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An Integral Approach to Consciousness

Updated: Jan 30

Reading is the intimate act of making oneself conscious of the strange and mysterious relationship between ideas and phenomena. This act can force you, subtly or forcefully, to face your convictions and to explore new ground as to find a broader set of beliefs to make your new general view as coherent as possible. This process is handed down from generation to generation for there is never an isolated set of ideas that can justify their validity.

Members of our species can lead lives without ever having to meditate on the mysterious nature of the evolving being. Or to glimpse how a person is nonlinear and multidimensional, a chaotic and complex system that is symbolic and literal. A set of self-referential and contradicting propositions, of which we can't say much objectively lest we fall prey to begging the question, there is always an ex-Machina on the background, call it religion or science.

Before I read Ken Wilber, Fritjof Capra, Douglas Hofstadter, and Gregory Bateson, I thought I had clear and neat answers to the Big Questions, which to me, have to do with defining consciousness at the get-go. If I can articulate a clear and tidy answer as to what knowledge is, then I can articulate clear and neat solutions to the questions that derive from it. If, for example, consciousness is the result of neurological make-up, then conscious life is the result of the relationship between material reality and the brain. And so it follows by extension that death is an absence of such fact, that behavior of any kind is the repetition of a set of reinforced actions factored by adaptation mechanisms at the level of nature-nurture. Finally, that the content of the universe is literal-level content at scale, the Bible is just words, the universe reactions of different participating units in hierarchical linearity. A smooth, clear, and neat reductionism of the complexity of reality, in the words of Ken Wilber, a flat world.

I think logically, to find connections between bits and pieces of this and that, to find graphic patterns, to reduce phenomena to a set of laws and axioms from which to understand things as ambiguous as personality. Wilber introduced me to holoarchy and spectrality, Capra to the connection between mysticism and physics, Hofstadter to the strange nature of consciousness as a formal system of analogies. Chaos Theory at the Santa Fe Institute to the evolving, self-referential nature of complex systems, and Bateson to ecology as an apt metaphor of how complex systems relate to each other. The result was accepting the incapacity of my paradigm to fit all the patterns of the brain and the universe. And so, as a self-referential loop, reading has once again forced me to deconstruct my beliefs. It has led me to expand them to something that looks like an epistemology that is integral in its optics and inclusive in its methodology.

I can't go back to a pure rationalist, empirical, and logical interpretation of consciousness. Not when the evidence is unsurmountable for the power of its approach. Intellectuals of the stature of Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, fall flat on their faces when confronted by phenomena which can't be accounted for by empirical science. We must be flexible and dynamic thinkers, capable of approaching knowledge as an evolving ecosystem, an inclusive and open loop, a strange, open-ended evolutionary system of learning, that allows for the literal and the symbolic, for dimensions both rational and irrational. There is no clear mono-dimensional answer to a single thing if we account for the self-referential, non-isolated nature of complex learning systems. In essence, consciousness is not a closed-loop; it is a developing ecosystem within developing ecosystems. The result is consciousness as an integral and evolutionary epistemology.

By Fernando J. Villalovs

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