Picking up from the Introduction to Integral Thinking I posted a while ago, it’s time to put my book into integral terms. I’ll go chapter by chapter so as to keep things manageable.
The first chapter of Healing The Unhappy Caveman is called, “The Truth About Truth.” It is essentially about the relationship between UL (upper left quadrant – individual subjective) and UR (upper right quadrant – individual objective). Though I had no knowledge of integral thinking at the time I was writing the book (2002-2004), I had a sense that my message would lack real gravitas if I didn’t immediately address the relationship between objective reality and what we, as individuals, experience of it.
The gist of my stance is there is theoretically such a thing as absolute truth. In integral terms, there is an objective reality (the two right quadrants) that is quite independent of what subjective minds (the two left quadrants) might think about it. (Yes, I believe a tree falling in the forest makes a sound even if no one is around.) Of course, the trouble comes when you try to do something with that reality – measure it, describe it, manipulate it, etc. At that point, subjective interpretations of that objective reality are in play. And for us, with our impressive, yet limited, abilities to truly perceive reality, the result is a mental model of our world that is both massively reliable and relative to its core.
The model is reliable because the pieces fit together most of the time. Though the notion of red as a color is an artificial construct of our minds, it works well enough that we can use it to describe things that are similar in color, even if they’re different in every other way – apples and fire trucks, for example. It is relative to the extreme because everything we know (or believe we know, to be exact) is related to something else we know (or believe we know). And if you keep deconstructing things you know or believe into their component pieces, you eventually wind up in the land of the very, very, very small – the quantum world. And there…well, everything is a guess, an approximation, a probabilistic measure of absolute reality.
So, I assert that a critical step in making progress toward ridding our lives of unhappiness is coming to grips with the limitations our minds impose on us when it comes to interpreting reality. Now, I’m not suggesting, not even for a moment, that we should just interpret reality however we want because we acknowledge that we can never be sure. Quite the contrary. I argue that there are two very important things to take from this realization.
- We need to get comfortable with uncertainty, and we need to run like hell from anyone or anything that requires us to maintain a stance of certainty about anything
- Though we recognize that we can never be sure, we should endeavor to get our subjective version of reality to align as closely as possible with absolute reality</li?
And what exactly does all this truth talk have to do with happiness? Well, the short answer is that the more your UL perspective on reality differs from a UR perspective on reality, the more likely it is that you’ll be unhappy. I believe unhappiness generally comes from pervasive frustration – life just isn’t turning out as it was supposed to turn out. If this happens for long enough, we become unhappy. And what is the number one source of frustration? I say it is mis-set expectations. Things aren’t turning out like they were supposed to because our expectations were unrealistic (the UR kind of realistic, that is). And why would we have unrealistic expectations? Bingo! Because there’s a disparity between our UL interpretation of reality and the more concrete UR perspective of reality.
So… it makes good sense to be aware of the significant differences between these two perspectives. Chapter 2 discusses a method for aligning them with one another as much as possible. Stay tuned…
One of the most important changes in my world view has come in the last few months as I’ve digested a lot of the writings of Ken Wilber. Now, keep in mind, that I am very much a “pick and choose” kind of guy, so I have yet to find a personality/thinker with whom I wholeheartedly agree on all topics. Wilber is no different. Nevertheless, his efforts at Integrating disparate and seemingly unrelated bodies of knowledge (and experience) are nothing short of brilliant. And best of all, what he has come up with – a true feat of integral thinking – is amazingly useful when it comes to analyzing and communicating about most anything, including the enlightened caveman concept.
What follows is mostly groundwork, to set the foundation for interpreting the content of my book in Integral terms. I’ll start to connect the dots at a high level toward the end. A subsequent post (or posts) will dive deeper – taking the book chapter by chapter. (This is a serious case of, “If I knew then what I know now.”)
Moving on…The core of Wilber’s Integral framework is the notion of quadrants. I internalize this as perspectives – there are four that you can (and should) take when viewing a serious topic. (Non-serious topics do not require such rigor, and failing to recognize this usually results in missing forests for trees.) Anyhow, here’s a look at the four quadrants, lifted shamelessly from Wilber’s Wikipedia entry.
The upper left quadrant (UL) deals with the internal side of things for an individual entity. In other words, it addresses the subjective interior of an individual mind. Upper Right (UR), on the other hand, deals with the objective exterior of the same individual entity. So, borrowing some insight from Smokey Robinson, “People say I’m the life of the party (UR), but deep inside I’m blue (UL).”
Similarly, the lower left (LL) quadrant focuses on the subjective side of things for a collective of individual entities – this is the culture view. The lower right (LR) deals with the external collective – the social side of things. For example, consider the difference between say a chess club and a religious sect. In LR terms, they’re pretty similar – a free-formed gathering of people. But in LL terms, they’re vastly different. One is a group of people who share a common interest – pretty tame as far as culture is concerned. The other, however, has much more going on from a shared subjective experience perspective.
Another way to look at the quadrants is in terms of I, We, It, and Its. The “I” is represented in the UL quadrant, and the “We” is LL. The “It” and “Its” are UR and LR, respectively. Or, if you prefer Plato, you can think of the UL as the beautiful (as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”), LL is the good (as in, morality is a “we” thing), and the right quadrants (UR and LR) are the true (as in, the objective truths of our world).
Right away, you can probably see how useful this quadrant thing can be. It provides an additional bit of context for whatever we happen to be interested in. And when it comes to the enlightened caveman concept, it gives me a serious leg up.
In the most simplistic terms, my book is a method of improving one’s UL experiences by understanding more of the UR and LR reality of the human species. It is about improving the experience of “I” by really understanding the “it” of myself. It’s similar to how wild-life experts, such as Jeff Corwin, have to learn a great deal of objective information about animal behavior – as in, what kinds of circumstances cause what kinds of responses – in order to successfully navigate their trips into the bush.
For us, we have to learn objective information about how our brains are organized, what kinds of capabilities they have, how our emotions work, and when they come into play. Most importantly, we have to learn how much of the “out-of-the-box” human mind can be changed (read: improved), and we have to learn how to change it. When we absorb all this, we can discern how to better navigate the modern world we live in – in interior subjective terms.
Happiness is a subjective thing, no? So is unhappiness. There’s a lot of truth to the notion that choosing to be happy and to look at things in a positive way are the keys to happiness. Unfortunately, that’s a little vague. And it’s bringing a knife to a gunfight. The objective reality (UR) of the human mind includes a battery of emotionally-mediated modules that were designed to facilitate man’s survival in a world that no longer exists. Those modules are working against us all the time, until, that is, we become aware of them and we learn how to tame them. So there are two parts to Healing The Unhappy Caveman – the first provides the UR information; the second provides the method for integrating that knowledge into our daily UL experiences. (Incidentally, Part 2 also calls upon LL and LR perspectives to elaborate on the method.)
My next task is to place each chapter in its integral quadrant context. Stay tuned…