More on measuring altitude

The below are posts continuing in the IPN thread @ IPS:


In Balder’s new thread on kosmic addressing I was reminded on our previous discussion in the “status of states” thread. Therein I provided an alternative explanation for what is going on in the so-called causal emptiness experience. I will copy some excerpts below:

“Here are some excerpts from New Developments in Consciousness Research by Vincent Fallio (Nova, 2007). For me it indicates that so-called ‘spiritual’ states of consciousness probably arise in very early levels of consciousness and associated brain structures. Hence there is a very real sense in which ‘primordial’ awareness is ancient, in that it arises from these early brain structures. But it is not timeless or absolute; it is grounded in our psychoneurophysiology.

“The excerpts:

‘…we think it appropriate to consider that consciousness is not something unitary but that it has several levels of complexity, and that these levels have been forming ontogenically and philogenetically.

‘On a lower level can be found the state of alertness or of being conscious, which refers to a basic level of consciousness or matrix as a generalized state in which the system is receptive to information. This aspect of consciousness is clearly related to the concept of tonic attention, and is also related to neural mechanisms in the stimulatory reticular system, the thalamus, the limbic system, basal ganglia, and the prefrontal cortex (81).

‘[It is] a basic level of consciousness as a generalized state in which the system is receptive to information. In this sense awareness could be related to a tonic or basic attention; it is therefore important to realize that this type of consciousness should be understood as a ‘condition for’ and not so much as a function or cognitive process. As a result of this it can be affirmed that this notion of consciousness, this state of being aware, is a state that does not contain information’ (68).

Your contentless, nonconceptual awareness in a nice postmetaphysical package. Also see the other excerpts in the kosmic addressing thread, on how the ego-witness is used to observe and integrate the process of unwinding back down to this 0 level of complexity.

A point of clarification. As I explored in the “real and false reason” thread, there is no inherently existing self a la Buddhism. Even the conventional self otherwise known as ego, while we can measure something of its altitude, is not a monolithic, consistent entity that permanently resides at the same altitude. Some of the research referenced in that thread makes clear this “self” is all over the place at different times and in different contexts. And it can, and often is, in itself “split,” i.e., at different levels depending on particular issues. So while Wilber can be postmeta on some issues and still retain metaphysical notions on others is not a criticism of him personally but rather just acknowledging this phenomena in all of us. It takes a community to point this out to each other specifically how we do so in particular instances.

For example, see Fischer’s chapter in the Handbook of Developmental Psychology wherein he says:

“There is no single level of competence in any domain” (494).

And this:

“Dynamically, adult cognitive development moves forward, backward, and in various other directions. It forms a dynamic web, and even each separate strand is dynamic (and fractal), not a linear ladder” (508).

“The wisdom and intelligence of an adult cannot be captured by one developmental level, one domain, one pathway or one direction” (512-13).

So much for CPS as the single, unifying measure of altitude. Fisher, by the way, indeed makes ample use of hierarchical complexity for measuring altitude. He just seems to de-substantialize (post metaphysicalize) it.

* Kurt Fisher et al, “Adult cognitive development in Handbook of Developmental Psychology (Sage Publications, 2003).


Yes, I think that does really problematize the CPS notion. Even the notion of consciousness as a quality-less, empty, insubstantial clearing which yields greater or lesser degrees of “depth” is not really coherent, on its own terms. How can something empty, insubstantial, and “without quality” be any more or less deep (or high)? You’ve got to smuggle in “substance,” quality, and reification, to some degree, to even speak in those terms, it seems to me.

IMO, the “spectrum” line could still be a useful “dipstick” if it is used as a device for correlating similar systems, but only if you avoid the metaphysical step of identifying that device with (or as) the “essence” of the human subject.


And the other side of that coin is of course the Platonic, objective and contentless math of the MHC. Its still a metaphysical view not realizing that math itself is an enacted view-practice. L&J pretty much deconstructed that myth while still retaining the highly pragmatic value of its measuring stick.

And as all men know, their own dipstick has varying height, breadth and depth depending on context. So much more so for their fragile ego.

 Since I’m on a Fisher kick I want to reference his article “Dynamic development” in The Cambridge Companion to Piaget (CUP, 2009). Talking about Piaget he says:

“The problem of classic concepts of structure is that they treat structure as form–an abstraction existing in its own right–instead of dynamic organization that emerges as the components organizing themselves together.”

He uses the example of how an orange is dynamically organized and then says:

“In contrast to the orange itself, the concept of sphere is an abstract form that describes one characteristic of the dynamic structure–its shape–which applies across many situations. The Greek philosopher Plato suggested that these abstract, idealized forms actually exist in an arena beyond the physical world. The uniformity of the sphere concept makes it useful for characterizing many objects” (402).

He goes on to note that the neo-Piagetian movement intends to retain Piaget’s core insights like hierarchical development sans the “universal structures of formal logic” (403). Like the nondual pragmatic approach, “psychological activities do not exist outside of activity–like the concept of sphere–but instead they arise from action systems embedded [embodied] in what people do on a daily basis” (403). However he does emphasize that one element in going post-Piaget is “mathematical modeling” (401), so we’ll hopefully see how he uses this measuring stick not as an ideal, Platonic form a la Commons or Wilber. Or even if he can avoid using it as a more conventional “universal structure of formal logic,” the criticism of L&K when it comes to set theory, the foundation of mathematical, hierarchical complexity.

Here’s what I’m not getting, yet. Fisher notes the difference between the abstraction “circle” from the dynamic process of an orange. And that the former is based on a universal structure of formal logic, hence it missed all of the other characteristics and relationships in the orange by reducing it to one abstract characteristic. Nonetheless mathematical modeling is used to measure altitude in any particular domain. While Fisher will allow the variability of altitude due to this messy process of a living thing, nonetheless from what I’ve read the altitude stick devised from nested formal operations (aka hierarchical complexity) is never examined. As I demonstrated in the real and false reason thread, this mathematical model is based on set theory, and what goes into each mathematical set is indeed just an abstract portion of any given living “part” that it represents, which then is nested within a larger set (part-whole aka holon), etc. As Fisher admits, such living parts themselves do not fit into any abstract category (set) and yet they can be measured with math that does exactly that? I certainly get the idea that lower skills are needed to build on more complex ones but something is not right in the mathematical modeling of altitude. I must sit and stew and await my Muse to speak to this.

Per above Fisher is into the dynamics of development but seems to be using, like Commons, a static mathematical model to measure it. So why not a dynamic mathematical model based on living systems? Just such a mathematical model exists in dynamic systems theory applied to cognition, which uses differential equations instead of nested algebraic sets. Recall Commons said that “whereas the Model’s unidimensional measure is linear, the tasks it measures are nonlinear performances” (306). Why not a multidimensional, nonlinear measure? And in the same article he admitted: “The MHC is a mathematical theory of the ideal. It is a perfect form as Plato would have described it. It is like a circle. A circle is an ideal form that exists” (315).

In the article cited below it says something interesting about the kind of increasing complexity in dynamic systems:

“Complexity does not have to be constructed from preexisting forms nor follow a universal direction” (39). Emergence comes about through instability when old patterns break down. They are not included or enfolded in the set of a more complex level. Complexity yes, hierarchy not so much.

Lewis, M. (2000). “The promise of dynamic systems approaches for an integrated account of human development.” Child Development, 71:1, 36-43.

From the essay “Piaget, DeLanda and Deleuze“:

“it is a central concern for Deleuze…to do away with all ideas about structures…with ideas about ‘timeless forms’ or ‘essences’ that emanate from some Platonic heaven to give shape to the world of real things. Deleuze finds that such ‘essentialism’ pervades our normal perception and ways of thinking…things are thought of as belonging to categories and sub-categories which are defined in terms of invariant properties or, again, essences.

“This is all the more noticeable since Deleuze draws on almost all other branches of mathematics – number theory, the theory of sets; catastrophe theory, the theory of fractals and other branches of topology and in particular calculus and differential geometry.

“I would like to elaborate on this by jumping to one of the places where DeLanda discusses evolution. He says that the idea that evolutionary processes possess an inherent drive toward increased complexity reintroduces teleology – another kind of essentialism – into Darwinism. In this connection he mentions a mechanism in biological evolution called neoteny, which shows that novelty need not be the effect of terminal addition of new features; on the contrary it can be the result of a loss of certain old features.

“It is from the standpoint of this ontology…that Deleuze refutes evolutionism…. Returning to DeLanda’s example, in terms of genetic structuralism neoteny is a fine example of the way structure grows out of structure in a process that at bottom yields increased complexity by generating a new developmental level. The problem that makes discussions of evolution difficult is that Deleuze rejects the notion of epistemological and developmental ‘levels’, which is essential to Piaget. Instead, Deleuze introduces the concept of ‘strata’, which are intermingled or folded into one another and shot through by escape routes or ‘lines of flight’. At one point Deleuze says that among strata there is no fixed order, and one stratum can serve directly as a substratum for another without the intermediaries that one would expect from the standpoint of stages or degrees. Or the apparent order can be reversed.

As mentioned earlier, Deleuze’s arguments draw heavily on calculus.”


About theurj

Also known as theurj. I've contributed some essays to Integral World and co-founded Open Integral blog, now defunct. I continue to participate in Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum.
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