CODA: Integral Thinking

Russ Volckmann

Recently, John Rowan posted a piece of his on dialectical thinking on the London integral listserve, apiece he had published as “Dialectical Thinking and Humanistic Psychology,” Practical Philosophy, 3/2, July 2000, pp. 18-21. It would probably not be appropriate for me to reproduce that post here, but here are some highlights that include some of my reflections:

➢ Dialectical thinking emphasizes change, and therefore, on process. This seems an important point because one of the difficult things to get one’s arms around in integral theory is how we can use its mapping methods to indicate change. The fact that integral theory includes a framework (or more) on development has us focus on what are the processes that we can engage to develop both individuals and collectives.

➢ Change takes place through conflict and opposition. Consequently, we can embrace differences as the juice of development, the interplay of light and shadow, psychologically and otherwise. Interesting, Rowan also sites Charles Hampden-Turner’s classic work, Maps of the Mind in which Hampden-Turner outlines various theories and illustrates them graphically. This is an all time great work and, coincidentally, I was searching my bookshelves recently for it, to no avail. So I ordered a used copy of this out of print jewel and it arrived just a few days ago. Included in this is a treatment of his model of psycho-social development, as good a treatment of process as one can find.

What is missing from this volume is his model of dysergy, anomie, counter-development—still a process of change, but one that goes against many of the values put forth among integralists. We are, after all, so very green in so many ways (perhaps I should just speak for myself?). But this treatment reminds us that the path to development also embodies a path of retreat from it. Furthermore, as Clare Graves reminds us, our development is closely linked to our life conditions. And as we look around us and see the desperate straights of humankind and the daily events that create life conditions conducive to anomie, is it any wonder that it is really tough for us to sustain development? In any case there are no dearth of opportunities to practice dialectical thinking.

➢ Three propositions related to dialectical thinking are:

  1. The interdependence of opposites: perhaps there is to progress without regress, no development without anomie.
  2. The interpenetration of opposites: a version of the unity principle?
  3. The unity of opposites: definitely the unity principle!

➢ Speaking of principles, these apply to realizing the implications of dialectical thinking:

  1. Take nothing for granted (Shades of Juan Luis Rodriques!)
  2. The importance of spontaneity,
  3. The transformation of quantity into quality.

Interestingly, we have an article by Peter H. Jones in this issue of Integral Leadership Review that addresses the value of design thinking. My interest in design thinking was piqued by a streaming audio interview with Michael Ben-Eli on the Integral Leadership Review website and by the explorations of the subject of transformation on another list serve populated mostly by professional designers. I will let you read Jones and listen to the Ben-Eli interview for more on that. Jones states,

Design thinking is different from systems thinking, at least because the actions of designing that we draw the practice from are tangible ways of knowing and working. Designing is an action-first methodology (dialogue, prototyping) that people in business professions can witness and experience. Systems thinking is abstract in action and representation, and is a concept-first type of cognitive behavior. This is a bigger difference than we might believe. It is the difference between (abstract) belief and (embodied) knowing.

So here we have both design and systems thinking, each with its advocates, each with value added. I think of design thinking as being somewhat dialogic in its nature. The same may be of systems thinking, but it would be worth learning more. Why? Because as much as the integral movement has emphasized individual development, particularly in the Upper left Quadrant, at the very least communicating this among ourselves and with others in a developmental fashion is going to require that we pay attention not just to what we think, but how we think and how we do.

In my follow up to John Rowan’s email I raised the possibility that this, along with transdisciplinarity as an approach that enhances how we think, might be examined using an integral lens. Any takers?

> Russ