02. Definitions of Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality (various contributors)

  1. Definitions of Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality (various contributors)

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Tom, the link took me to the Editorial Introduction rather than to the definitions.

Thanks David–fixed!

I think I told you this when we first spoke, Tom, but I think I should repeat, I don’t believe in post-metaphysics—even though I understand that, post-metaphysically, “belief” is not desirable anyway, and that what you (all) mean by “post-“ does not really mean “non-“ or exclude what we call belief.

There is the acknowledgement that we (humans) always carry some metaphysical assumptions or beliefs; that even a post-metaphysician has beliefs he may not be aware of, until the subject of his awareness becomes object through psychological development.

I think Bruce’s articuation of a plural metaphysics sits better with me, as well as Layman’s that what is ‘metaphysical’ at one level is what becomes apparent when one becomes ‘post-metaphysical’ at the next.

I probably agree most, however, with Joseph Farley’s definition of “post-metaphysics” (or my interpretation of that definition, anyway) to the effect that post-metaphysics, like postmodernism and (Wilberian) integralism, is more likely a variant of modernism than a real movement beyond it. There is obviously a difference (as I recall you discuss in your piece) between post-metaphysical thinking and post-metaphysical being.

Btw, I noted that Farley acknowledged Gregory Bateson as a big influence, and also some appreciation for his daughter Nora’s work. He may be interested in the reading group which recently started, focusing on works by both Batesons, including Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Small Arcs of Larger Circles.

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“We have never been modern.” ~ Bruno Latour

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“We have always been metaphysical!” - MVM


Bateson was the student of the double bind, coining the term, Schizmogenesis. He struggled with the law of the excluded middle and worked with Peirce, Godel, Russell and Spencer-Brown, going deep into the heart of paradox, dilemma, conflict and impasse. We, who are studying Bateson, have our work cut out for us, as we are now in the land of triple binds. To pay attention to the binding patterns, and holding the tensions, takes a lot of skill, and is a performance art. I wish you were in the reading group, Marco, because I sense that you are one of the few people in the Post-Metaphysical camp, who is trying to make sense, rather than going for meaning making. And you can’t make meaning if you dont make sense. Bateson knew this territory well and use the territory/map distinction. Bateson, according to Wilber, was a flat thinker. His low estimation of the Bateson baffled me. That was when Wilber was in the muddle of the Pandit and the Pundit routine, when he had ascended to the glory of third tier. I watched the spectacle of that melt down, and so did you Marco. You have named it properly and embodied the bind of that organization, left that organization and gave birth to Cosmos. I have had the privilege of helping you make this happen. We have created a different kind of organization with a different style of discourse, where we co-sponsor, rather than try to teach, others, or rank them in a thumbs up, thumbs down way. I wonder, Marco, if the allergy to green comes from Yellow or from Orange? It would appear to me that those who used that system, could have been operating from a lower, rather than a higher level? But perhaps that is all blood under the bridge. You have done an admirable job of labeling these dynamics.

As the Neo-Liberal desire to rank runs deep, and that the West is wrestling with this paradox about the status of the Yankee $, we may need to do an appraisal of the dogma of perspectives absorbing perceptions, which seemed to dominate discourse in those days.I was guilty of this myself until I realized that it was not making real world sense.

Others have left that scene, too, and that orientation. Many of us here dont know Wilber at all. Many Wilberians I have notice dont know Bateson or Gebser or Sri Aurobindo. Luckily, we are playing catch up here and have delved deep into these turbulent waters, actually reading these complex texts together. I had wanted to address questions to you, Marco, ( as you are very competent in this area) of a comparative nature.

As the coral reefs are dying, we might want to review what happens next? We may be getting some feed-forward? Perhaps the earth and our oceans are holding our binds for us? My raw gut feel would suggest we need to be more sensitive to the perceptual, to scan the perceptual and get a felt sense of the differences that make a difference and the patterns that connect and the patterns that disrupt. It was Haraway who noted that the agent of change is not the virus, but the host. The virus cannot do the take over unless the host let’s it happen. Bateson would advocate that before we make meaning, we need to make sense. I realize your attention is elsewhere these days, Marco, and have not been able to work with us in the Bateson study. After Aurobindo and Gebser, Bateson is even more slippery. I hope you can join us someday.

I think Gebser would agree with you, Marco. Thanks for your clarity. My hunch is that we are experiencing a withering away of the domineering deficient mental as Gnostic voices are on the rise. It’s Intense!


Thank you, John. I just want to reiterate the last part of my statement there, where I say, “There is obviously a difference…between post-metaphysical thinking and post-metaphysical being.” Maybe the latter would be more compatible with Bateson, more perceptual than perspectival?

Also, I want to clarify that I am not referring there to the Integral Review essays, which I think are thinking differently than Wilber in significant ways. I do not think it would be fair to these scholars to read their work through the lens of Wilber, or even to read Wilber through the lens of Wilber. There is a lot going on in Wilber’s texts which is not really reflected in the more popular integral movement.

That said, I do not recognize myself as part of any “post-metaphysical” camp. I think it’s a peculiar and rather dry framing for what is otherwise a rich domain of experience—in my view, it names the coordinates, but doesn’t convey the lifeworld that should exist at that cosmic address. That’s partly why I prefer to see metaphysics as a creative opportunity rather than something to go beyond.

I believe worlds are inherently metaphysical, because ‘the metaphysical’ is simply another part of the Cosmos’ reality tool-kit. In the history of Western philosophy, however, “metaphysics” became identified with non-empirical validity claims about reality. “Post-metaphysics” is a way of saying, let’s go beyond pure reason and return our thinking to the world. However, I don’t believe there is a “post-metaphysical world.” There’s no there there, in the strong sense of a culture, tradition, and environment.

But I am still interested in “post-metaphysics” because I think it could allow for a different kind of creativity to happen—a filling of the open spaces beyond mental and mythic dogmas. I see this being attempted in some of creative moves and dialogical experiments undertaken in this special issue. That’s why I am interested in the reading. I am also reading Bateson at a slow pace, and hoping to catch up with the group in the manner of the tortoise.

It might be helpful to understand what Habermas meant by the term ‘postmetaphysical.’ It:

  1. Called into question the substantive conceptions of rationality (e.g. “a rational person thinks this”) and put forward procedural or formal conceptions instead (e.g. “a rational person thinks like this”);
  2. replaced foundationalism with fallibilism with regard to valid knowledge and how it may be achieved;
  3. cast doubt on the idea that reason should be conceived abstractly beyond history and the complexities of social life, and have contextualized or situated reason in actual historical practices;
  4. replaced a focus on individual structures of consciousness with a concern for pragmatic structures of language and action as part of the contextualization of reason; and
  5. given up philosophy’s traditional fixation on theoretical truth and the representational functions of language, to the extent that they also recognize the moral and expressive functions of language as part of the contextualization of reason.
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I have to respond to this one–haha! (though its taken a while.) Well, post-metaphysics is just a word, and words are hard to believe in, true. As the paper shows, its a handle that is used for a chunky set of principles and attitudes—it really has no definition – which one can say definitively, since it was coined by Habermas and he never defined it precisely. Cooke’s attempt to summarize Habermas’ meaning takes several paragraphs. It points to both a historical trend in philosophical and cultural thought, AND to a type of approach, which one could say about “post-modern.” If you “believe in” post-modernity then I think you should believe in post-metaphysics! Its puts a conceptual boundary around a part of stuff that happens. In my paper I also argue for the value/need of taking on this skill-set/attitude more widely. The name “post-” “metaphysics” is problematic, which I think must be your point. There are many interpretations of the “post” and the “metaphysics” could/should/must mean. But noting things like that is exactly what I think postmetaphysics means. Maybe we just need a different name…? “Advance humility”?

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I would totally agree with this. The arguments for post-metaphysics emphasize the empty half of the emptiness/fullness polarity of being. They are there to counter certain types of hubris, self-deception, memetic hegemony, and silliness that pervades culture, science, spirituality–everything. It applies to all sorts of claim-making and prescriptive (should-ing) performances, but it says less about play, art, beauty, tantra, and wonder – except that over-confidence both inhibits and putrifies the beauty in life, and it does point toward the curiosity, openness, wonder, and emptiness that can be the sources of creative flows of life energy.

If I may quote from the first lines of my own paper:

Depending on one’s tolerance, or even love, for uncertainty and the unknown, Post- metaphysical thinking" can be either a fascination or a real downer. And by “interest in uncertainty and the unknown” I don’t mean that effervescent attraction to the mystical, magical, esoteric, and unbelievable – I mean the blunt confrontation with how, when it comes down to it, the certainty that one holds for much of one’s beliefs and knowledge is bewilderingly undeserved.


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This is probably where I’m getting stuck, Tom, because I don’t think I do believe in “post-modernity.”

I mean, I can see difference between modern and postmodern aesthetic styles, and the other distinctions offered by integral/developmental theory, and postmodern theory itself. But from my vantage point, I tend to see postmodern as a special case of the modern, a more differentiated and diverse, yet ultimately incoherent flavor—made of the same “mental stuff.” This is why Habermas wanted to return our attention to the unfinished project of enlightenment.

I would say: The postmodern is where the modern (which we never were) gets lost in the sauce of its own self-awareness…

What came to mind for me was “pragmatic spirituality.” I know there is more to “post-metaphysics” than the specific philosophical ideas associated with pragmatism, but to me the pragmatic approach to spirituality—kind of like, “don’t let your religion get in the way of your spirituality”—is the difference that makes a difference here.

This is also what I hear @theurj urgently trying to call attention to with his focus on social and economic issues.

And the pragmatic side of creating @rbruce11’s “generative (en)closures” is also interesting to me. Here, it’s not the words that are “true,” but the words that serve (or perturb or disrupt) the CONTAINER (schema) which are important.

The “emptiness” of even post-metaphysics is a good post-metaphysical point—thanks, Tom.

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I’m curious about the criticism of “just mental stuff.” As I noted elsewhere, from what I get of Gebser from Gidley (efficient) mental stuff is integrated with the other (efficient) stuff (including experience, magic and mythic) and that is what is integral-aperspectival (IA). IA isn’t just so-called direct experience of some mystical, ever present origin. And the aperspectival isn’t a mere lack of perspective, just a note on how there is no one dominating perspective, a very postmetaphysical tenet.


My last post also reminds me of one of my favorite David Loy quotes. It specifically references meditative states, but also relevant here.

“Well, this relates to the way we understand spirituality and meditation. For example, we often tend to understand meditation—in Zen especially—as getting rid of thoughts. We think that if we can just get rid of thought, then we can see the world as it is, clearly, without any interference from conceptuality. We view thinking as something negative that has to be eliminated in order to realize the emptiness of the mind. But this reflects the delusion of duality, rather than the solution to duality. As Dogen put it, the point isn’t to get rid of thought, but to liberate thought. Form is emptiness, yet emptiness is also form, and our emptiness always takes form. We don’t realize our emptiness apart from form, we realize it in form, as non-attached form. One of the very powerful and creative ways that our emptiness takes form is as thought. The point isn’t to have some pure mind, untainted by thought, like a blue, completely empty sky with no clouds. After a while that gets a little boring! Rather, one should be able to engage or play with the thought processes that arise in a creative, non-attached, nondualistic way. To put it in another way, the idea isn’t to get rid of all language, it’s to be free within language, so that one is non-attached to any particular kind of conceptual system, realizing that there are many possible ways of thinking and expressing oneself. The freedom from conceptualizing that we seek does not happen when we wipe away all thoughts; instead, it happens when we’re not clinging to, or stuck in, any particular thought system. The kind of transformation we seek in our spiritual practices is a mind that’s flexible, supple. Not a mind that clings to the empty blue sky. It’s a mind that’s able to dance with thoughts, to adapt itself according to the situation, the needs of the situation. It’s not an empty mind which can’t think. It’s an ability to talk with the kind of vocabulary or engage in the way that’s going to be most helpful in that situation.”

Right, I didn’t say “just mental stuff” but—referrring to the ‘modern’ and the ‘postmodern’—the same “mental stuff.”

I agree that (in Gebserian terms) the efficient mental is not something to be gotten rid of, but rather is one of the major structural unfoldings that must be presupposed for the integral ‘mutation’.

What I am referring to in identifying the postmodern and postmetaphysical with the “mental,” is that the concern with articulating the various stages of intellectual history, or personal development, is still very much a ‘mental’ preoccupation. (Even Gebser is mostly in the mental in his book.)

Whereas the integral, as I understand it, is not merely the integration of the previous stages, or their transcendence—it is not a bigger whole comprised of more parts. I am reluctant to identify the integral with any particular stage of development or kind of experience (including the mystical)—since it rather suggests itself not as something quantitatively more (e.g., adding a 4th or 5th-person perspective to your repertoire) but rather as something qualitiatively different—which is not so easy to articulate as simply adding a “post” or “meta” prefix to existing categories.

I too have often and extensively questioned the quantitative extension of perspectives in developmental models, and that there is something qualitatively different within postmetaphysicality.* Granted, it uses the prefix post, but that in itself should not indicate the endless progression of perspectives, nor does it in the literature. In the thread on Tom’s article I just posted a David Loy quote on Derrida related to Tom’s use of uncertainty and emptiness and applicable to your point.

  • I’ve come to call it hier(an)archical synplexity to distinguish it from hierarchical complexity. I briefly touch on it in my IR paper but it is implicit throughout.
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