Ken Wilber is a philosopher known for his “Integral Theory” framework that mapping of all dimensions of reality, consciousness, and stages of human development. He’s synthesized maps and models from various Buddhist wisdom traditions, psychology, culture, biology, and systems thinking into what he calls “AQAL,” which means “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types.” This roughly translates to using a combination of object/subjective & individual/collective lens to look at developmental levels of worldviews, lines of multiple intelligences, ephemeral states consciousness, and various personality typologies (this Integral Theory explainer from Integral Life dives into a lot more details).
In short, Integral Theory is a meta-theoretical model that serves as a transfer learning framework to be able to synthesize insights from many different otherwise siloed academic disciplines. But it also serves as a transformational model of consciousness that can help people “Wake Up” through altered states of consciousness, “Grow Up” through evolving through different egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric stages of moral & worldview development, “Show Up” through having a framework to synthesize as many aspects of reality as possible, and “Clean Up” through the identification and working through unconscious shadow material.
In 2017, I summarized some of Wilber’s work in a keynote that I gave at the ITC Conference in Houston that was titled “Maps for Understanding VR & Reality.” Wilber saw my presentation and reached out to have a discussion about how virtual reality could serve as a transformational medium, and what kind of insights his Integral Theory could provide to experiential design frameworks for VR.
Integral Theory is something that is much more complicated and nuanced than what we could comprehensively cover in this 2+ hour conversation, but do manage to cover a lot ground ranging from his synthesis of maps of consciousness & human development, Eastern Philosophical metaphysics, the phenomenological science of Awakening, Enlightenment, Satori, & Moksha, the connection between esoteric mysticism and direct embodied experiences, the difference between dominator hierarchies and growth “holoarchies,” understanding the current culture wars, the possibilities of unlocking latent human potentials, and brainstorming about how virtual reality technologies can help people Wake Up, Grow Up, Show Up, and Clean Up.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
If you would like to learn more about Wilber’s work, then be sure to check out Integral Life for a lot more interviews, presentations, and practices.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So what does it mean to transform? What are you transforming from and what are you transforming into? This is a question that I think that the deeper you dive into it, the more you have to come up with some sort of conceptual framework as to what is the process of change. It's this thesis, synthesis, and synthesis. It's this cyclical process where you're constantly trying to become more and more inclusive, more and more expansive and trying to transcend the limitations of one level and include the new possibilities that are unlocked as you start to expand your sense of identity and just grow through these different challenges. I think this is kind of the essence of any good story, but it's also the process of what we do through life. We're trying to constantly grow and change and evolve. Well, there's a philosopher named Ken Wilber who has tried to take all the different maps and models of all these different systems of transformation and put them all together into his integral framework and he's trying to integrate the aspects of psychology and culture and science and structures and systems and trying to come up with these frameworks and models of the interior, the exterior, the individual, the collective, these lines of development, these states of experiences, these different types of a character. As VR is this cross-disciplinary medium, it's pulling in all these different domains and disciplines. And so how do you use this interpretive framework to be able to combine the insights from all these different perspectives? So he's created this integral framework, and it's something that I've personally been using for a number of years. In fact, I did a keynote back in November 6th of 2017. in Houston called Maps for Understanding VR in Reality. It was essentially using Wilbur's integral framework at the beginning, and it's something that I've integrated a lot as I try to develop my own experiential design framework. What are the different trade-offs and decisions that a person would need to make in order to create a VR experience? So Kim Wilber reached out to me at the end of August. He's somebody who's fairly reclusive and he doesn't do a lot of interviews. And so this was actually quite an honor to be able to sit down with him and to be able to talk about both his integral theory, but also his insights into these different maps of consciousness and human development, but specifically how they're gonna be potentially used and applied for virtual reality technologies and what virtual reality could do in order to help us either wake up, grow up, clean up, or show up. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Ken was recorded on Tuesday, September 11th, 2018, while I was in Portland, Oregon, and he was in Denver, Colorado. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:55.562] Ken Wilber: Okay, excellent. I'm very much looking forward to this. One of the most exciting developments on the technological front nowadays is virtual reality. And you've sort of really put yourself in a very strategic location in regard to all of that. You've had literally thousands of interviews across all sorts of disciplines, from VR people themselves, to mathematical theorists, to people that are looking at the ancient traditional maps and models of consciousness. And all of this in kind of an overview reflection on given the dramatically new, in some ways revolutionary, nature of this communication system of VR, what can we expect from it? What can we get out of it that maybe we haven't gotten out of previous forms of communication? And it does seem to be one of the really major aspects of VR. I mean, apart from, you know, video gaming and stuff like that, it's in forms of entertainment. It really does seem to open itself up in a way that so many previous forms of communication didn't. You often point out, for example, that the body is actually being drawn into this. We can start to reproduce different environments with a frightening fidelity which of course raises all sorts of philosophical questions that were raised when The Matrix came out. But so this is kind of an area that you've really specialized in, and I thought it would be terrific to have a discussion about this. So how does that sound to you?
[00:04:45.997] Kent Bye: That sounds great, yeah.
[00:04:47.959] Ken Wilber: Yeah, okay. So is there a place that you would like to start? Do you want to give a quick overview and lead up into, for example, the typology that you've developed on the four sort of flavors of presence. How would you like to do this?
[00:05:05.442] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I'll go ahead and just dive in. First of all, I first came across your work back in like 2004. It's after I had done about 50 interviews with media journalists, think tank scholars, all looking at the lead up to the build up to the war in Iraq. And I was really trying to figure out like what happened to the failures of why the media became an echo chamber to that war. And I was doing all these different interviews and talking to people from like the left and the right and looking at like Bordeaux's cultural theories of media, structural theories of media. And I was just like trying to come up with some sort of philosophical framework that was able to make sense of the whole ecosystem of the media. And that's when I came across your work. that was able to really synthesize all these different parts that I was getting. And so I'd say that I've been aware of and using the integral framework for a long time to try to look at systems as holistically as possible. And so virtual reality as a communications medium is really fascinating because I see it as this continuation of just like the printing press was this revolution for being able to capture information and knowledge a new way within a book. like computing technologies are able to capture the human experience in a way that allows you to interact with it, to make choices, to take action. Just like in video games, you're seeing this interactive environment where you're making a choice and you're taking action. And then you have films where you're really just passively receiving a story. And so virtual reality as a medium is blending together that action, active presence of the fire elements, the mental and social presence of the air elements. The water element is the emotions and being able to really feel the narrative. And then the earth element is the embodied presence. To me, those elements kind of form both from an individual that you have a temperament, but you also have these dimensions of presence that kind of make up any human experience. Great. And so what I've done is that I've gone out and I've done, at this point, over 900 interviews with people within the virtual reality community, over 120 about artificial intelligence, about 40 about mathematics, and another 250 interviews with people who are really looking at the more esoteric aspects of consciousness, and then a number about cryptocurrencies. And so what I see is that these new emerging technologies are providing new communications capabilities, which is allowing us to do more interactive live participatory media. And in the process of that, what I've been really focusing on is what are the experiential design frameworks that someone could use to be able to design and create an experience within one of these mediums. And what has emerged has been the different qualities of presence, but I know that there's different dimensions of different philosophies where I've been taking a little bit of an approach of pragmatically gathering all this data. And now it's, I'm getting to the point where I need to turn to philosophy to be able to see what are the theories that would predict other things to be able to look for that wouldn't necessarily be obvious by doing these thousands of different interviews. You have to start to get to the point where what are the underlying philosophical structures that could be starting to describe the nature of consciousness? that could then be used as an experiential design framework so that people could create a virtual reality experience and then kind of test the framework, something that may be in an ideal realm of a theory. Does it actually work in terms of telling a story or does it work in terms of creating an experience within VR?
[00:08:35.300] Ken Wilber: Right. And this is one of the things I especially want to talk with you about. Because you're saying, you know, looking at other areas that VR could help us experience, understand, forward, and so on. And some of these things that we could look at are indeed not obvious. And in a sense, one of the things that integral theory has done, is it's gone back really through pre-modern and modern and post-modern times, and it's taken just an enormous number of the major maps that human beings have drawn of both the world and their own awareness, their own being, and it's put them all together on the table. And then it said, okay, what elements are similar here, what elements are not, and it's kind of used all of them to fill in any of the gaps left out by the others. And one of the things you find is that some of these elements are fairly obvious and straightforward. And you can introspect and you can see them and you can experience them. And most theories that sort of talk about potentials that human beings have. They work with those kinds of things. Things you can actually see and experience, and you can look within. And these include, for example, certainly meditative states. I mean, if you're meditating and you have an experience, all of a sudden, or just being one with the entire universe and bliss and love, you know it. You're aware of it. You're completely in touch with it. It's a first-person, direct, immediate experience, and you know it. So if you're tracking your meditative experiences, you can actually sort of keep a diary. You can make a list as your states continue to unfold. And it turns out, of course, that most of the great meditative systems around the world have done that. And most of them have some sorts of maps. They're general, but they're maps of the sort of major types of states of meditative states that you experience as you continue to progress on the path. And there are, of course, people that have looked at all of those meditative maps and tried to find certain generalities there, certain family resemblances. And I think there are loosely some family resemblances. Daniel P. Brown has done some extraordinary work on this, for example. And we can come back to that in a moment. And by the way, you look at all those meditative state development models from around the world, and many of those go back several thousand years. So we have models like the five koshas, and in the same systems that have five koshas, they also have states that are essentially similar, but they're like gross, subtle, causal, and in Turiya and Turiya Akita, states, and these are actually states of consciousness, and they do correlate generally with the koshas of consciousness, but again, all of those are direct, immediate, first-person experiences. You can be aware of those. Starting around a hundred years ago, and it was only around a hundred years ago, Western developmental psychologists started studying stages of development as well. But they looked at something entirely differently. They looked at not states of consciousness, but they looked at structures of consciousness. Structures are much more like, let's say, grammar. So, everybody who's brought up in a particular culture ends up speaking that culture's language pretty accurately. They put subject and verb together correctly. They use adjectives and adverbs correctly. In other words, they more or less accurately follow the language's rules of grammar. Pretty large systems of grammar, but they follow them pretty accurately. If you ask any of them, write down what these rules are that you're following. almost none of them can do it. Many of them don't even know that they're parsing and interpreting their experience based on these rules of grammar that they're not even aware of. And these stanchions that the Western developmental psychologists were looking at were much more like grammar. So if you're at a causal state or a non-dual unity state, you know it. If you're one of the stages that Western psychology has found, you're interpreting your world according to that state. It's tending to influence the values that you have, the motivations that you have, the self-sense that you have. And so you're following the rules of grammar, so to speak, at that stage of development. You have no idea you're doing it. You're completely unaware that that stage is having that kind of impact on your thoughts and your feelings and your drives and your goals and your motivations. And because you can't see those by introspecting, that's why they were only discovered about a hundred years ago. And that's why not a single meditative system or spiritual system anywhere in the world has any understanding of those stages at all. So we call those stages growing up, and we call those state stages that the meditative traditions specialized in, we call that waking up. And that is indeed the goal of the meditative traditions, is some sort of generally referred to as enlightenment or awakening or satori or moksha, fana, and so on. and it's often sort of described as the sumum bonum, the greatest good for a human being. And so if we're looking at something that some sort of computer training program can do, including virtual reality, we could say, one, well, they can help people become more in touch with their types. And so that means, for example, if we're talking about the flavors of presence, the definition of a type is that it's something that's present at pretty much every stage of development, whether in growing up or waking up. So if you're an Enneagram 5, you're going to be an Enneagram 5 at all six of Kohlberg's stages of moral development, for example. That's not going to change very much. And furthermore, all of the Enneagram types are fully available at each of Kohlberg's stages of moral growing up. So, one of the things that you can do if you're trying to say, okay, what can a computer help us do? Well, one of the things it can help us do is, first of all, get in touch with our types. And that would include getting in touch with our multiple intelligences, and you point that out. One person you talked to spoke about general reference to Gardner's multiple intelligences. that you have manipulative intelligence, perceptual intelligence, cognitive and social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and so on. And those are all types. And you can get in touch with those. If you want to help increase their presence, you would want them to get in touch with the four types of presence that you outline. And by the way, I accept those. I think those are absolutely important. and because the so-called aqua integral model is sometimes referred to as quote, all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types. So what we're looking at here is types, and then states are what we were talking about in terms of waking up as we move through greater and greater meditative states that are broader, more inclusive, and so on. And then levels, moving through lines is growing up. And so one of the things that we want to do is help people get in touch with the types that we consider important. And we can, of course, create apps that would help people get in terms of any number of types. They could get in touch with their Myers-Briggs type. They could get in touch with their Enneagram type. They could get in touch with their flavors of presence type. All of those are present no matter what stage they're at. And that tends to be one of the more sort of popular and common things that computer programs do. Because that way they don't have to try and help people grow up or wake up. And in part it's because those aren't as well understood. And so people tend to look for types because those are always present. You can almost always find them. And you just need to classify them, decide which ones you think are most important, come up with various frameworks to hold them, and so on. And again, that's absolutely crucial. I absolutely think that's extremely important. But then if you wanted to help people, let's say grow up, well now, this is different. Because here, you're not dealing with something that's already present in a person's awareness. And again, I don't want to keep dwelling on Kober's model, but you're aware of it, and you had outlined it as one example of developmentalism. But if you're at Kober's moral stage two, you can't have a peak experience of moral stage six. It's just not there. It's just not in your awareness at all. You have to grow into those through a series of vertical transformations. And that generally takes several years for each one of those. So if you're gonna help people grow up using virtual reality, and by the way, I think you can, and it's one of the things we can talk about, then you have to come up with types of programming that's gonna help a person both see the limitations of their present level of consciousness and its development, and see the advantages of a higher, wider, broader, deeper, more inclusive stage of awareness. And so that's going to be very different than trying to simply help people get more in touch with the things that are already present in their awareness. This is helping people get in touch with something that's not even there yet. And so that's an entirely different type of approach. than helping people get in touch with, let's say, the types of presence, or any sort of type, Enneagram type, Myers-Briggs type, flavors of being type, and so on. So, right there we have two very different approaches to what VR could do. And the same, in a sense, kind of goes for waking up. There is a sense, a very esoteric sense, in which the ultimate state of consciousness is already fully present in each and every person. Some would say each and every sentient being. And I don't disagree with that. But if we're gonna talk about, well, okay, what can we do to actually help people become aware of those kinds of things? Then we can say, okay, well, now we wanna work with not just the types of presence that people have available, although those are crucial. You have to work with those. But we also want to work with levels of presence. So your presence at a Prana Mayakosha is different from the kind of presence that you'd be able to bring at a Mana Mayakosha. And that's going to be different from the kind of presence you can bring at a Vijnana Mayakosha, and that's different from an Ananda Mayakosha. you can still see all four of your types of presence being available at each one of those she's or kosha. But they're clearly also getting higher. They're getting wider, deeper, more awareness. And of course, these are the same sort of five general stages that Daniel P. Brown has found. He's been researching this for 30 years. And he's looked at maps of development in Mahamudra Buddhism. He's looked at maps of development in Dzogchen. He's looked at Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. He looked at the original Theravada as codified in Buddhaghoshi's Visuddhimagga. He's looked at certain Chinese texts. He's even looked at, and in a book I did with Dan Brown called Transformation of Consciousness, We also included stages from certain Christian contemplative traditions and showed a great deal of similarity there as well. And so here, one of the things that you're doing when you're working with something like a developmental stage, whether it's developing through states of consciousness towards waking up, or whether it's developing through structures of consciousness towards growing up, And those two, by the way, are independent. You can be very high in one and very low in another, and vice versa. And that's a big discovery we found, because it really, really changes. Because the growing up stages were only discovered about 100 years ago. That's way too recent to be included in any of the major meditative traditions, which is why there's not a single spiritual tradition anywhere in the world that has these stages of growing up. Most of them have waking up and state stages of waking up. None of them have the structure stages of growing up. And so anytime we're looking at those kinds of stages, though, one of the things that you can do, for example, is if you're working with, let's say, Maslow's Needs hierarchy, and if you're in a video game and you're scoring certain responses, then you can simply give higher scores for people that respond from higher levels of development. And so, if you start to do something like that, then you're going to start to reinforce people acting from higher levels of development. And just let me say one thing about those hierarchies in that sense because I know in today's world, hierarchies have a very, very bad reputation. But there are two very, very different types of hierarchies. And one of them, generally referred to as dominator hierarchies, those are all the horrible things that the postmodern critics say about them. The higher you are in a dominator hierarchy, the more people you can oppress, the more suffering you can cause. I mean, they're really all the nasty things that are said about them. Growth hierarchies are exactly the opposite. The higher you go in a growth hierarchy, the more inclusive you are, the more diversity you accept, the larger the number of perspectives you can entertain. So if you even look at like a simple growth developmental hierarchy, like let's say Carol Gilligan's. Gilligan was that feminist icon who wrote a book called In a Different Voice. which explained how men and women tended to develop and think differently about moral issues. And each of them thought and reasoned in different ways. And it was important to understand that. So one type of reasoning wasn't rated as being higher than another type. So she found both men and women went through four major stages of moral development. But they each did so in a different voice. Women tending to emphasize relationship and men tending to emphasize autonomy. But her four stages, and you can see how these are increasingly inclusive, her lowest stage she called selfish. And here she was actually researching women's stages of moral development. And her first stage she called selfish because the woman cares only for herself. And we also call that egocenter. And then in the second stage, she expands her capacity for care to an entire group, or sometimes a number of groups. And so this is more care than just caring for herself. And so that's an expansion of care and compassion. We also call that ethnocentric. And it's also ethnocentric in a limited sense, because even though the woman has extended care and concern to a group, she hasn't extended it to all groups. And so groups other than her own tend to be looked at as other, as not to be trusted, as somehow suspicious. If you're a fundamentalist, you'll actually view them as demonic or evil. But it's still a step up from just caring about nobody but yourself. Then her third stage she called, not care, but universal care. Here, women extend care to all groups, to all human beings, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed. And so that's a profound move. And by the way, it was only when humanity as a whole started to move into that stage, which is really literally only about 200 years ago, that was the first time that slavery was actually outlawed. in every rational industrial nation on the face of the planet that had never ever happened before. None of the great religions got rid of slavery. Buddhist monasteries had slaves. Christian monasteries had slaves. St. Paul recommends his slaves to obey your master and love Jesus Christ. I mean, even the American Indians took their slaves with them on the Trail of Tears. But in about a 100-year period from around 1770 to 1870, as humanity moved into these universal care stages, they realized it was simply immoral to treat people that way. And so for the first time in history, in our 300,000 year history, we outlawed slavery. And so that's a really, really important move, getting up from those ethnocentric into more world-centric stages of development. And then her fourth stage, she simply called integrated, because women there managed to integrate all of these stages and get a comprehensive view of what was going on. So we can see that that's an important type. Those are sometimes called whole arches, because these higher stages, more whole and more inclusive. And so we don't want to be prejudiced against those whole arches. I mean, evolution itself sort of grows using those types of whole arches. We go from atoms to molecules to cells to multicellular organisms. Each one of those transcends and includes its predecessor. Each one gets more whole. Each one is more inclusive. And molecules don't hate atoms. They don't oppress atoms. They include them. They embrace them. If anything, they love them. So those are very, very important. And so, I know you sometimes dread about, well, if we can start thinking hierarchically. Well, I hope we start thinking holarchically. I mean, if we really want those kinds of values of inclusivity and diversity, those are the stages that people need to grow through. Humans aren't born caring for all other humans. They're born watching out for themselves. So that's a very important type of issue. And if we could actually get human applications that would help people move through those stages, that would be one of the single most profound transformations in human history. Because the sad fact is research continues to show that worldwide about 60% or so of the population is it ethnocentric or lower. And as long as that's happening, there's going to be no such thing as human solidarity and human bonding and any sort of worldwide human solidarity. And we don't seem to be addressing that at all. So that's one type of thing that I think VR could help to address. And it's not doing that now at all, nor is virtually any computer app doing that at all. And then the other, of course, is waking up. and ways to help people. Again, here we're working with sort of developmental stages. And by and large, somebody who comes in, let's say if we use Daniel P. Brown's, his stages of meditative development are just from gross thinking to subtle awareness to causal awareness itself. And then Turiya, he refers to as boundless, changeless consciousness. And then the highest fifth stage is non-dual awakened consciousness. And so, looking at how to introduce those. Because again, generally speaking, there's a sense in which the very highest non-dual state is in ever-present ground. Nonetheless, people do grow and develop through those states of meditative development. They become more and more inclusive, more and more, well, real, according to the traditions. And so, showing up is just what I refer to when we use all possible typologies that are important. And for me, that includes quadrants, but it also includes types from Enneagram, to, again, Myers-Briggs, the big five factor analysis. It's probably the most widespread used psychological model we have, and that's the straight types orientation. I really do like your flavors of being. I like the types of presence, and I think those are very important. So one of the ways that we could look at this is not only what kinds of types do we need to include, and those are crucial. And by the way, you went through different video games and showed how each of them were focusing on one of these types. So VR chat was like social presence and rec room was agency presence. And I expect you to die was a mental presence. And then embodied presence was saying like Google Earth and emotional presence was things like 360 video. I agree with all of that. I think those are very important. and I think those have to be included. And one of the things I would then also recommend is that we look at growing up and we look at waking up, and then finally, I won't say a lot about this, but I'll just mention it, there's the whole issue of cleaning up and shadow material. And if you look at the amount of disaster and suffering that shadow material causes in the world, it's overwhelmingly disastrous. And I think this is another area that doesn't get much attention, but clearly is important in the real world. And so I think that we can look at showing up and growing up and waking up that are working with levels, lines, states, and types. And I think all of those are open to being explored in this new type of technology. So, that's kind of a long, rambling intro, but we can sort of jump in anywhere there and go forward.
[00:33:50.660] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I have a lot of different thoughts. First of all, I think that your integral framework as a system for being able to really holistically understand all of the nature of reality and how to make sense of this evolutionary trajectory, especially when you start to think about designing transformative experiences. So experiences that are explicitly designed to take someone from where they're at into something that they're growing into or changing or expanding in some ways. In order to do that, you have to have some model of where are you going from and where are you going to. So I think that's a lot of what you're talking about in terms of the growing up. I would say, though, that it doesn't necessarily mean for anybody creating any VR experience that they would necessarily be creating a transformational experience. They may just be creating an experience. No, no, no, of course not. So Mel Slater, one of the things he said, he said that any good theory of presence or experiential design framework has what he calls equivalence classes. So these different trade-offs. And I think that different flavors of presence, you are kind of trading off between those. And so as a designer, you have to make a choice in terms of how are you going to add these different ingredients and to create these flavors of an experience. And so I think that your integral framework is probably the most robust, but at the same time it can be very complicated. And so I think that there's going to be different ways to sort of simplify different things down into these pragmatic decisions. Just as an example, the structures or the levels, the growing up, I think most people are, maybe they'll be at a certain center of gravity and maybe it'll be like, their worldview is like the water they're swimming in and they may not even question it. And they may be just creating experiences that also are aimed towards those people that are also at that same level. And that just kind of naturally happens through the process of the creator. It's not something that they're consciously saying. It's just something that is a part of it. Right. But I do think that waking up is something that is this states of presence. And you could look at things like consciousness hacking, or things where the technology of virtual reality is going to be able to enable all sorts of new types of biofeedback, you're going to be able to get information from your body, galvanic skin response, your heart rate variability, you're going to be able to see a spatial visualization of that as you're in the meditation. Whereas mostly, you know, when you're doing these types of things, you may be looking at a screen and in order to look at the screen, you have to actually get out of your meditation. Well, with virtual reality, it's like hacking all of your sensory experiences. And so it's going to be able to take information from your body and be able to feed it back into yourself. And you'll be able to see it and reflect it and maybe even deepen down into these different altered states of consciousness. And I think that's where a lot of these Eastern traditions where they're really mapping out this cartography of these different levels of consciousness, they have thousands of years of experience. And there's also people who have altered states of consciousness and psychedelic experiences where they're able to maybe have a direct experience of some of these. But I think it's useful to also have a model for that in order to either get into some of these states. The other big thing that I'd say is a trend within virtual reality is just the state of a flow state. And I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on a flow state because Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how, from a game design perspective, there's a bit of like making choices and taking action. That's a little bit of the fire element of taking the action and expressing your will into an experience and the air element of the mental abstractions of being able to create a mental model of that space, but also to make choices. And so making choices and taking action is that mental and social presence, as well as with the active presence. And the flow states, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sort of theorizes is that you're making choices and taking action at a level that is either at the same level or just maybe slightly above what your skill level is. And so you're at this peak performance where you're actually taking action, but you're not actually thinking about it. It becomes just a pure embodied reaction. And what I see is that virtual reality is going to be able to cultivate these types of flow states within people and that the Greeks have two words for time they had the Kronos time and the Kairos time the Kronos time was much more like linear and you're pre-planning it out and it's a certain mode of consciousness that seems to be like coming from the mind and there's something about the Kairos time which seems to be like this more cyclical time or it's the quality of the moment there's much more synchronicities once you get into a flow state so that your inner state is matching the external reality of what you're seeing and so you have this feeling that you're really in this magical process of being in this dialogue with the anima mundi or the world soul or the participatory universe we were able to actually kind of get into these higher levels of flow, which I think you probably describe in maybe some of these higher states of consciousness. But in terms of actually generating flow states, I'm just curious what your model is for how you even think about a flow state.
[00:38:36.429] Ken Wilber: Well, yeah, yeah. I mean, flow states are really interesting. There seem to be several kind of different definitions of them. And most of them, of course, tend to see flow states as essentially quite positive things, something you want to get into. And they do seem to run sort of a spectrum from, in relative terms anyway, somewhat shallow into really profoundly deep. And what we're not sure is exactly how different techniques can foster those things. So when we talk about something like skill level and challenge level, and look through those. These are just some of the most introductory kind of flow states and they're distinguished in terms of from like anxiety or control or relaxation or apathy and those kinds of things. And so they're one state among many other states and tends to be taken as valuable. The Christian mystics make an important distinction between what they call the nonc fluids and the nonc stands. And the non-fluence means the flowing present. It means mostly what people mean by flow states today. And it's just focusing on a passing state. You don't think about the past, and you don't think about the future, and you just focus on the immediate passing present. And then if you do that, then you can at some point sort of flop into a flow state where you're just highly focused and things are moving with a great sort of ease and dexterity and so on. But according to the Christian mystics, that really doesn't have anything to do with eternity or the timeless now. And eternity, by the way, doesn't mean everlasting time. It means a moment without time. Sometimes it's called the strict timeless now, but there are qualifications to that. But Wittgenstein really summarized it. He was a weird logical positive mystic. He really put it in one sentence very well. He said, if we take eternity to mean not everlasting temporal duration, but a moment without time, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. And that's exactly right. Now, that starts to get to what the Christian mystics meant by eternity, which wasn't a flowing state. It was a non-stands, a standing present. And the point here is that, as a timeless now, it didn't exclude the past, and it did not exclude the future. And you weren't supposed to stop thinking about the past, and you weren't supposed to think about the future. Because the timeless now embraced all of that. Furthermore, as is sort of one of the key tenets of the really, sort of highest meditative traditions, like Dzogchen, you are literally already in that state. So the Prajnaparamita Sutras, for example, are constantly saying, if you could only understand that you can't attain enlightenment, then you'd be enlightened. And the reason you can't attain it is it's 100% fully present now. And this goes for living in the timeless now. You don't have to just focus on the passing present. The only thing you're ever aware of, according to these Christian mystics and what they would call a non-stance, the only thing you're ever aware of is the present moment. For example, you can think of any past moment you like and picture it vividly. But notice that that so-called past moment is actually just a present image. It's a memory that you're experiencing right now. And when that past event actually occurred, it was right now. The only thing you're aware of there is a present now. And likewise, think of anything in the future, that's just a present thought. When that future, if it ever happens, happens, then it will also be a present now. The only thing you're ever aware of is the timeless now and you don't have to try to do that. Timeless now is not hard to attain. It's impossible to avoid. So this is what is not well understood. Even attempts to get into the timeless now are beside the point. And this again is what you find at the very highest sort of the spiritual traditions is even seeking for spirit, or seeking for enlightenment, completely beside the point. And as long as you're actually seeking spirit, then your assumption is spirit is not present. Why else would you seek it? And as long as you're assuming it's not present, you're never going to find it. So there's this real sort of loop that occurs. Baker Roshi used to handle it by saying, enlightenment is an accident. Meditation makes you accident-prone. But that's sort of ways that we have to kind of deal with that. And what we don't want to do is just focus on the passing present, the nunc, the fluids. That's the lowest form of flow state, whatever else we choose to decide about it. And of course, that's the flow state that you can most easily use computers or VR to help get you into. But what about getting into the eternal? State the timeless now that's going to take a little bit of a different type of practice and a different type of orientation and this actually Leads to the whole problem About how we can actually help people with waking up Growing up is a little bit because it happens almost entirely in the relative realm It's what the conventional separate self does to grow and evolve and develop. But you wanted to do that because you want the individual self to move from being egocentric to being ethnocentric to being world-centric. And the problem is you can have a waking up experience at any one of those stages. If you have a waking up experience and you're at a deeply egocentric stage, well, Ram Dass tells this story all the time. His brother had a profound experience of Christ consciousness. But he believed that he and only he could have that experience. He didn't even think Ram Dass could have it. Ram Dass went to visit him because he was institutionalized for this belief. And Ram Dass went to visit him and he said he could tell immediately that he had had this Christ consciousness experience. He just transmitted it, he exuded it, it was unmistakable. But he could not understand that other people would have that experience. So that's a profound waking up experience, experience at a very low ego-centered stage of growing up. And this is what we find, by the way, growing up interprets waking up. So if you then move on up to an ethnocentric stage, and maybe let's say you're a Christian, and you become a Christian fundamentalist, so you're the chosen people, it's your group that's very ethnocentric, and you have a very profound waking up experience, and a lot of people do, you will interpret that waking up experience as Anybody can have that experience, but only if they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. They just can't really see a Hindu being in heaven. That just doesn't work for a fundamentalist, even though they're having an authentic waking up experience. When you move up to world-centric, then, among other things, you're going to see Jesus Christ as just one of many authentic teachers all of which can have access to this waking up, and therefore all of whom could exist in heaven, however you wish to interpret that. So it's extremely important that we include this growing up stage with waking up stages. And unfortunately throughout history, a whole lot of waking up occurred within ethnocentric contexts. and you get things like the crusades and constant battles between muslims and hindus and so on even though many of them had waking up experiences so these become really socially significant areas and we see so much arguments and so many culture wars for social justice warriors and people demanding diversity and inclusivity and all of that but nobody's doing anything to help interiors grow and develop to a point where you can even accept world-centric inclusivity. Again, people aren't born with that. It's the product really of sort of five or six major stages of growth and development. But if we're going to just deny hierarchies entirely, then we're going to deny the path to get to those world-centric stages. So, this would have an impact. Helping something like that with a VR technology, that would have an extraordinary social impact. And I think, again, given that 60% of the population isn't at world-centric inclusive stages. And so, we're overlooking an absolutely crucial factor in achieving Freedom and equality for all people in this culture because we're not examining these interior factors that are so crucial to that and Certainly, I'm not saying that all VR has to do nothing But that the whole point is we're talking about you can help with growing up you can help with waking up you can help with showing up and helping people find their various types and You can even help with cleaning up But each game, each approach, each experience is gonna just focus on one of those areas. And all we're trying to do is say, okay, well let's just make sure you see the full menu of the areas that you can focus on. And some of them are being focused on right now, but many of them are just not even being addressed. And so that's really the only point that, and I know we agree on that, but it's just sort of a point that I find important.
[00:49:31.073] Kent Bye: Yeah, I wanted to dive into hierarchies in three or four different parts. I wanted to first talk a bit about the technology of what's possible with the technology, and then kind of go into both the neuroscience as well as my own direct phenomenological experience, and then ask you a question. So technologically, if we look at artificial intelligence, it's a really great metaphor for the different parts of the brain. I think Daniel Kenneman had this book called Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, which was talking about Thinking slow may be the more rational brain of really deliberating and thinking about things. And then the thinking fast is like all of this stuff that you are just trained your body to have these gut instinctual responses. You've had this set of experiences you've had in your life, and then you've had essentially these neural networks in your brain that make these very fast snap judgments. In artificial intelligence, you have this difference between what is like more classical computer programming, which is that you're actually typing in symbols and you're actually authoring a computer program. And then the machine learning is much more about you crafting a set of data, labeling that data, and then you're providing a neural network architecture and experience of that data. And then once that is able to have an experience of the data, then it's able to make inferences. But as it makes inferences, it's sub-symbolic. It's not explainable. you don't know why it's making them judgments. You can, you know, look at something, but it's sort of like, you know, why you think this table is a table is something that is happening in your, like a parallel processing of your brain that is identifying edges that you don't even have a name for. It just is happening without you even thinking about it. So there's all this, all this stuff that's happening. We're taking in all this information and we're processing it at this completely unconscious level, whether it's interpreting language, whether it's visualizations and all this information in some ways, by modeling it within artificial intelligence, we're able to start to perhaps get some sort of insights into what might be happening in the brain. But there's this, what they would call metacognition. Anything that is below metacognition is what Freud and Jung would refer to as the unconscious, because you're just not, you can't even put language to it. And so one of the things that happens whenever you have category schemas, anytime you're categorizing something is that you have these different implicit biases that happen within those categories. And there are ways and different tests to be able to see your reaction time. And I actually just this past week did an experience within virtual reality where I was a teacher and there was a boy and a girl. and it was showing a math problem and I would have to call on the girl for the math problems and then there was a humanities questions and I would have to call on the boy and then they would switch it and then they would look at my unconscious reaction time to be able to see if I had some implicit bias preference over one of the other when it came to different topic domains. And so with virtual reality, we're starting to perhaps get at some of these different racial biases, implicit biases. But my phenomenological experience with some of these developmental models was, you know, you say that it's a little bit of a trap that whenever you have a developmental model, you magically always put yourself at the top of that model. I would argue my my phenomenological experience of that was I started to sort of categorize other people and then have this kind of like unconscious dominance hierarchy attitude without even like it just sort of happening at an unconscious level. And there's something about wine tasting, which was talking to this neuroscientist. And what they said is that whenever you are putting language into the different flavors of wine, you're actually changing your experience of the wine once you're able to really fully develop those categories. And so I guess the question that I would pose is that given what we know about the sort of implicit bias nature of whenever you start to categorize things, how can you prevent yourself from starting to look at the world and categorize everything at a mass collective scale and prevent yourself from when you're interacting with an individual, to not know what you know, what is happening at a collective scale and apply that directly to somebody so that when you're having a developmental model of a growth hierarchy, that you don't unconsciously act it out with the implicit bias of a dominator hierarchy.
[00:53:41.489] Ken Wilber: Well, first of all, those implicit bias tests are extremely controversial. And the ones that came up with the first racial ones now acknowledge they're being used in ways that they're not even qualified. But even setting that aside and assume that occasionally it does show something, part of the problem is then, well, if you do have those, how do you cure them? I mean, the whole point is they're not even conscious biases, they're unconscious biases, meaning you don't even know about them. But even setting that aside, I mean, the whole concern that you're expressing right now is a concern that is based on a world-centric perspective of values. And the whole motivation for those people attempting to come to terms with unconscious bias is to be able to stop bias. In other words, they're coming from a world-centric stage of value embrace. They are not coming from an ethnocentric stage. That's what they're trying to get over. So their studies aren't saying that that hierarchy is wrong. They're reflecting it. They're absolutely expressing it. They're doing it. So of course I would agree with that. And it supports hierarchy. Again, if you're just going to think hierarchy means nothing but dominator, then any level in the hierarchy is bad. But if hierarchy means whole-archy, If it means going from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, if it means going from selfish and controlling to ethnocentric, prejudiced, and biased to world-centric fairness, treating all people fairly regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, that is something that you would want. I can't see you saying, oh, no, I prefer to have an ethnocentric, prejudiced, and biased stance. I don't believe that. So this doesn't change anything. yeah i guess that this is reinforcing what i'm saying they're actually trying to give another way to move people up to world-centered values
[00:55:50.755] Kent Bye: Yeah, in your book, The Religion of Tomorrow, I think you start to mention in there a little bit about how some of these things are meant to be looked at a collective scale, a cultural scale. And I guess when I'm interacting one-on-one with an individual, I'm trying to get rid of all those mental models about trying to describe someone, who they are, and trying to see what their story is, what their trauma may be, what... Oh, well, that's the first rule.
[00:56:14.352] Ken Wilber: No, no, no, that's the first rule. The definition of prejudice, the definition of racist or sexist or any other thing you want, is judging an individual based on any group characteristics that they might have. So if a minority meets me and sees that I'm white, and therefore judges me as being inherently racist, sexist, prejudiced, and biased, then what they're doing is biased thinking. They're doing racist or sexist thinking. And that's not what you're supposed to do. That's what the whole point of the world-centric revolution was, which again is only a couple hundred years old. That is that individuals are not to be judged in terms of any group characteristics that they have. These so-called stages of development are nothing but probability waves. Nobody's ever simply at a stage. So in Jane Lovinger's model, for example, which has about nine major stages. And by the way, it's been tested in over 30 different cultures, and no major exceptions have been found to it. But if somebody gives a response from her stage four, their class at stage four, what it actually means is at least 25 responses come from a higher stage, and at least 25 responses come from lower stage. And then about 50% come from the stage that they're saying, okay, that's their major stage. And that's what I refer to as that general sort of center of gravity. And all it really means is that a stage is just a probability wave. If somebody says, okay, you're at stage four in Lovinger, all that means is that in a particular circumstance, in 50% of the cases, you're likely to behave in this way. but it doesn't mean you're at that stage, it doesn't mean that you can't do higher or lower, and more than that, there's another at least dozen multiple intelligences, each one of which can be at different stages. So it's just categorically wrong to say, oh, somebody's at that stage. It doesn't even have any meaning. But the first rule still is, individuality is the major legal and justice category for any society. What we don't want is identity politics. We don't want to judge individuals based solely on the group they belong to. So I agree with you on that entirely. And by the way, the essential forms of world-centric morality, that was the major point that they made. You don't judge people based on the groups they belong to. Whether it's skin color, or race, or IQ, or economic class, or any of that. And I agree with that.
[00:59:14.257] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that, you know, if we look at the culture today, we certainly have these vast culture wars and polarity points where I'd say like these oppositions that are really feel incommensurate that are trying to resolve in some ways. And I see that in some ways this model or this framework could give some insight, but it's tricky because trying to take the collective thing and then apply it to an individual as we just talked about is very problematic. But I think it can be put into culture or to come up with some framework to, you know, I know Adam Leonard had the integral communications where he was trying to look at specific phrases and what are the catalysts to be able to go from one stage to the next. And so I guess that in some ways, a lot of these developmental models are in some ways in the realm of theory, but I guess a real way that I would want to see it tested within the context of a virtual reality experience is, is it possible to architect a transformational experience that is targeting someone that is a certain level or certain structure or certain stage and to have some sort of interactive experiential component. Maybe it's with artificial intelligence, maybe it's with the dialectic, but you're able to nudge people along to, in the model of Kohlberg, you have this expanding identity. So rather than just focusing on yourself or your community or your nation or the whole world or the whole cosmos, you have this trajectory where you could actually create these experiential virtual reality experiences that are really aimed towards helping people grow up. And I don't know if you have any idea of what that would actually look like.
[01:00:44.083] Ken Wilber: Well, that's where I think an enormous amount of work can actually be done. And I think we know enough about the developmental sequence That's why I mentioned growing up is being a prime candidate for things that we can start to do with something like VR. And what happens here is that, well, first of all, one of the differences between states of consciousness and structures of consciousness is that you can have peak experiences with states. So you can be in a gross waking state and have a peak experience of ultimate unity consciousness. That happens a fair amount of the time. As a matter of fact, over 60% of humans have had some sort of experience like that. But that doesn't happen with structures. Structures are things that you have to learn, and it takes time. I mean, you can't just go from somebody who's never played the piano and have a peak experience where you can give an entire Carnegie Virtuoso performance just because you have a peak experience. That's not going to happen. And that is one of the difficulties in these growing up sequences. But at the same time, it does mean okay, we can't peak experience, we can't take somebody, whatever our stage is, let's say we have 10 generalized stages in whatever line we're looking at, we can't take somebody at stage two and have any sort of experience that will permanently install them in stage six or seven or eight. And one of the reasons is that in structures, the preceding stage actually becomes a component of the next stage. So it's very much like letters to words to sentences to paragraphs. And you can't go from letters to sentences and skip words. It just doesn't, you can't do it. And it's the same with atoms to molecules to cells to organisms. You can't go from atoms to cells and skip molecules. Because in these structures, these evolutionary unfoldings, the sort of whole of one stage actually becomes a literal part of the whole of the next stage. So a whole atom is part of a whole molecule, a whole molecule is part of a whole cell, and so on. And it just seems to be the way most structural holons in the universe, whether in the external world or in internal human beings, tend to grow that way. But what it does mean, because we have such an enormous amount of data on well there's probably maybe two possibly three dozen major developmental models that have some degree of evidence some of them have a great deal of evidence some of them have actually been tested in over forty different cultures including amazon rainforest tribes australian aborigines harvard professors and there are no major exceptions to the stages that they've been tested for So there's some very, very compelling evidence for these things. But because we know a lot about that, then you could actually create a video game, for example, where part of the scoring process is you come to a fork in the road. You come to some choice you have to make. So let's say you start out and you would just take an initial quick inventory to see roughly what your center of gravity is. And let's say on a 10 scale you are starting out at 4. And so off you go. And so every time you choose one of the options that you get, if it's four or half or five, if it's from a level four or half or five, which is your proximate development zone, then you get a higher number of points. If you choose something that's lower than where you're at, you might even lose points. And then if you choose something that's just way higher, that would just have to be taken as a lucky shot because you're not going to be able to develop to that. So this would actually help you select the types of choices that would help you increase in whatever the line it was that the video game was addressing. and that could be interpersonal intelligence, it could be emotional intelligence, it could be cognitive intelligence, it could be intrapersonal intelligence, and so on. But that doesn't seem to be too far a reach for the types of things that we could put into video games. And they would actually, whatever else they're doing, you could have them doing any number of other things, but it would help create a developmental impetus in the person who is applying that.
[01:05:46.264] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that some of the frontier open questions that virtual reality is looking at, there's a couple of them. One is empathy. Another is wonder and awe. And so, in some ways, empathy and wonder and awe, these are things that actually need to have an integral approach to be able to really fully understand Specifically with empathy, you know, there's different dimensions of how much are you able to actually interact and are you able to both pay attention to someone else's story, but also really receive it and feel it? Or how does empathy change when you have agency within the context and do you need to have that agency? And so Empathy is one of the front lines. And I think that in terms of identity expansion, empathy seems to be a key component towards, as you are able to have a moral development, you're able to empathize with more and more larger people. So theoretically, I would say empathy is one of the catalysts in terms of maybe just creating an experience that gives you the sense of being able to empathize with somebody's life experience, that you're able to really step into their shoes and get a sense of what their life might be like. right and then the other two are the wonder and awe and the wonder and awe comes up in the overview effect which is this effect when astronauts go and they see this vastness of space and the earth it's something that they have to actually expand their conceptual framework in order to take in that information and so that wonder and awe is associated with this vastness of an experience that is unlike anything else that you've had before. And so virtual reality is able to, on demand, generate experiences of wonder and awe. But studying it, it's not just like a neurological thing. There's also a phenomenological thing that's happening there as well. And so A big challenge that has been found within a lot of this type of research is how do you mix phenomenology with neuroscience? And so there's this blending of those two called neurophenomenology, which is that you're able to have a VR headset on with a EEG and you're able to get your brain waves, but you're able to actually listen to someone's phenomenological direct experience of what they're experiencing. and you're able to control the experience that they're having. And so with that, this concept of neurophenomenology, sort of philosophically, it's saying that this realm of the interior subjective is now going to be blended together with the objective exterior. And that merging of the two, I think, is something that has traditionally been very difficult because as we were talking earlier about sub-symbolic processing, you know, when people tell a story about why they did something, it doesn't always match up with what's actually happening within their body. And so there's been this distrust of even taking in subjective phenomenological accounts. But one of the things that things like wonder and all are showing, but also virtual reality technologies is you now have this capability to start to merge these two together and see how they're related to each other. But I know that In your AQL framework, you have the quadrant system where you have the interior and the exterior. And in a lot of ways, these different disciplines and domains, they don't really cross those lines very often. And what's exciting about virtual reality is that it's like a melting pot that is this cross-disciplinary mechanism that people can use the human experience as this common framework to be able to blend the insights from all these different disciplines. So you could start to match all this psychological or depth psychological or interior methods of qualitative research with the more quantitative research from a lot of the other existing methods of science.
[01:09:07.416] Ken Wilber: Well, right. And keep in mind that the way their quadrants are presented, You had mentioned at one point that it could sort of just kind of reinforce the Cartesian dualism, but that's actually sort of the opposite of what they are meant to do. I mean, pretty much any mature language around the world recognizes that there's a subject and object. What made the Cartesian dualism so different is that it absolutized the split between subject and object. And there wasn't even a way for them to interact. So a lot of philosophers who bought it had to come up with things like a pre-established harmony and all that kind of stuff. That's exactly what the quadrants claims doesn't happen. The quadrants claim that you can just take any sort of happening before you classify it or come up with concepts on it or frame it or label it or name it, anything like that, And before you do any of that, there's actually at least four perspectives that you can look at that happening. And you can look at it in first-person perspectives, you can look at it in third-person perspectives, you can look at it in second-person perspectives. And again, these first, second, and third-person perspectives are found in virtually all of the world's modern languages, because as they evolved, they were reflecting these very real realities that these different perspectives recommended. Now, of course, some disciplines choose just one perspective. So traditionally, scientific materialism chooses just the third-person perspective. That's the only one that's real. And first and second person aren't real. That's not what the quadrants claims. The quadrants claims that they're all interacting, that they're all fluid, and that they're all different perspectives of a same happening. That doesn't mean that they don't have relative independence, and they do. So, even Chalmers, for example, recognizes at least three different domains, and only one of them is the neurophysiological, no matter what it shows. Those are third-person realities. And then he has first-person psychological experiences, and those are relatively independent from the third-person brain, neurophysiological structures, and then there's also things that we just refer to as psychological structures, and those aren't immediate, like grammar, for example. So all three of those domains have reality, and the question about having something like virtual reality, be able to start blending those, or just in general, blend first, second, and third person, or in general, blend the quadrants. All of that is fine. The problem is that we really can't over-glorify the types of stuff that we get from just one of them, just the third-person neurophysiology. What we can't let that do, it doesn't matter how much it agrees or disagrees with first-person phenomena or first-person structures like grammar. Those still have reality in their own right, and they do have correlations, But again, we don't want to just sort of absolutize one and denigrate all the others. But we can start, I think virtual reality can start to blend these. And I would say that's another thing, I sort of toss that into showing up, where showing up is just a general term for making sure you include all the quadrants, or more generally, make sure you're including any appropriate typologies. whether it's the Four Presences or Myers-Briggs or Big Five or Enneagram, whatever that might be. But part of the problem right now is that we don't have any understanding of what structures of consciousness in the psychological interior, as opposed to brain physiology, which is on the interior, but we access that through a third person, not a first person approach. But we sort of have an understanding that sort of states of consciousness in a person's psyche has some sort of correlation with brain states. So you can get waking, dreaming, deep sleep, for example, correlating with alpha, theta, and delta. ways in the brain and we see those kinds of correlations. Nobody has yet found any sort of possible correlations between structures of consciousness in the psyche and correlations that would be occurring in the brain. And so that's one of the problems that we haven't been able to come up with brain imaging that shows what these different stages of development are. And we know those stages are there, as I say, because of some 40 plus tests showing that they're real. It doesn't matter what physiological correlates are preceding them, or not preceding with them, or going with them, or showing stuff that you won't find by looking just at the structures. That goes without saying. But what we are looking for is ways to take important factors that are occurring in consciousness and actually finding what those correlates would be in the brain. And so far, we're nowhere near doing that. So I don't find all of that research all that helpful right now. It tells us some important things, but it's got a lot more that it needs to do to really start covering the bases
[01:14:52.399] Kent Bye: Well, and I know that in talking to Bernardo Kastrup, one of the things that he talks about is how the neurological correlates could just be like a reaction to a consciousness that is something that's fundamental or primary in the universe. And so I think this, in some ways, gets to some of the fundamental open questions. One is, what is the nature of consciousness? And also the other is, what is the nature of reality? So I think that it's possible that as you create these definitions and operationalizing consciousness, I think there's a certain amount of mathematical formalism that may need to be added to that to be able to have some sort of conceptual framework to be able to then measure it perhaps maybe in order to really define it. I think that's where when you think about machine learning and artificial intelligence, those types of math structures are more experiential. They're able to train them up, but they may not be able to translate that into a formalized mathematical structure. And so you maybe don't have a functional model, but you may be able to test it both in a combination of AI and virtual reality. And so what I see, though, is that there's this big experience that people have when they go into virtual reality. They'll have these memories and experiences that feel indistinguishable from reality in terms of what it feels like. It feels like they're connecting to people, the sense of social presence, the sense of expressing your agency within the experience, a sense of active presence, this sense of really having your emotional move through the emotional presence and, and really feeling like you have this full, rich sensory experience with your embodied presence with that earth element. So you have this experience that people are going through where it's actually bringing up all these deeper philosophical questions about like, well, where is consciousness? Is it an epiphenomena of my neurological firing? Is this all just an illusion? Or is my direct experience something that is primary and fundamental and that all of these experiences are ontologically just as real as any other experience? And so I think that there's these open questions in terms of like, Is consciousness emergent? Is it fundamental? Is it something like panpsychism? Is it embedded into every photon? And I know that in your AQOL framework, I was interested to see that actually, I didn't always necessarily recognize this, but that the quadrants are just the relative aspect, but then there's a sort of other formless aspect of what could be considered like a platonic realm of non-spatial temporal ideal realm of formlessness. whatever you call it, there's so many different words to talk about this non-spatial temporal realm. But it's a bit of this metaphysical realm that you can't falsify. So you have to have some sort of platonic epistemology by which you're interfacing with this metaphysical realm and mapping up all these different cartographies. So I just ask you in terms of like, how do you know this metaphysical realm of formlessness even exists? And like, what is the process by which you start to define the cartography of this mapping of these different realms of consciousness beyond the relative aspect.
[01:17:47.583] Ken Wilber: Right. And one of the things that you find if you look at the mystical traditions in general, is that there are two very, very, very different definitions of consciousness. And in a sense, one is, it is, in some sense, it's just part of the relative manifest world. and so it would apply to the Manomaya Kosha and maybe parts of the Vijnanamaya Kosha. In the Christian version of the five major levels of development, it's actually named. So the five levels in the Christian Great Chain are matter, body, mind, soul, spirit. And mind is that consciousness is just sort of belongs to mind and that's what it is. Now, even while some of them will sort of say, okay, well, that's fine, but it's actually a deeper meaning to consciousness. And part of what that comes from are the types of experiences that we'll just generally call Satori. And Satori is always claimed to be, in the two truths doctrine there, relative truths and their ultimate truths. And relative truths are things that you get at through stuff like science, and experiment and reason and deduction and all of that. And then ultimate truths are things that you get at only through things like Satori, actual waking up enlightenment realizations. And there, things start to get, in terms of how to even express that, it starts to get very, very tricky. Because almost all concepts that we use have meaning only in terms of their opposite. So even infinite makes sense because they're finite, and pleasure versus pain, and good versus evil, and up versus down, and on and on and on. Pretty much all of our concepts have meaning only because they have an opposite. But reality itself, in this case consciousness, doesn't have an opposite. And so that's why virtually most of the mystical traditions maintain that ultimate reality, ultimate truth, is literally and radically unqualifiable. Nagarjuna sort of gave the best philosophical presentation of that with his whole treatises on shunyata, which is often translated as emptiness. And emptiness technically doesn't mean formlessness. It means technically unqualifiable. Nagarjuna says it can either be called empty, nor not empty, but in order to point it out, we call it empty. So that's what it is. And it's this direct, immediate experience that generally is just so overwhelming that people can hardly find words for it. And if you start to find metaphors for it, then it's this absolute unity, it's this absolutely inclusive, nature and by inclusive that means everything literally so it includes not only love and goodness and well-being it includes sickness and hatred and murder it literally there's nothing outside of it it really is a ground of all being and so that ground is equally present in each and every manifest thing there is. So a human being is not closer to that ground than a worm is. They're both perfect manifestations of this ultimate divine. Although you can't say any of that. So the idea is that the only way you know what Satori is showing you is you have to actually have a Satori. And then while in that, look around and most of your questions will be answered. But outside of that, anything you say will be wrong. So that's what makes talking about consciousness as ground. That's what makes it so very, very hard to talk about. If you're talking about emergent versions of consciousness, that's fine because it's just relative again. It's more something like mental consciousness and in emergent models. that standard scientific materialism. It's just something that's sort of emergent property of material unfolding and evolutionary sequences. And then others will put that same kind of relative consciousness at the other end of the spectrum. You call those fundamental. And that's still a relative consciousness. It's still something that's separate from physics and chemistry and biology and so on. So that's another version of relative consciousness. And then the real ground consciousness is, well, that tends to be one of the meanings that I have for consciousness. And so I'll say that when I draw the Aqua framework, it has four quadrants and several lines and several levels and states and all that. That's all still relative manifest reality. And then the paper on which it's written is ground. So that paper would be emptiness slash consciousness slash ground. even though whenever we actually use a word like being, consciousness, bliss, the Vedanta trio, those are all metaphors and the mystics understand it as that, but they sort of get a hint across as to what's involved. And whenever those terms are used to apply to ultimate, whether being or consciousness or bliss or love or any of those, they're always interpreted in a kind of non-dual sense. So the bliss that you experience with a satori, is ever pleasant, it's always there, and it's a bliss that underlies feeling good and feeling bad. It's a bliss that underlies relative love and it underlies relative hate. So you can be angry or feeling rotten and there's still this background blissful joy if you are plugged into that type of ultimate truth. So these are a very wide spectrum of how consciousness has been used. I find a degree of truth in both of them. I think both of them are there, and I think that in order to really, genuinely understand consciousness's ground, that's not a theoretical conclusion. You really do have to have a direct, profound satori to understand what they mean by that, to understand what Nagarjuna means by emptiness, And so it's not at all clear in the same way that the timeless now is not at all clear about how you're going to get that into VR. But those of course are talking about ultimate realities to the extent that you believe those exist. And that's going to be pushing the limits of any conceptual understanding that we can come up with. And that's probably something that we're not going to see VR tackle very much. Let me say one last thing. You did talk with John Benton, for example, about having a VR experience with borrowed states, right?
[01:25:24.203] Kent Bye: Yeah.
[01:25:25.065] Ken Wilber: And the difficulty there, there were sort of two things that are going on when you're trying to get across bardo states. One was the type of phenomenology. So when you're in the ultimate non-dual clear light void, and then you come out of that into sort of a causal bardo where phenomena start to arise. So exactly how are you going to present those phenomena? And Benton was saying, well, at first, it was sort of really heavy on Buddhist iconography. And he tried to back off that, and then it sort of started to look cartoonish and so on. So we have that kind of question, if we're trying to show some of these waking up states, is what kind of phenomenology are we going to use to help induce those? And that's a very important consideration. But then there's one more consideration that we have to think about, and this one is a little bit harder. This is, well, actually when you are having something like a non-dual satori, that's actually a change in the very structure of how ordinary consciousness perceives the world. Among other things, it really is a transcendence, a subject-object. So, it's one of the main reasons that those experiences are called non-dual. They're not two, and what's not two is infinite and finite's not two, subject and object are not two, there's just this underlying unity of both of those. And so if you're gonna actually be in VR and have an experience of that primary, bardo, you're not just gonna have to have the right phenomena around you, you're gonna actually have to have consciousness transcend the subject-object duality somehow. That's a little bit harder. That's a little bit different thing to do. And then when you move down to the next part, oh, and you're just in a pure radical witnessing state, well, that's also a little bit hard. Because to be in a pure witnessing state, you really do have to disidentify with all of the koshas, including the Anandamaya kosha. The true self is that which is aware of all five of the koshas. And so it itself is not a kosher. And if you have any identification, exclusive identification with the Anandamaya Kosher, the Vishwanamaya Kosher, the Manomaya Kosher, then you're not in a pure witnessing state. So no matter what phenomena you'll show for that, you're still going to have to have these really fundamental changes in consciousness itself. And so that's one of the things that we're going to have to look at to see if VR can help with that side of the street. Because that's a bit of a difficult issue.
[01:28:20.606] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, it makes me think of Michael Pollan's book, How to Change Your Mind, just talking about psychedelics and ayahuasca and these other entheogens that are able to maybe artificially turn off your default mode network in your brain to then invoke some of these mystical experiences of unity and oneness. But I'm just curious if you personally, if you've ever achieved some of these sort of non-dual higher states of consciousness, if you did it through meditation, or if you've also had these psychedelic experiences where you feel like it's sort of getting at the same thing. I feel like that there's ways to kind of take a rocket ship into these experiences, but then you come back and then you may not be able to fully integrate those experiences. And so it's like trying to take an elevator and get the experience, but you're not building the structures that you need to really kind of sustain that type of experience. That's right. And yeah. So I'm just curious, like what your personal experiences with this have been.
[01:29:14.144] Ken Wilber: Yeah, and it's definitely true that in overall spiritual practice you really do need, as you had brought up in one of your podcasts, intention, attention, repetition, and guidance. And that's always a problem in the traditions. So you can have your first major Zen breakthrough. They're not referred to as Satori. Satori is like really big breakthroughs. Occasionally people, first experience will be a big Satori, but usually it's a little smaller thing called a Kensho. And so, it's also extremely bad form in Zen to even say whether you've had one of those or talk about it. So I'll just very briefly say I've been practicing Zen for about five years. I had my first Kensho when I was 23. It was Kategiri Roshi. And then went on to have I would say just a typical, normal number of successive Kenchos, a couple of Satori's, and although I was practicing a lot of different spiritual traditions because I was writing about a whole lot of them, my major practice for about the first 15 years was Zen. And then for about the next 15 years it was Dzogchen and Mahamudra. And so it's gotten to a point where about 25, 30 years of practice, because I've been practicing for about 50 years now. At about 25, 30 years I started to have experience. I'd been lucid dreaming for a long time, but I started to have some experiences of a subtle awareness even in deep dreamless sleep. And that's maintained to be one of the factors that does happen as meditators continue to make some sort of progress. So I might even have progressed somewhat slowly, but I'd say after 50 years, I've had a fairly, fairly complete run in a lot of the traditional major experiences, certainly in the Buddhist tradition. So I am aware of those. And the hard thing is repetition and then bringing it back down and making sure that even if you're plugging in to that boundless, changeless, ever-present consciousness that's beyond the koshas. The main thing that you really have to do, and in a sense, this is where integral law got started, is you have to take that and put it right back down into every one of those koshas, or you're not doing it. You just don't have it. And so that's a really important issue. And that's why I started to come into things like, yikes, there's also growing up going on here. And if I'm not doing that, then I can be interpreting these very high waking up states in some very low growing up states, even ethnocentric and prejudiced and biased. And I didn't want to do that. So that's why I really started to say, okay, I have to not only wake up, I really have to look at growing up and showing up and cleaning up. And I think those are absolutely crucial components to spirituality. They're all very important areas in a human being. All of them can have things go wrong, can have pathologies, and all of those will influence how you interpret your waking up or enlightenment experiences. And so that's why in sort of some of my more recent books, I really have been trying to emphasize that what we really do need in more comprehensive religions is an attempt to, yes, wake up, but also grow up, show up and clean up. And that all of these are clearly important. And I do believe that. And I'm glad to see that a fair number of spiritual teachers are starting to embrace some of those ideas. So I do have some hope for that. And of course, I'm very interested in what VR can do with some of these things. Because that is clearly where things are at in terms of technology. And it really is on the verge of truly revolutionary approaches.
[01:33:17.667] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I just had a couple of more points that I wanted to make and then we can kind of wrap up. Sure. So as you were going and talking about that, it reminded me of this potential for virtual reality to unlock these latent human potentials that we have that We may not even be able to see widely distributed. I know that Dean Radin wrote a book called supernormal where he was looking at the Anjali's yoga sutras to be able to see like these latent human potentials that were kind of like these superpowers that people were kind of metaphorically talking about either levitating or walking through walls or this phenomena these type of like these potentials of human potential that are within the lore of these specific traditions and yeah the cities the cities yeah the gifts and one of the things that dina said is that there's a paradox which is that if you achieve the cities then you're not supposed to go around bragging about it right if somebody who has achieved those then there's no way to really necessarily scientifically prove it and i don't know if that's a part of like the collective consciousness or with the deeper insight of that as you talk about kind of being bad form within zen to talk about these different dimensions that you've been able to achieve but I'm just curious to hear from your perspective of this concept of these latent human potentials that are coming from the lore of some of these different traditions and what that might mean to have virtual reality as a catalyst to unlock some of these latent human potentials.
[01:34:38.846] Ken Wilber: Right. Well, first of all, I think that there has been kind of an etiquette of not talking about any of these accomplishments or achievements that you might have had. And there's plenty of reason for that, not least of which is Well, Lao Tzu was one of the first to say, you know, those who speak don't know, those who know don't speak. So if you're speaking about it, it means you don't know it. And nobody wanted to be stuck with that. So there was a kind of a tendency not to talk about it. But there are also ways in any knowledge community, and that means, by the way, one of the ways that we know that mystical experience is not just private, is that there are dozens of mystical schools that train these states and those are passed on and a trained state is a public state that has been handed down for almost two thousand years no private experience could be handed down for two thousand years these are very public and it just happens you just have to do it in a community of inner subjective like-minded individuals and then it can be very scientific i mean if you look at the fundamental practices in science, the first thing is it's some sort of injunction or practice. If you want to know this, do this. And so you actually do an experiment, you do some sort of practice, you drop two objects off the leaning tower piece, so one heavy, one light, see if they hit the ground at the same time. And those injunctions are, that's actually what Kuhn meant by paradigm. is a paradigm was an injunction. It wasn't a super theory that created facts, the way it's so often interpreted. It was simply an actual injunction that would bring forth facts. And Kuhn got so upset by the way paradigm was being used, he stopped using the term altogether and started using the term exemplar, which is exactly right. Exemplar is an exemplary injunction. If you want to know if it's raining outside, go to the window and look. that going to the window and looking, that's the paradigm, that's the exemplar. So once you do that, then you have a second stand, which is you'll have some sort of experience, you'll have some sort of illumination, you'll see something. William James said that what we call that is data. And that's true, whether it's sensory data, mental data, or spiritual data. And then just to make sure, so you've gone to the window and looked, and you say, yes, I see it's raining. Well, you could be hallucinating, So, you invite a couple more people up to the window to look, and if they all look out and say, yes, it's raining, then that's the third scan. It's some sort of confirmation or rejection of the theory. Now, that's what things like Zen does. There's the exemplary practice, the injunction, which is Zazen. If you want to know if you have Buddha nature, hold your legs, sit in this position, meditate on the meaning of Mu, and do that for three years. Come back and talk to me and we'll see what happens. Generally, the more you do that, at some point you'll have an illumination. You'll have a satori. You'll have a direct immediate experience. And that will show you if you have Buddha nature or not. And then you go and check that with a master. And if you say, well, that sounds good, then you'll often have debates for the whole community. And if people say, well, no, that seems right according to our understanding, then that's what's passed on. And in a sense, that's very close to a type of interior science. And so those kinds of things are truly important. And so there were ways that you would sort of indicate your degree of achievement in the field. And the community knew who it was and that's how, you know, successive masters actually got selected as those who were doing better, relatively speaking. And that's how the whole thing was passed down. But recently with, of course, the modern world and just the whole new types of mores and cultural backgrounds that we have, Not only is it sort of okay to talk about it, there are people that actually brag about it. We maybe go a little bit too far on one direction. But just in terms of a kind of willingness to be honest and open about it, transparency is something that this culture increasingly strives for. And so when you have somebody like Richie Davidson at Wisconsin working with the Dalai Lama, who's giving him basically access to every Tibetan monk there is, They have to know where these monks are. So, how often have you practiced? What have you seen? How many of these experiences have you had? Okay, we want you to try to get into that Tencho state, if you would. And the person has to be able to say, well, yes, I can do that. Or, well, I can't, I've never really had a Tencho. They go, okay, you sit this one out. And then they do, and then they find, wow, lots of gamma waves. That was kind of a new discovery. And that's another example of correlation of brain state with upper right, with upper left, consciousness state. And so we are finding those kinds of correlations, and those are very, very important. I personally think at some point we're going to, with people that say, okay, I can get into, let's say, sahaj, samadhi, a very high, non-dual, spontaneous state of concentration. And we're going to be able to take blood samples, or we're going to be able to take, through nanobots, types of neurological neurotransmitters. And when we see somebody in Saha Samadhi, we're going to say, aha, there's this much serotonin, there's this much dopamine, there's this much norepinephrine, there's this much acetylcholine. And when they take that out and put that in pills, And those would be the real red pills. I mean, it'll sort of replace LSD and stuff like that, where we would say, oh, you went Saha Samadhi, here, take this pill. In all these cases, and you've also discussed this on some podcasts, we run into the issue about, well, let's say you learn to get into some of these states with ER. Then does that mean that you really can't do it on your own? and so maybe it's just not really as intrinsically good as if you could do it on your own? And I think that's a good question, but I think it really, that we can balance it, and that I think where VR is gonna have an enormously positive impact is being able to, at least in an introductory fashion, show people some of these states, or even help them bump up an actual structure And when they can at least see that and know that they can do it, then they can carry it over into their own life and actually take up practices that will help them do that. And I've seen this, by the way, in the whole psychedelic revolution. I was a child in the 60s. I was born in the psychedelic revolution. Everybody I knew was doing acid or psilocybin or mescaline or something for various reasons. I didn't get into it that much. but most of my friends did, and then many of them started meditating. And then as I watched these groups over 20, 30, 40 years, the ones who got their opening with psychedelics and then moved on to meditation, these turned out, literally, they're still some of the finest people I know. They're just utterly amazing human beings. And they're still some of my very best friends, and I adore them, and I admire them. They're truly extraordinary. Those who just kept doing psychedelics, within about a decade or so, they literally, it was close to zombies. I mean, their eyes just got cold black. There was nothing behind them anymore. And they were just burnt out. It was just sad. I don't think that would happen with VR, but the point is, we faced these issues before with some of the early things that seemed to help. instigate at least that initial understanding of some of these truly deep states. And I think we're going to find that same issue with VR. And I think we're going to find the same thing. The people that use VR as a great introduction and occasional aid and a way to help repetition and practice, but also take it into their daily life and learn the corresponding meditative techniques so they can really do that. I think that combination is going to end up working out the best for people.
[01:43:41.158] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I just wanted to end by describing a little bit of things that I have found by looking at an experiential design framework, Lens, and Integral, and maybe some gaps or questions for Integral in terms of specific things. I see that there's this ascending symbolic order and descending symbolic order, and so you can see what's emerging, but then what's the theory to be able to help organize it? And so I think there's a little bit in terms of storytelling and experiential design you're essentially designing an experience where people can have this blending of a video game and a story. And so you're really looking at like, what are the models of storytelling? We have like Joseph Campbell's Hero of the Thousand Faces and this kind of monomyth of this descent and the three different phases of the separation and the ordeal and the return. But you have this concept of an evolutionary cycle. I kind of think of it as a Hegelian dialectic of the thesis, antithesis, and the synthesis where you have these cycles. And I see that in the framework that I'm developing out, it's not just the qualities of presence, it's also the context that you're in, as well as the character of the experience and how that's evolving, and then the many different overlapping cycles at many different scales. And the problem with consciousness in some ways is that there's not a fixed mathematical formalism be able to describe somebody, an individual, where they're at and what's happening. But if we think about artificial intelligent characters, it becomes much more about designing a personality and a quality, but also what are the deeper archetypal dynamics that they're playing and in terms of their deeper intentions and how that plays out. It's kind of like if you're a design Westworld, how you design all the characters in that world, but also the overall architecture of that. And so the fundamental characteristics that I've seen are a number of different things. One is the quality of the presence, which is just like what it feels like, but it's not enough just to have a feeling. You have to have some content. So what's happening, what's growing, what's changing, what's evolving. But it's also like before you get into that, you also have to have the context. One way that I get at the context is that when I've asked, you know, over a thousand people with all these different domains, what the ultimate potential of either virtual reality, artificial intelligence, all of the technologies are like this mirror that is reflecting different dimensions of the human experience. And so when I ask about the ultimate potential of them, it's usually comes back to what the ultimate potential of the different domains of human experience, whether it's changing your relationship to home and family, your entertainment, your medicine, your health. your relationships with a partner, your business relationships, your relationship to grief and death, you have philosophy and long distance travel, you have higher education, you have your career, you have your friends, you have experiences where you feel exiled or isolated or lonely, you have your identity, your expression of your identity, commerce and interacting with people in terms of expressing your values but also exchanging value with each other, you have communication, you have early education, short distance travel, you have all these different things that when you think about all the different contexts of human experience, that when I talk to AI researchers, context is actually very important because the meaning of what you say changes depending on your context. And so coming up with a cartography of context is actually really key, both for virtual reality as well as for artificial intelligence. And so You have the context of the experience, which is the root of, like, where is the domain of where this is happening for each of the different characters. You have the quality of what it feels like. Is there mental presence, social presence, active presence, embodied presence, and emotional presence? And then you have the content of the character of, is it truth and beauty? Is it goodness? Is it shame? Is it, like, what is the thing that they're growing through, but the core archetypal dimensions of that, and how is that changing over time? but also not only how is it changing over time relative to itself, but how is it changing relative to all the other different dimensions of your personality that is changing over time as well. So this is sort of like the beginnings of this, but it's pulling a lot from natural philosophy, hermetic traditions, Chinese philosophy, using the yang and the yan in terms of How much are you receiving from an experience, which is the very yen aspects of both the water and the earth elements are both the passive receptive. And so it's very embodied and emotional, but you're actually in this receptive listening state. And then your expression of your agency of making choices and taking action of the young, but also the fire and air elements. And so you have the blending of the young and the yen, the fire and air and the earth and water. So all of these though, I see that. if this can be formalized, then you could start to then use it as an experiential design framework, which could then serve as its verification to see if it works or not, depending on how easy it is for people to adopt and start using and designing experiences with it. And so I think that there's a lot of similarities to integral, but there's also some differences in terms of like solving very specific problems and answering very specific questions. And so I'm just curious if you've ever thought of integral framework as a storytelling framework, or as an experiential design framework, and how some of the things that I'm talking about, if it kind of melds into what you're looking at in terms of the integral framework, or if they're kind of separate in terms of designing experiences and telling stories as being a very specific context.
[01:48:48.790] Ken Wilber: Yeah, no, the one of the central tenets of integral theory is that meaning is context dependent. And I at one point, in a book called The Eye of Spirit, in two large chapters, I gave an integral overview of art and literary theory. And what I did was took examples of specific pieces of artwork and said, okay, what does this piece of art mean? And the idea was that as we continued to use different contexts, you could see how different meanings of this artwork would come to the fore. And my point in doing this, and I went through about a dozen schools, it was like original intent, the meaning of the artwork is what the artist originally intended, so you have to find out what the artist meant, and that's what the meaning of the artwork is. And then that was fine until the Freudians came along and said, fine, the meaning of the artwork is the original intent, but some original intent is unconscious, and not even the author knows what that is, and that will show up in the artwork, and so it takes Freudian psychoanalysts to correctly interpret the piece of art. Okay, well that's fine. That's something the artist isn't aware of. And then others came in, like the Marxists, and said, okay, here's something else that they aren't aware of. They aren't aware of the drive of the forces of production. as they are involved with the relations of production, and this economic base creates all these superstructures, including art, and you can only understand art according to the class warfare that produced it, so that was another context, gave yet a different meaning. And I literally went through sort of, here's quadrants, here's levels, here's lines, here's states, and here's art. Each one of these, because they really do exist, create real contexts And those contexts each generate a different meaning. And all the way down to the most recent version of interpretation, which is called viewer response. And what that says is, no, the meaning of the artwork isn't in the art itself. It's not in the original intent of the artist. It's in whatever gets set going in your mind when you see the piece of art. That's the only thing we can call art. And this is kind of a bit of a boomer production. The meaning of the art is, of course, what your ego feels when it sees it. So that's sort of very boomers. But the point was, well, that also happens to be a context. And you look at a different meaning of art if you use that. So the point about these, I mean, the only thing we do with all these elements of the integral framework, like quadrants and levels, and then summarize those as doing things like waking up and growing up and showing up and cleaning up and all of that is just to say, look, here are a broad group of various areas and various dimensions and various fields. And each of these has different disciplines that are working with them. And the fundamental tenet of integral theory is that everybody's right. that there's some degree of truth in every single one of these things because no human brain is capable of producing 100% error. Or as I sometimes put it, nobody's smart enough to be wrong all the time. And so we have each of these contributions are true but partial. And so the question isn't which one is right versus all the others which are wrong. The question is how can they all fit together? since they're all partially true. And so that's what integral theory essentially does. And so then when you actually apply it to a particular field, and by the way, the last count we had in a peer-reviewed journal was that integral meta-theory had been applied to 63 different disciplines, and had just sort of completely reinterpreted it in terms of using all of these dimensions, and not just the one or two that most disciplines end up focusing on. But every time you look at this, if you look at something like integral medicine, for example, and people actually start applying that, then they'll take each of the elements and say, okay, how does this actually show up in the practice of medicine? And they'll do that kind of interpretation and then come up with pragmatic responses. so that they can actually make use of all the various areas that Integral Metatheory is pointing to, but then they'll come up with the actual pragmatic applications in each individual case. And it differs. You have Integral Law, Integral Art, Integral History, Integral Psychotherapy, Integral Politics, Integral Education, Integral Medicine, and so on. And the same fundamental framework is there because that framework claims that it represents dimensions that you can find pretty much anywhere. But then the actual applications differ in each case, and differ significantly in some cases. One of the interesting things that comes from that though, is that you can actually start having dialogues between these disciplines. Because once they've translated their fundamental realities into in terms of an integral metatheory. Then they know what they're talking about. One of the most interesting conversations we had at an Integral Institute meeting was between a poet and a diehard businessman. But they could both say, well, we're talking about, here we had this one fellow who's coming particularly from this level in this line, in this quadrant, and the poet would say, oh, that actually was exactly where I was coming from when I was writing this particular piece of poetry, and so on. So you could actually get some dialogue going, because they had some points in common. that they could carry a mutual discussion forward. And so that has all been very interesting. Or you find things like Architectural Digest, a couple years ago, had an entire year's series of issues, 12 issues, in a series that they called the Big Rethink. And what it was was each month they had an article for all 12 months, and those articles were presenting an entirely aqua integral reinterpretation of all of architecture. And so I just went back and looked at the history, I looked at the materials, I looked at the various styles of architecture, I looked at the actual mechanics of how you build structures. And all of these were interpreted using this much broader integral octal framework. And so those kinds of things are where we start to see the rubber hit the road. And that's where it becomes interesting. And so just simply one of the things that I happen to be looking at right now is how this could apply to something like virtual reality. And the point here would be, okay, here's a whole number of other contexts that can be used to generate various types of meaning. And some of them are being used now, and some of them aren't. And so here are a few more that you might want to consider, because some of these look like they're pretty important, and they're touching on, you know, fairly important dimensions of human existence. And so no real reason to leave those out once you're aware of them. And the odd thing is that most people aren't even aware of the fundamental elements of AQUA. Aside from types, most people are pretty just kind of unaware of quadrants and levels and lines and states in any sort of major way. There are very few college professors, for example, that know anything about the stages of growing up. And most of them, of course, because they're highly green. denied that there are any sort of states at all, because they hate all hierarchies. They think they're all dominators. So they just toss the whole notion out, even though it takes five or six stages to get to the types of values that they're expressing. But, you know, when they toss out those stages, they're tossing out those values, but they don't seem to realize that. But anyway, the whole point is that there's a whole smorgasbord of context available here. And one of the places that I think is going to be interesting seeing them applied is indeed in the area that you refer to when you talk about author narrative and generative narrative. And one of the things that I am interested in seeing happening is ways to help develop programs that would actually help people to some degree grow up. as well as to some degree, wake up. And then certainly to show up and learn how to get in touch with all four forms of presence. And then also to realize that those forms of presence can continue to develop and evolve. And there's presence at Manomaya Kosha, there's presence at Vijnanamaya Kosha, there's presence at Anantamaya Kosha. And so all of these factors can be taken into account And that's what's going to be part of, I think, the richness that virtual reality can bring to us. And that's what I think makes it so exciting.
[01:58:29.338] Kent Bye: And so, I usually ask people what they think the ultimate potential of VR. So, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is?
[01:58:38.320] Ken Wilber: Across a couple different dimensions, the single most important social impact it could have, in my opinion, is find effective ways to help people truly grow up. That's the major core issue of our culture wars. It's a major issue. I mean, it's what the whole Enlightenment was about morally, was that we can't just have ethnocentric morals where it's okay for one group of people to own another group of people and treat them brutally. that that's wrong, and that we need more world-centric stages of universal care. I mean, we've been on this planet for 300,000 years. It was only 200 years ago that we figured that out. And the problem is, everybody's still born at square one. And so people still get stuck at some of these earlier, lower, and nastier stages. So again, around 60% of the population isn't making it to world-centric. So, we can sit around and yell that we have to have inclusivity, we have to have diversity, we have to have social justice, but with 60% of the population saying, yeah, fuck you. That's not helping. So, if we actually found a way because we don't really have any right now that are terribly effective. If we actually found a way that virtual reality could help human beings grow into these higher potentials of moral care and compassion and concern, that would be stunning. That would truly be stunning. And then just off from those, you can find any number of other things. I would like to see hopefully some ways to help with waking up. I would like to see ways to help with showing up. And again, by that I mean the experiential design of VR such that it's making use of, for example, all four types of presence. I think that could be very, very important. And that's, in a sense, sort of similar-ish to helping people activate their multiple intelligences. That's one of the truly under, under-appreciated areas of human potential. And we just almost don't hear anything about that at all, even our educational system. Well, things like the SAT, S-A-T, still only tests for two out of twelve multiple intelligences. They test for math and verbal, and none of the others. We really don't educate for any of the others, including emotional intelligence, which is a disaster. So seeing ways that we could help activate those I think could be very important. And that's what I mean when I say showing up. So we make sure that we show up in terms of our engagements in as full a way as we possibly can. And then this is secondary, but I just mentioned it because shadow issues are so huge. Having ways that could actually help people spot their shadows and then reintegrate them could end up having a stunning impact. Well, certainly in just relationships, particularly between men and women, which are about as rocky as you can get right now, in large measure because of reciprocal shadow projections. If we could handle that, it would have an enormous impact. And then, just straightforward types of potentials that we don't even know about. Some of your podcasts have mentioned, for example, the people that were feeding Stimulate into the brain so people could actually experience having a tail. I mean those kinds of things All of those are open as well, and that's going to be quite extraordinary And I'll mention just briefly one last thing about ways to help with waking up If you look at some of those truly higher Stages of meditative development as we get to the one that I mentioned Daniel P Brown called boundless changeless consciousness And that's the way transcendental consciousness is most often described in the mystical traditions. So if you look at like the main states of gross, subtle, causal, or waking, dreaming, deep sleep, the witness or Turiya, pure self, is defined as that which is present in all three states. So it's not really a state itself, it's that which is aware of all of them. And it also happens to be an ever-constant entity itself. It's always there, whether we recognize it or not. And so, one of the ways that you can help experience something like that, I mean, the first time that I actually did a fairly believable virtual reality experience, the immediate thing that happened for me, after just being sort of really surprised at how real the whole thing was, is I stepped out of it and all I could help doing was compare normal reality and how real it was to virtual reality and how real it was, meaning how ultimately illusory both of them were. And what was the one thing that stayed the same? My boundless, changeless witness. That was the same in real reality. It was the same in virtual reality. So maybe you get a virtual reality game. You say, okay, we're going to show you four completely different realities. See which one you think is real or notice the thing that stays the same in all of them. That could be a very direct experience helping people find the witness. So there's just a lot of possibilities with this thing that are really stunningly exciting.
[02:04:42.976] Kent Bye: Yeah, totally. That's a big reason why I've been diving into it so much, because I really see it as this catalyst into this paradigm shift, because it is giving people that experiential component. Yeah, well, Ken, I know we've been talking for about two hours now, and I just wanted to just thank you for taking this time. I've been, I have to say that I have a lot of people ask me, they'll say, how do you do what you do? And, you know, that's a very complicated question because what they're really asking at some level is what is your background? Like, what do you study to be able to integrate all this different information? And I'd say that The integral theory has been a key part for me to have a mental model and a memory palace to be able to make sense of a model, a map of reality, so that it can be as inclusive as I can. And I guess what drives me is this insatiable curiosity that is trying to figure out all these different connections. And I'd say that there's a very similar simpatico with your own curiosity of trying to create those same mental maps and models, which kind of functionally turn into these memory palaces for us to hold all these different things in our mind at the same time. But, you know, your work came to me at a time that was really formative in my development, and it's continuing to push the limits and trying to hold all these different frameworks in my mind. At the same time, when you get into the VR experience to completely let go all of that, and just to be completely present to what's emerging in the moment, and to just focus on the quality of the presence that you can achieve without any of these sort of mental abstractions being projected too much. And so it's this balance between... Oh, always. Always. But yeah, I just wanted to thank you and give you an opportunity to say if there's anything else left unsaid that you'd like to say.
[02:06:22.001] Ken Wilber: No, I think we covered it. And I wanted to thank you, too, for I know all of the effort and time and work you put into this topic. And I'm just delighted that you're out there doing that. And I'm hoping, of course, that we can stay in touch and move forward and compare notes every now and then as this thing continues to become more and more likely to be more and more revolutionary.
[02:06:51.484] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Will do. And yeah, thanks again for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you.
[02:06:56.505] Ken Wilber: OK, my friend. Take care, buddy.
[02:06:58.935] Kent Bye: So that was Ken Wolber, and he is the creator of the Integral Framework in Philosophy. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview, is that first of all, well, first it was just an honor to be able to talk to Ken Wolber about these concepts and these ideas. You know, I've been very much informed by a lot of his framework, but I think there's also little things where I'm, I guess, cautiously skeptical of sort of wholesale adopting the entirety of his framework. I mean, his framework is a meta theory, which means that is really meant to design other theories as well. So it doesn't necessarily have to be the end-all and arbiter of using his specific language because it is very nuanced and complex and complicated and any type of design framework has to essentially make different decision points and so what are the decisions that you need to make in order to generate an experience as well as to tell a story But if you are doing these transformational experiences, then I think it is going to be quite helpful to be able to use this kind of developmental model to be able to have these different maps and models of consciousness in order to figure out what type of experiences you could make that could potentially catalyze these different types of experiences. And so just the fact that you could use virtual reality to cultivate this witnessing consciousness to be able to have this variety of many of these different experiences and to see what is consistent among all of them. And then when you're in real reality, you get to see this same level of witnessing consciousness. I've noticed in my own self over using virtual reality of the last four and a half years is that there's this refinement of being able to really tune in into deeper states of witnessing consciousness and perhaps getting to those deeper flow states within virtual reality and kind of thinking that as training wheels to be able to translate that and to get that back into these flow states in real reality. And that according to Ken Wilber's cartography of consciousness, that's maybe still at the gross levels and that in order to really start to go into these higher levels, then you have to then think about, you know, these other traditions and these other practices in order to actually get into those other states of consciousness. Well, the thing that's still in the pit of my stomach that gives me this hesitation or pause is this hierarchical versus holarchical and the functional difference between the two. Now, I totally get the philosophical difference between the dominator hierarchy, which is all about you expressing your power over people, and the growth hierarchy, or probably more accurately called a holarchy, which is these holons that are increasingly becoming more and more complex and more and more inclusive, more and more diverse. And there's this growth that the more expansive you are, being able to encompass many different perspectives, then in some ways that's one measure of maybe going from this egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric. The tricky thing is, and I think the thing that is really difficult to navigate, is how do you take these things that you can see on a collective scale, but you can also see them on an individual scale. And so how do you prevent yourself from If you have this world-centric perspective, how do you not turn that into this dominance hierarchy where you feel like you're better than other people because they have values that are going to be, you know, if you're a moral realist, you're going to say, well, there's good and evil and you're actually acting on the side of evil. Therefore, you're the enemy and you're the other. And now you've all of a sudden created this situation where you can stop seeing them as a human being. And so you have this sort of hierarchical way of dealing with other people. And so is there a way to be able to have a little bit more of a moral relativism in a way that's healthy? In the sense that a moral relative perspective, I guess, would be that there are these different stages and that you actually have to have some empathy for what it takes to be able to have this sense of moral development. and that it's not something that you could just force upon people by dictate from the outside, but it's actually something that they have to fully integrate within their core being. And I think that's a lot of what Kim Wilber is talking about, both in his book, The Religion of Tomorrow, where he really just is trying to look at the current religious traditions and wisdom traditions and how, you know, a lot of these depth psychological insights, as well as these insights into these deeper structures of these World views that are evolving that they really only discovered it within the last hundred years or so And so it's not something that you've necessarily been able to discover upon your own contemplation but that as we're able to see with all these different postmodern insights and we get these Ability to see all these different interpretive frameworks that are like these operating systems that are really dictating these levels of perception and values and morals and everything else and then how do you help people develop or grow or to evolve? And I think that's what Wilbur would refer to as the growing up. And I think it's a valid issue. And the tricky thing is that whenever you start to deal with someone as an individual, then do you start to take this growth hierarchy or holarchy, which is these holons that are trying to encompass more and more complexity, more and more inclusion, to try to transcend the limitations of one level and include the possibilities of the expansion, versus the dominator hierarchy, even the metaphors of up. Up implies above, growing up the second level, the sixth level versus the second level. These embodied metaphors of these levels make us feel like higher is better. And then how do you prevent yourself from saying, well, I'm at this second tier level of consciousness. I'm an integral thinker. you may say that and believe that, and once you do that, then you start to perhaps act as if you're better than other people. And I think that perhaps goes back to some of the wisdom of this. If you're able to achieve some of these higher states of consciousness in Zen or some of these siddhis, these superpowers, then you don't talk about them, because once you talk about them, it's like Lao Tzu said, is that, he who knows doesn't talk about it, and he who talks about it doesn't know. And so there's this process. If you start to own those identities and those labels, then does that actually create this polarity point where it creates the other, where other people aren't as good as you, and then you subconsciously start to treat them differently. That's been my phenomenological experience of it. And as part of my hesitation to wholesale adopting these types of systems, I think that as designing frameworks and designing these transformational Systems, that's well and good. But as I'm dealing with people day to day I tend to try to look at things in some different interpretive frameworks and I think I'd say, you know The Chinese philosophy is very useful here because it's very Taoist. It's much more of a Yin receptive less about trying to label or name things but trying to just be really present with what's emerging but also looking at things from like the depth psychological and young in perspective looking at the unconscious looking at trauma and trying to figure out what an individual story is and also trying to figure out someone's unique gifts and you know they were born in a quality moment of time and they have something that they are able to have a life experience and perspective that these situational knowledges of their experiences of where they've been on this scale of power and privilege and experience they're able to integrate all these different insights, and they're able to know something about the world that I will never know because of their lived experiences. And so I have this curiosity to know what they have learned. And so I think that's part of the reason why Wilbur says that no one is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time, because as soon as you start to put a label on someone, then you are basically exiling them into your ability to have compassion, to see them as a human being, and to see that they have some lived experiences where they might actually have something that they can teach you. but what I would say specifically to kind of maybe voice a perspective about the hierarchies is that there's this valid perspective of trying to look at the power and privilege and aspects of what it means to be a white cis male in the society and the amount of power and privilege that you have and and so when two white cis males are talking about identity politics and saying oh, well, that's not a We should always treat people as individuals. helpful in terms of including those aspects and then trying to transcend the limitations. And so in terms of the identity politics, you're trying to actually include the aspects of identity politics that are trying to point out these systemic structural issues that are these balances of power and privilege that have been dispersed throughout the society and to try to recognize that someone who is not in one of these categories of power and privilege may have like a statistical probability that they have an experience where they've had to experience or deal with some sort of oppression. And so the issue is like how do you sort of deal with that both on an individual and a collective level. So that's the things you want to include. The things you may want to transcend could be being able to only interact with people based upon their identity and to not to actually see what is emergent based upon their own individual gifts and personality and everything else that separates them as an individual separate from their ideological beliefs. So anyway, there's this difference between the collective and the individual and as you're dealing with some of these collective issues, but also as you're dealing with an individual, what is that mythopoetic perspective of like Michael Mead says that everybody has this unique genius or this diamond that they are trying to bring into the world and being able to relate to people on that level, rather than these labels, whether or not you're on the left or the right, or whether or not you believe this or that, or whether or not you are trying to put these vast labels onto people that then is preventing you from actually interacting with people as an individual. Now the challenge is, of course, if someone is espousing some sort of ideology that is actually actively trying to take freedom and liberty away from other people, let's say if you're a neo-Nazi and you're trying to create this ethnostate, well, that type of belief is actively putting other people in danger, and so that level of free speech and freedom is actually taking away the freedom from other people, and so there's this kind of ethical and moral dilemma, which is like that's a much more egocentric or ethnocentric perspective, and so how do you evolve and grow from something that is very self-centered into something that is really taking into account of the whole community. And so I think that, you know, Ken Wilber's integral philosophy has a lot of interpretive power. It's very powerful in designing frameworks, but there is this fundamental tension for how you deal with this subconscious labeling. And that's what gives me a little bit of a hesitation. But like I was saying, there's a little bit of like, that's a young expression. And I think the yin expression is much more about the lived experience and the story that's emerging. That's why I think that there may be something that is trying to use the integral framework to really design this really robust experiential design framework that is trying to really, as holistically as possible, have a framework to be able to design a whole range of different experiences. But these experiences are unfolding over time, and they're much more about this character development of how that changes. And I think that if you just look at things in terms of simple polarities, the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, that is the core fundamental formula for any sort of transformational experiences. You're at a current state you have an obstacle of that state and you have to overcome the obstacle and try to Grow yourself or try to discover something or try to overcome Some aspect or some limitation for you to grow into something that's larger and I think that at the core is the simplest type of way of looking at any individual is that they're always in this process of evolution and growth and trying to in their own way and Be on their own heroes journey in that way. And so what does that look like when it comes to designing this interactive and participatory? Experiences aside from just doing a story but trying to really robustly design these different experiences and so I think that the integral framework has a huge amount of insights, especially with this whole cartography of these what I would say either are higher states or deeper states of consciousness that are potentially available for all of us at any moment. But how do we get in touch with that through these different practices? And is it possible for virtual reality to start to really cultivate these different dimensions of our ability to tap into those altered states of consciousness through waking up? And whether or not it's possible to use VR to do these growing up, because these unconscious, invisible structures that are really kind of nebulous, it's really difficult to pin down, but Wilbur describes it as kind of like a form of grammar, which is like this unconscious rules of processing language. And I kind of think about it as different dimensions of culture where there's taboos and norms and information that is communicated through the stories that are told, the jokes that are told, the art, who's seen as a hero, there's these sociological aspects of the culture that they're embedded within those values. And that there's this open question for, well, how do you actually generate culture and community? And how do you transmit these values? And because it's essentially an aggregation of lots of individuals, participating in that. And so I guess the question is, can this ability for virtual reality to be able to cultivate these experiences of culture in these collective situations, just like Burning Man is this own culture of these gift economies, when you go there, you are participating in a set of rules and a culture that has been developed over time, where they create this whole experience of the gift economy in the context of this one week, but they're really in this kind of world centric gift economy where it's really going beyond the egocentric or the ethnocentric. And so is it possible to have something similar within a virtual reality experience where maybe you're able to give somebody a flavor of what it tastes like to be able to have an experience of a culture where they're really embodying these different values. And so I think that's an interesting concept, but I think at this point, Nobody really knows. It's a giant question. It's a giant problem, and I think we're all trying to figure it out. But I think that Kim Wilber definitely has a lot of insights. I'd recommend diving into something like A Brief History of Everything if you want an overview of the integral theory. That's one of the books that I really enjoyed. It's kind of a condensed version of the sex ecology and spirituality. And one of his more recent books is called The Religion of Tomorrow. It's like a 700 page enormous book, but it really dives into a lot of these specific aspects of waking up and growing up and cleaning up and showing up. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for tuning in to this podcast. If you got this far, then congratulations. This was quite an epic production here that I've been working on for the last week. 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