Ever since the fundamental substance of the world was declared by Thales to be water and by Anaximenes to be air; ever since the fundamental principle of existence was identified by Parmenides as Being and by Heraclitus as Becoming, the urge to understand, to know, has impelled thinkers and philosophers along varied trajectories toward radically different accounts of 'the ultimate nature of things'. No particular philosophical account conceived across millenia by any of countless questing souls has yet settled the matter as to the nature of the ultimate, be it blind mechanism, transcendent spirit or something in between. Or, for that matter no account has yet settled the argument as to whether it even makes sense to assert that there is an ultimate the nature of which we can meaningfully be seeking. Nevertheless, through dialectical engagements in religious, philosophical and scientific domains such a diversity of ideas has inevitably expressed, but also played a significant role in shaping and determining, the historical unfolding of human life with its increasingly momentous impact on the planet. Over the last couple of centuries an increasingly massive body of scientific data has, like the gravitational field of a large mass bending time-space, drawn into its field of influence the very terms of Western-based philosophical thought. Shaped and constrained by such a dominant paradigm certain philosophical orientations which once shone with their own brilliance have become dark objects lost in space. But the time has come to reclaim these ‘objects’, to re-examine past insights that may have been unfairly dismissed and forgotten. As we seek to discover and explore new perspectives, new ways of being and understanding including nonWestern and indigenous views and practices, all voices are gradually now being invited back where they can again be heard as partners in a larger quest; mind, soul and spirit, no longer uninvited guests, can once again take their place at the philosophical round table.
If we can indeed identify an intellectual, cultural and even spiritual renaissance at this present time—and I believe we can—it is a conversation which is itself an evolutionary emergence taking place in what disconcertingly appears to be an ever darkening world; a world where the philosophical visions of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Schopenhauer and Spengler, and the dystopian fictions of Huxley and Orwell are apparently being fulfilled. A great uncertainty hangs over our age, an age of crisis and even profound social and cultural collapse, where the light of truth, instead of freely shining to reveal our greater promise as a species, is preoccupied with the necessary and more prosaic task of revealing more and more of the darkness—unfortunately a darkness not instantly vanquished by the light as in the more optimistic 'consciousness raising' metaphor.
When even the world’s supposed ‘democratic’ nations are apparently losing their moral compass while failing to understand and commit to the radical changes necessary to avert the impending ecological calamity, what could it possibly mean for us to be optimistic that any such paradigm shift will make a concrete difference? In an age of increasing hopelessness in which we have fairly recently become aware of several past great extinctions in life's long evolutionary history, such a sobering discovery provides a stark choice, turning up the pressure for the possible emergence of new adaptive changes and subjecting the potentialities of the homosapien brain to the ultimate test. The critical question for us is not the impotent plea for reassurance, "Will humanity survive? Will we be saved? Will there be a new dawn?" Rather, the fertile and potent question is, "How do we respond to the evolutionary imperative of our time?" "How are we to understand the very meaning of 'evolution'?" "Where have we been blind, and to what deeper truths must we imminently awaken"? "Where lies the paradigmatic ground for a truly effective action"?
We have no choice but to fully embrace these urgent questions, knowing that we ourselves are the product of an awe inspiring process of evolution, a vast unfolding which, contrary to the scientistic neoDarwinian cultural hegemony of our age, is hardly a blind and meaningless process. It is therefore imperative to see that the process of further evolution has been entirely put into our hands and that we do indeed possess the implicit resources to take the next step. This is no time to drop the ball. All that is happening right now is precisely that which we, still in our darkness, have called forth, that which we have apparently needed to goad us into awakening—the inevitable radical failure which can lead to the birth of the new. As a species we are yet to be toilet trained—no one is going to do that for us. All we can do now is to actively embrace that new dawn and walk, fly, or grope our way through the darkness toward it. To ‘embrace a new dawn’ means to align with and nurture the new shoots which are already here; not only to believe in, but to participate in the birthing process of a global new consciousness that perhaps most of us will never live to see. In the face of the realization of our global ignorance, this requires an expanding depth and breadth of consciousness—intellectually, imaginatively, heartfully, ethically, meditatively and, of course, humbly. Facing the imminent possibility of human extinction our intensifying conversation must reach beyond the experiential concerns of individuals seeking liberation, to shed light upon the genesis of our current seemingly intractable global condition.
To those who embrace the possibility of individual transformation yet doubt that a similar sort of global-collective growth is even possible in principle, we can affirm that a 'new cultural paradigm' is indeed struggling to be born, a theoretical, experiential, spiritual and actional process combining both discovery and recovery. But rather than being witness to a particular paradigm we are witness to a new paradigmatic orientation unfolding more as a set of family resemblances among an array of new ideas arising from a variety of fields than as a unified consensus on the nature of human consciousness and the world. Several new developments and perspectives are apparent:
Relativity, quantum theory, new cosmological discoveries and theories, as well as complexity and systems science together challenge, from a more holistic and emergentist perspective, the old atomistic and material mechanistic world view with its assumptions of the completely detached observer and the foundational formative principle of blind chance operating through time.
The perspectives of deep ecology and ecopsychology with their reverence for Gaia, combining scientific knowledge, spirituality and social action, envision a re-enchantment of the world, an active reconnection with nature and body and an honouring of earlier and indigenous ways of knowing that have become marginalized by the patriarchal, scientistic and power-based separative ethos of the modern West in particular.
Jungian and neo-Jungian depth psychology, revaluings and applications of Western arcane traditions (alchemy, astrology, tarot, parapsychology) in a new marriage with Eastern mysticism have, through the last century, firmly taken root in Western culture, though still not in academic orthodoxy.
A variety of feminist viewpoints—liberal, radical, eco, Goddess, socialist, and above all, activist—expose the male or 'androcentric' and 'logocentric' bias at the very core of 'civilization' as we know it, calling for deeper and more adequate accounts of history and cultural changes and spreading a general psycho-spiritual and social feminine empowerment.
As well, over the last few decades, a new cognitive orientation has established itself in the humanities departments of many academic institutions, namely, postmodern criticism and deconstruction from Nietzsche and Heidegger to Gadamer, Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault (and Wittgenstein too within the British analytical tradition), which, along with a multiculturalist ethic, has revealed the linguistic, cultural and historical perspectivalism underlying all pretensions to objective truth and privileged value positions while providing a purchase for political critique and social activism.
Complementary with this postmodern challenge to objective truth, the works of philosophers and historians of science, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend have challenged science's claim to occupy the cognitive high ground with its systematic methodology and rational rigour.
And most immediately relevant to the aim of this book, developments in transpersonal and integral studies including all of the above fields and more, reach beyond the personal, psychological and humanistic dimension to a rigorous investigation and honouring of the transcendent, realized immanently as embodied wisdom and transcendently as ultimate liberation. In a holistic and unifying embrace that seeks to overcome the fragmentation and compartmentalization resulting from the modern and postmodern views, transpersonal theories seek to understand and articulate consciousness and nature in a multiplicity of ways—biologically, psychologically, experientially, socially, dialogically, culturally, historically, ethically, cosmically and spiritually. In this way, all these new fields and disciplines come to weave a multidimensional fabric, powerfully depicting a new vision of our world and opening up new possibilities for effective individual and collective transformative practices.
Although there may be as yet little consensus, little sign of an adequate overarching philosophical account or general orientation, there is within this diversity a common ground of agreement; namely, a deep questioning of the 'modernist' view, a view originating with the Copernican discovery, given paradigmatic form by Bacon and Descartes and achieving, with Locke and Newton, a triumphant self-congratulation in the age called the Enlightenment. But beyond the common point of rejection of the modern atomistic, hyper-individualistic and materialist paradigm with its privileged knower and its objective certainty, any attempt at accomplishing an overarching synthesis of the views of the new physics, complexity science, depth psychology, deep feminism, mysticism, altered states of consciousness etc. through a teleological evolutionary account of history and consciousness conceived within a transpersonal ontology—'a grand theory of everything'—still comes into direct conflict with the radically interpretative and linguistic constructivist postmodern perspective.
Modern and Postmodern Epistemologies
The naturalistic and objectivist modern paradigm—generally described as a Cartesian dualistic and Newtonian mechanistic and atomistic worldview—in blatant disregard of trenchant philosophical exposures of its leaky infrastructure from Berkeley and Hume to Whitehead, was able to vanquish its metaphysical rivals and establish its world view as ultimately authoritative. Of course, by the later twentieth century materialist and mechanistic atomism as well as positivism was no longer tenable in the face of emergent new discoveries and perspectives within science itself. Yet in speaking of the modern paradigm, we are referring not solely to its singular foundationalist and objectivist account of nature, but to its underlying and broader conviction, rooted in the Greeks, that the human mind with its unique capacity for reason can come to know what is objectively and independently 'True'—whatever that turns out to be; matter or mind, mathematical laws or transcendent archetypes. Having given up on such a serious quest for Truth, postmodern constructivism holds that all experiences and truth claims are culturally, historically, and linguistically mediated or constructed; consequently, we cannot speak meaningfully of a universal nature of things, of eternal essences, behind the diverse claims; we cannot speak of a ‘Truth with a capital T’ beyond the creative diversity of culture and experience. As Richard Tarnas (1991) puts it, "there is no 'postmodern world view,' nor the possibility of one. The postmodern paradigm is by its nature fundamentally subversive of all paradigms, for at its core is the awareness of reality as being at once multiple, local and temporal, and without demonstrable foundation." (p.401) Whereas the modern has considered its world view to be ‘the way things really are’or rather, that its rational-scientific methodology is the only way of discerning 'how things really are', the postmodern argues that the modern is only one world view among an indefinite number of possible world views, none of which can be established as privileged among others in disclosing ultimate Truth. World views (i.e. cosmologies and paradigms) do not tell us the way the world actually is, but rather, only indicate how it is that human beings in diverse cultures and historical epochs believe and actually perceive 'the world' to be. Thus:
The more one interprets the more one finds not the fixed meaning of a text, or of the world, but only other interpretations. These interpretations have been created and imposed by other people, not by the nature of things. In this discovery of groundlessness the inherent arbitrariness of interpretation is revealed. For if there is nothing to interpret, then everything is open to interpretation; the only limits are those arbitrarily imposed.1
So in our time, we have clearly gone beyond the Cartesian-Newtonian 'modernist' notion that the human mind and human perception, by means of systematic scientific induction and logical methodology applied in all fields of investigation, can more or less accurately discern and reflect a truly objective order of things that exists 'out there.'
This naive 'correspondence theory of truth' which fueled the scientific enterprise until the twentieth century and the accompanying paradigmatic bedrock of the subject/object distinction is, by general agreement, no longer tenable2. Replacing the modernist belief in the possibility of certain and objective knowledge, is the newer idea, exemplified by the anthropological evidence of cultural-moral diversity, that the mind does not simply mirror an objectively existing, concrete, material and mechanistic nature, but in some sense freely informs and creates its very world. The nature and form of the object has much to do with the nature of the subject which profoundly effects how the subject perceives the object and vice versa. The claim of empiricism to disclose the fundamentally real prior to any such subjectivism has come into question including the claim—of particular relevance to the transpersonalist—by Schliermacher and later by William James, that not only the natural world but also the domain of the spiritual could be objectively affirmed through a particular types of nonreducible noetic experience.3
For Kant, the late Enlightenment philosopher who as Richard Tarnas points out stands as the pivotal figure between modern and postmodern paradigms, the 'world' is an epistemological construction. The only foundational knowledge of which we are capable is the study of the formative principles or universal cognitive frameworks which, as the categories of perception, have shaped the world which we perceive. Beyond that lies the world as it is 'in itself', the forever unknowable 'noumenon' that lies on the other side of the phenomenon4. In a post-Kantian spirit and pointing toward his own conception of formative archetypal principles constituting the collective unconscious of humanity, C.G. Jung (1959) has observed:
Significantly enough, it is Kant’s doctrine of categories, more than anything else, that destroys in embryo every attempt to revive metaphysics in the old sense of the word, but at the same time paves the way for a rebirth of the Platonic spirit. If it be true that there can be no metaphysics transcending human reason, it is no less true that there can be no empirical knowledge that is not already caught and limited by the a priori structure of cognition. (p. 76).
We can say that impervious to Kant’s precise logic, science has persisted in its quest to mathematically know the noumenon—what the universe is ‘in itself’ and was ‘in itself’ temporally prior to the advent of conscious life—only to succeed in unearthing ever more microcosmic and macrocosmic veils of phenomena, different domains of experience. At the same time, in the realm of the humanities, the noumenon has increasingly dropped out, like the God of the deists, as an unnecessary hypothesis and the old Kantian-Newtonian categories have been replaced by the less substantial constitutional and epistemological factors of language, culture and history. As Descartes decisively differentiated spatially extended body from nonspatial intentional mind setting modern philosophy on its difficult path, so did Wilhelm Dilthey in the late 19th century decisively differentiate the methodology of the physical sciences and the human sciences setting the stage for a “methodological civil war—the ‘Hermeneuts’ versus the Naturalists” (p145) in the words of Clifford Geertz.
Rather than history and culture themselves being a human product and language a tool (often an imprecise tool) to communicate about the 'real world', language and the cultural narratives and metanarratives which inform it are precisely that which makes us who we are and conditions what we perceive and believe the 'world' to be. Hence, we are ‘trapped’ in 'linguistic culture wholes' none of which can be said to be ultimately truer or of more value than any other, where all new ideas, all new texts are but a 'recontextualization of one's predecessors.' If this were just the death of a narrow materialistic scientism or rationalist metaphysical dogmatics it would be welcome, but any attempt to attain the bird's eye view, grasp the big picture or simply touch some ground prior to the slippery chains of signifiers is increasingly held to be impossible and meaningless.
In its most radical form, postmodernism’s pervading anti-Realist and anti-transcendent bias leads to the relativistic pragmatism of the later Wittgenstein or to the ‘end-of-philosophy’ philosophy of Richard Rorty.5 Such a relativism, even if nobly inspired by a post-Enlightenment egalitarian and multicultural spirit of tolerance for differences, ultimately undercuts the legitimating grounds of meaning and value which are needed to guide further human evolutionary flowering. In the postmodern perspective exemplified by such persons as Wittgenstein, Rorty, Derrida and Foucault, such notions as 'self', 'subject', 'consciousness', 'meaning', 'values', 'truth', 'individual', and 'collective', are seen as products of such underlying conditions as ‘discursive’ and ‘nondiscursive practices‘, 'forms of life', and historico-linguistic structures. Yet rather than leading to solipsistic nihilism as some might fear, postmodern ‘constructivism’(despite the Dilthean differentiation6) de facto perpetuates and slides back to a subtle form of 'naturalism', for there is no place on which to ground the constitutive linguistic structures other than in the determinisms and contingencies of a material and nonconscious nature, an 'objective' even if indeterminate nature devoid of meaning and soul.
In disagreement with both Enlightenment objectivism and postmodern constructivism, I believe that it is the central challenge and opportunity of our age to develop large, synthesizing, and inclusive models which are adequate to the diversity and multidimensional complexity of historical and current experience. Yet with respect for the openminded pluralistic empiricism of a William James or the in-the-field anthropological perspective of a Clifford Geertz, any interdisciplinary synthesising of varied emerging perspectives should be approached more as an open-ended conversation, embracing rather than seeking to eradicate diversity.
Any proposed overarching model should ideally include female as well as male perspectives; imaginative and meditative modes of cognition as well as reason; relationship and connection as well as will and action; altered states of consciousness as well as ‘ordinary experience’, nonwestern as well as Western perspectives. Yet heeding what is certainly legitimate in the postmodern call, our present search is not for certainty, the irreducible and self evident ground, but for an overarching adequacy—the 'best story available'. An integrative model is to be judged not by the criteria of truth and falsity but by its adequacy to creatively and coherently handle the multidimensional data with which we are so far acquainted. Unlike the ultimate foundational and indubitable principles sought by traditional metaphysics, our principles or metaphors of explanation are not the rock bottom and certain foundation of ‘all that is’ but the circumference of an ever evolving and expanding integrated sum of all experience and knowledge.
The Transpersonal Perspective
Broadly speaking, the transpersonal perspective agrees with the postmodern that the pre-modern, the modern and other world views are indeed 'world views', none showing, at least by themselves, the ultimate nature of things—all perspectives being socially, psychologically, historically and linguistically shaped. But it does not agree with the postmodern position that various world views are shaped exclusively by social-linguistic factors. Rather, successive and varied world views are rooted not only in a prehuman and pre-linguistic living Nature but in certain ‘deep structures of consciousness’ or ‘archetypal processes’ and cannot be explained away as disclosing nothing beyond the historically contingent process of human constructivism itself. A transpersonal view of history must look deeper than a pure history of ideas, for as the deep ecologist Paul Shepard (1995) points out:
The idea that the destruction of whales is the logical outcome of Francis Bacon's dictum that nature should serve 'man', or Rene Descartes's insistence that animals feel no pain since they have no souls, seems to easy and too academic. The meticulous analysis of these philosophies and the discovery that they articulate an ethos beg the question. Similarly, technology does not simply act out scientific theory, or daily flesh out ideas of progress, biblical dogma, or Renaissance humanism. A history of ideas is not enough to explain human behaviour.
While there is agreement between transpersonalism and postmodernism that the old objectivist cosmology is inadequate to account for twentieth century scientific and psychological insights and discoveries, there is an essential difference; transpersonalism is committed to taking a stand within the shifting sands of endless meaning contexts. Rather than a direct search for a new and better paradigm that trumps all the old ones, the 'new paradigmatic' activity which rises from the 'ruins' of radical deconstruction becomes an ontological and epistemological investigation into the nature, the overarching architecture, of paradigm formation itself. Basic to the transpersonalist stand is the contention that the experiences and reports of mystics and advanced practitioners of certain trans-rational and trans-linguistic cognitive modes expand the cognitive horizon, revealing an ever widening and deepening dimensionality beyond previously 'constructed' worlds. The full range of cross-cultural ‘mystical’ experiences discloses a certain number of 'realizations' which are veridical and ultimately transformational, revealing the ontological ground of sensorily, linguistically and culturally mediated 'experience'. In fact, even the relative beginner in the practice of mindfulness meditation begins to become aware of that non-tangible 'space' in which both self and world are revealed, not as separate and distinct but as intimately connected, a dimensionality more encompassing than ordinary subject/object consciousness. The transpersonal perspective ultimately implies a larger and flexibly open-ended 'meta-framework', the on-going articulation of which is necessary for comprehending and mapping the diversity and general sequence of underlying archetypal structures. But rather than privileging nonordinary states of consciousness as such, from a broad transpersonal perspective transcendent experiences are seen not as the answer to the individual's or the world's problems, but as opening up the space for a necessary further evolutionary development for both individual and collective.
Within the relatively new field of transpersonal theory a number of sometimes conflicting metanarratives have been advanced which map the relationship of personal and transpersonal domains and situate the diversity and sometimes the developmental succession of various world views and paradigms within an overarching cosmological meaning, a revisioned ontology and epistemology. These viewpoints can be classified as a relatively discordant triad: The first orientation can be broadly described as a neoperennialist and evolutionary progressive view of the nature of consciousness which describes a template of successive and holarchically nested stages and deep structures which map the trajectory of history from the cosmological, to the biological, to the psycho-social, and ultimately to the transpersonal levels. The second orientation, more in sympathy with the post-modern rejection of essentialism, engages a pluralistic epistemology free of the constraints of an articulated universalist ontology with its teleological assumptions, thus eschewing ontological levels and overarching historical pictures of development in favour of an openened spiritual practice, and interreligious dialogue. The third viewpoint can loosely be described as a neoJungian depth perspective which emphasizes the dialectic of consciousness and unconsciousness at all stages in the course of individual and historical development. Evoking the mythic motif of the journey of the hero, consciousness as an increasing sense of autonomous selfhood emerges, in the Jungian view, from an original state of subconscious and undifferentiated unity with the ground of being. Then passing through a stage of separation and even alienation from the original matrix, the developing self undergoes a life and death struggle resulting ultimately in a rebirth and a reuniting with the original ground of being, but now in full consciousness, aware of an ultimate Unity in Multiplicity (“The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.” Campbell 1968 p.39.)
The Neoperennialist Perspective
In our time, the term 'perennialism' denotes a traditional cosmology that envisions reality as composed of ever higher 'levels of being' all the way up from pure matter through biological forms to the divine—the Great Chain of Being as Arthur Lovejoy named his now classical history of ideas, a work which traces a multilayered cosmology from its source in Plato's Timaeus, through Aristotle and Plotinus up to Leibniz, Pope and others of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who stood outside the rational/empirical Enlightenment stream. As described by Aldous Huxley, the philosophia perennis is, "the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being—the thing is immemorial and universal." (pvii). Capturing the logic of the hierarchic concept of being and truth are these words of the perennialist thinker, E.F. Schumacher:
The ability to see the Great Truth of the hierarchic structure of the world, which makes it possible to distinguish between higher and lower Levels of Being, is one of the indispensable conditions of understanding...Many things which are true at a low Level of Being become absurd at a higher level….Given the different levels of being, to know anything about the world one must be adequate to the 'thing to be known'. "When the level of the knower is not adequate to the level...of the object of knowledge, the result is not factual error but something more serious: an inadequate and impoverished view of reality. (pp.14, 42).
And affirming the a priori concept of depth against postmodern levelling, the philosopher Huston Smith (1989) contends that "the Modern Mind was flat because it took its directives from science which cannot get its hands on the component of experience that verticality tokens, namely values. By contrast, the Postmodern Mind...is blurred and amorphous. Not only does it lack an embracing outlook; it doubts that it is any longer possible (or even desirable) to have one." (p. 232)
Heavily influenced by and drawing on the Neoplatonic metaphysical system of Plotinus, the various evolutionary and developmental visions of Hegel, Aurobindo Ghose, Henri Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin, Jean Gebser, Erich Neumann and numerous other thinkers and developmentalists, the transpersonalist and synthesizer Ken Wilber has given the 'Great Chain' a thoroughly historical and teleological form in terms of the humanities and social sciences of the twentieth century.7 In Wilber's view, despite differences of method and interpretation, not only do the 'ultimate' mystical realizations of such traditions as Vedanta and Zen Buddhism coincide ontologically, but also less spiritually advanced levels of transpersonal experience broadly coincide across diverse religious practices and traditions in that they access, in their phenomenologically varied ways, the same deep ontological structures. Not only are there alleged universal core structures which underlie the spectrum of transpersonal differences, but there are also core structures informing the domains of ordinary experience. For example, despite distinct cultural differences between East and West, there is a structure of rational thought, namely, Piaget's formal operational thinking, which underlies a diverse range of values, core beliefs, and practices.
Beyond its particular hierarchic or 'Great Chain' formulations, at the core of the perennialist conception is the claim that the universal, rather than being merely abstracted from the particular8, is the ontological ground of the diversity and relativistic pluralism of the epistemologically shaped 'surfaces' of things. As Huston Smith (1992) writes: "Red is not green, but the difference pales before the fact that both are light. No two waves are identical, but their differences are inconsequential when measured against the water that informs them all." (p. 256) The perennialist view advanced by such thinkers as Huston Smith, Fritjof Schuon, E.F Shumacher, and further developed in the earlier writings of Ken Wilber, holds that there is a core set of 'experiences' (e.g. out-of-body experiences, mystical union with the divine, disclosure of an ultimate nondual Emptiness) uniting the diverse phenomenological accounts and doctrinal views of various religious and mystical traditions. Such 'experiences'—if they can be thus psychologized—are held by perennialists to disclose a trans-individual, trans-historical, and even trans-experiential ontological reality beyond ordinary culturally mediated consciousness.
It is necessary to point out that there are certain problems in presenting Wilber as the main spokesperson for the perennialist view, as I am here doing, since in the course of his intellectual development he has undergone certain important changes, partly in response to critiques launched by others, that have apparently led him to jettison (or at least significantly qualify) certain essential ideas of the primordial tradition and espouse what he calls an 'integral post-metaphysics' that purportedly does not rely on certain metaphysical assumptions that modern science and postmodern critique do not find plausible. But since Wilber's total Oeuvre still stands as a set of important contributions to the ongoing transpersonal and new paradigm conversation, and since this work is not centrally concerned with critiquing Wilber but only with looking critically at certain of his central ideas and incorporating his best insights into our astro-transpersonal model, I will reference many of these ideas (from 1997 to 2000) throughout the book which I hold to be relevant to building an adequate astro-transpersonal model of consciousness. In referring to Wilber where I am not specifically referencing a text including his Integral Spirituality (2006), I will be referring to his general work from the Atman Project to Integral Psychology prior to his 'integral postmetaphysical' period.
The Pluralistic Perspective
Within the transpersonal field there are many who feel that certain deep ecological, femininist, multicultural, interfaith dialogical, and even shamanic indigenous perspectives world views and cultures have been marginalized and reduced by such universalizing theoretical schemes as Wilber's (e.g. Heron, Kremer et al). In such hierarchical stage-by-stage, level-by-level models, the development of the West, despite its obvious pathologies—explained away as unfortunate divergencies from optimal development—is implicitly postulated as paradigmatic for the optimal overarching development of the potentialities of the homosapien brain. One implication of such a meta-narrative is that women along with indigenous and pre-urban social groups and societies (assuming they have not already been hegemonically absorbed) are called on to catch-up by following the developmental steps laid out by men and the ‘more advanced’ West respectively.
In its recognition of a radical epistemic plasticity, what we are calling the pluralistic transpersonal perspective is resonant with the spirit of postmodern contextualism and constructivism yet goes beyond it; in the words of Heron and Reason, "any conceptual context is itself set within a wider and deeper experiential context."9 Critics of Wilber’s allegedly overly agentic, progressive and Eurocentric view call for a softer and more 'allowing' approach to the universe, a creative play of 'emergent', new and entirely unpredictable features best understood through an ongoing conversation. Such a transpersonal participatory perspective shares with postmodernism a suspicion of the over-universalizing and hierarchizing tendencies of perennialist thought which allegedly constrains the obviously creative, emergent and indeterminate diversity—a diversity that can never legitimately be subsumed under ‘totalizing universals’. Rather than assuming that varied mystical experiences actually access the same fundamental reality—and in particular, that they even access different common levels so that some practices can be accurately identified as 'higher' than others—the transpersonal thinker Jorge Ferrer (2002) has, in the spirit of postmodern indeterminism, articulated that what reality is, is an ever open-ended unfolding mystery which can be disclosed from many experiential points in many ways, none of which can be said to be a disclosure of an Absolute universal reality or deep structure. From the transpersonal perspective, the process of cultural constructivism is itself situated within a deeper onto-epistemological context—a processive engagement of an unfolding and indeterminate ‘reality’. In fact, as Ferrer argues, such a perennialist idea of deep structures or of an objective Ultimate beyond our participation, drags in the old "myth of the given", the modernist notion of an objective truth on the other side of experience, a sort of Kantian noumenon lying beyond and superior to our knowing. This anti-perennialist conception within transpersonalism has recently received its most adequate and nuanced articulation by Ferrer who claims, through a reformulation of the epistemological foundations which have thus far informed transpersonalism, to be advancing a participatory view of reality—an epistemology where "nature's unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind,” where “the world's truth realizes itself within and through the human mind" (Tarnas 1991, 434). Such a participatory conception falls between the unacceptable relativism of pure postmodern relativism and the procrustean universalism of perennialism.
It has been repeatedly stated (by Ken Wilber and others) that the relativistic view is self-undermining since the statement itself claims to be a final statement of Truth; namely, the Truth that there is no Truth. Ferrer has pointed out that while this argument (the 'performative error' argument) is valid against the most radical form of relativistic claims—that is, against the extreme claim that everything is on the same level and that no epistemological and ethical distinctions can be made—it misses the point of the softer form of relativism. This softer form involves a legitimate questioning of any a priori absolutist claims advanced with an insensitivity to context, while it asserts a creatively indeterminate and 'participatory' view of reality. Pertinent to this issue of soft relativistic transpersonalism is Peter L. Nelson's view of spiritual knowing as an 'ontological neutralism' where through a process of critical deconstruction, even of apparently ontologically ultimate and self-validating mystical experiences, one arrives at the view that there may be no final bottom line. But "that realization itself is not merely a new bottom line that there are no bottom lines, but is an entry into a profound unknowing that must be lived as an abiding existential ontological uncertainty." (Nelson 2000 p.75)
The NeoJungian Perspective
Some of the objections to the hierarchical universalist ontology can be answered by the neoJungian perspective, especially as articulated by transpersonal philosopher Michael Washburn in his concept of primary repression as the necessary foundation of the mental-ego and the consequent propulsion through its inevitable angst toward a ‘regression-in-service-of-transcendence’. The clinical experiential disclosure and mapping of the perinatal matrices by transpersonal psychotherapist and theorist Stanislav Grof similarly identifies a return to origins involving a transformative opening to the collective unconscious. In a number of works, Grof has provided an archetypal cartography of the ‘collective unconscious’ that not only identifies the primal matrices underlying certain classes of pathology, but also articulates the ontological interpenetration of biologically primal (the life-death dynamic of the birth process) and transpersonal experiential domains. The neo-Jungian view articulates the intuition that something of great value has been lost—something that we once experienced, however dimly, and with which we were once connected. Furthermore, due to the dialectical polarity of consciousness and unconsciousness, this 'something' was inevitably lost in the process of taking the next developmental step—the birth of self reflexive interiority and individual autonomy out of prior collectivity and the largely unconscious group mind. But to move on from here, to move beyond our present critical and severely imbalanced condition, we must reclaim and embrace that which we have lost—the feminine, the earth, the anima mundi.
The path of ‘individuation’ as originally articulated by Jung describes a developmental movement from a condition of identification with the centre of consciousness, an ego which had originally differentiated out from the matrix of collective unconsciousness, toward a realization of the ‘self‘, the centre and circumference of the psyche as a whole including and uniting both conscious and unconscious elements. Such a conscious-unconscious integration is not merely a modification of the ego and its drive to greater self actualization, but a radical transformation which necessarily accesses the transpersonal dimensions. We are speaking here not of a recovery of a buried aspect of the personal self, but of an archetypal dimensionality dialectically related to and as ontologically significant as the essentially agentic and masculine dimensionality that came to form the infrastructure of civilization, and of Western culture in particular.
Toward a Softer Universalist Teleology
While the naturalistic view of history, even though recognizing varied degrees of complexity, combines a mechanistic view of cosmic and biological evolution with a view of culture which is contingent and essentially non-evolutionary, teleological views of history on the other hand recognize a successive unfolding of stages of consciousness conceived within a variety of overarching metaphors, for example, those of Hegel, Aurobindo, Gebser, or Wilber. Between these two alternatives—naturalism and teleology —lie the views of complexity science where biology and culture are explainable in terms of a free play of evolutionary creativity in nature where, as Rupert Sheldrake claims, nature's laws are more like evolving habits of the universe rather than eternal Pythagorean mathematical prescriptions. From the perspective of systems and complexity science, conditions of disequilibrium or chaos give rise, through a series of 'symmetry breaks' or 'catastrophic bifurcations', to entirely 'new' and emergent properties, thus purportedly explaining what genetics and natural selection cannot fully explain, the successive unfolding of higher and more complexified orders. Such an open and indeterminate view of evolutionary innovation may be seen to be at odds with the teleological view where evolution as seen as an unfolding of implicit potentials from an ultimate ground of things toward some Omega point. As the systems scientist, Erich Jantsch maintains:
Neither the old concept of a teleological (goal-seeking) evolution, nor its contemporary modification in the sense of a teleonomic evolution (goal-seeking via a systemic network of possible processes), correspond to the new paradigm of self organization. Evolution is basically open. It determines its own dynamics and direction.....No complex system is ever truly stable....With the abandonment of permanent structural stability, evolution becomes open and unlimited. No end is in sight, no permanency, no telos. (p184, 255)
But as Wilber argues, the language of systems science is incomplete since it is still essentially monological in that it lacks the epistemological dimensionality necessary to describe the depths of interior experiential domains. Systems theory is still subtly naturalistic and as such rules out of court, a priori, anything smacking of intentionality in nature, except as a local epiphenomenon. As Sheldrake (1994) describes:
Systems theorists, partly from fear of being branded as vitalists, have generally avoided proposing that there are new kinds of causal entities in nature, like souls, or fields unknown to physics. Rather the problems are to be understood in abstract terms, such as information transfer or feedback, without bothering too much about the physical base of these processes, which are implicitly presumed to depend only on the known forces and fields of physics. (p 120)
The account of history in which emergent and ever more complex and higher levels of consciousness are drawn by an ultimate telos illustrates development in terms of overarching principles and universal or 'deep' structures. But this view of a meaningful trajectory of consciousness-evolution does not have to put linear constraints on evolution’s natural diversity, to marginalize the ever present ‘other‘, or to exclude such 'new science' and generally non-teleological ‘chaos’ perspectives as the natural phenomena of self-organization, emergent properties, or Sheldrakean morphogenetic fields; rather, it places them within an archetypal map. Nevertheless, morphic fields, subtle energies, and emergent properties still do not explain consciousness; only an adequate archetypal conception can imbue these models with consciousness. The open indeterminacy and variety of detail at any stage and level of development does not preclude the presence of a sacred Pythagorean-like ontological geometry within the broad parameters of which the details of creation spontaneously emerge—including Sheldrake's cosmological habits and morphic resonance.
I believe it is possible to articulate an ‘evolutionary’ account that recognizes developmental sequences and levels which are informed by universal meta-principles, an account that does not ontologically marginalize, diminish, misinterpret, or absorb the ‘other’ in whatever form the ‘other’ appears, yet which maps and explains the complex shape of actual history (both species and individual) with all its dialectical imbalances, distortions, and repressions. Any such theoretical account or meta-narrative must situate itself in relation to the most adequate existing accounts or theories and offer a synthesis of the best features and a resolution of the most critical disjunctions among existing models. The main intrafamilial yet significant disagreement among teleological evolutionary views of consciousness and history centers around the issue of whether or not the so-called higher level transformation of the particular modernist/postmodernist structure of the relatively autonomous and rather monochromatic mental-ego and its accompanying dualist epistemology involves a necessary return to some historically and ontologically prior dimensionality.
Ken Wilber holds that it does not, that Washburn’s view is a regressive and Romantic mistake that confuses the original unconscious and predifferentiated unity-state of the child and the ‘primitive’ human with the fully conscious integrated state. Such a conflation of pre-mental egoic and post-mental egoic levels he has named the “pre-trans fallacy” allegedly committed by Romantics, Jungians and some eco-feminists who reach back falsely to a ‘golden’ or enlightened past that never was—namely, childhood and that apparently more peaceful and egalitarian period of human history prior to the patriarchy. Similarly, in response to Grof’s perinatal cartography, Wilber maintains that we do not go back to birth in order to transcend, because birth is an earlier biographical stage and bio-instinctual reality which belongs on a lower ontological tier of the Great Chain of Being than self-reflexivity and transrationality. I believe that Wilber’s pre-trans distinction is generally valid as applied to the sequencing of a particular line of development, e.g. the stages from the naïve child, to the loss of innocence, to the possible later gaining of wisdom. But when applied foundationally and ontologically, the pre-trans distinction (despite later refinements that try to ameliorate its essential linearity) betrays an overly constrictive structuralist ontology which recognizes dialectic only within the terms of the deep structures—physical cosmos, biosphere, psyche, soul, spirit—rather than as fundamentally informing those structures.
When articulated in terms that engage and modify the profound insights of several new paradigmatic viewpoints including certain essential ideas of Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, Michael Washburn, Richard Tarnas and others, it is the astrological mandala, through its bi-polar, dialectical, cyclic and upwardly spiralic logic, which compels us to describe a developmental trajectory that preserves the idea of a multileveled ontology informed at every level by the dialectics of self and other, individual and collective, agency and communion, differentiation and integration within a still more fundamental and encompassing polar dialectic of consciousness and unconsciousness. Thus development proceeds from a state of undifferentiated unity to an extreme differentiation and creative yet dangerous diremption to a transformative interpenetration and a reuniting pictured as Washburn’s ‘regression-in-service-of-transcendence’, Grof’s perinatal encounter, Tarnas’s re-embracing of and reconnection with the feminine—a journey conceived in such a way as to not be in violation with what is valid in the logic of Wilber's pre-trans distinction, nor in violation of certain trenchant critiques (e.g. Ferrer) of universalistic transpersonal theories. Psychotherapist/astrologer Glenn Perry (1991) has extensively argued that astrology is a discipline which 'makes sense' and must necessarily be understood within an organic, holistic and connected paradigm, a holistic world view that was replaced by the subject/object divisive and objectivist modern scientific paradigm. But more important than the re-affirmation of the organic and holistic cosmology within which astrology was originally conceived, is the fact that the deep logic of the astrological kaleidoscope when properly interpreted is itself an archetypal mapping of the very process of historical paradigmatic succession, of the very structure and development of consciousness.Notes
1. Dreyfus and Rabinow, speaking of Foucault’s post-Nietzschean understanding of history. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Paul Rabinow, editors (1983) (pp.106,107)
2. According to the 'correspondence theory of truth' a statement is true if it corresponds to the actual state of affairs which is objectively the case.
3. Schleiermacher in the early nineteenth century and James at the turn of the twentieth in a radically empirical spirit sought to ground spirituality free from scientific, material reductionism in an irreducible experience of ultimate dependence and ineffability, an experience prior to any social conditioning, belief or concept.
4. According to Kant the phenomenal world known and described by science, rather than being what it is independent of perception, is shaped and conditioned by preexistent categories of perception standing in, albeit some mysterious relation, to the ever unknowable ‘thing-in-itself, the noumenon.
5. See Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
6 Wilhelm Dilthey in the late nineteenth century made a sharp distinction between the methods and criteria of the physical and human sciences in recognition of the impossibility of capturing human reality in the nets of the physical sciences. He held that the physical sciences were concerned with explanation while the human sciences were concerned with understanding.
7. Neoperennialism is really an historical and evolutionary perennialism unlike the more traditional metaphysically static perennialism.
8. Nominalism is the doctrine that only particular things exist while universals, rather than ontologically prior to things as in Platonism or subsisting in some other form, are simple names or concepts created by the human intellect in the act of perception.
9. See Heron and Reason online ref (p7) http://people.bath.ac.uk/mnspwr/Papers/Participatoryinquiryparadigm.pdf