There have been many philosophical usages of the word integral over the past century or so, from Sri Aurobindo’s “Integral Yoga” to Ken Wilber “Integral Theory,” not to mention Jean Gebser’s articulation in the book we’re presently reading.
The word has different resonances in different languages as well. For example, in Spanish, pan integral simply means “whole wheat bread.”
Integral has a mathematical meaning. It has an institutional meaning (as in the California Institute of Integral Studies or MetaIntegral). Some regard it as a movement, a revolution. Others as a mere ideology or cult.
But the word also has a simple dictionary definition. According to Oxford (5th ed.), integral means, as an adjective:
Belonging to or making up a whole; constituent, component; necessary to the completeness or integrity of the whole, not merely attached.
And as a noun:
An entire or undivided thing; a whole.
But I’m curious, what does integral mean to you? What’s your particular relationship to the word, the idea? And what does it mean in your actual lived life, at this point in time, if anything?
For me integral is a sense of belonging to something that is greater than my egoic sense of self. This belonging arises through reading, contemplation, trance states,. There is often a sense of an autonomous intelligence, invisible and yet palpable, that holds together this little body/soul that gets obsessed with defense or self promotion… Integral helps me to disentangle from the human stain of smallness and to enter into the Divine which is inherently unified, there is a sense of flow with the aesthetics of the relational, with magical and mythical modes balance with the Intellect, a balance between chaos and order. We are moving towards that unity beyond ego and are in our Internet Age challenged to use the technology to cultivate coherent generative collaborations rather than become a target of the Corporations that want are caught in the deficient mental many of us want to break out of.
I had an intense relationship with the Wiberian brand of ‘integral’ for a few years as I made my way through the theory curriculum at Core Integral. I had come across the term prior to that in the works of Sri Aurobindo, andunderstoodt it to represent an encompassing energy, one which referred to and embraced personal integrity, relational integrity and collective conscious evolution.
Throughout my studies I have been careful to maintain an understanding of terms as autonomous entities which propagate and evolve through philosophical (in our case) discourse, independent of the particular minds/schools who promulgate their own versions of understanding and explicating them.
I am grateful to be exploring Gebser’s treatment of the term ‘integral’ as I found the Wilberian version has become somewhat contrived over the passage of time.
Thanks for the Inquiry Marco- this has been a generative question for me today.
The first paragraph of the Preface is a goldmine: “Origin is ever-present. It is not a beginning, since all beginning is linked with time. And the present is not just the “now,” today, the moment or a unit of time. It is ever-originating, an achievement of full integration and continuous renewal. Anyone able to “concretize,” i.e. to realize and effect the reality of origin and the present in their entirety, supersedes “beginning” and “end” and the mere here and now.”
Integral: to be Creativity, ever-originating, ever-present, continuously renewing. To realize (make real) and effect: to be awake as and act as Life. To be wholeness–there is nowhere/time in any dimension or direction this living wholeness is not.
Of course, the word itself means many things, as you note. It means those things too. But really, this.
I have a complex relationship with the word “integral.” That’s why I asked the question.
In a lot of ways, the word is a linguistic dead horse for me, ridden and beaten into the ground to the point of non-signification, just a dull numb vaguely irritating ache.
And yet, Gebser uses it centrally, and I want to read Gebser, so I feel the need to somehow come to a new appreciation of the idea, if not the word itself.
But I think this will require reconstituting the discourse around it, such that we experience “integral” less as a form of branding or rhetoric, and more as the meaningful referent I think it originally was.
Yes, I am with you on this project. It is a referent for something-- it has meaning beyond the ‘branding’ it has-- something to me (branding) which points ironically at its late-capitalist/postmodern meaning–a decisively non-integral meaning, if you will. I have tried out a billion other words, and it really fits, that’s the other problem.
I feel like it’s the job of those for whom it is meaningful to ‘effect the reality’ of integral. Incidentally I think you’re/we’re doing that here.
It sometimes boggles the mind just how flogged some dead horses are.
Your uneasiness with the conceptuality that is often wielded as a club these days is understandable. I share your feeling more often than not. What we may be dealing with here … and not just here, and not just us … is a bit of a language issue. Let me explain.
Gebser wrote originally in German, and German is a very substantive language. If it has a choice, German always chooses the noun over the verb. English, by contrast, is verbal, at least in the sense that given our druthers, we English-speakers will choose verbs over nouns. Oddly enough, in the last sentence of Chapter 7, where in the English translation the subject-index points to “the integral”, in the German text, Gebser opts for the verbal (actually participle) form “integrated”. (integriert). Verbal forms always, albeit subtly, convey action.
For this, and I suppose numerous other reasons, I’ve never much liked the term “integral” at all. It’s too, well, weak, non-committal, lukewarm. Fortunately, Gebser often uses the form that he needs to say what he means, for the German allows him word-formations that are not possible in English simply because we have too many words and too many of them are already in place. For example, in describing the social relationships of the Integral Structure of Consciousness, he can speak of “humanity, neither matriarchy or patriarchy rather integrum” which is a kind of a ka-boom-chink in English, but in German it is “Menschheit, weder Matriarchat, noch Patriarchat, sondern Integrat”; that is, all three constrasting notions being expressed in the same syntactic form.
I suppose the long and short of it is that I still don’t like the term “integral” very much and would rather choose a term that best fits the context whenever the notion needs to be expressed.
Yes, insofar as we seek to capitalize on the idea.
I do like the idea of wholeness. It still feels wholesome.
A little Pan-energy could be a good thing!
@achronon – Could you say a little more about the word integrat?
How does that relate to the contrast between the integral and the integrated, the latter of which, as you say, presumes action and the former the static state of a noun?
The notion of being ‘integrated,’ to me, has overtones of neutralization. Something wild and free and perhaps dangerous (perhaps a Pan energy??), has been folded into a structured order.
Which of course could be a good thing…but also a fear-based move.
I think the lines you’re referring to occur on page 263 of the English edition; is that correct?
Only where the world is space-free and time-free, where “waring” gains validity, where the world and we ourselves—the whole—become transparent, and where the diaphanous and what is rendered diaphanous become the verition of the world, does the world become concrete and integral.
Concrete. Integral. Hard, specific words, it seems to me. Yet we also have the diaphanous, which is such a graceful, almost evanescent word.
Something doesn’t feel quite right to me about the expression here, yet it intrigues.
Have used the term descriptively, after Gebser, Aurobindo, for over four decades now. I much understand and feel the ruttedness—the dead horse aspect—of the applications of the term. Whitehead, of course, speaks of [process philosophy], and the term [process] is about as basic as it gets, with applications that may be banal or sublime. Jung’s term [individuation] has also been worn thin by some folks who aren’t really too familiar with how that term is used in analytical psychology. In my teaching and writing, the terms [integral], [process], and [individuation] remain useful as we who work together can work beyond their limitations. The term [unconsious] is one that I must use. Gebser doesn’t like the term, and says why, on this page or that, and then he uses it freely on the next page. Some patience and tenacity is required with all the various languagings—but language problems are not the end of our excursion!
Yes, this is the sentence I was referring to. The words Gebser used in German are “konkret” und “integriert”.
I find “concrete” a hard, specific word, because of its associations, of course, but also because of the sound-structure of the word itself: the consonant sounds are plosive /k/ - /k/- /t/, as they are in English. “Integral”, On the other hand, comes across more weakly in this regard: the almost-fluid /n/, then /t/, the softer /g/ (because it’s voiced) the ambivalent /r/ , and a final fluid /l/. In German, partly I’m sure, because German sounds “harsher” in our Anglo ears, the /t/, /g/, /r/, and final /t/ have more force, and sound harder.
What I was referring to, however, was the fact that the English translators went with the more vague, indeterminant adjective-used-as-a-noun form (as in the “integral”). Gebser used the participle of integrieren, a verb, and verbs by their nature, associate more often active than passive. One of the issues we all have to deal with is the fact that language is ever-changing and the English that we speak and write today has distanced itself from the English that was spoken and written further back in time, and even as recently as 1949 we can hear and read a difference. The same applies to German of course. Nevertheless, as this thread is intended to uncover, we all get different “vibes”, if you’ll excuse the reduction, from certain words, especially because of our own experiential histories.
I can certainly understand how “integrated” can chafe a bit, especially in light of all that is going on, say, in Germany and the rest of Europe these days in regard to migrants and asylum seekers. If we consider a given country as a specific, limited, clearly identifiable domain, then “integration” can start connoting negatively very quickly. By contrast, many early immigrants to the US wanted to leave their old lives behind them, to become part of a larger, and in their minds “greater” whole, so “integration” connoted very positively to them. Any time I encounter “integral” in any of its forms (verbal, nominal, adjectival, adverbial) in Geber, I always try to keep in mind that there is a completeness, a whole-ness, an all-of-one-piece-ness in play, and this to stay on the positive side of the “vibes”. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes not.
Due to my (most likely) genetically-induced longwindedness, I thought it best to address the other question you raised in a separate post.
It was another language thing that caught my eye, and it is on the Synoptic Table at the very end of the book. In section 14, Relationships [Bezüge], column b) is labled “social” [soziale]; that is, how are social relationships expressed in each of the consciousness structures. In regard to the Mythical and Mental structures the words “matriarchial” and “patriarchial” are used. So far, so good.
In regard to the Integral structure, in English we find the following text: “Mankind / neither matriarchy or patriarchy / but integrum”. The German reads, “Menscheit: weder Matriarchat, Patriarchat, sondern Integrat” The nominal forms in English have necessary connotations of “rule” and “form of government” (c.f., anarchy, monarchy, oligarchy, etc.) German does have the word Patriarchie, for “father rule”, but it does not have the word *Matriarchie, oddly enough. In other words, the German words ending in “-at” have more neutral, organizational, and, in this case, social organizational connotations, which is specifically intended.
We don’t have an English equivalent for “rule by the integral” or even “organized along integral lines”. I’m not sure we can even build or coin one … “integralarchy”? I don’t think so. The English translation has to result to the neo-Latin formation, “integrum”. Had the table builders just gone with the flow, so to speak, we would have had … So, which form of social organization do we find in the Magic structure? natural; in the Mythical structure? matriarchial; in the Mental structure? patriarchial, in the Integral structure? well, integral. Too many “integrals” in one place, but it would have flowed.
In taking the route via actual forms of social organization, German simply has a syntactic-morphological option to distinguish the social from the political/governmental; that is, a way of expressing how people relate to one another. Matriarchat - women; Patriarchat - men; Integrat - neither women nor men, but both. To me, a fortunate linguisitc possiblility to help us keep our eye on the ball.
For me, “integral” is a reference to a quality of consciousness. Its emergence on a local (personal), and global scale, is roughly synonymous, at least in an evolutionary/historical sense, with what Steiner calls the Consciousness Soul (or the Michaelic Age), and what Barfield calls Final Participation (in “Saving the Appearances”). Both of them considered Goethe, and his phenomenological approach to science, as a pioneer (or prophet) of this qualitatively “new” mode of perception. I see Steiner and Barfield, along with Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, and Gebser, as describing, from their unique vantage points, the same phenomenon.
According to Gebser, integral, in a referential sense, is synonymous with “aperspectival”, and this word triggers so much more meaning for me, namely, that there is a level of truth that arises, not from any one perspective, but common to all. In other words, that it is possible to see, and to act, not localized in a point, in a center, but “localized” in the circumference, in the periphery, in the whole.
Integral, to me, means the invisible constitution of my being. The glass filaments that let me see through the worlds, the decades, that show my unity with all things, all “where” and all “when”, even though I myself am just a tip of the iceberg.
It is my becoming and my ending and my duration.
Integral is a speechless thing even though it contains all utterances. no one can achieve it, but they can realize their selves and their natures; integral is an emptying of oneself so that they are very thin to the world; like glass, like ice, like the dark abyss between the stars.
When all this reaches back into the personal, the historical, the intellectual and the phenomenological, it becomes an expression. If this is a structure, so be it, the singing statement of Gebser’s “the Itself.”
This something I have been thinking about lately as well I must say.
Integral thought in general and Integral Theory in particular is a secular paradigm which addresses the matter of human consciousness. Since consciousness is the most integral (essential) component of human experience, integral theory takes up this matter by looking at different intellectual disciplines to understand the phenomena entailed by consciousness.
As a secular paradigm, it has much to offer in the way of the social and environmental sciences, as well as academia in general. But since it is a secular theory, it cannot fill the unique gap that is required by religion in my view. It cannot unravel the mysteries of the heart in the same way that religion can. While many in integral speak of Spirit and spirituality as a defining component of integral thought, they do so in a way which relies upon abstraction and intellectual posturing. We must remember that these terms are borrowed from religions in the first place. While one can apply integral theory to the study of religion (theology), it cannot be used to fathom the mysterious implications of religion. It can be used to differentiate and postulate regarding the differences and implications of exoteric and esoteric functions of religion, for example, but is at a loss when it comes to creating ritual, narrative, and teachings which is the unique function of religion. The actual legwork of transformation. The hard part.
Your are onto something worth thinking about more, something that Gebser will deal with, I believe, rather extensively, thoughout the course of EPO.
If you take a look at the Synoptic Table at the end of the book, in Section 17 thereof, a kind of summary of the “Forms of bond or tie” are listed. This is what I believe you are referring to and one of the reasons I prefer Gebser’s often intellectual but never intellectualized approach. Each structure has a way of expressing what you are referring to and what the secular version of integrality I believe misses.
And most importantly, and the actual reason I wanted to respond was your observation that what is too often missing is, as you put it, “the actual legwork of transformation. The hard part”, though I would add, the most rewarding part.
to me integral is ‘adapting well to change’…navigating well…lovingly holding the tensions (would we have more of that), that fill our up plates every day. Now, that’s integral - or,living life well enough