Perspectives on the Integral Movement: The 2010 Integral Theory Conference.

Via on Aug 8, 2010

I was the official blogger for the ITC 2010 conference – a great collection of speakers and a wonderful gathering of growth-oriented human beings.

Despite what people think of the integral “leadership,” the folks who actually are trying to integrate this work into their lives are quite phenomenal in their curiosity, intelligence, and especially their hearts.

This post was my report on the opening night presentation by the conference organizers. ~ W.H.

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Enacting an Integral Future .

Have you ever been to a conference and had the feeling that everyone is so enthusiastic about the topic or the theory? There’s a kind of celebratory atmosphere – that’s what the opening ceremony tonight for the Integral Theory Conference generated in the attendees.

It’s contagious. [Although not for me, I'm very tired - sleep is contagious for me, so I apologize for any typos or errors in this.]

But tonight’s presentation was more than cheer-leading, or celebrating – both Mark and Sean described this as the “get to work” conference, while the 2008 iteration was the “get to know each other” conference.

To that end, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Mark Forman, and David Zeitler (a core faculty member at JFKU), each spoke on the defining and differentiating of integral theory that has been occurring in the absence of new work from Ken Wilber (whose illness prevents him from finishing several books that are 2/3 complete).

David Zeitler began the night’s talk with his research on the attendees from the 2008 conference – and he had some interesting findings.

  • 47% of integral folks feel levels/stages/altitude is the most important element in integral theory
  • 90% feel examining our own beliefs is essential
  • 90% report having had a religious/spiritual/mystical experience – and that it changed their perspective on reality
  • 43% say they are into mysticism
  • 27% are panentheists
  • 12% are agnostic
  • 44% say that states is the most difficult concept to explain to colleagues

These stats are part of a larger project in defining the integral community – the who we are part of tonight’s talk.

Mark Forman then offered the where are we going piece of the puzzle (which Sean amplified later).

He began with the four propositions essential in the relationship of integral to AQAL, a foundation upon which we can form distinctions and similarities.

  1. To be integral a theory must include states, stages, lines, quadrants, and types – not necessarily in those terms.
  2. It must be a metatheory, including epistemology, and it must be inclusive.
  3. Wilber does not equal AQAL – there can be different versions
  4. We need other versions of AQAL, as well as a map of its origins

Mark also gave a history of integral theory, using computer terms:

Beta – the early integral theorists, such as Gebser, Aurobindo, and so on
1.0 – AQAL, 1995, publication of Sex Ecology Spirituality
2.0 – Coalescence and application
2.5 – Differentiation, diversity, research
3.0 – Integration – a mature field of integral academics

He pointed out, rightly, that the academic world does not trust singular figures and their theories – they want a tradition, a lineage of thought and development.

Part of how that happens is through differentiating from Wilber, and doing so in the 5 areas identified by Edwards.

  • Evidence – where Wilber gets it wrong (such as evolution)
  • Interpretation -the ways Wilber may have misused or misunderstood sources (like Gebser)
  • Application & emphasis – the ways in which Wilber may wrongly apply the AQAL model

Those first three are the easy ones. The next two? Not so easy.

  • Method – how did Wilber come up with this model, can it be reproduced?
  • Framework – Perhaps integral will differentiate from AQAL itself?

Mark (following Sean’s work) identified a few problems with differentiating from Wilber.

  • Volume problem – Sean estimates 10,000 pages of published material by Wilber, and 10,000 more pages of published work that can be identified as Wilberian
  • Range of Applications – AQAL is user friendly, most obviously in the ILP/ITP models, but Sean estimates 35 fields using AQAL as a model
  • Meta-method Creation – Can it be falsified? Edwards says no. What was the method of generating this structure? Can we create a meta-method of integral investigation?

Mark argues that we need to see Wilber as part of a lineage of integral thinkers and theorists, not as the singular figure of integral theory – I am in complete agreement with this. For me, personally, the cult of Wilber, as some have called it, disturbs me intellectually and intuitively. As long as so many people still see Wilber = Integral = AQAL, with no distinctions, the “integral movement” will remain small and insular.

In that regard, this conference and future conferences are crucial. And the more we can create, as a community, an integral theory that – in my opinion – transcends and includes Wilber and Wilberian integral theory, the better chance of integral theory becoming an integral philosophy.

Finally, Mark introduced us to a new figure in integral theory, from the early 20th century – someone most of us, including myself, have not seen mentioned before – Pitirim A. Sorokin, founder of Harvard’s Sociology Department in 1933.

He called his own method an integralist theory:

Integralist Method

A most excellent statement of the method used by Sorokin in what he calls his “Integralist Sociology” is to be found in his Sociocultural Causality, Space and Time. There he envisions for the social sciences a method that is at once intuitional, rational, and empirical—all three—and therefore, in his own terms, an integralist method. It is intuitional, in his words, “first of all, for the reason that some kind of intuition is at the very basis of the validity of the systems of truth of reason and of the senses” or because, in other words, real cognition is creation, not a mere anticipation or reflection of nature in the empiricist sense. It is intuitional, secondly, “because intuition . . . has been one of the most important and fruitful ‘starters’ of an enormous number of the most im­portant scientific, mathematical and philosophical discoveries and technological inventions”; thirdly, “because a variety of religious and aesthetic intuition has been the main source and the main force for the creation of the greatest artistic, religious, and ethical systems of culture”; and fourth, “because there is a sufficiently large body of the testimonies of the great thinkers, creators of religion, of art values, of science, demonstrating the reality, the functioning and the power of this source of truth” (Social and Cultural Dynamics vol. IV, pp. 747-764).

This links closely with the idea that there is “superrational” and “supersensory” aspect of man and society and that reason and the senses, needful though they are, are not completely adequate to understand and to know this aspect of reality. This supersensory, and superrational “phase of sociocultural reality, in­cluding man himself, must be apprehended through a supersensory, superrational, metalogical act of ‘in­tuition’ or ‘mystic experience’, representing a type of cognition ‘sui generis’, profoundly different from sensory perception and the logical activity of reason” (Sociocultural Causality, p. 228).

I look forward to exploring more of his work.

Sean wrapped up the evening with “enacting an integral future,” the theme of the conference this year. He highlighted the expansion of integral theory into academic worlds, with 5 or 6 schools offering integral models in their programs, if not outright degrees (and he didn’t even mention Fielding Graduate Institute, who had several students speaking in 2008 – wonder what’s up with that?).

Further, there is now the SUNY integral studies book imprint, with 4 books this year, 8 in the each of the next two years. In addition, there are several excellent journals, including JITP, Integral Review, Integral Leadership Review, and so on.

There is also some great research under way, with 25 or 30 PhDs in the pipeline, as well as Terri O’Fallon’s work with states and stages at Pacific Integral and Zeitler’s work at JFKU.

Sean finished up the evening by offering a Wilber-based integral theory rather than a Wilber-centric model or a Wilber-Neutral model (my preference). This view would offer . . .

Integral Theory = Wilber’s work + Integral lineage + Contemporary theorists

I guess I’m cool with that – there is no way to ignore or discount Wilber’s work – it’s foundational.

In my mind, we need to do the detail work, test his hypotheses (which is all much of this is until it can be verified or falsified – if it can’t be falsified, it’s not useful), create working models in the trenches – it was Wilber himself who said he was offering the view from 50,000 ft (or whatever the number was) and it would be up to graduate students to put that view to the test at ground level.

Tonight’s lecture was a good opening to what looks to me a great conference.

* * * *

If you would like to find out more about this year’s integral conference, the #itc2010 hash tag in Twitter will bring up links to all of the posts I and others wrote for the conference. My main blog is Integral Options Cafe, where you should be able to search for that hash tag.

About William Harryman

I am a writer/editor, fitness trainer, integral coach, and a graduate counseling psychology student. I blog at Integral Options Cafe and The Masculine Heart. I am an occasional contributor to Elephant Journal.

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