The Life Divine – Reading Group, Session #3 [6/14]

Bravo, Johnny (by the way, a shoutout to you for a marvelous line some months back: “I loathe Jordan Peterson.” you might enjoy this fellow - who has been writing over the last month, what I think are the best critiques available on Peterson (in an integral light, no less).

I have a suggestion for the next Life Divine conversation, as a way of illuminating how infinitely far Sri Aurobindo’s language is from anything we ordinarily consider “philosophy.” Getting a 'feel" for his yoga psychology can help bring out the rich experiential aspect of his words - I find it makes it easier for the language to resonate throughout my body, my life-energy, heart, mind and soul (Ok, I’ve been resisting critiques of Wilber, but I’ll add my partially tongue-in-cheek suggestion - a good way to introduce yourself to Sri Aurobindo? Read virtually anything Wilber has written on him and assume the opposite. I don’t quite mean this, but it’s pretty close. It takes some talent to so thoroughly misread Sri Aurobindo as Wilber does).

About 21 years ago, I started an online Integral Psychology forum (this was before Wilber and appropriated a phrase coined in 1935 by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo). One of the first things we decided was to see if we really understood Sri Aurobindo’s psychological terminology. We chose “physical mind” to start (no, it has nothing to do with “con op”)

In the late 1920s, Sri Aurobindo developed a lot of the phrases he uses (vital mind, mental physical, etc) in later versions of the Life Divine and Synthesis of Yoga. He explicitly said that a phrase like the “physical mind” was meant to show that it’s impossible to understand the surface nature (jagrat, “waking state” - which, by the way, has NOTHING to do with the modern meaning of states of consciousness - is that enough to void everything Wilber has ever written?? - should I add that among 95% of psychologists, the whole idea of stages of development is over!!?).

So what does physical mean? If you can find a coherent definition in the entire philosophy of science, let me know. Look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Physical is what physicists study” is essentially their conclusion.

The “physical” consciousness (this is almost universal in Asian, African, European, Oceanic contemplative traditions, only the terminology is Sri Aurobindo’s - very little completely unique in his language) is that associated with the entire physical universe. There is a universal physical consciousness and individualized (non-individualized at first in what we call “matter” - which is how our senses perceive the Brahman; and slowly becoming more individualized over the course of terrestrial evolution, with self-awareness emerging in dolphins, chimps and maybe even African Grays). (there’s 2 good quadrants for you - inner individual and inner universal).

The “mental” consciousness is the instrument of Vijnana, the Mahat or Logos, the consciousness which completely integrates the finite and the infinite, the mind being the means for the Vijnana or Supramental consciousness to create differentiations in the various universes (physical, vital, mental, and many beyond).

The physical consciousness as it presently functions in humans is very tamasic, inert, dull - as befits a consciousness that began in the very depths of avidya, ignorance.

So the physical mind is the mind (it could be preoperational, concrete operational, formal operation and if anyone believes there are actually differentiated stages beyond formal, I don’t - it’s a complete confusion of what Consciousness is and how it functions - whatever is beyond) swamped, flooded, overrun with the tamasic, dull quality of the physical consciousness.

So that’s a start. Crucial warning - there is no “mind” or “physical” or “vital” or “physical mind” or “supramental” or “Brahman” or “non-dual” or anything else our mind so loves to turn into conceptual objects.

I like to think of Sri Aurobindo’s writings in general, and his yoga psychology in particular (you’ll find most of it in his “letters on yoga” collections) much much less as "ideas’ or "concepts’ or (goddess forbid!!!) “systems” - but as a music lead sheet. he gives you the chords and the melody and lyrics, and you know what? That’s just a jumping off point. You know you’re going to change the chords, with substitutions, added 7ths, 9ths, flat 11ths and 13ths, you’re definitely going to invert, reverse, dance around variously and infinitely change the melody, but somehow you still know whatever you’re playing is related to the original melody and chords.

And the great thing about this yoga psychology improvisation is every time you play, it’s completely different yet “the same.”

What I find is over the years, you just get a feel, in your bones, what things like “psychic being” and “physical mind” and all the rest are, and instead of relying on “definitions,” you find ways to convey it through rich phenomenological descriptions.

really, the best way to “explain” it is like the theological Gabriel Marcel did for the logical positivists who invited him to speak on the topic of “Grace.”

They kept asking him to please be more clear, to “define your terms.” He kept trying to modify what he was saying in order to convey what he intended, but finally he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can speak any more clearly. But if I had a piano here, I could play it for you.”


I’m relieved to hear that, Don, as I have reflected upon the cherished psychiatric pathological categories like masturbation, female hysteria, homosexuality are no longer taken seriously. When I was twelve years old I figured out on my own experience of the human condition, that they got it wrong.

Of course, most people, no doubt, were not bogged down by such distortions outside of academia.
We have never been disenchanted, except in certain walled off areas in the ivory tower.

“ ‘Your your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” Francis Crick

One of the biggest dumb ass statements ever made. It would be howlingly funny if so many haven’t been totally seduced into the thinking the experts know something outside their narrow expertise. Just because he got a Nobel doesn’t mean he was a well rounded person! We are turned, by such rhetoric, into Nihilism, Inc.

I am glad that presuppositions of Wilber World are called into question. I saw a lot of harm done with it. I also appreciate that I learned a lot from having gone through it. I wonder what can be salvaged?

There’s an interesting mix of professionals and amateurs here
( an amateur does if for love) so I welcome the mix of responses that emerge as we study this text together.

There is an unheard music you can sense in this great score, as you read the notes and tap your foot and hum along and just imagine what it could sound like.


Hi Folks:

Thought this might be helpful:

(by the way, note that, if you look over the posts on the above website, you’ll see an overview of Gebser by a fellow you may have heard of, one “Ed Mahood” Jr.!" I imagine someone here may know the fellow - good writer!:>))))


Ed is a clever guy, hard to keep up with him. Thanks, Don, for pointing that out.

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Musical notation resounding in all directions…harmonious!

Today reading, in bits and pieces, in between coos and cries from kids, “Integral Yoga Psychology and the Quartet of Perfection,” Chapter One of Banerji’s Seven Quartets of Becoming (Seven Quartets a fitting “musical” translation of sapta catustaya). If one considers Aurobindo’s Letters of Yoga, Synthesis of Yoga, and Record of Yoga (et. al.) as the musical lead sheet, Banerji has essentially given us a densely condensed modern translation of Aurobindo’s symphonies. I’m diggin’ it. I loved reading and “becoming” a part of Synthesis of Yoga a few years ago, yet it is refreshing to refresh one’s memory without needing to read 1000 pages again. And, on a final note, Banerji’s “guest musicians” (Heidegger, Deleuze, Nietzsche and Leibniz) come together like the riveting ragtag renditions of the Silk Road Ensemble (Aurobindo as Yo Yo Ma, of course). Wouldn’t mind discussing this chapter in a future cafe session, or perhaps it will segue one day into a _Life Divine _ discussion…

(…PS: I hope we all consider ourselves amateurs here! Or does a professional have a better “systematization” of love, or maybe meraki?)


As music lovers we can get in the zone with Aurobindo through Banerji. I’m glad you mentioned the Quartets. I have a vague memory of our discussion of that chapter so I hope it will get posted soon to review it. I think there was some interesting suggestions made, like a melody coming from a far away room…

Is it possible to get a sentence or two clarifying a bit more precisely what this means? I have the feeling I’m missing something. Like I said, I’m not much of a psychologist and this seems to have a note of confusion in it: what is really over: stages or development or is it the whole idea? Is there a meaning to the phrase “stages of development” that makes it a professional, technical term which an unschooled layperson, like me, doesn’t get and is it that which is over?

Please don’t think that I’m just being my general curmudgeony self, but sometimes thinking in terms of stages (or structures (e.g., Gebser) or steps (e.g., Young) or phases perhaps) helps one make sense of a phenomenon. For (a very banal) example, I find it helpful (as I have a 1-year-old and 3-year-old in the house at the moment) to talk about babies, toddlers, and young children … and by extension say (when my other grandchild is mentioned) pre- or post-pubescent youth and adults and elders, and one can easily see these notions in terms of some kind of development. There are both quantitative and qualitative aspects of them that make them different from one another and that make it reasonable to think of them in such terms. You know what I’m getting at?


Hi Ed:

Wow, a sentence or two!:>)). Maybe I can conjure up an Aurobindonian 7 line, multi-clause sentence…

I think Ellen Langer, in Charles Alexanders’ “Higher Stages of Deveopment,” captured it well: What could a ‘developmental stage’ mean, if it’s useed to simultaneously describe what happens in the shift from a pre-verbal infant to a fully verbal toddler, and the shift from a “conventional” 10-11 year old pre-teen to the “individual” ‘pre-frontal-cortex/mature 25 year old adult?

how’s that??

(And as far as “professional,” whatever I’ve learned about psychology that is valuable, I think, has come about in spite of my grad school training).

Can I be a bit more specific now? My dissertation advisor, Gary Kose, did his doctorate on Piaget. He acknowledged to me that by the early 90s, almost all psychologists had switched from the idea of discrete stages to gradual increase in complexity. He also had particular misgivings about the attempts to uncover “discrete” stages past formal operations (which means, essentially, everything in Wilber’s 2nd tier and 3rd tier).

I first came across developmental stages in my teens, and I couldn’t at the time put my finger on what seemed confused about them. I discovered the Vedantic terms “buddhi” and “manas” in 1972, and that started to put things together. I think there is definitely a quantum leap from one to the other, as we share the manas (sense mind, or emotional mind) with animals -when a squirrel hides and is later able to find 30,000 nuts, she is using the manas, which does an extraordinary job of “imagining’ the world. The buddhi is responsible for self-awareness, and also brings the hidden “separate” ego to wakefulness, somethign we find hints of in chimps, dolphins and African Gray parrots, but seems only to come into its own when a child is 2 or 3 years old.

It seems to me what Wilber, for example, is detailing, is the increasing complexity of the buddhi, and its progressive freeing from the influnece of the physical and vital consciousness. This is essentially what the Sanskrit terms “tamasic” and “rajasic” refer to, and Sri Aurobindo does, in the Life Divine chapter “Triple Transformation” refer to stages of development, but this is radically different from anything in western psychology, including the various writers that fall under the umbrella of “integral psychology.”

Gebser’s structures, on teh other hand, are an almost perfect description of collective quantum shifts in human history (though i’ve never found teh attempt to apply them to individual psychology - at least, among those who talk about each of us having a recognizable “magic structure,” “mythic structure etc” - useful)

The symbolic stage that Sri Aurobindo describes at the beginning of the Human Cycle was not really differentiated, and I think Gebser’s descriptions of the three pre-mental structures are really excellent elaborations of the brief mention of the symbolic stage that Sri Aurobindo offers. There’s also a profound richness in Gebser’s descriptions that is almost entirley missing in most discussions of integral developmentla psychology.

Oh well, I was going to write a short answer but I’ve blabbed on. Sorry:>). It’s so rare for me to find folks actually interested in this stuff, that it tends to trigger my “hypomanic” side:>))))


As I read the previous letter over, i wonder how much of this sort of thing can be conveyed through writing. It’s SO much easier in dialog; if it’s relevant, maybe I can touch on it in our conversation next week.


Thank you ever so much … especially for the, let us say, extended answer, since it answers a couple of questions that I hadn’t thought of yet, but which would have probably come up anyway.

What I was looking for – I think, or at least it struck me as such – was:

That makes sense to me. Even Gebser struggled to keep the term “stages” out of his opus, and went to great lengths to keep “evolution” far from what he was trying to say. In fact, the thing that most attracted me to Gebser was his notion of ever increasing intensities in a more or less discontinuous way go from one structure to another; that is, supersede (not negate nor discard) what came “before”) to describe the differences between his “structures”, which I think harmonizes well with what you have said here. (BTW, Kelly Welch, whom we discussed in one of our CCafés a while back did try to related Gebser’s structures to brain-wave states, which makes for some interesting cogitation, even if it is not personally or developmentally convincing, and I can live with that.) It was the “stages” which was the core of your original sentence. Thank you again for this.

And picking up on another thought you shared:

Well, I found that interesting because, for me, I have long generalized that to include just about anything I’ve ever learned about just about anything that ever made a difference in my life. I tend to think we learn in spite of school in general, not because of it, but that’s probably just my curmudgeonry showing.

Now, I think it only fair to admit that I’m not much of a Wilber fan, and never really have been. I’m not opposed to what he does – in fact, I think he accomplished a lot – but he never really did it for me in any way. It always struck me that he was missing the “spirit” which, say, Gebser clearly ascribes to Origin. Without whatever that is, you end up with something that often looks like a materialistic-mechanistic amalgam which I find uninspiring if not downright demotivating. When I did think it was perhaps time to give him another chance, there were quadrants and tiers and Lord knows what else that quickly disabused me of the idea that it was worth the effort to wade through it all. When discussions here get too Wilbery, I just follow with polite attention because it means much more to those familiar with him than for me, but who knows what gem of insight might pop out of the back-and-forth of those more in the know. As you say, it’s a lot easier to handle things like this dialogically.

That remark is particularly relevant for me, because it is with just a bit of trepidation that I’m approaching Sri Aurobindo. As you noted, there are many terms which shed light on a lot of the things that we have been discussing in the CCafés and elsewhere on this platform, and all my forays into what we might call Farther-Eastern mentation have always failed due to the sheer volume of technical and other terms that I could neither pronounce nor remember. For this reason, I was especially motivated by the fact that there would be more informed guides – like you – accompanying the current journey; that is, those who have the potential and possibility to keep the wheat sorted from the chaff and the complexity organized enough that .

When I was younger, I was certainly more of a “noter”, a juggler of details (if I could relate to them in some way, not just abstractly, as a funny-looking word on paper), but as I have grown older it has become clearer to me why many older minds drift toward alchemy (whereby I’m as far from an alchemist as you can get … I just appreciate the metaphoric). I’ve become more of a “distiller” these days and am always looking for the essence of whatever it is that is confronting me. So, if it seems at any point that I’m oversimplifying, it could be that I am, but not purposely.

Thanks again for your answer. It was anything but babbling.


much to reflect on later, but this caught my eye:

Ed: I’ve become more of a “distiller” these day

Then you must come to Asheville, which is competing with Austin, TX (and I think Boulder or somewhere else in Colorado?) for “Beer City, USA.”


Reading Sri Aurobindo

There must awake in us a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness, a vivid perception, a close feeling and communion, a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence always and everywhere.


There must awake in us

a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness








indwelling AND enveloping

a vivid perception…vivid…vivid…vivid…vivid…vivid…VIVID

a close feeling… close.close.close.close feeling.close feeling…

a close feeling AND communion,


a concrete sense and contact

a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence



true Presence

infinite Presence

true Presence

infinite Presence

true Presenceinfinite Presencetrue Presenceinfinite Presence


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.




One perhaps I shall. (Truth be told, my brother who just visited (and increasingly so, his son), is the zymurgist in the family.) Living in Germany, however, makes for a significant beer threshold that must first be overcome. :beer:

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Let me backtrack a little bit. I have a few dishes I would like to bring to the table. It is a big smorgasbord board we are making.

We are each of us engaged in studying research from different fields of study that have fragmented and broken apart from other fields of study. No one is driving the bus and many of us are understandably nervous. There are no experts. Transdiscplinarity is another term for Integral that I like better but it is hard to say. The Integral can mean different things to different people. I prefer the Emergent Age to the Integral Age because we have reduced that term to Wilber’s version of Integral. Other thinkers, like Aurobindo, are doing something different with Integral.

As a melancholy Hamlet says, while reading his book," Words, words, words…"

It seems to me obvious that a baby rolls over on to stomach, flaps arms and legs and raises head and then after practice comes to a crawling position and then to a wobbly walk with lots of going back to crawling before walking is the preferred way of moving. And we walk before we run or dance. In the beginning there is movement.

When the older child learns to swim she cant do that by reading a manual on swimming. She has to get into the water. This is also true for the adult learner.

The little girl, when she sees a bird fly, runs up and down the lawn, flapping her arms and making noises. She is practicing flying. In her dreams she continues to practice flying and she may become an adept lucid dreamer some day if she pays attention to her dreams. Different kinds of bodying are happening in different kinds of environments with a wider range of senses than the basic physical ones. Eric Weiss calls these transphysical senses. We have at least ten and probably a whole lot more.

Imagination ( fantasy) can turn into high level Imaginal skills, where the physical subject object divide becomes blurred. This is often called paranormal. We are in deep territory, here, without many good maps. Sri Arubindo starts here and maps this territory. He has a deep understanding of the Subtle realms. I can say that because I have been there.

I had the same sense of wonder when I first saw a William Blake exhibit at the Met many years ago. I had seen copies in books but was not prepared for seeing the originals. I almost fainted! It was overwhelming. Blake, like Sri Aurobindo, have much in common. It is the what they pay attention to, They were not trapped in Newton’s sleep.

In Western Culture, ranking people according to a pre-given category, favored by factory model education, is probably the norm we are most used to. We have been trained to think this way but it is not better than the way other cultures think. It could be better or worse depending upon what you are paying attention to.

What is meant by post-formal? According to Gidley, and McGilchrist and others, the intuitive and the rational are not adversaries but can collaborate. Story and metaphor and magic are the under mind that makes science and rational discourse possible. Post formal thinking, acording to Gidley, who some of us have studied previously, could be the ability to blend both styles without bumping our heads together and having fist fights. We can develop vision-logic.

We can add onto the basic Gebserian structures, a capacity to use all the previous structures, from archaic, magical and mythic and blend these capacities. Some believe this would allow some of us to develop skills necessary to become a planetary ,ecological civilization. This is pure speculation. No one knows anything for sure.

Science is basically about making technology. And that is great. We create machines that transports a body across an ocean or to the moon. This takes lots of planning and imagination, too. Flying from New York to London many times, I can say is mildly interesting but not nearly as thrilling as flying in a lucid dream to whatever I can imagine. A rich and complex merger of mind and body and motion in a lucid dream happens that is beyond any thing that flying in a jet offers. Flying in a jet from London to Paris is convenient but I would not call it an evolutionary leap in consciousness.

This is where Sri Aurobindo, I believe, starts up his meta-narrative.

And people dont go back to crawling, once they learned to walk, unless there is an emergency. So there is progress but it is not to be confused with the rise and fall of stock markets or unlimited growth of trade. This is a mix up that is reaching a crises. We are creating technology that is amputating us.

Recently, Geoffrey West , explains why a mouse, a human and elephant have the life spans that they do. There is a ratio that all animals basically adhere to and it is a matter of scale. We humans, according to West, won’t extend life much past a hundred… We would no longer be human if we could. We are the music while the music lasts and the music doesn’t last for ever. And as Goethe said, everything that is ripe wants to die.

I will finish this rambling, with a quote from Gidley as she notes the stark contrasts of different future(s) that are emerging. She calls it a crisis.

"What I call ‘human-centereed futures’ is humanitarian, philosophical, and ecological. It is based on a view of humans as kind, fair, consciously evolving, peaceful agents of change with a responsibility to maintain the ecological balance between humans, Earth, and cosmos. This is an active path of conscious evolution involving ongoing psychological, socio-cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual development, and a commitment to the betterment of earthly conditions for all humanity through education, cultural diversity, greater economic and resource parity, and respect for future generations.

By contrast, what I call ‘technotopian futures’ is dehumanising, scientistic, and atomistic. It is based on a mechanistic, behaviourist model of the human being, with a thin cybernetic view of intelligence. The transhumanist ambition to create future techno-humans is anti-human and anti-evolutionary. It involves technological, biological, and genetic enhancement of humans and artificial machine ‘intelligence’. Some technotopians have transcendental dreams of abandoning Earth to build a fantasised techno-heaven on Mars or in satellite cities in outer space." Jennifer Gidley


I really have trouble with statements such as this, @johnnydavis54 - I profoundly disagree, although I can see how the misunderstanding can arise. For me, science is about seeking a consistent understanding of the world, albeit from a certain (yes, limited) perspective and mode of functioning. Technology has to do with “technique” - in some ways, it is more akin to the arts than the sciences, since art requires technique to be successful. Science does not require technique, but rather method, which is something different. It is true that science, that is, enhanced understanding, is a great enabler for technology, but these two endeavours cannot be conflated.


and here are those verses for meditation on the practice of Integral Yoga:

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I got the idea that science is technology creation from Bernardo Kastrup, a physicist and computer scientist. He is also a debunker of the AI craze.

Your nuanced difference, Geoffrey, is perfectly intelligible to me and just points out how we can use the same word SCIENCE and have very different associations. ART triggers equally different notions among advanced practitioners and those who like to dabble. As many in the arts dont agree about art and many in science dont agree about science there seems to be a rapid turnover of failed attempts to create a coherent narrative. I prefer that we cohere rather than de-cohere but obviously that is not anything that we can control or predict.


I haven’t read Kastrup, but I think it goes without saying that just because a person is a scientist, that doesn’t make everything they say about science true (the same goes for me, of course). I say this because I often see such an argument presented (e.g. so-and-so is a scientist so what he or she says must be correct), not because I think you are making this mistake. In this case, if you have reported Kastrup correctly, then I believe he is wrong. I suppose he might be referring to the way it is currently practiced, but even were that to be the case, he would still be wrong. The definition of science is given as : “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. I can nowhere find a definition that declares that science is “essentially technology creation” or anything like that. I don’t think this is a matter of belief or point of view. It is a question of ontology.

I do know you well enough by now, @johnnydavis54, to know that you also have a nuanced understanding of these things. But I am also inspired by @achronon to intervene when things are said that I feel should be challenged. I couldn’t let that one go by without saying something… Infinite Conversations must not become a site where science is casually debunked. Thoughtfully debunked I can live with…


I believe the same thing about stages, so here are a couple of data points:

  1. Terri O’Fallons work, where Terri has been joining the Aurobindo readings on Thursdays: []

And, Lectica, where stages on a bunch of different lines are assessed out to the 100th decimal point (how’s that for a gradient!)


And how do we know when Science is debunked casually or not?

And who is going to decide what this site is to become?

I am a little worried when some are telling others that they are becoming a problem for the site, especially when I am the one identified as the one who is creating ‘the problem’.

We can have ‘problem space’ , a ‘solution space’ and a ‘generative space’ with each kind of space changing shapes without a clear consensus. I lived through the AIDS epidemic in NY where I was told by a medical doctor that Gay Men should be willing to give up their lives for Science.

Now, that was a problem, as the doctor was making a theological claim not what I would call a scientific claim. This was scientism not science. I knew many men consenting to take experimental drugs, that destroyed their health. It is now acknowledged decades later, that many syndromes that were defined as AIDS are no longer considered related to AIDS or HIV at all. The scientific consensus was wrong.

Some, like myself, who didnt agree with the assumptions, that the doctors know what’s best, were considered a problem. A few doctors I might add did not practice what they preached. They told me confidentially that they would lose their lisence if they rocked the boat.

I don’t wish to detail all the pseudo scientific claims that were made during that sad time, nor do I think you are implying I am a debunker of science but I hope you can sense the gray areas in the conversation infinite. Yes let’s find the right balance.

I am not always snarky about science and I have benefited personally from skilled medical intervention. It was a medical doctor who told me more people have died of medical mistakes than car accidents.

Today’s confident definition may look different a hundred years from now. When I was a lad homosexuality was defined as a disease, a crime and a sin.

So I dont consider myself a scientist or practitioner of science but rather a critical thinker and I was lucky enough to pay attention to what the experts claimed and during a turbulent time that swept away many worthy persons who were not so lucky.

So I am not a debunker of science, and resist being told I am a problem for the site. I am sure you didn’t intend that and yet I want to be very clear about my intentions here.

As Bateson often said, there are places where angels fear to tread. Differences that make a difference is a principle he practiced and it is probably more useful to look at how we use words and the principles we follow as much as we concentrate upon the definition de jour which shifts meaning from speaker to speaker, through shifts in semantics or culture or sometime deliberate cruelty.

I imagine Sri Aurobindo was well aware of these cultural assumptions masking as superior insights. It is a slippery slope. Dialogue is important and as much as I enjoy wide spread agreement I doubt that is always so healthy.