likely find little place in an integral metatheory, although their respective methodologies would (it is the absolutism, not the inquiry, that is declined).

          In this Excerpt, we will focus on the collective or communal dimensions of being-in-the-world (the Lower-Left and Lower-Right quadrants)--the actual nature of intersubjectivity and interobjectivity--especially as seen in hermeneutics (or first-person interpretation within circles of "we") and in systems sciences (or third-person observation of networks of "its"). After some preliminary suggestions as to the important differences between those approaches--neither can be reduced to the other nor replace the other--we will then focus the rest of this Excerpt on hermeneutics and intersubjectivity, and devote most of the next Excerpt to systems theory and interobjectivity.

    Primordial Perspectives of Being-in-the-World

         In this Excerpt, we will take as examples actual occasions (or holons) in each of the four quadrants, and then consider what those holons look like or feel like from the inside, and contrast that with what they look or feel like from the outside. In other words, we will be considering what an "I" looks like from the inside and from the outside; what a "we" looks like from the inside and from the outside; and so on with an "it" and an "its." These are schematically indicated in figure 2--the insides and outsides of holons in the four quadrants.

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         The result, as you can see in figure 2, is an outline of 8 primal or indigenous perspectives that all holons have available to them. Far from being some sort of abstract systematization, these 8 native perspectives turn out to be the phenomenological spaces from which most of the major forms of human inquiry have been launched. Some of these major modes or paradigms of inquiry are indicated in figure 3.

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         We will be discussing all of those items more carefully in the following sections. For now, our simple introductory point is that by honoring all of the indigenous perspectives of being-in-the-world, we can more graciously arrive at an Integral Methodological Pluralism that embraces the many modes of inquiry that human beings are already practicing in any event--and they are practicing them because these methodologies are "real" by any meaningful definition of that word. The various methodologies--from empiricism to hermeneutics to behaviorism to systems theory--are as real as the first-, second-, and third-person perspectives that enact them. The attempt to privilege any single methodology is simply an attempt to violate the other native perspectives that support different practices, a violence that any genuine Integralism--guided by nonexclusion, enfoldment, and enactment--would surely want to avoid.

         An Integral Calculus of Primordial Perspectives

         The suggestion, which we will explore throughout this excerpt, is that because the manifest universe is composed of holons--all the way up, all the way down--and because all individual holons are sentient (or possess prehension), then these dimensions or perspectives of being-in-the-world accompany holons wherever they appear--atoms to ants to apes--not necessarily as self-reflexive perspectives, but as dimensions of their own being-in-the-world. In other words, these perspectives are indigenous to all sentient beings.

         I will sometimes refer to the sum total of the various perspectives as an integral calculus of indigenous perspectives. The phrase "integral calculus" does not mean mathematics; it is used in a very general sense as any mental overview or "calculus" that includes all these perspectives (fig. 2, for example, is one version of an integral calculus of indigenous perspectives). Figure 2, needless to say, is simply a map, a formalism, a third-person set of abstractions, but as abstractions go, it has several advantages, the first of which is that, even though it is merely a third-person system of symbols, these third-person symbols explicitly include first- and second-person realities. An integral calculus is just a map, but unlike most other maps, it does not ignore, suppress, leave out, or deny first-, second-, or third-person dimensions.

         As it turns out, this integral overview can also be applied specifically to mathematics, if one is so inclined. A truly integral mathematics would view the world not as a collection of objects but a gathering of sentient beings, and accordingly would replace variables with views, domains with subjects, and perception with perspectives. We will pursue this in Appendix B (below) for those interested.

         The point is that any type of "integral calculus"--from simple overviews to an actual mathematics--is merely a third-person abstract phrase for what are actually first- and second- and third-person realities and dimensions of being-in-the-world, but we will use that phrase as a simple reminder to never forget those dimensions. Like IOS ("Integral Operating System") and AQAL ( "all quadrants, all levels, all lines..."), these are merely third-person tokens and skeletons of life and consciousness, soul and sentience--but third-person reminders to include all of those first persons and second persons in all things integral.

    Two Major Approaches to Systems Theory

         We begin with a quick overview of systems theory, in order to establish some of the central issues we will be addressing. By running systems theory through an integral calculus of indigenous perspectives, we can more easily appreciate both its strengths and weaknesses.

         There are many ways to categorize the various types of systems theory, from historical to methodological to theoretical. While not in any way wishing to overlook the many important distinctions between the various schools, I would like in this excerpt to focus on what are perhaps the two most influential types of systems theory today. As Bausch points out, there are today "two grand unifying theories of present-day systems thinking: (1) complexity/bifurcation/components systems and (2) autopoiesis"--which we will simplistically call systemsand autopoiesis.1 We will also look at attempts to integrate these two important approaches; but first, their specific contours.

         Here are technical details, for those interested, followed by a brief summary:

         These two strands of thinking advance systems theory beyond the bounds of mechanical (closed) models and organic (open) models and move it into the arena of emergent models. Component-systems thinking, which is propounded by Csanyi, Kampis, and (to some extent) Goertzel, is an outgrowth of Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory (GST). GST "enabled one to interrelate the theory of the organism, thermodynamics, and evolutionary theory" (Luhmann). Component-system theory loosely includes the bifurcation thinking of Prigogine, the molecular biology of Eigen, the complexity thinking of Kauffman and Gell-Mann, the physics of information theory, and the sociology of cognitive maps. It describes the processes that generate increasing unity and complexity in specific details that are alleged to have universal application.

         Autopoiesis in its biological form, proposed by Maturana and Varela, considers organisms as systems that are closed in their internal organization, but open on the level of their structural composition and metabolism. Autopoiesis in its sociological form, proposed by Luhmann, focuses on the difference between system and environment and identifies autopoietic systems with the unity of contradiction that derives from their being simultaneously autonomous from their environment and totally dependent upon it. In our thinking about autopoietic and component-systems, we discover vistas of new and possibly fruitful explanations of physical, organic, social, and cultural processes. It turns out that these ideas [component-systems and autopoiesis] comprise the bulk of the ideas that are considered and evaluated in this research.2

         The first approach is the more standard dynamic systems theory, which (for this simple classification) includes a wide variety of items such as general systems theory, cybernetics, dissipative structures, component-systems, chaos theories, complexity theories, and so on. As we will see, dynamic systems theory is often called the " outside" (or rational) view, because it attempts to give the overall view seen from the outside: "detached, objective, systemic, reconstructive."

         The second major approach attempts to give an account, not of the system seen from without, but the inner choices made by an individual organism as it actively participates with (and enacts) its environment--this is the autopoietic perspective, also called the " inside" (or cognitive) view.

         (By the way, all of those terms-- autopoietic, cognitive, inside; systems, rational, outside--are the terms used by the theorists themselves, as ample quotes will show. At this point, I am not giving my own interpretation of these schools, simply reporting how they see themselves.)

         So we have a systems/rational/outside view, and an autopoietic/cognitive/inside view. Some people are confused at the use of "rational" and "cognitive" in that scheme, because often those two words mean the same thing, so why in this case are they diametrically opposed to each other? As employed by the theorists themselves, "cognition" is used not to specifically mean "rational" or "intellectual," but in its wider and more accurate meaning, which is any organism's attempt to register its environment (e.g., an amoeba reacts to light, so it has a rudimentary cognition of light). In this sense, if I take a "cognitive" view of biology, then I will try to explain, from the inside view of the organism, the types of reactions, behaviors, and cognitions that the organism itself makes as it encounters, enacts, and brings forth its world. This is also sometimes called biological phenomenology, because it attempts to describe the phenomenal world of the organism itself. This is what the autopoietic approaches, pioneered by Maturana and Varela, attempt to do. Thus: the autopoietic, cognitive, inside view.

         "Rational," on the other hand, is merely one type (or level) of cognition; as used by these theorists, it means the rational activity of the scientists themselves as they attempt to explain phenomena in terms of, say, complex dynamic systems of mutual interaction. In this general systems approach--the "rational" approach--the attempt is not made to "get inside" the organism, but to stand back and try to see the whole picture, the total system or web of relationships as they mutually interact with and influence each other. This "rational" view is not saying that the Web of Life is merely a rational entity, but simply that scientists attempt rationally to study that Web. Thus: the systems, rational, outside view.

         Notice that, although all organisms have a cognitive view of their world, only scientists have a rational view.

         The profound tension between these two general approaches--cognitive and rational--can be seen in the fact that Maturana and Varela, the most influential pioneers in the autopoietic approach, explicitly refuse to include the systems view in their explanation of the behavior of the living organism. Why? Because the systems view is NOT available, for example, to the amoeba when it reacts to light, and therefore the systems view cannot be a part of the explanatory principles of biological phenomenology.

         Maturana and Varela are not saying that there isn't some sort of larger system operating (a system that is rationally conceptualized by the systems approaches, such as the Web of Life, which is itself a concept held by some humans, not a concept held by wolves or worms or bacteria). Maturana and Varela are simply pointing out that the individual biological organism does not contain that overall systems cognition as part of its cognition, and therefore forcing the general systems view on the organism itself violates its actual phenomenology (unless that organism happens to be a rational scientist using systems theory in his or her cognitions).

         There is clearly merit to what Maturana and Varela are saying when they point to the violence that can be done by forcing the systems view on the lifeworld of the organism, a warning also issued by Habermas (among many others), each of whom have pointed out that the idea of a great Web of Life is an anthropic notion that violates biological phenomenology in important ways (it is actually "anthropocentric" in that only humans conceptualize life in that fashion, and thus promulgating the Web of Life is privileging a cognitive life-view that most organisms simply do not share).

         At the same time, there are also important truths that seem to be captured by the systems view in its many forms. And, in fact, most of the attempts at a "complete" systems theory have focused on integrating those two approaches, autopoietic and systemic.

         Let me now succinctly state my criticisms of both those views and then we will discuss their merits. My major reservation is that neither of those approaches (nor both combined) cover all four quadrants, only two of them--namely, the insides and outsides of the exteriors, not the insides and outsides of the interiors--and thus even combining them won't deliver integrality. It is by beginning to employ an integral calculus of primordial perspectives, which highlights the phenomenological worlds embedded in these approaches, that we can begin to truly appreciate their respective contributions (as well as specific limitations).

         Here are a few examples. As Bausch reports, "The idea of autopoiesis, as a closed cycle of self-reproduction in which systems survive and progress by structurally coupling with their environments, is a major catalyst of much present-day systems thinking." He goes on to point out that "this idea sparked Luhmann to his conception of society as an autopoietic system of communication." However, as Bausch notes, the two major perspectives are at odds in these theorists: "Maturana and Varela carefully craft a model of biological phenomenology in order to maintain the inside autopoietic viewpoint. Luhmann switches between the autopoietic viewpoint and the viewpoint of the detached, objective observer" (i.e., the two major approaches, cognitive and rational).

         Bausch continues, and highlights the tension between these two approaches: "Luhmann, like Maturana and Varela before him, explains the origins of the social world from the viewpoint of a participant making selections form the complexity of its world [the inside/autopoietic view]. In his model, he builds social structures upon the never-finished project of resolving double contingency. Luhmann later adopts the position of a theoretician [outside, rational, systemic observer]. Luhmann jumps from the involved-participant perspective to the all-encompassing viewpoint of the 'objective' observer. He switches from the internal perspective of an autopoietic system facing an uncertain world to an objective theorizing perspective that prescribes a developmental logic for autopoietic systems." We likewise find the same (not fully resolved) tension in Habermas: "Habermas describes communication as a dispassionate academic observer. He develops his theory of communicative action with careful attention to detail; he provides structure for his theory by reconstructing the thought of Weber, Marx, Mead, and Durkheim. Through his method of scientific reconstruction, he gains distance and a certain mediated objectivity for his conclusions."

         As noted, virtually all leading-edge social systems theorists agree that there is some degree of truth in both approaches--there are autopoietic choices and cognitions (which attempt to take into account some sort of lifeworld or first-person realities) as well as a type of mediated objectivity that can be reconstructed (by third-person systemic approaches). I certainly agree that any integral approach would want to include both methodologies (i.e., both paradigms or social practices).

         The point right now is simply that the autopoietic or "first-person" approaches aren't really first-person. They are not described in "I" terms, they do not require a knowledge by acquaintance, they are not grounded in solidarity, they do not give a phenomenology of interior prehension but exterior cognition--in short, they do not actually or fully address the UL, nor, for the same reasons, do they include a full-fledged intersubjectivity (LL).

         For most of the autopoietic approaches, the individual organism enacts a world via a history of structural coupling: that is Varela's enactive paradigm (which we are calling a partial enactive paradigm because it taps into partial aspects of tetra-enaction). To that extent, it is a significant advance over the previous approaches that saw the organism as merely representing or responding to the world (the myth of the given and the Mirror of Nature), or as being merely a part of the Web of Life--a view, as we saw, that the autopoietic approaches severely criticize.

         (They do so because most Web-of-Life theories presuppose the discredited Mirror of Nature epistemology, which claims that nature or the biosphere is an interwoven Web of inseparable relationships, and we should live in harmony with, or accurately mirror, that Web, a view which fails to adequately take into account that different autopoietic patterns enact different worlds. There is not merely a pregiven Web that we are supposed to reflect correctly--a representational and monological view that, Varela correctly points out, embodies an outmoded modernist/Enlightenment epistemology--but rather a series of lifeworlds and worldspaces brought forth through autopoietic cognition and structural coupling, and how to relate those various phenomenological worlds has not been addressed or recognized by any major Web-of-Life theorist. Niklas Luhmann finished the critique by pointing out that social systems are not composed of organisms but communication--a crucially important distinction we will return to. AQAL was designed in part to incorporate these types of postmodernist correctives, which would account for, and allow, all such enactive spaces phenomenologically to arise. When I refer to "the Web of Life," context will determine whether that means a monological Web of Life, which is indeed outmoded and is being criticized, or an enactive Web of Life, which is the more adequate view of the LR quadrant of interobjectivity, but is still a third-person overview that cannot be substituted for the corresponding interiors accessed by hermeneutics and phenomenology. We will be revisiting all of these important topics as we proceed.)

         In short, autopoietic theories remind us that the objective organism is not merely a strand in a Web, but also a relatively autonomous agent enacting its environment, an environment that is not a pregiven Web but is rather brought forth in part by the autopoietic regime of the organism itself. This means that the organism possesses various phenomenologies (or interior realities) that are part of bringing forth or enacting its world. Those interior realities are known from within as experience, and are seen from without as behavior.

         It was through such careful attention to the actual lifeworld of an organism that Maturana and Varela were brought to their revolutionary ideas about biological phenomenology. They wanted to give, not just the "outside" view, but the "inside" view--hence, the two main approaches in today's systems sciences.

         But the main problem is now likely obvious. Although the "inside" or autopoietic approaches do indeed attempt to represent the inner choices and enactments of the participatory organism, they do not give a first-person phenomenal account of the actual interiors or prehensions of organisms (UL), but rather an objective third-person description of those interiors as they enact their environment via structural coupling (UR). In other words, the "interior" or "autopoietic" or "inside" approaches are not really "the inside of an I" but "the inside of an it" (i.e., autopoiesis is describing the insides of a holon in Upper Right, not the insides of a holon in the Upper Left)--that is, not prehensions but atoms, not feelings but neural-net choices, not lived presence but structural coupling, not intentions and desires but cognitive maps of the lifeworld, and so on. The insides of the interiors are reduced to the insides of the exteriors, which collapses the Left Hand into the Right Hand--and the very interiors you were trying to honor get erased from the Kosmos. So most of the autopoietic approaches correctly attempt to structurally integrate the individual organism (UR) and the interobjectively enacted environment (LR), but they often reduce much or all of the UL to the UR and the LL to the LR--the very essence of subtle reductionism.

         This is not to suggest that the autopoietic approaches are wrong, only that they are situated in third-person, not first-person, modes of inquiry. Again, by using an integral calculus of indigenous perspectives, we can more carefully unpack the implicit perspectives in the autopoietic view and thus more readily appreciate both its strengths and weaknesses.3

         On the other hand, the systems approaches give a superb account of ecological systems seen from without (e.g., systems of mutually interactive processes and dynamic networks of its), a cognition that, although not available to most organisms, is nevertheless an important perspective on the nature of certain dimensions of being-in-the-world. Of course, the traditional systems theories do not adequately cover those ecological networks from their interiors, which are not composed of systems of process "its" but of mutual understandings in circles of "we." The exteriors of systems are well-captured by ecology; the interiors, by hermeneutics. There are very important truths (i.e., perspectives) contained in all of those approaches, and all would clearly find a place in any integral methodological pluralism--if shorn of their absolutisms.

         That is our goal: to "reverse engineer" an explanatory framework that plausibly accounts for all of those major methodologies--from phenomenology to autopoiesis to systems theory to hermeneutics--by "transcendentally deducing" a structure of the Kosmos that would allow those methodologies to arise and exist in the first place, because already exist they do. The suggested explanatory framework is called AQAL; its orientation is an integral overview of indigenous perspectives; its social practice is an Integral Methodological Pluralism; its philosophy is Integral Post-Metaphysics; its signaling network is IOS (Integral Operating System)--all third-person words for a view of the Kosmos in which first persons and second persons are irreducible agents, bearers of sentience and intentionality and feeling, not merely matter and energy and information and causality.

         It all starts by listening to our own native perspectives.

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