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A New Integral Paradigm - Basic Principles, Epistemology, and Methodology

Inevitably, every worldview (no matter how widely held, or how eccentric) rests on certain assumptions. Since we are trying here to explain literally everything, in an Integral and consistent manner, and since we do not wish to begin from a pre-existent bias (scientism, religionism, whatever) , we need to find assumptions that are similarly universal.

What needs to be included

I propose that a truly integral (and hence all-encompassing and universal) paradigm should include the following essential points

  1. a methodology and epistemology based on phenomenological experience, a variety of states of consciousness, and empathetic awareness rather than only objectivist empiricism and depersonalisation (which is not to deny that objectivist empiricism has its place, even if depersonalisation never does). Such an epistemological methodology would take into account all experiences and phenomena, regardless of whether or not they fit one's preferred paradigm.
  2. a metaphysic or worldview that, in understanding reality, incorporates all approaches, science and esotericism, perennial philosophy and postmodernism, in a way that enhances each, while not being limited by the shortcomings of each. Such a worldview must encompass and build upon, rather than deny, misinterpret, or run away from (as Creationism and some forms of New Age woolly thinking do), the discoveries of science as far as the physical reality goes, and the insights of occultism as far as non-physical realities go. In other words, a cosmology that includes material, occult, and spiritual realities in a single grand and coherent whole
  3. A decentralised and collaborative approach, in the place of authoritarian dogmatism of centralised teachings
  4. A perspective based on spiritual receptivity and gnosis rather than physicalist scepticism, religious literalism, or cultic naivety
  5. a polity and society in which monolithic centralisation and authoritarian hierarchism is replaced by distributed networks in which any who have the ability to contribute may do so, if they so wish
  6. a moral insight that is empathetic and pancentric (taking into account all sentient beings) rather than anthropocentric
  7. a spiritual process that involves all the faculties of the being, rather than just one
  8. an evolutionary process of collective and global transformation
  9. Above all, fluidity and plasticity in all things - if something is shown to be in error, then it is either discarded or corrected

The first four are theoretical, the remaining four practical.

Regarding point 1, an epistemological methodology, I find only an empirical-phenomenological approach such as represented by (and combining and synthesising) Buddhist self-analysis, Jungian and Transpersonal Psychological openness to archetypal experiences, and a Cartesian-Husserlian radical revisioning of everything previously taken for granted, would be up to the task. Scientific method, while invaluable as a sub-methodology, doesn't work globally because it is too selective, due to its rigid exclusion of subjectivity. And pre-biased dogmatisms of rationalism, religionism, etc, are much worse. However, the scope of scientific method can be broadened (but not made completely universal) through the application of State-Specific Sciences

With point 2, Ken Wilber's philosophy (e.g. Wilber 2000) is the most complete attempt so far, but he is still much too bound to a postmodernist physicalism (as shown by his rejection of occultism and of metaphysics). In this essay I have proposed a much broader and more organic worldview, one that is not afraid to declare itself "metaphysical". What is required is a bringing together of many different "maps" of reality, including the vast canon of western scientific knowledge, the various esotericism traditions such as Neoplatonism, Tantra, Sufism, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Theosophy, etc, the psychological insights of people like Freud, Jung, Assagioli, and Grof, the visionary insights of Teilhard, Sri Aurobindo, Edward Haskell, Erich Jantsch and others, and more, in a grand "hedgehog" theory. Such a project is not new, it is something already attempted (as mentioned) by Ken Wilber, and before him, by Hegel, although with not completely satisfactory results. This is because even the grandest theoretician of everything still has some a prior starting point or bias that shapes the way they put things together. For Hegel it was Christianity, for Wilber it is Adi Da, and - putting my own cards on the table here - for me it is Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Whether you the reader find my own attempt satisfactory or not is something you must decide. However this essay is not intended as a dogma, only as a starting point for further discussion and exploration.

Regarding point 3, Michel Bauwens (Bauwens 2005) has laid the foundation with his suggestion of peer-to-peer networking, which eliminates hierarchical authoritarianism. I would like to extend this methodology further, by applying it to the realm of spiritual, esoteric, and metaphysical enquiry

Previously, metaphysics and esoterics has been the work of a single philosopher or visionary or yogi, presenting their own experiences and understanding. The downside is that this had led to fixed religions and dogmas, mental rigidity and literalism (at its worst, fundamentalism), and in some cases (both traditional and modern) spiritual authoritarianism. The way to avoid this is through a collective approach, by a community of gnostics and esotericists. This might be the seen on the one hand as esoteric version of Wikipedia or Principia Cybernetica, but not limited to the physical or rational consciousness, and on the other the "virtual" equivalent of "new age" or spiritual centers while not limited to a single locality or orientation.

The collective or collaborative approach, as in the Principia project and the Wikipedia, can create consensus while at the same time avoiding the authoritarianism of old-style literalism and conformity. The problem is however that metaphysics and esotericism is a Visionary, experiential approach. This is the opposite of western secular science, history, etc which is based on objective verification of facts through scientific and literary critical approaches. How does one arrive at a visionary consensus, and avoid an integral philosophy being reduced to insipid "lowest common denominator" spirituality?

Michel Bauwens suggests (in an email) a wiki-style mega-structure, in which different people can add different perspectives. In this way integrity of the original version can be maintained, and a committee could be formed to validate the final version. This would involve a three-tiered structure: the master version (1), the collective draft (2), a communally validated version (3). 3 is akin to scientific peer review, a form of quality control.

An alternative approach would be to just put this paper on a wiki and see how it evolves from there; anyone who is interested could contribute there own insights and perspectives, as long as this does not try to enforce a limited, biased (whether cultic, religious, reductionist, whatever) or sectarian perspective. The result would be an esoteric integral wikipedia type format, in which equal weight is given to both scientific-empirical and non-physicalist perspectives and insights.

Point 4 determines everything. If you look at the world through secular eyes, you will only accept those things that correspond to that paradigm, just as a fundamentalist, for example, will only accept those elements of science that agree with or do not threaten his own belief-system, but reject the rest. e.g. astronomy is fine because it shows the magnificence of God's handiwork, but evolutionary thought is verbotim. In the same way, in order to create a truely integral worldview, we need a broader, wider, more receptive awareness.

Point 5, a new moral perspective, is shown by the environmental (Greens) movement, animal liberation (Singer 1990), the "alterglobalisation" movement, and consideration for the rights of all humans and non-humans, not just the ruling social class. John Heron's suggestion (Heron 1996) of co-operative inquiry and a "participative paradigm" (which asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known) is also important here; if you see the Other as an object, you can exploit him/her/it without qualms of conscience.

Point 6 is illustrated by the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, in which all faculties of one's being - physical, vital, mental, psychic, and spiritual, are developed. In this it is very similar to the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Fourth Way (which develops simultaneously the "moving", emotional, and intellectual centers), except that it is explained more clearly, and involves a Divine Transformation absent in the Gurdjieff tradition.

The beginnings of point 7 might be said to be represented by various "new age" spiritual centers such as Auroville, Findhorn, and Lindisfarne, but this is still only the beginning. For ultimately the transformation has to go beyond these isolated centers to reach a wider consciousness, and this will never happen while information is centralised in the hands of monolithic media corporations, exoteric religious institutions, and totalitarian regimes and lowest common denominator democracies. The Internet and the birth of decentralised virtual communities constitutes perhaps the best option in which this can take place.

Postmodern epistemological critiques argue that knowledge is relative to the individuals perspective. An integral theory of Reality has to incorporate various alternative modes of inquiry, each with their respective advantages and disadvantages. What one chooses to believe is usually a combination of cultural upbringing and other environmental factors, psychological type, personal experiences and states of consciousness, receptivity to other realities, and empathy or lack of empathy with the insights and experiences of others. All of which makes for sectarian or ideological; differences. The best thing is to combine them, to emphasises the advantages and get rid of the disadvantages. What is required also is a special methodology based on phenomenology and mystic experience (just as science is based on empirical Popperian methodology).

I propose that all knowledge (which includes western secular scientific, literary critical, and postmodernist knowledge) begins from individual empirical and/or phenomenological experience. First, a definition of terms:


The following is suggested as basic methodological working principles or assumptions in formulating a new integral paradigm or Theory of Everything.

1. Every datum of experience is worthy of consideration, and should be considered without bias (phenomenology). In other words, to begin with, every datum of experience should be considered without "weighting" of the experience. i.e. a "hallucination" should not be considered "less real" than a physical sensation.

2. Because every datum of experience is coloured by earlier experiences, the experiencer's own worldview, and the general expectation setting, an experience that corresponds to those expectations is less remarkable (and hence requires negative "weighting") than one that doesn't. e.g. if an Evangelical Chrsitian experiences a vision of Jesus, that is not very unusual. But if a non-western Buddhist or Animist does, that is.

3. Where either the same or a similar datum of experience is independently reported by more than one individual or doctrine, without them both being biased by the same expectation set (point 2 above), that lends support to its significance (i.e. it can be "weighted" and considered "more reliable". e.g. if one person reports being followed by 2 meter long cockroach, this would have less credence then if several individuals independently report the same experience).

4. Likewise, where a datum of individual experience corresponds to an event outside the sphere of that individual's consciousness, that also lends support to its significance (i.e. it can again be "weighted" and considered "more reliable". This does not have to refer to secular-materialistic, scientistic, or religionistically agreed upon facts; it could be something like an astrological event). (empiricism)

5. Every explanation (including this one) is to a greater or lesser degree partial or idiosyncratic (it is biased by the individual or group that formulated it) and hence "imperfect" or non-Absolute

6. Where there is a contradiction between two explanations, the more inclusive one (i.e. the one that plausibly explains the largest amount and range of datums of individual experience and/or verified knowledge is to be preferred

7. Where there is a contradiction between an explanation, and either datums of individual experience and/or verified knowledge, the explanation should be considered in error (falsified) and either modified or discarded (i.e. change the theory to suit the facts, don't change the facts to suit the theory) (c.f. Karl Popper's theory of science (Falsification))

8. Where either the same or a similar explanation has arisen two or more times, that lends support to its significance (i.e. it can be "weighted" and considered "more reliable"). (Perennialism)

9. Adherence of an individual experience to a particular paradigm or fixed worldview that fits the expectation set should never be considered an argument for that experience's or explanation's validity. In fact we should look for experiences that conflict with the paradigm, these are the ones that tell us something about the universe and how reality works.

In addition to this we have the two secondary methodologies of Esotericism and Western Science (The latter can itself be classified as only one of a potentially indefinite number of State Specific Sciences, albeit the largest and best established). Both depend on the primary epistemological phenomenology outlined above for their validity. e.g. scientific experimentation still occurs within the consciousness of the scientists doing the experiments or making the observations, even if the objects being observed exist in their own essence outside their consciousnesses, and their records and observations form part of a larger "noosphere" or memetic totality. And in the same way, the various esoteric teachings are generally the doctrinal - even the ossified - formulations of what were originally actual experiences by anonymous yogis and "psychonauts". The exceptions here are those like Rudolph Steiner and Sri Aurobindo who are actually recording their experiences. Even there we can only read about their experiences, their experiences are not real until we participate in the reality they are describing.

A Definition of States of Consciousness

Because the terms "state of consciousness" and "altered state of consciousness" have come to be used so vaguely as to be almost meaningless, in the 1970s Charles T. Tart proposed two new terms, "discrete state of consciousness" (d-SoC) and "discrete altered state of consciousness" (d-ASC) as more precise scientific usage (Tart 1975, Tart 1975a, Tart 1978).

A d-SoC is a unique, dynamic pattern or functioning of consciousness, a configuration of psychological structures, an active system of psychological subsystems. Such systems include exteroception, interoception, input-processing, memory, emotions, sense of identity, etc (Tart 1975). While this pattern will show some variation within a particular d-SoC, the overall pattern and properties remain recognizably the same. Thus an ordinary d-SoC (e.g. normal waking consciousness) refers to a whole range of experiences in functioning that has a familiar and recognizable "feel" to it. Dreaming, dreamless sleep, hypnosis, meditation, and alcohol and marijuana intoxication are examples of d-ASCs.

A d-ASC is any d-SoC that is sufficiently different from the d-SoC which is taken as a baseline - usually our ordinary waking state - to have unique properties of its own. It represents a change of some of the component structures or subsystems of consciousness, so that awareness forms a new pattern. The term "Altered" is a descriptive term, with no connotations of being "better" or "worse."


Traditionally, Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy "that takes intuitive experience of phenomena (what presents itself to us in conscious experience) as its starting point and tries to extract the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience" (Wikipedia). It derives both from the Cartesian Method of Descartes (Descartes 1641) and the ideas of Franz Brentano and his school, as united in the work of Edmund Husserl, and was further developed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. Husserl replaced the dualism of subject and object with the act of consciousness (n. noesis adj. noetic) and the phenomena at which consciousness is directed (n. noema, noemata, adj. noematic). Coming from a western perspective, Husserl saw noesis in terms of the activity of everyday consciousness (believing, willing, loving, etc). However, Steve Odin (Odin 1982) has pointed out some interesting parallels with Hua-Yen Buddhism, in which the noetic or act of consciousness pole is related to prajna, and noematic or content of consciousness is the polarity of figure-ground, form and emptiness (see e.g. diagram ibid p.40)

Another eastern development, in this case a merger with Advaita Vedanta, was formulated by Moshe Kroy; there is a good presentation of this in Wilber 2002, although this is not part of the "official position regarding Phenomenology.

My own take on phenomenology is even less official. As defined here, Phenomenological Empiricism (the double barrelled name is to distinguish it from Husserlian-Heidegger-etc phenomenology) is the inquiry into the nature of things by taking all experiences as valid and worthy of study. This was also Jung's approach, when he followed through his patients experiences and fantasies and came upon the Collective Unconscious. And Moshe Kroy used phenomenology to study psychic phenomenon, as he considered empirical science and orthodox (Rhinian) parapsychology was totally unsuitable to this task. Indeed, we find that parapsychology is a good example of "the paradigm revolution that failed" (I remember reading an article of this name about 25 years ago, but have not been able to locate it using Google; maybe I have the title wrong), after interest and promising results it is no longer considered of any value by the academic community.

Instead of a statistical, objectivist-scientific-physicalist approach, a phenomenological-empirical approach can take experiences and states of consciousness as the objects of study. These are authentic items of experience even if the theory or dogma they depend on is obviously wrong. e.g. a fundamentalist has certain experiences which he or she understands to be the "God" of the Judeo-Christian Bible, and thence assumes the Bible is literally true and hence explains the physical universe as 6000 years old etc. The belief is wrong (since all evidence points to a much older universe), but the experience is valid. So, every experience, every item and element of any one's field of consciousness - be it a thought or emotion, dream, vision, hallucination, whatever - is worthy of consideration and study in itself. And as Charles T Tart points out (Tart 1975, Tart 1975a), altered states of consciousness are not necessarily better or worse than the familiar baseline waking consciousness. So we have a sort of "democracy" of experiences, all are of equal validity (even if theories and dogmas based on them are not).

The following diagram shows how this might work.

The big circle is Reality, that is, the All, Everything. This is filled with lots of phenomena and events (the little dingbats). No judgment is here made regarding the nature of these phenomena, whether they are physical, mental, spiritual, whatever (we'll come to that later, in the section on metaphysics). Just that these are the things that make up or rather are contained in the larger and more inclusive Reality that constitutes (and includes) "everything".

The smaller circle is the observing self, the Individual, who is (as introspection will reveal, and the Buddhists already knew) simply a Field or Stream of consciousness, the boundaries of which are indicated by the circle itself. This observing and experiencing and existing self is likewise filled with lost of stuff; these being its accumulated experiences and memories and habits and samskaras and what have you, as well as current sensations and thoughts and percepts ("external" phenomena - e.g. sensations) and introcepts ("internal" phenomena - e.g. thoughts and feelings) and state of consciousness of the moment.

Now, the individual self can only know what is in its sphere of experience (the boundary of the circle). This is the subjective reality, which is, as Jung pointed out, the limits of the psyche [need to give ref and scan in image]. Those elements of reality that are not included in one's own consciousness (that are non-subjective) cannot be known by that individual. That does not mean that they don't exist - e.g. if a sceptical materialist does not experience a deva, that does not mean that the deva does not exist, only that it is not part of the materialist's consciousness

Participative Epistemology

By talking about experiences in this way, we are still looking at things from a somewhat solipsistic and "head"-orientated level. This needs to be complemented by a participative methodology, in which there is, as John Heron (Heron 1996) puts it:

"An epistemology that asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known, and, where the known is also a knower, between knower and knower. Knower and known are not separate in this interactive relation. They also transcend it, the degree of participation being partial and open to change. Participative knowing is bipolar: empathic communion with the inward experience of a being; and enactment of its form of appearing through the imaging and shaping process of perceiving it"

This enables a development of a Husserlian style phenomenology, in which every "noema" is itself a "noesis", and vice-versa. The mind-matter, subject-object, self-other cartesian dualism disappears and is replaced by a monadology of interacting and interrelated consciousnesses. More on this later

My understanding of concept of participative phenomenology is explained by the following diagram, which has the same format as the preceeding one.

Here we now have two selves; let us call them A and B. Each has its own experiences, but in addition there are certain experiences shared or participated in by both A and B. These experiences may be a conversation, an adventure, a shared sensation, sex, a movie, or anything else. They don't even have to occur at the same time; e.g. if you read something, you are participating in the thoughts and feelings of the author (that's why many writers describe writing as a very intimate process; sharing their lives with strangers). So an author may have written something a hundred years ago, and you still share in it by reading the words today.

This participation, this sharing of experience, or intersubjectivity, is what can be defined as empathy. It is the sphere of co-action and karma between two beings (more on this later)

Obviously, the sharing or participation is not perfect (except in cases of something like astral melding [ref **** ]) In the above diagram, although A experiences the same thing as B does, A also has lots of biases, preconceptions, filters, reactions, responses, associations, and so on that B doesn't have, and vice versa. In fact if we have the total experiences of A and B during the shared experience, the common experience - the shaded part of the circle in the diagram - is very small compared to the overall experience (the entire circles) in each case.


note - Amazon links are top the current edition, the edition cited may be out of print

Bauwens, Michel (2005) Peer to Peer and Human Evolution - an introduction here, also see P/I: Pluralities/Integration newsletter

Crittenden, Jack (1997) What Is the Meaning of "Integral"? foreword to Ken Wilber The Eye of Spirit - : An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad Shambhala - online

Descartes, Rene (1641) Meditations on First Philosophy, Translated by. John Veitch (1901) online

Heron, John (1996) Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage, (An extract from Chapter 1 - Co-operative inquiry and participative reality; this is also reprinted in P/I: Pluralities/Integration #67 (April 25, 2005))

Odin, Steve (1982) Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism, State University of New York Press, Albany

Singer, Peter (1990) Animal Liberation (New York Review/Random House, 1975; revised edition, New York Review/ Random House, 1990

Tart, Charles T (1972) States of Consciousness and State-Specific Sciences, Science 1972, Vol. 176, 1203-1210. online

_____ (1975) States of Consciousness. New York: Dutton. some points from the bookreview of new edition in American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Jan 2004 by Claire Frederick.

_____ (1975a) Science, states of consciousness, and spiritual experiences: The need for state-specific sciences. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 11-58.

_____ (1975b) Some assumptions of orthodox, Western Psychology. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 61-111.

_____ (1978) Sex, Drugs and Altered States of Consciousness, unpublished book chapter, online

Wilber, Ken (2000) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambhala Publications 1995, 2nd revised edition 2000

_____ (2002) Boomeritis, Shambhala. For an excellent presentation of Moshe Kroy's methodology here, see online extract (scroll down) on this page


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