Notes on Post-Dialectics

 First we see that language has the capacity both to enrichen and to limit our experience. We begin to realize that Indo-European languages are all built around polarities of all sorts, and when we try to disentangle them the situation gets really peculiar. People like Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein in the west and Nagarjuna in the east have done their best to understand some of the limitations of language. More recently, someone like Gendlin comes along and says “how is it that we have this intuition of wholeness and fields of seamless relatedness and although we have a primordial felt-sense of this being the case, our language is not adequate to the expression of this?” Gendlin says that this primordial felt-sense is *more accurate* than language, because it is the capacity we use to *judge or measure* whether language is doing a good job at representing what we want to express, like a poet, who keeps going back to his felt-sense to appraise the choice of the “right word” …

For centuries, spiritual teachers have told us that we live in a world of duality, yet the ultimate view is non-dual. This doesn’t seem to help, since it is merely a “final example” of the ordinary problem.  Why is it that our language reflects this dualistic world and not the ultimate? Well, the spiritual people will tell you that it is because most people are not enlightened.  But then of course, their own explanation results in centuries of debate called “the two truths debate” – because the question “how can people who all *are* Buddha nature at the very source, not be enlightened? What is it that “tarnishes” Buddha nature, if everything is itself Buddha nature?

Today, developmental theorists like Suzanne Cook Greuter argue that we live in a dualistic world because our minds are inherently dualistic in the way they organize experience and conceptual reasoning. Following Piaget, she believes this is the deep structure of mind, whose polarities drive the development of cognition through stages—yet each of these stages is “trapped” by its own iteration of the condition of primary polarity. The primary polarity, according is the separation of two opposing contraries from a prior ground . Developmental theory, based in polarity theory, holds that this is the necessary condition for thinking, and therefore, even if we have a deep intuition of wholeness, or another, non-dual reality, our abstractions will never be able to access this, or to represent this. Hence the language structure gets repeated from generation to generation and the world of duality gets reified.

However, if you study the pre-Buddhist Bob people (of present day Tibet) you will see that their languages did not have so much trouble talking about the nondual view. The Bon scholars rigorously critiqued the Indian Buddhists for their linguistic reductionism of the view. And today, we have process philosophers such as Whitehead and Hartshorne,  Kakol, who have rigorously and comprehensively disentangled the conceptual framework underlying the dualistic way of reasoning. It turns out that this conceptual framework is so deeply embedded in our reasoning, that it re-wires our brain, and limits our openness or capacity or degrees of freedom to actually receive experience in a new way. Through their help, we begin to see that the contraries are not what we assume them to be—deep structures of mind, or fundamental aspects of reality—rather, they are arbitrarily conditioned forms of reasoning, thinking and experiencing that we can de-condition ourselves from.

If we pay attention, we can start to de-condition our deep habits of mind, and  open up to the new possibilities of being, and liberate our capacities to perceive, and increase the degrees of freedom in our choice field. We can start, for example, with learning to recognize “everyday bardo” – those situations which arise *as if there are only two choices* — and those choices are a result of thinking in terms of opposites. We learn to “open up the choice field” by constellating the rich variety of relational dynamics that are always already at play in a larger systemic field. We see that these relational dynamics are intricately inter-dependent, and are more “alive” than the reductive framework of “this or that” or even “this and that”… For example, we see that the relationships are generative … with feedback and feedforward loops, iterations of all sorts, waves that push up from the past, and waves that travel far into the future. The more we allow into the relational field – the more we include—the richer and more informed the choice field becomes. We find we are not only a member of this choice field, but a kind of conductor of an orchestration – a living virtual orchestration—a  long slow moment in which to understand the larger context and greater wisdom of what is happening.

IF we pay attention, we can start to see that the concepts we are using are not related in a simple, reductionary way – that there is a confusion in our reasoning and abstracting process. We see, for example, that each set of contraries are actually related in a more sophisticated way when we take into consideration the temporal aspect of events—we see, as Ilia Priogone so rigorously wrote about—that experience has an arrow of time, that events have a privileged point of view, that transcendental do not sum up algorithmically (IOW, they transcend and exclude), that the complexity of life means that the future is not fixed, so in actuality, the effect produces the causes that have conditioned it, that objects are generative results of subjects, and that the “self” is a generative process.

We de-condition ourselves through a kind of Goethean science, which has three part injunction: 1) stay as close to the phenomena as possible, 2) observe as closely as possible and 3) report back as accurately as possible. The third part is terribly difficult, because here is where we clearly see that language—not experience itself—fails us. We begin to draw on the aesthetic faculty of mind, which has a latent capacity to language what is without reducing that to dualistic or transcendent terms. We begin to see that our mind is do steeped in dialectical tendencies – to jump to transcendent abstractions—that we can hardly stay with the phenomenon at all! We being to witness our propensity to “surf the surface” of experience—the shallow waters of discursive reasoning and speeching. We try to stay there with the phenomena, and our energy rises to unbearable dimensions. Something wants to break through, something wants to break out, something needs to break open something needs to break apart. This is life—the pulse of freedom.

When we stay with the phenomenon, we find something of the truth in an description such as: there is feeling, noticing and thinking, and a sense of trajectory from core to surface. There is an inner life (feel emotion, notice inner states, think reflectively) and there is an outer life – feel our body, notice externally is to perceive with our senses, think externally is to speak and act in the world. If we watch carefully, we can see how these are related, dynamically in a generative process that creates the sense of “self” as the unit of being that stands in for its becoming.

In fact, this is the same description of the self-other-world process that is described in Jason Brown’s theory of microgenesis – which is backed by years of neurophenomenological research—as well as the same description as Shinzen Young’s system that is accessed through a phenomenologically-oriented vispassana meditation.

In fact, if you read enough, you can find other pioneers who have peered into this post-dialectic way of thinking, reasoning, and being. Jean Gebser outlined the epochal shift from pre-dialectic to dialectic to post-dialectic structures of consciousness. He clearly identified the stages of dialectical reasoning that we see are manifesting today. He clearly outlined the need to incorporate a new understanding of time, and to create new types of languages. This shift happens “naturally” but we can employ ourselves to accelerate the process in ourselves and others. Maybe a “tipping point” is nearing.

What we discover is that the intuition of this new way of reasoning is already inside us, living latently below the habituated structures of language and perspective. These intuitions are many and diverse, and as Gendlin states, they can evolve without us meddling with them. Bhaskar calls this “alethc truth” – that the structures self-liberate under the stress of a greater, living truth, that arises through our lived experience, and is not dependent on our prior understanding or self-knowing. For example, we are all “neo-Kantians” today – even though few of us can even understand Kant, we are living examples of his prescient description of the “modern mind.” I believe the same is true for the post-dialectical mind – in the transition phase it is terribly difficult to language and think the new, but we are already preconstituted by it. From the point of view of  Dasein, there is a “lag” between Being and Dasein.

Why does it matter? For one, I believe that the current situation we are in with respect to our planet and environment cannot be addressed (much less solved) from dialectic mind, because dialectic mind cannot breach the dialectical separation of nature and people – there is only the everyday bardo framework of “either we are part of nature or nature is a construct of people). There is a lengthy, sophisticated critique in this, based on the need for the dialectical mind to find a “trump card” – to conveniently situate something as a part within a greater whole. To use our previous example, “nature” and “people” are fully separated from some “prior ground” – it is this “prior ground” that the dialectical mind never accesses, because it is the *view* which is not a perspective. This brings us to the notion of a-perspectivity. Which is not at all the same as “multi-perspectival”… A-perspectivity is the non-conditioned state of being, prior to the experience being categorized or framed in any perspectival way. Gendlin says “first person process is not a perspective.” If we go back to staying with the phenomena, of feeling, thinking, notice… we find that only after a certain level of complexification of the experience, after the process “reflects upon itself re-presentationally” do we have the possibility of framing in perspectival terms. The idea here, is that the seat of creativity and novelty, is in those places of experience *prior to the solidification of experience in conceptualized apparatus”. We find that living in the perspectical world is living in a world of misplaced concreteness.

Rather, to live from a-perspectival *View, is to live from the world of living form—which is hardly form at all!—and its continuously morphing relational dynamics, depending and dependent, open and conditioned, with varying degrees of freedom and promise (which is another way to say the absence of freedom). We see that freedom and promise are richly related and *together* allow us the possibility of choice,  for to be in the presence of choice requires an open future and a promised past – thus, if the stone did not have the habit (promise) of resting on the earth, I could not pick it up and throw it. 


  1. bkunkel3 says:

    Thank you for this beautiful glimpse of sensing and practicing our way towards a post-dialectical emergent mentation. I would like to share this with others, with your permission.

  2. soulpolitics says:

    Great essay. Will share on fb.
    Oscar Ichazo came up with the integrative logic of Trialectics, which re-instates an understanding and dynamic of transcendent cosmic order into logic. Heidegger dug up the ‘logos apophanticos’ (statement) from Aristotle as the most explicit subject-object structure of Western language….

    • inthesaltmine says:

      Mutualist anarchist P.J. Proudhon arguably has a similarly integrative method of trialectics or a “serial method” of approximations as adapted from the Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier (whose work looks much like that of Deleuze’s most important contributions in many regards).

      Marxist geographer Edward Soja, too, albeit in a more postmodern register, has a method of “spatial trialectics” which may also be of serious note. I would offer up both of these examples as being useful to thinking of our post-dialectical development in some way or another.

      Thanks for the reference to Ichazo. Best wishes, David.

  3. ancaspari says:

    Thanks Bonnie. Precious and beautiful.

  4. mushin2 says:

    Just been reading this again after, what?, 2 years! I’ve been operating with the sense of ‘fitness’ to talk about how we know when a word is right, or a sentence means the right thing – reflects what we’re saying… and then it rolls out of the mouth and becomes part of the participatory commons of our mutual cultures and can prove to fit well or not so well or even not at all; the whole range of possible responses is opened. Maybe wanting to understand and be understood is seeking for this ‘fitness’ which in what I call “silver moments” is flush with the pre-, post-verbal experience.

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