integral theory conference

The Unthinkable Present: Blogging at ITC2015

I'm pleased to (semi) formally announce that I'll be the official blogger this year at the 2015 Integral Theory Conference [1], happening at Sonoma State University, CA. This year's theme is "Integral Impacts: Using Integrative Metatheories to Catalyze Effective Change." The conference, hosted by MetaIntegral, is effectively an appraisal. A call to task for metatheories proper. From ITC's call for papers:

Integral Theory is currently being applied in over 35 distinct disciplines and yet there has been relatively very little work done to demonstrate how an integral approach is more valuable, more effective, and more sustainable. So while it is generally assumed an integral approach is better than a non-integral approach we have not made a very strong case to our non-integral colleagues that integral approaches are more impactful.

This focus builds on the momentum of the 2013 conference, where we expanded the field of discourse to include multiple integrative metatheories. Now we are asking ourselves how do we engage and apply these integrative metatheories in a way that is most impactful in terms of the kinds of changes we want to create in the world around us.

Universe is Full of Seeds by Karina Eibatova

"Metatheory." Do theories need to be meta? Before there was internet-speak, "meta" was for the classic geeks. Mathematics. Social sciences. The popularity of metatheories, like grand narratives, has ebbed and flowed over decades in academe. For now, anyway, it might be the case that they are making a comeback. In a complex, planetary civilization where human beings run on different models of reality – and with our systems of knowledge becoming so very highly specialized – "meta" thinking is beginning to sound favorable. Hence we the image of the pomegranate above. If meta theories – and therefore "integral" thinking, be it Roy Bhaskar's Critical Realism or Meta Realism, or Edgar Morin's Complexity Thinking – are going to properly orient us for an interconnected and complex, networked future, then we'd better hope our theories are up for the task. We'd better hope our theories can begin to do what Gregory Bateson described as finding "the patterns that connect." Our theories, if they are worth their salt, should mirror the intricacy – and complexity – of the natural world.

Back to the pomegranate.

Technically speaking, this delicious fruit has been the symbol of fertility since antiquity. By that note, perhaps 2013's Integral Conference – for which I analogized meta theories "having sex" [2] and developing novel mutations – is not unrelated here. In fact, perhaps we could see the pomegranate as a good symbol for the integral harvest. "Ye shall know them by their fruits," wrote Matthew [3]. Integral Theory, along with meta theory proper, is called to task – can they help the world? If so, how?

With the East Coast intellectual sobriety blasting down on my philosophical romanticism like New York's desolate 2015 winter, I feel a contentious relationship with meta theories. I want to believe they're worth their salt. I want to know what their impact truly is. At times, I wished for the gates of academe, with its razor sharp maw toothed by critical theory and social justice and activism, to bear down on Integral Theory. Then, and only then, I thought, could Integral Theory and meta theories like it be in touch enough, be a voice articulate enough, to have impact. I still feel this to be a good metric to carry with me into the conference, but I also recognize something essential here.

From Edgar Morin's notion of Complexity Thinking, to Bateson's "Ecology of Mind," to William Irwin Thompson's "wissenkunst" ("knowledge-art") and the power of creative, artistic sensitivity to concretize beyond the limits of what integral thinker Jean Gebser articulated as the mental "ratio," a new type of thinking for our species has become virtually necessary. So here's the caveat. As the most astute of these meta thinkers have pointed out, if a new thinking is emergent and nascent in the human populace, we will find it living and breathing in the cultures we journey to in search of it. It will whisper in the dark, remain hidden from pure analysis and datum. It will reveal itself as the unspoken art and become a secret to itself, hidden in plain site within the texts and artifacts of human consciousness. Our art, science, and knowledge in their amalgam tell us more than we know. In the clammering noise of global suffering and confusion there begets new knowledge. The serpent – like Quetzalcoatl, the Mexican god of Knowledge – will be found here a tail, there a scale, buried in the fragments of art and culture like a vast and coiled dragon. It is alive and biding its time. Our task, as William Gibson put it, is to become sensitive enough to recognize an "unthinkable present."

Gebser spent the better part of his life studying poetry for this very reason. To articulate the new voice. To say what was already being spoken to us, through us. It is very important to listen if one is to cognize the so-called evolution of consciousness.

So, are we listening?

That, to me, would be the beginning of any kind of integral impact. One must be affected by "it" to have effected the world.

To do any kind of conference we should ask ourselves: what are we being impacted by, anyway? What is the integral impact on us? What fruits are we yielding in turn?

If you like this kind of writing, and want to follow me through the conference, then I suggest following me on this journey by subscribing to this blog. I'll be posting regular content about the conference from here.

There are a few ways you can fiscally help me get to Sonoma in July for the conference. Check out my IndieGoGo campaign.


Secondly, if you'd like, you can subscribe to my Patreon (You can always increase or lower your subscription rate month-to-month).

Thank you for joining me for this integral exploration. Please let me know what you think. What does integral impact mean to you?


[1] See MetaIntegral's CFP (PDF)

[2] See my inaugural post for ITC2013: "Everything That Rises."

[3] By contrast, through association with Persephone and the Underworld, the pomegranate is also connected to death. Fertility and mortality. A fitting, dynamic image to represent the notion of an integral harvest – reaping and sowing.

Artwork: Universe is Full of Seeds by Karina Eibatova

Back from #ITC2013

ITC..1It's been two days since I've gotten back from the 2013 Integral Theory Conference. Still so much to decompress. Check out EL's page for updates on post-conference reflections. What can be said for now? The Integral world is making some big internal changes, getting its house in order, and encouraging many new directions of social engagement (including political activism, academic collaboration, and better representation of the diverse international community already present within its ranks, but not yet getting a voice). How the Integral community takes up these new challenges and concerns is yet to be seen, but it is clear the leadership and organizational structure have some great directions they'd like see everyone take up. A big part of this re-direction is on part of a the leadership fostering some critical reflection. Many of the panels were discussing topics already talked about for over a decade, only now receiving more attention. It was a melting pot of emotions: recognition, befuddlement, anticipation, frustration, excitement. A lot of people were happy to be heard. Others were not so happy about the new directions. So, again: let's see where the integral movement decides to go next. They've set the stage for a U-turn. Do they have enough momentum to really get the community kicking again in newer, and more socially relevant directions?