Whole and Part


I have stated already on this Forum that I consider that Ken Wilber's use of vision-logic inadequate as an intellectual tool for integrating reality.

Its one-directional (linear) approach - though admittedly used in a flexible and sophisticated manner by Ken - misrepresents the true dynamic nature of relationships. Thus on close examination there are deep inconsistencies in Ken's evolutionary model.

The quote below from a recent book of Ken's provides - in the context of development - a number of his typical one -directional statements.

It will be instructive to deal with each of these statements in turn and explore their limitations in the context of a balanced dynamic approach.

This posting - which deals with the first of these statements - examines Ken's notion of holarchy.

"In precisely the same way, we can say that at each point in evolution or remembrance (anamesis), a mode of self become merely a component of a higher order self (e.g. the body was the mode of the self before the mind emerged whereupon it becomes merely a component of self) This can be put in several different ways each of which tells us something important about development, evolution and transcendence

(1) what is whole becomes part;

(2) what is identification becomes detachment;

(3) what is context becomes content i.e. context of cognition/experience of one level becomes simply a content of experience of the next);

(4) what is ground becomes figure and releases higher-order ground);

(5) what is subjective becomes objective (until both of these terms become meaningless);

(6) what is condition becomes element (e.g., the mind, which is the a priori condition of conventional experience, becomes merely an a posteriori element of experience in the higher-order realms;

as it was put in The Spectrum of Consciousness, one is then looking at these structures and therefore is not using them as something with which to look at, and thus distort, the world). Each of these points is, in effect, a definition of transcendence. Yet each is also a definition of a stage of development. It follows that the two are essentially identical, and evolution, as has been said, is actually "self-realization through self-transcendence."

(Eye of Spirit pages 238-239)


It is important from the onset to distinguish clearly as between the affective and cognitive appreciation of whole and part.

Perception typically begins with affective recognition where one becomes aware of the unique personal nature of an object.

Thus for example when I notice a flower e.g. a rose, this is an example of affective perception. For the moment I am aware of the unique (whole) identity of the rose.

Without this affective appreciation it would be impossible to obtain distinctive knowledge of phenomena. So observation in fact starts with the affective mode of the senses.

However science is not directly interested in this unique whole identity of phenomena.

Rather it concentrates on their collective identity (i.e. where they are seen - in cognitive terms - as parts of a collective whole.

So the focus in science quickly moves from affective sense (personal) to cognitive rational appreciation (impersonal). One thereby transcends - in rational terms - the limited identity of the specific object seeing it as simply part a larger whole.

Thus when - in scientific terms - I cognitively recognise that a rose belongs to the collective class of roses, I now see it as part (i.e. member) of the quantitative set of roses.

Cognitive perception therefore involves the (impersonal) recognition of phenomena (whereby they are seen as parts of a collective whole). Thus a rose is part of the collective set of roses.

In fact four aspects are involved:

(a) Firstly we have affective perception which reveals the unique whole identity of an object (and is personal in nature). This is the basis of the artistic viewpoint.

Here I become aware of the specific identity of a rose through the senses.

(b) Then we have the cognitive concept which reveals the collective whole identity of an object (and is impersonal in nature). This gives a general scientific interpretation of the object class (which contains the identity of all roses).

Here I become aware of the concept of "roseness" (through reason).

(c) We next have cognitive perception which reveals the part identity of objects (and is impersonal in nature). This gives a specific scientific interpretation of the members of the object class.

Here I become aware of different rose perceptions (through reason).

(d) Finally we have the affective concept which reveals the unique part identity of objects (and is personal in nature). This gives an artistic interpretation of the general object class (through which each rose is uniquely reflected).

Here the concept of "roseness" is intuited (through the senses).

Thus affective and cognitive understanding have both part and whole interpretations.

In the dynamics of understanding all four aspects are necessarily involved.

Let us now explore precisely what happens.

In correct dynamic terms each aspect of understanding enjoys equality of status. Cognitive and affective aspects are equal; whole and part aspects are equal.

However when we try to analyse this dynamic interaction in static analytical terms we must use a bi-directional approach (connecting affective with cognitive or alternatively cognitive with affective).

Thus taking the affective aspect as "lower" we can analyse how this understanding is transcended in "higher" cognitive terms.

Alternatively taking the cognitive aspect as "lower" we can analyse how this understanding is transcended in "higher" affective terms.

The continual bias in Ken Wilber's thinking is towards the first interpretation (though he does not clearly distinguish as between cognitive and affective aspects).

Thus we can start out at the "lower" level where an object enjoys a unique qualitative whole identity. However through transcendence to the "higher" level it now is seen cognitively as a part (of a larger whole).

The statement that the "whole becomes simply a part" is merely a half-truth. This reflects the attempt to translate reality in one-directional rational terms. Effectively it reduces the affective (to the cognitive aspect).

We can equally start with the cognitive as the "lower" level where objects enjoy a quantitative part identity. However through transcendence to the "higher" level each object is now seen - in affective terms - as a new "whole" (with a unique identity).

So in this second (affective) interpretation transcendence is a process by which each part becomes a "higher" whole.

This complementary viewpoint can perhaps be appreciated in the context of intimate personal relationships. So often a person initially seen - in quantitative terms - as just part of a crowd, gradually assumes a unique (personal) significance. One's (whole) world becomes increasingly reflected through this other person.

Indeed this raises a major problem with the (conventional) scientific approach. Reality at all level involves the interaction of qualitative and quantitative aspects (personal and impersonal).

However science attempts to translate reality in one-directional cognitive terms. Thus it inevitably reduces the affective to the cognitive aspect and thereby the qualitative (personal) to the quantitative (impersonal) aspect.

Ken Wilber's holarchical approach represents this scientific bias where evolution is seen - in cognitive terms - as the transcendent movement to "higher" level wholes (which reflect the "lower" parts). There is little recognition of the alternative (affective) direction of evolution,as the transcendent movement to "higher" level parts (which reflect the "lower" whole)

Thus when we transcend and include (in cognitive terms), the "lower" level whole becomes a quantitative part (in relation to the "higher" level).

When we transcend and include (in affective terms), the "lower" level part becomes a qualitative whole (in relation to the "higher" level). In dynamic terms, cognitive and affective experience are (vertically) complementary with respect to each other. What is "higher" from one perspective is "lower" from the other.

What is inclusion from one perspective is likewise exclusion from the other;

Finally what is transcendence from one perspective is prescendence (i.e. immanence) from the other.

So let us now combine cognitive and affective experience in dynamic terms.

1) When one transcends and includes (in cognitive terms), one thereby prescends and excludes (in affective terms).

To transcend cognitively, we must prescend affectively; what this means is that cognitive and affective modes are complementary so that "higher" cognitive (part) recognition is dependent on "lower" affective (whole) recognition.

Scientific investigation necessarily starts with qualitative (affective) sense observation whereby we become aware of the unique nature of data. These are then transcended through rational cognition where the data is seen as part (of an impersonal whole). However transcendence and inclusion in "higher" cognitive recognition dynamically requires reverse movement through "lower" level prescendence (and exclusion in affective terms).

Thus we transcend in cognitive terms (moving from "lower" to "higher") by equally prescending in affective terms (moving from "higher to "lower").

Then we can only include in cognitive terms by excluding in affective terms.

2) When one transcends and includes (in affective terms), one prescends and excludes (in cognitive terms).

This time to transcend affectively (moving from "lower" to higher") we must prescend cognitively (moving from "higher" to "lower"). Again there is dynamic interaction between both levels.

We then include in affective terms by excluding in cognitive terms.

Once more the holarchical approach that Ken Wilber advocates is fundamentally unbalanced.

Basically it arises from trying to treat development - which represents a dynamic process - in one-directional (static) terms.

For Ken evolution is solely about transcendence and inclusion (reflecting a cognitive interpretation of reality).

However when we properly appreciate the dynamic interaction of cognitive and affective aspects of understanding this - necessarily - is inconsistent.

Dynamically speaking "higher" entails "lower"; transcendence entails prescendence (immanence); inclusion entails exclusion.

Thus when interpreted in static terms, evolutionary development is bi-directional representing both holarchy (movement of holons towards "higher" wholes) and partarchy (movement of holons towards "lower" parts). (As these terms are relative we can equally take the wholes as "lower" and the parts as "higher").

Thus in this dynamic interpretation holarchy and partarchy are seen as equal relative expressions of the present moment. This position is thus truly consistent with nondual reality.

In my model we start with the fundamental ground-goal of existence preceding conception (whereby - by definition - no differentiation or integration has taken place). It can be represented in purely circular terms as a state of totally confused complementarity that is defined in terms of complementary opposites (horizontal, vertical and diagonal).

When development gets underway, there is a gradual movement away from this (circular) complementarity through the differentiation of conscious (linear) structures.

However all the "lower" levels are defined dynamically as involving the relationship of (confused) linear and circular understanding (LL3 to LL1 inclusive in my model).

The only truly linear level is L0 that bridges "lower" and "higher" levels.

Once again all the "higher" levels are defined dynamically as involving the relationship of linear and circular elements (HL1 to HL3) this time in mature differentiated fashion.

This culminates in a purely circular (integrated) state (nondual reality).

Finally with radial reality there is the dynamic interplay of both circular (nondual) and linear (dual) aspects horizontally (within levels), vertically (between levels) and diagonally (within and between levels).

As linear understanding in the model is strictly appropriate for only one level, my main concern has been to devise a satisfactory means of handling dynamic movement (which applies at all other levels). This I have achieved through using Holistic Mathematics (which could be descibed as the mathematics of dynamic relationships).

For all its sophistication and detail, Ken Wilber's method is largely linear throughout. This does not imply that he believes that development takes place in a strictly linear fashion but rather that he uses a one-directional approach (in analysing this development).

In the context of a truly integrated approach this methodology - to my mind - is clearly inadequate and leads ultimately to deep inconsistencies (e.g. one-sided holarchy) in his findings.


Response from Izzi


In one of the footnotes in SES, Ken Wilber acknowledges that the book is purposefully written from the perspective of vision-logic. He feels that at least some of his audience has progressed from rational (associated with the industrial age), to vision-logic (associated with the information age). He therefore feels that there are enough people capable of grasping things at this level, that it is worth the risk of publishing a book demanding this level of understanding.

Also, I can't remember if it was during an interview, or if it was in Eye of Spirit, that Ken said he purposefully used "colloquial" rather that technical language (though if he thinks he is colloquial, I can't imagine what his prose would look like if he started getting technical).

So I do not think it is accurate to strap "vision-logic" on Ken as his "method" or his "approach," although it is the level he has chosen to utilize when functioning as a popular writer.

I think Ken Wilber is capable of working through a book that transcends vision-logic, but it is already difficult for him to make himself understood at the level his has chosen for presentation of his ideas.

I think you bring up a very interesting question: is it possible to publish a book that utilizes an approach that transcends vision-logic? Would anyone publish it? How many people could understand it?

I could look up and quote the specific reference if you are interested, and if it may cause you to modify the context of your evaluation of Ken Wilber's efforts. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that although Wilber has accomplished much, someday the general level of consciousness will catch up to his presentation, and it will be necessary to "kick it up a level." I wonder if we will be at that point anytime soon.

Best Regards,



Reply from Peter



Thank you for your interesting contribution (You did not however address the substance of my criticism!)

Yes, I have read that footnote in SES and also what Ken has to say about vision-logic in his main text. To be honest I find his views on planetary centauric transformation somewhat general and unconvincing.

As I see it, vision-logic is a flexible and sophisticated multi-differentiated rational approach. At best it leads to a quasi integrated interpretation of reality.

Thus the point I make is a fundamental one. Ken Wilber claims to be offering an integrated worldview. I believe that this cannot be done through the use of vision-logic and that the very attempt leads ultimately to deep inconsistencies. Once again Ken is inclined to make many one-sided statements that are really only half-truths. This leads to a persistent bias in his thinking and distorts his treatment of key issues e.g. pre/trans fallacy, the four quadrants and the holarchical view of evolution.

As regular readers of the forum will know, I have developed an alternative dynamic approach that I call Holistic Mathematics. This was derived from identifying the cognitive rational structures associated with each of the "higher" spiritual levels. From this process remarkable new mathematical systems emerged. Though still in its infancy, I believe that Holistic Mathematics provides a fruitful basis for a precise scientific approach to integration.

It is versatile in its applications. For example it provides a different perspective for viewing Ken's work. Also it leads to exciting new forms of dynamic science - that I call Holoscience - where physical and psychological reality are seen as fully complementary. At the moment I am demonstrating the implications of Holoscience for physics.

As Holistic Mathematics is directly derived from the "higher" spiritual levels, it transcends vision-logic. The main problem in fact may be its very simplicity. We are so used to viewing reality through a distorted lens that what is most obvious is often difficult to see. However there is a great desire out there for a truly coherent scientific view of reality. I believe Holistic Mathematics provides such a view and that others therefore will slowly realise its value.




Response from Paul


The brilliance of your intellect is appreciated. I will hazard a guess--perhaps off the mark, but the meaning is clear--that you are either an Oxford scholar, or should have been.

I was a classical musician for many years in a major orchestra (am now retired) so I am not equipped to follow much of your Holarchical Mathematics to the degree which I would like (I only went through first semester calculus, and was not a prodigy by any means).

However, I remain unconvinced about two points, if I understand them fully, which you make concerning Wilber's ideas.

First, I do not believe that Wilber says that the language of vision-logic is appropriate under all circumstances. I believe that vision-logic well serves his purposes of communication to a certain audience, and that most of his readership can start from a certain level of comfort with that form of expression, and then proceed on if need be.

Second, I am not sure that Wiber's ideas are as limited, in terms of "linearity" as you make them out to be. The concept of the holon is not so much lacking in bi-directionality as it is including all directions at the same time. Whole-partedness does not exclude any direction of focus, or any direction of evolution-involution. Wilber sometimes chooses a direction within the framework of a specific discussion for the sake of exposition. Any discussion from any point except the Non-Dual will necessarily have a linear aspect to it.

Again, I am most happy to hear your comments, and do not believe them to be off-the-mark. However, and this is only a suggestion, if you decide to write your book, perhaps consider that not all of the readers will be Oxford scholars, but may only be enthusiastic thinkers, and might delight in hearing your ideas in terms which do not require years of training in order to muster some response.

Best to you,

Paul M.



Reply from Peter


M. Paul,

I appreciate your generous comments and your own valuable contributions to the Forum.

I would like to make a brief comment regarding Holistic (i.e. Holarchic Mathematics). It is important to remember that it is not at all like mathematics (as conventionally) understood.

It originated from the attempt to understand - philosophically - the nature of dynamic relationships. Gradually this led me to the realisation that mathematical symbols have an alternative qualitative - as opposed to quantitative interpretation; furthermore these symbols provide a precise means for expressing the true nature of such dynamic relationships.

The basic concepts of Holistic Mathematics are in fact remarkably simple. However their appreciation requires a willingness to look at reality in an inherently dynamic manner.

When you say "I do not believe that Wilber says that the language of vision-logic is appropriate under all circumstances", I agree with you. Indeed Ken keeps returning to the fundamental nature of nondual reality in his writings and communicates very well its - ultimately ineffable - nature.

However I have a fundamental problem with Ken's approach. Clearly Ken excels in the versatile and sophisticated use of precise rational analysis (vision-logic).

Equally he shows a fine appreciation of the intuitive nature of nondual reality.

However he never establishes - to my mind - a satisfactory bridge as between the rational and intuitive worldviews.

This leads to basic inconsistencies.

In rational mode, Ken is inclined to make strong - even dogmatic - statements. His treatment of the pre/trans fallacy (where pre is sharply distinguished from trans) is one good example. However, clearly from the perspective of nondual reality such a (dualistic) distinction is invalid.

Unfortunately Ken never really reconciles the rational (dualistic) with the intuitive (nondual) interpretation.

I would have to disgree with you when you say that "I am not sure that Wilber's ideas are as limited, in terms of "linearity" as you make them out to be". Again let's be clear. I do not accuse Ken of believing that development unfolds in a straightforward linear fashion. However he tends to use - in terms of rational analysis - a linear (one-directional) approach.

For example the view that psychological development goes from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal is linear and one-directional. Also his holarchical view of evolution (with transcendence and inclusion in "higher" level wholes) is also linear and one-directional.

Now there is a tendency with sophisticated writers such as Ken to "cover all bases" by occasionally throwing out views suggesting alternative viewpoints. However these "opposing" views - when offered - are not satisfactorily harmonised with his customary positions.

I am not at all questioning the immense value of Ken's contribution. With his highly impressive scholarship and comprehensive grasp of so many fields - he has brought transpersonal psychology and integrated studies to a wide and appreciative audience.

However I am pointing to what I consider is an important deficiency in his approach i.e. a misunderstanding of the true nature of dynamic relationships. This ultimately leads to deep inconsistencies in what is meant to be an integrated approach to understanding.

I believe Paul that it is important to highlight this problem. Of course I welcome debate - such as your worthwhile contribution - on the matter.



PS I take your point regarding the need for a popular "user-friendly" approach. However issues such as the relationship as between "whole and part" are very subtle. There is a danger that if ideas were initially presented for a "popular "audience" that the treatment might be unduly trivial


Further Response to Peter

I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

I shall attempt to stay open on the subject and look forward to hearing more.