The Integral Learning Cycle and the Map

In a previous post I said I would go to into the metaphors within Wilber’s work combining my long-standing interest in his philosophical work with my new interest in metaphor theory.


For the (heavy duty) theoretical background to this piece, see this article by Mark Edwards on uniting the developmental and epistemological elements of Wilber’s Integral Theory.

Ken discusses three strands of knowledge—injunction (action), empiricism (experience arising from action), and confirmation/verification (knowledge sharing with the community of the adequate.  He relates those to three famous philosophers/schools of philosophy of science.  The first (injunction) is Thomas Kuhn and his work on Scientific Revolutions occurring through new paradigms–new practices.   The second, the empirical school with roots in Democritus up through Hume and to the Positivist School.  And lastly the third, verification being Karl Popper’s (justly) famous work on falsification. To which Edwards adds a crucial missing fourth:  interpretation.  Science (or here the act of understanding) always takes place within meaning and interpretative contexts.  In philosophy of science, this view is associated with Paul Feyeraband.

By adding a fourth strand, we now have a correlation between the quadrants (the dimensions of existence in lines of development) and the ways of knowing.  See the image above for Edwards’ connection of the two.

This learning cycle goes by many different names.  The first version of it I’m aware of is the Ignatian Paradigm of the early Jesuit tradition:  Action, Experience, Reflection (both philosophical-social and theological), leading to new action.  Or Kolb’s learning cycle.  Edwards’ article has a whole list of similar variations on the same fourfold theme.

Another version of which is the so-called OODA loop of military theorist John Boyd.  Observation->Orientation->Decision->Act (which leads to new Observation and the cycle starts all over again).

Correlating OODA with the quadrants (as a cycle of knowledge) lends:  Action (UR), Observation (UL), Orientation (LL), and Decison (LR). In this sense really an AOOD Loop.

The Orientation moment (the LL-interpretative strand) is the one I would like to focus on.  Going back to the notion of Wilber’s primary metaphor as map, then we have the map of AQAL as an orientating wisdom.  What Wilber in his earlier work called an orientating generalization.  One of, if not the, primary experience according to Wilber of postmodernity is that of disorientation.  Hence the need for a map.  Recall that orientation/disorientation is itself a metaphoric interpretive position (position being another metaphor).  I could have said an metaphoric interpretive impulse (over position)–notice the feeling-thought difference between impulse and position. The map as Wilber says is (using a sub-metaphor) psychoactive.  It is not simply a theory but rather an injunction-experience-theory-confirmed (all four quadrants/strands again).

But my sense has been thinking and living with these ideas for almost a decade now that there has been a tendency to see the map not as orientation but as automatic problem solver.  I’ve made this mistake many times myself.  A top-down view (which is what the integral view is) is always deeply revealing and simultaneously very seductive.  It can seduce one to think that events/life can be managed from the top-down.  The view is not the same as the action.  The orientation is not the same as the decision nor the action (going back to the language of the 4fold cycle).

What is needed is bottom-up action through the mindset of top-down view.

In other words, the decision and action phases of the cycle are not predictable via the map.  The orientation moment can certainly give clues but they are very generic.  The moment of experience needs to be one in which we let go of the map filter for a moment so that we can experience (as much as possible) with the filter intruding too much.

In other words, all the elements of the AQAL map–perspectives, quadrants, states, stages, lines, types, self—should only be brought up I think in the moment of orientation.  That is the interpretative moment.

Otherwise the de facto application of AQAL theory to any subject has generally been something like.  The way to do X integrally is to do X across all quadrants, levels, states, lines, etc.  I find this approach 1. deflating and not energizing  2. really confusing.  Saying do X across all these elements of the map simply begs the question (or at least pushes the real question back one layer still unanswered): how do you do X across all these?

Rather instead I would focus–as in holocracy–on simply what is the next best step.  What are the best practices in a certain realm–the best practice of X (holocracy being one)—attention to the experience (deep attention).  Then in the moment of interpretation bring up (quickly) the elements of the map that are of value, that will orient one to the experience with the content added by whatever the moment/context is about and then having added that integral wisdom then (hopefully) there is a judicious judgment as to what next (the decision phase) and then the application of that decision.

That action (the application of the decision) leads to a new experience which will then shed light on the decision.  Here then comes the notion of single, double, and triple loop learning.

After the new action leads to a new experience it may disconfirm the judgment–i.e. it didn’t work.

Then the inquiry (orientation/interpretation growing out of integral mindset):  why didn’t it work?

Whatever we did that didn’t work might have been right strategically but wrong tactically.  That is we might have made basically the right decision as to how to go but the wrong decision as to what to do next that would promote the strategy.  This would be a single-loop learning.  All we need to do in this case is change to a different tactical action.

Now we may interpret/exmaine the experience (which failed) and realize we have the wrong strategy.  This learning may come from multiple failures at the tatctical level and realizing we are trying to achieve something from within the wrong frame and therefore no new tactic will ever work as we have the wrong strategy.  This would be a double-loop.

And then we may even inquire into the process whereby we act-experience-interpret-decide itself.  The integral learning cycle offered here is an actual practice that leads to an experience that is interpreted (you have to share with one another what it feels like to proceed this way) that will be verified or not (i.e. “is everybody on board?  do you get this? do we find this helpful?”).  This is a triple-loop.  Learning about the learning.  Practicing on the practice itself.  Experiencing the experience itself.  Interpreting the source of all intepretations themselves.  And being confirmed (“strengthened”) in the process itself.

In other other words or in conclusion, the AQAL map does not specify content.  Not experientially or phenomenologically but also not in terms of decision making. Not really.  The process is emergent and therefore unpredictable.  What the AQAL map does do is put us in the best place of recognizing (discerning) the potential that might emerge.  It puts us in the best place for the emergent grace to happen to us.

The AQAL map is a practice not a theory alone–it itself follows the four fold learning cycle and should be taught that way as opposed to being a theory.  As such it is only one of a series of practices necessary.  It is less I think A Theory of Everything but more a Practice for Anything.  But it’s a complementary practice—or rather a practice (embedded metaphorically as a map) that orients to other practices.

In this way of approaching the work, AQAL then practices its own admonition:  it frees itself by limiting itself.

Published in: on May 23, 2009 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Metaphors of Ken Wilber

Following up on my explorations into metaphor work I thought I would share some of my insights around metaphor within (AQAL) integral philosophy itself.

More on metaphor here. The quick version is that language (and therefore communicate) is suffuse with metaphor.  Some theorists would say we think in metaphor.  Metaphors are not often (even typically) self-identified/self-conscious metaphors. If for example I say I need to stay glued to whatever I’m doing that is metaphor.  I could say I need to stay connected to whatever I’m doing at the moment.  Connected also is metaphoric but has a different quality than glued.  Similar but different.  It’s much easier for example to dis-connect than it is to un-glue.  Glue suggests a deeper bond (a metaphor from chemistry/building) than connection.

In this way of thinking metaphors create their own worlds.  They do not point outside of themselves to something else–like an allegory where everything stands for something else and once you figure out the other thing the allegorical term drops away.  The metaphor never drops away.  It only deepens (another metaphor) or unfurls (yet another one) revealing yet more inner space (third metaphor about metaphors).  The key is to keep walking in (metaphor) the metaphor space, keep going deeper and deeper within it.  It begins in a sense to answer its own question.  You should have picked up by now that question & answer in that last sentence is another metaphor world.  I could have said it solves its own dilemma (dilemma is very different experientially than question).

In therapeudic contexts the idea is the metaphor space is somewhat separate (object of the subject) and therefore becomes a safe place to explore traumas and pain.  The difficulties around a trauma are faced in the metaphor space not in the core of one’s subject (in which case the person might simply be re-traumatized).

In philosophic contexts–the context for my purposes here–I use metaphor work to get under (metaphor) and into the world opened up by the philosophy itself.  This then similar to the therapeudic work creates a metaphor space in which (metaphorically) one can walk and feel around.  Accessing this space allows for greater comprehension I’ve found of the material–it accesses a different intelligence or so.

What before is often considered difficult, heady, and abstract (the philosophy itself) is now an invitation into a contemplation of being.  I have begun both of my Integral Christianity classes exploring 2 metaphors that Ken Wilber uses to describe his own work and a third that Mark Edwards added that I think is a valuable addition (not used by Ken himself).

The two metaphors self-consciously deployed by Ken Wilber himself to describe his own work are map and story.  Wilber identifies himself as a mapmaker and storyteller.  The additional metaphor is lens.  I’ll take a separate post on each one starting with map.

Published in: on April 30, 2009 at 7:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Clean Space Process: March 23rd

[For background on this post, see here].

A review of a process I undertook on myself this morning after a series of days having very frenetic/chaotic dreams and waking up with a good deal of confusion-stress.

I feel myself right now split into almost two zones.  Zone 1, as it were, is my day to day generally content layer of experience.  While I’m very busy in an incredible number of ways my life is really good.   I’m deeply at home with my wife and our relationship is very life-giving, life-affirming.  I’m almost finished with school, which I’m definitely looking forward to, and while not the best of all solutions, I have a job to carry me through in the interim period between graduation and whenever it is that a parish appointment becomes ready, then I’l be ordained and enter ministerial life.  I live in a nice, safe neighborhood in a beautiful city.

So things are good on those levels.  I’m very grateful, feel very blessed in my life.

As I lay in bed this morning I could feel that space.  I came to decide (or more like “it” decided) that these set of more positive, sorta easy relaxed feelings were located up above my head and slightly behind me to the left.  Just over the pillow, floating slightly above the bed.

When I put my attention to that space, those feelings were more pronounced.

Another set of feelings, which felt as if they were riding in a plane beneath the former set, were also apparent as I groggily lay in the bed.  It was a feeling of a bundle of agitation and nervousness.  This feeling was located in my stomach.

The process of locating them in a very literal sense created a clear bifurcation and spatial separation.  I oculd label where I was betwixt the two A.  The easier/more relaxed feeling-space B; the more difficult and confusing one C.  [This is not exactly how it is normally done in Clean Space Technology, but for now that’s ok].

When I inquired as to what Space B knew, it was the kinds of things I mentioned earlier:  gratitude, blessings in life, natural ease in the life process.

Interestingly when I looked into Space C (i.e. the agitation), it knew that it did not know.  I was expecting this space would know what the cause of the agitation/stress was (especially since it’s somewhat weird given everything else in life, including Space-Feeling B).

The word “bundle” is the metaphor; the metaphor is the key (more on this idea here).  The key is to enter the metaphor (and not seek what the metaphor externally refers to–the metaphor is itself the central thing).  [For the theoretical background, this is now mixing symbolic modelling with clean space, both outgrowths of the work of David Grove].

The metaphor-image of bundle led to a futher clarification–an image of a rope tied around the bundle.

–What kind of rope is this rope?

Heavy.  The kind that would rip/cut your hands if it slid across them quickly.  Almost like straw–which brings me back to the bundle image.  A bundle of bundles.  Themselves tightly wrapped.

Here it breaks off and I feel the need to step away and come back to this issue at a later time.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Starting to Come Back: New Focus at Indistinct Union

To anyone out there still reading this, I’ll be returning shortly (and at first probably a bit slowly then picking back up the pace) to blogging here at Indistinct Union.  The time I have spent with the start-up at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen took more time/energy than I had initially anticipated.  But it’s all good because that has turned out to be a very successful (so far, knock on e-wood) and very fulfilling experience for me.

So my political, economic, military, foreign policy blogging is all over there.

At the beginning of this year I began to experiment with a new form of writing-meditation based on the philosophical writings of Ken Wilber wrt his work on perspectives and what is termed integral post-metaphysics.  For my initial post introducing that theme here.   That bore some interesting fruit in a series of blog posts examining other writer’s pieces from this lens.  (e.g. here).  They are filled under the Integral Calculus Categories on the bar to the right for those foolish enough to desire to read all of them.

I found that a freeing, enlightening, moving, feelingful kind of experience.  But I could tell since I was starting first with the views of others, it was still distanced from me.  I was looking for a way to initiate the process more from within my own experience.  It was then a few weeks later that a friend turned me onto the work of (sadly now deceased) David Grove called Clean Space.  For my entry on that here.

I’ve been way too busy in since then (about 2 months ago), to really roll with this, but am now feeling the drive to come back to this set of practices, ideas, explorations which revolve strongly around the idea of each of us having our own unique understandings/creations of landscape through the use of metaphor.

Clean Space practice-feeling-thinking (it’s hard to call it any one thing) relies on the idea of imaginatively (and literally-concretely) locating/placing certain aspects of experience in certain spaces.  And then speaking as if from each space.

This all connects very deeply with Wilber’s notion of the perspectives and links up perfectly with Wilber’s core metaphor (metaphor-scape) for his own work which is as a map.  A map of consciousnesss–i.e. interior location.

I’m sensing that this blog will become the platform for me simply to share in some sense the experience of walking through this world of ideas, metaphor, practice, inner feeling and the like.  [I’ve added a Clean Space category on the right to keep this series].  One of the central insights of Grove’s work was that the metaphor space creates a bit of healthy distance.  He originally worked with people who suffered brutal traumas and found that traditional psychotherapy might bring people back into the pain thereby re-traumatizing them.  The metaphor world (of their own creation) was somehow a place of more safety and clarity.

So to apply Wilber’s insights to the Clean Language/Clean Space/Metaphor Realm–the writings here are an interpretation of my experience (itself already an interpretation) being with the metaphor space.  As Wilber says, it’s all an unending cascade of perspectives-choices-experiences.  Also I should say that my way of doing all this will incorporate some other elements and is therefore probably not a precise version of all this.  e.g. Some dipping on occasion into Eugene Gendlin’s work on Focusing.

My buddy Ian Johnson who turned me onto all the Grovian work–his application of the work here–led me once through a process growing out of these ideas.  I’ll be working off that initial exploration with likely more to come in the future.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 11:20 am  Comments (1)  
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