A Process Model with a View : Section III (On View)

Bonnitta Roy, A Process Model with a View. Presentation for First Integral Theory Conference 2008 at JKF University where it received an honorable mention for academic achievement in integral theory.

In this final section we turn to the third meaning of perspective and the ontological notion of view as distinct from the epistemological notion of perspective.  This is a crucial distinction since view connotes the  a-perspectival realm of being and the currently emerging  Integral – a-perspectival epoch that Gebser describes in his seminal work, The Ever-Present Origin. According to Gebser,  a-perspectival being possesses the peculiar character of the achronon, which is “time-freedom” or “achronicity.” The process model illustrates the achronic nature of the ontological realm by drawing a third axis perpendicular to the axes that prescribe the epistemological plane, whose vertices are labeled “anterior” (the point of the arrow pointing through the back of the page) and “posterior” (the point of the arrow coming directly out of the page) as in the following

The illustration shows the phenomenological arrow of time associated with the epistemological field (and the occasioning of the cognitive). This epistemological arrow of time is responsible for the sense of “now” in a localized “here-and-now”. The achronistic character of the ontological now is captured in some of Ken Wilber’s most poetic writing, as in the following examples:

It is always already undone, you see, and always already over. In the simple feeling of Being, worlds are born and die—they live and dance and sing a while and melt back into oblivion, and nothing ever really happens here in the world of One Taste.  … And I-I will be there, as I-I always have been, to Witness the rise and miraculous fall of my infinite easy Worlds, happening now and forever, now and forever, now and always forever, it seems (2000b, p. 623).

… in that unitary seamless sizzling Now, which is this very moment before you do anything at all, it is, quite simply, over. Which means, it has, quite simply, begun (2006, p. 346).

The ontological now is also exquisitely captured in these lines from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.    (Quartet 1, Burnt Norton)

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

(Quartet 4, Little Gilding)


The feelings expressed in these passages can be found in literature from all over the world. They point to a poignantly spiritual experience that I call an “ontological encounter”, or alternately, the “ontological dimensioning of being.” This “ontological dimensioning of being” is so constitutive of human experience, that it often goes unrecognized. For example, at one time in our lives we do not have the cognition of object constancy. But once we develop to the level of concrete operations, we experience objects as if they had always and already existed. This is a curious and important aspect of human experience – the ability to experience or come to know about something in time and the simultaneous experience of this something having existed for all of time and perhaps for all of time to come. In the ontological dimension, time present, time past, time future are all somehow entangled in a singular ontological encounter.

The process model illustrates this characteristic of the ontological with the vertices “anterior” and “posterior”. The posterior aspect is that which is experienced in time and the anterior aspect is that which is experience as eternally present. It is important to note that while we tend to concretize the ontological dimensioning of reality – a process, a verb, not a noun or thing—by assigning to its anterior aspect the cognitive categories of pre-given existence, this is rather superfluous epistemological content that is added onto the ontological experience, not content that arises within the ontological dimensioning of reality.

The second defining, a-perspectival characteristic of the ontological dimensioning of reality, is it’s a-spatial nature. This is experienced as an opening into, or an opening up of space. Heidegger writes of this as the opening of Being, of alethia, or a new kind of non-epistemological truth, that is “that opening which first grants the possibility of truth”. Similarly Gebser writes of an a-waring “where the world is space-free and time-free” and “the whole becomes transparent” and “the diaphanous becomes truth.”

At its most basic form, the ontological dimension is a capacity for opening, and therefore view can be thought of, fundamentally, as degrees of freedom. View therefore, does not refer to the fullness of perspectival cognosis, but to the opening up or into, the freedom and liberation of gnosis. Alternately, where all the fullness evolving in the epistemological field correspond to the Buddhist notion of vijnana, the experience of gnostic revelation that entails view corresponds to the Buddhist notion of prajna. Finally, we can interpret view and the degrees of freedom in relation to the Dzogchen narrative of the principle of EVAM, where E represents the dynamics of  the opening of “space” to entice and accommodate the creative arisings of VAM, and alternately, VAM represents the dynamics of creating and “filling up” space, and enticing E to further self-liberate as space.

This then, is the real meaning of the Dzogchen admonition to “be mindful of one’s view”, that is to be mindful of the capacity of open-ness and degrees of freedom required to accommodate perceptions and perspectives, actual and cognitive occasions alike,  in a fully open and truly self-liberated view.


By giving us a framework to language the difference between perspectives and view, the process model hopes to facilitate further exploration and inquiry into the various types of ontological encounters reported by great spiritual visionaries and tantric yogis; as well as create a framework to design transformative practices through a Process Model with a View that has the capacity to render transparent the categories of mind and nature and engage the whole as

‘being-in-Being’-in becoming.


i Note: this presensing correlates with the presencing at the bottom of Otto Scharmer’s U-Process, which requires one to unravel the structures of the self, and access a deeper originary source.

ii Note: this is the level that Gendlin asks individuals to access during his “Focussing” method of inquiry. However, his description of the location of this level is incorrect—the affect and image levels are prior to the body and therefore are not bodily felt feeling. Merleu-Ponty and his followers make the same mistake in their attempt to anchor language phenomenologically as “embodied”. Language is not at its most fundamental level “embodied” but “enfolded” deep within the cognitive occasion.

iii Curiously, this is the same argument that underlies the complex scholastics between Tsonkhapa and Gorampa as described by Sonam Thakchoe in his new book The Two Truths Debate—I as the two Buddhist scholars attempt to explain the difference between conventional mind (relative truth) and Buddha-nature (absolute truth).

Integral Manifesto Pt V(2) The Shape of Human Action/ Working from the Whole: A Process Methodology

Books Discussed in this Section

Eugene Gendlin (1997) A Process Model . University of Chicago

Christopher Alexander (2002) The Process of Creating Life (Book Two of The Nature of Order). The Center for Environmental Strucutre, Berkeley, Ca.  and PATTERNLANGUAGE.COM

Loenard Suskind (2006) Cosmic Landscape. Little, Brown & Co.  New York, Boston.

There are quite a number of studies that link aspects of human action with complexity theory. Each of them falls short of what is required of our new paradigm, since they are written from within a single disciplinary forte, and therefore limit themselves to just one of the domains of human action. Most of these attempts focus on economies and economic dynamics, but many are emerging from the social and technological arenas. Each attempt struggles to reconcile the two-fold character of human action — to reconcile the rational, mathematical, and linear aspects we can “collect” from the study of human action, with our non-rational (or irrational), nonlinear, paradoxical natures. For example, a completely robust model of the macroeconomy can be derived from rather conventional analyses and prove to be successful to some extent in predicting economic indicators– but it will fail to predict the outcomes of  real-world socio-political events. Similarly, rather straightforward narratives about technology can me modeled in theoretical terms, but the real-life associations between humans and non-humans always add surprises and unexpected events that do not fit the narrative. Recent trans-disciplinary attempts have begun to treat hybrid systems, such as socio-economic, socio-technological, socio-political economy, and the like. In these instances, more of the territory is brought into the picture, but none have achieved a comprehensive, holistic model. It seems to me that the mistake all of prior efforts share, is their attempt to build the whole by interweaving the parts. Rather, I am attempting to begin from a view of the whole, and to derive the parts. I have started with a basic model representing the whole of Human Action — the three inter-related domains of geo-social space, technology, and economy– a static model that might generate the system and its dynamics, and subsequently, to subsystems and all the relevant features of the particular, right down to what has been hypothesized as the limiting quantum of action– the subject-to-subject encounter.

The process of reasoning from an envisioned whole down to the particulars that are in need of unifying through a holistic theory, is called abduction. Abduction proceeds from a fundamental insight into the nature of the territory that needs explication, accompanied by a holistic vision as to the nature of the goal — in this case, a new paradigm of Human Action.  Abductive reasoning is guided not by conventional logics — although the end product must comply with them– but is steered by a clear, precise, and accurate implicit “gauge” inside the thinker, that continually measures the working out of the details as they proceed to deliminate their part of the whole. For me, felt images are primary material, then a feeling for the process dynamics of their operation, then the logical relations, and finally the evidence comes into play– evidence which conveys both positive and negative feedback as to whether a certain direction one has taken (among options presented) is on the right track– or not.

This process, of working from the whole implicit in one’s insight, toward the deep structures of a system model that “preserves the whole”, and then onto the subsystems and their structures and internal relations, is similar to the creative process Gendlin describes in his exegesis on Process Thinking. Gendlin relates the situation in which the “whole” of the process (the territory, the path, and the goal, as it were) is already implicitly known, and whose explication can be guided by a “bodily felt feeling”, or more precisely, the “felt implicit process” that is directing the explicit work. Gendlin has identified many details of his process thought, including steps such as the emergence of direct referents and felt shift, doubling, crossing, absent context and present context, and slotted rituals— all of which will seem familiar to theorists who have worked this way. Gendlin also defines categories of transition “objects” that bridge the implicit with the explicit. Gendlin’s primary argument says that although the implicit is in some sense “vague” because it is unformed, has not yet been given an explicit shape, it is nonetheless more whole and more precise because it is that against which we measure our working toward an appropriate explicit formulation.

Christopher Alexander describes this same kind of process methodology that works from the whole, with a sense of feeling-logics as its guide, in many different ways and at many different levels throughout his four-volume work The Nature of Order. His way of reflecting on the question of the whole process–“How in practice, can a person keep paying attention to the whole; how can one achieve successful differentiation and structure-enhancing transformations at every step of a living process?”– deeply engages the reader with his very beautiful writing

… wholeness and “deep structure” are enormously difficult to see. Especially in a complex, real-worl case, the task of finding the most structure-enhancing step available is therefore, in practice, extremely hard. Our current modes of perception are not always tuned to seeing whoeness in the world around us; and the exact definition of the structure of wholeness– the system of centers at all scales, with their attendan degrees of life and coherence– is cumbersome and hard to grasp when we try to grasp it by analytical means. yet in order to move forward, and to find aggreement in larger, communal projects, it is imperative that we do have a workable and practical method of seeing wholeness, and assessing the degree to which any proposed next step does increase the life and wholeness of any evolving structure. Otherwise there is no effective way of choosing the next step forward in any given process.

As to how this is to be done, Alexander writes

The living process can therefore be steered, kept on course toward the authentic whole, when the builder [of the model, ie.e the theoretician] consistently uses the emerging feeling of the whole as the origin of his insight, as the guiding light at the end of the tunnel by which he steers. I am suggesting that if the builder [theoretician] at each step of a living process, takes that step which contributes most to the feeling coming from the work, always cnooses that which has the more profound feeling, then this is tantamount– equivalent– to a natural process in which the step-wise forward-moving action is always goverend by the whole.

From which Alexander formulates an essential rule

In any living process, or any process of design or making, the way forward, the next step which is most structure-enhancing, is that step which most intensifies the feeling of the emerging whole.

From my own view of the Whole of Human Action , for all the internal relations (from a structural view) or alternately all the internal dynamics (from a process view) to “preserve the whole”, then there could be no externalized factor, no essential “unknown” that acted as a a kind of disparate part, or coupling mechanism. I therefore began to understand that in this whole system I was envisioning as Human Action, all structures must be co-creative, and all realtional dynamics must be internal to the system. In other words, the system, “Human Action” must operate “enactively” — a term coined by Varela and Thompson whose essential meaning is “to lay down the path by walking.”

This insight in turn, led me to realize that what I might achieve this dynamic and holistic model by representing the three domains of human action (the geo-socio spatial, technological and economic) as natural units of human action that were related to each other as in a perfect ly. Perfect relations are equations that require no outside information to solve their parts. Ohm’s Law (V=IR) for example, prescribes the perfect relations between voltage, resistance, and amperage– and constitutes all the dynamics of electric flow. In a perfect relation, all member-constants vary with each other is specific ways, but their holistic association never varies. Similarly, Einstein’s paradigmatic shift regarding space and time was intuiting their perfect relation, e=mc(squared).

It also began to occur to me that all newly emerging paradigmatic shifts bringing about holistic systems, might require the ability to bring the structural parts into perfect relation through a process methodology. Loenard Susskind wonderfully re-creates just this kind of ability in his imaginary narrative of Max Plank, working on the renormalization of the variables of length, mass and time, into the perfect relation whose pivotal missing link turned out to be not a variable at all, but the Plank constant. I will end this post with Susskind’s tale

Recently I made the most wonderful discovery of a completely new fundamental constant of nature. People are calling it my constant, Plank’s constant. I was sitting in my office thinking to myself: why is it that the fundmanetal constants like the speed of light, Newton’s gravitational constant, and my new constant have such awkward values? The speed of light is 2.99 x 108 meters per second. Newton’s constant is 6.7 x 1011 square meters per second-kilogram. And my constant is even worse, 6.626 x 10-34 kilogram-square meters per second. Why are they always so big or so small? life for a physicist would be so much easier if they were ordinary-size numbers.

Then it hit me! There are three basic units describing length, mass, and time: the meter, the kilogram, and second. There are also three fundamental constants. If I change the units, say, to centimeters, grams, and hours, the numerical values of all three constants will change. For example, the speed of light will get worse. It will become 1.08 x 1014 centimeters per hour. But if I use years for time and light-years for distance, then the speed of light will be exactly one, since light travels one light-year per year. Doesn’t that mean that I can invent some new units and make the three fundamental constants anything I want? I can even find units in which all three fundamental constants are equal to one! That will simplify so many formulas. I’ll call the new units natural units since they’re based on the constants of nature. Maybe, if I’m lucky, people will start calling them Plank units.