Integral Manifesto Pt II(1): Intersubjective Fields

Books Discussed in this Section

The IHDP working paper at

Hannah Arendt (1958)  The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago


Consider again the proposition of this manifesto

The fundamental encounter of subject-to-subject in a shared subjective space is the limiting quantumn of freedom.

If we allow this as a starting premise, namely that the subject-to-subject encounter is the limiting quantumn of freedom in the realm of human action, we might be inclined to a corollary proposition:

The space or ground of subjectivity is a field of relational properties that scale along various orders with respect to various processural rules.

In doing so, we might imagine an economy as a field of generative order and sets of rules that govern the scalar relations of those orders– a field in which innumerable subject-to-subject encounters occur. The orders and rules that prescribe the economy would be in continual transformation, both from top-down instructions and bottom-up feedback– yet, in a final analysis, both of those shaping systems emerge through subject-to-subject encounters. We cannot describe these as a “series” of subject-to-subject manipulations, as that would overdetermine their ordinal rank. Neither can we describe these encounters as completely discontinuous, for they operate in a field that mediates their engagement in such a way as to order than and scale them. The order that emerges is always “generative,” not imposed, since the relations create or generate themselves, the new relations between subjects, while the rules that govern them, prescribe the kinds of relations that might emerge. The rules set a kind of boundary condition, or event horizon– but never do they preclude the creation of completely novel forms through new subject-to-subject encounters, which by their very nature, are ultimately and radically discontinuous from the field, discontinuous from temporal and spatial relations, and arise anew from moment to moment, along with the subject, qua subject.

Similarly, then, we can imagine geographies–of space and mind– that are fields of generative order and sets of rules, that are both permeable and transformable, as they are continually fed “new information” from the pool of subject-to-subject encounters; as well as technologies–fields of humans and nonhumans enfolded into each other– arising from and descending into the intersubjective spaces where subjects encounter each other in free and novel engagement from moment to moment. Returning to the diagram of transformational phases posted earlier, we can describe the kinds of processes responsible for resilience as well as transformation in such intersubjective fields:


In the exploitation phase, there is less stored information in the intersubjective field– less order and more flexible rules– and as these orders and rules become more fixed, subjects become more interconnected–but not as a kind of superorganism, rather,  their connectedness is mediated through the generative orders and sets of rules that constitute their relatedness. The system, however, is continuously being fed “new information” that arises in completely novel ways through subject-to-subject encounters; and it is this new information that has transformational potential. However, this potential acts in a way such that the interconnections that mediate subjects is radically broken, and a phase of chaotic release (re-organization, creative destruction) ensues. It is therefore not surprising that the discourse associated with this transformational disturbance would not be found in top-down forms like institutional reports, judiciary commentary, military analyses, and the like, since these forms of discourse are deeply constrained by the prevailing orders and rules of the intersubjective field.

Therefore, connectedness alone is not a sign of robustness of intersubjective space; rather, it may be a signal that the field in which subjects operate is so rigidly fixed that it overdetermines the outcomes of subject-to-subject interactions. Instead of laying down connectivities that increase the kind of relationships that can emerge, the field becomes a box which inters it’s subjects such that few are able to “meet outside the box.” The generative capacity of the field, and its ability to set and re-set connections through rules of order, is very much like the laying down of  connections in the brain and its relationship to neuronal flexibility. The number and kinds of connections changes with need, usage and disturbance; and the brain has been shown to be able to hard-wire itself in habit, as well as to re-wire itself in completely new ways. The continually changing subjective state of the mind— intentional states, attentional modalities, states of awareness, states of consciousness– provides the continual renewal of information that energizes and renews the growth and change in the brain. Analogously, in intersubjective fields, growth as well as changes in connectivity must be continually energized and renewed by the intersubjective states of subjects through subject-to-subject encounters.

The crucial implication is that the field of intersubjective connectivity arises from subject-to-subject encounter, never from a collection of subjects, however, we try to analyze just what that collective is — an economy, a geography, a technology. Of course, there are feedback loops. But the feedback loops don’t mediate the authentic subject-to-subject encounter– they impact the cycle at the level of the individual subject. This is the sense of the inter-action of subject and world, and the nature of human and nonhuman enfoldments. The authentic subject turns toward her neighbor and re-enacts the world. The world is no mediator in this  en-act-ment, which is the quantum of political action as much as it is the limiting quantum of freedon.

The crucial distinctions between the objective world and its inter-ests among humans, versus the unmediated encounter of humans in action and speech that bears the stamp of the authentic subject-to-subject encounter, is an underlying theme running through all of Arendt’s political thought, and echoes in the following

Action and speech go on between men, as they are directed toward them, and they retain their agent-revealing capacity even if their contentis exclusively “objective,” connected with the matters of the world of things in which men move, which physically lies between them and out of which arises their specific, objective, worldly interests. These interests constitute, in the word’s most literal significance, something which inter-est, which lies between people and therefore can relate and bind them together. Most action and speech is concerned with this in-between, which varies with each group of people, so that most words and deeds are about some worldly objective reality in addition to being a disclosure of the acting and speaking agent. Since this disclosure of the subject is an integral part of all, even the most “objective” intercourse, the physical, worldly in-between along with its interests is overlaid and, as it were, overgrown with an altogether different in-between which consists of deeds and words and owes its origin exclusively to men’s acting and speaking directly to one another.

This second, subjective in-between, is not tangible, since there are no tangible objects into which it could solidify; the process of acting and speaking can leave behind no such results and end products. But for all its intangibility, this in-between is no less real than the world of things we visibly have in common. We call this reality the “web” of  human relationships.

What is this reality, this web of human relationships, is a central theme of human action and inquiry.