Peter Merry and Nish Dubashia
Dialogue One: Beyond Evolution and the Cognitive Mind
This dialogue was transcribed from a video series between Peter Merry and Nish Dubashia. You can watch dialogue here.
Peter: So the impulse was that I was reading your chapter on thought and time, and it suddenly clicked in to what you’ve seen in the volution thesis, in the sense that what I was starting to realize or at least philosophize about anyway, was that the whole shift that happened and that Bohm and Krishnamurti had been trying to describe in the Uncommon Collaborations book – I can hear them – they’re describing the search for where it went wrong, they’d been saying, or that something seemed to have happened. Why did we end up with this kind of thought?
And on the one hand, I’m kind of “well, thought in itself is not a bad thing because it enables us to distinguish stuff and recognize things for their uniqueness” and things like that. But for me it was about how that linear thought became so dominant and disconnected from a felt experience of interconnectedness.
P: And so, as you know in the volution thesis, you’ve got the volution thesis, which is kind of a description of the way I perceive life to work as more than a linear process, more of a kind of breathing process. And that when you apply that to something like spiral dynamics and take those eight levels, that octave, and look at it more in that kind of dynamic, one begins to see how important that shift was from beige and purple, a kind of pre-cognitive instinctive experience of unity, into the moment that the self starts to separate out and get the sense of individual identity.
And my feeling was triggered by actually reading Up from Eden, by Ken Wilber, where he describes this split. There were a couple of really powerful quotes, one of which I put in that article, that when, in the West anyway, we went through that transition, instead of in a healthy way of transcending and including, or what I would say in a more organic form —expanding and embracing — that we transcended and repressed the previous stages, for whatever reason. So we kind of somehow, through fear of the wild or whatever it was, weren’t able to re-include the felt experience of interconnectedness with the rest of life — the pre-cognitive, the pre-rational, a direct experience — but just a rationally thought about experience. And that because of that, all of our development since then has been unrooted, essentially, from that context where that process of distinguishing oneself from the other, if you don’t have the interconnectedness, in a way that “ground of being” is underneath it, then everything else becomes an object that you can justifiably manipulate for your own ends. And if you’ve lost that sense of it actually being an intersubjective relationship rather than it being a subject-object relationship, then it allows you to create all sorts of pain around you because you have shut yourself off somewhere from the fact that the rest of life experiences pain and emotion and everything else as a result of your actions.
My sense was that step was also the moment that we moved into linear time. It was also around then that agriculture emerged and we started planting stuff for the future. So instead of just harvesting for now, for the moment, we were planting for the future. Which I’ll say is not a bad thing at all. It’s a good development. But when linear time comes in and with it, and this is the thing, the point that they were making in the book, that thought and time seem to kind of come in at the same moment. And parallel with that, the distinction between observer and observed. That’s a package somehow. Because thought is always rational thought, related to the past, to something we know and therefore comes from the past, or thoughts about the future. And so therefore that time, linear time, thought, and myself and the other, observer, observed, when those kind of emerge unrooted in that context of interconnectedness, then you get the kind of crazy development that we’ve seen humanity go through since then.
P: And the term that I hadn’t heard before that they were using, which was, and maybe you can speak more about that, proprioception.
P: Which as I’ve understood, it is more the instant processing of information and response without cognitively thinking about it. So it’s like the body: it responds. It does things and responds without you going through the rational thought process. But yeah, so that was that. I kind of [thought], “oh, this thought time piece, I hadn’t thought about it before, seems to fit this volutionary dynamic that I was exploring around the beige and purple levels.” The kind of survival tribal element phases up into the next phase, and this is where the ego separates out. So that was something I wanted to run by somebody, basically. And the great thing is, not only do you know about Bohm and Krishnamurti, but you’re deeply immersed in spiral and integral. So I’d love your thoughts. There’s a number of other [subjects], I’ve written all sorts of notes of things I’d love to go into, but that was the start of it.
N: Sure. I mean, I’ve always been puzzled by what I saw as a slight dissonance between what Bohm and Krishnamurti are saying and what Wilber seems to be saying. Because Bohm and Krishnamurti talk about human beings taking a wrong turn at some point. They talk about this quite explicitly in “The Ending of Time.” Whereas Wilber’s model, at least on an initial reading, seems to show simple progress. When you look at Wilber’s model just initially, there’s no indication of a wrong turn anywhere. You’ve got levels. And each level is better than the previous one, in some sense. It transcends and includes the previous one. And Wilber has quite explicitly talked about how the rational is more highly evolved than the pre-rational and how, for example, the orange meme was a monumentally beneficial level for human beings to reach. So there was always this slight dissonance.
I think what you’ve said is spot on, actually. The problem is that when I look at Wilber’s model, he says that each level transcends and includes the previous one. There is this dynamic that he suggests takes place between each level. You transcend, you differentiate, and then you go back and reintegrate the previous levels. But it’s not actually in reality until we get to yellow, that the “include” part of the dynamic seems to actually happen. The way things have developed is that we’ve had a “transcend” without the “include,” as you’ve just said. And it’s really only integral at yellow where we go back and consciously include. There’s no real sense of yellow without that inclusion. Whereas the first tier levels can and have existed without that inclusion. And because of that, each of these levels are effectively at war with the other levels. They see themselves as these exclusive worldviews that are conflictual with one another.
So what you’re saying makes sense. I think this failure to go back and reintegrate the lower levels, which began I think in earnest at red, which is the emergence of the ego, could well be the wrong term that Bohm and Krishnamurti talk about. It’s a disengaging from what has gone before, the greater connectedness we see in the lower levels, beige and purple, and then allowing thought to just run away with itself without reintegrating body, feeling, emotion, other people, nature. All of that becomes alienated and thought just runs off — almost on its own — without anything to correct it or stop it from going too far.
P: Yeah, without any context in a way. I think when Ken talks about the “transcend and include,” he is saying that’s the ideal model. In healthy, psychological development we would transcend and include the previous, and you do need to differentiate first but then wrap around. He doesn’t seem to have gone into detail about the implications of this particular step. Although that quote, let me read a bit of it again from Up from Eden, is so strong that he has identified it. But I haven’t seen him go into it anymore. When he says, “it’s one thing to gain freedom from nature, emotions, instincts, and the environment, quite another to alienate them. Ego did not just gain its freedom from the Great Mother, it severed its deep interconnectedness with her. When the Great Mother is repressed, the Great Goddess is concealed.”
Then he says, “And one may, it’s a terrible realization, look in vain through Judeo Christian Islamic religion for any authentic trace of the higher touch of the subtle goddess herself. And that would become a perfect and terrifying comment on an entire civilization.” So somehow he has described it, but I think he wrote Up from Eden before getting into the kind of Spiral Dynamics stuff. So I haven’t seen him make that explicit connection around “transcend and repress” rather than “transcend and include.” But it seems to me to be the heart of the challenge that we’re facing.
P: Whether when you say it’s only at yellow that it happens, I wonder if it’s only at yellow for us that it can happen, maybe, because of the relationship between purple and yellow. But those previous systems might theoretically have been able to transcend and yet include. So I think in the individual development you do see that, right? And so collectively it might’ve been possible. And I don’t know enough about it, but maybe in other cultures before they kind of got stamped on by the Western model, as it were. You might’ve seen more of those models of “transcend and include” development. But now, certainly, it feels like it’s that step to the yellow, that as I described in volution, you have the two yin based models, beige and purple, and then the central four are yang based, because they’re all focused on distinction and separation. And then you get the yin back in. And I think that’s why when we feel when we get into yellow and turquoise, we then start to connect back to those previous yin systems to integrate.
N: I mean, there is another possibility here. The dynamic between each level seems to be that as you move from level X to level X + 1, what happens at every stage is that what was previously subject becomes object.
N: So as we ascend the spiral, in a way we’re gaining a greater and greater strength or altitude of subject. And maybe that greater altitude is also required to be able to go back and reintegrate the lower levels. Does that make sense?
P: Yeah. I mean, you can only really reintegrate something when you can see it, with the subject becoming object. The moment that you become the subject and you can see the object, then you can consciously integrate it. The proposal that I put in volution is that, if you’ve got an octave, that in the first four phases, you are actually kind of unconsciously following the patterns that have been laid down before. So you’re not consciously choosing the path. So with beige, purple, red and blue, you’re following rules as it were. In blue, you’re following the patterns. You’re not consciously co-creating with the rest of the world around you. Whereas the moment that you, and this is what we found in the dancing, how those dynamics seem to mirror from the bottom four and then up to the top four, is that from the emergence of orange, so that is fifth system, you start to turn around as it were and become conscious of your role in contributing to the cosmic grooves, as Ken would say, or the morphogenetic field, as Sheldrake would say, and you become a conscious co-creator in a way. Whereas up until that moment, you’ve just been following the tracks that have been laid down before.
N: But do you think that’s just because of where we are in history now? I mean, if we went back in time 5,000 years or 10,000 years, would we then be co-creators of blue because the blue grooves haven’t been laid down at that point? Or a few hundred years from now, would we need to be yellow to be co-creators because the grooves of orange and green will already have been laid down very firmly? So where we begin to co-create – does that change depending on where we are?
P: So in a way what you’re just saying is, how I would interpret it, is: based on where we’re at, if you take an octave looking back, that co-creation point or axis of the octave would be relative.
P: And certainly what I’m suggesting in volution is that that pattern is, and I split it into four phases in volution, but that pattern is an underlying pattern of which the spiral is one example. And so, yeah, it might be that it depends on where you’re at. And in a way it’s a hard conversation to have, because my sense is that, and this is what I suggested to Don in one of the early Spiral Dynamics trainings, the Spiral Dynamics model came out of yellow, right?
N: Yes. I think that’s exactly right. Yes.
P: Therefore, as we move beyond yellow, the whole model becomes inadequate. So in a way we say, “Okay, so if we’re at coral and this second tier level four, what would it look like?” So I don’t think there will be a second level, because the octave of turquoise completes that perspective in a way. And as I think we’re experiencing in trying to work this out, we just ask, and others kind of ask: there is something up with this linear time issue. It doesn’t quite fit this linear developmental model. Our whole understanding will change and Spiral Dynamics will have been great for helping us get through that phase. But then another understanding of how life works would emerge.
N: I think that’s absolutely right. I think that the pinnacle of yellow is where cognitive thought reaches its pinnacle and starts to wind down. And I think that as you move into turquoise, you’re moving into something else which is trans-conceptual and which we can’t really talk about adequately using conceptual talk. So if we’re sitting at yellow, and again I think that this is a very tempting thing to do when you are very familiar with Wilber’s model, is that you sit at yellow and then talk about what the higher levels will look like. But all we’re doing is, we’re projecting yellow onto those higher levels and speaking in yellow terms on what those higher levels will look like.
P: I actually think that what is often happening in those situations is it’s actually people pulling in orange.
N: I agree.
P: Everybody says, “I kind of think I’m emerging into coral and it looks like that.” I’m kind of—oh, that’s a good example of orange.
N: Yes. Yes. Oh, I agree. And I think when Wilber uses phrases like these holons turtle all the way up and turtle all the way down, in a way if we take that very literally that can lead to what I call stage-ism. We take the presuppositions of a given stage and then impose them on our understanding of the other stages, including the higher stages. But the idea of linear time — I agree that linear time is a construct of conceptual cognitive thinking. It’s not inherent to reality. And there is in fact no such thing as a “view from nowhere.”
P: Before we move on, actually, let’s just pause for a moment. Because that point, I think, is such a powerful one when people feel it and realize it, that linear time is a temporary phenomenon. It’s not a permanent feature of our reality. In fact, it emerged at a certain point in our development. Before that, we didn’t experience reality as linear at all. We experienced it as cyclical. And therefore we’re reaching that point where linear time is now an inadequate way of perceiving and engaging with our reality. And we’re having to wrap back in that cyclical way to give us something that integrates them.
N: Right, right. I agree. Yes, I mean space and time, which is the main framework through which we interpret reality, is at least in part a human construct. So as the human mind evolves, our notions of space and time evolve. It’s not simply a given that we just see. I don’t think anything is. What I was saying is that there is no such thing as a view from nowhere. We’ve always been embedded in a context before we can take a view. So anything we say, including this conversation, is already embedded at a particular level and we’re only seeing things from that level. We can’t step outside of the whole system and have a look. We’re part of the system, trying to understand the system. Now what we can do is to contextualize where we’re coming from.
P: Yes. I agree. And so we have this question of the integration of a cyclical experience of time and a linear experience of time. There’s a couple of things that it touches on. Do you know more about this concept of proprioception? Because I think that is what, in a way, they’re trying to point to as being the ideal experience of time.
N: I mean, my understanding of proprioception is a little bit different from what you said earlier. My understanding of how Bohm used the term is that it is essentially being deeply aware of your own thinking process in the way that we’re currently deeply aware of our own physical body. So we’re very much aware of when our arms and legs move around and our head moves. But with thinking, in perhaps most cases, it just happens automatically and runs away with itself. I think with proprioception, we’re able to feel those thoughts in the same way that we can currently feel our body. So it’s a deeper or more expanded sense of self-awareness to include thinking.
P: There is a paragraph Moody has written in his book where he says, “all the previous forms of observation we’ve considered represent channels of information about the external world. The sense of touch, however, encompasses information not only about external world, but also about the receiving organism. The nerve cells in the muscles tell us how we ourselves are moving or situated. A special word is required to describe this form of observation. It is called proprioception, which is the perception of oneself. With proprioception we’ve moved as far inward as it is possible to go in our progressive examination of the physical senses. We have available to us, however, channels of information other than those provided by the senses. Among the most important of these are the emotions. Some would say that the emotions represent the most fundamental of all forms of understanding. Others would say that most emotions are distracting and misleading. But in any case, there can be no denying that the emotions represent an extremely powerful current in our lives.”
The way I interpret that, so the thing that got me about it was that they were talking about physical proprioception, which is basically the nerves in our body. They immediately process information and act on it, so it’s completely in the present.
P: When you add the next level of proprioception where we’re actually connecting to information, let’s say in fields outside of our own normal cognitive knowing, then the feeling I’ve got is that the place that comes next is—Meg Wheatley once talked about this cycle of sensing and acting, sensing, act, sense, act, sense, act—so that we’re picking up information as we expand the bandwidth of our mind to go beyond the senses that we normally work with. So that we are able to pick up more information that’s out there. So that we’ll be able to pick up more of that information and in an intuitive way. I guess that this intuition is connected to instinct, but different because it’s trans-cognitive. I think that’s the difference between instinctive and intuitive, with intuition being a kind of trans-cognitive instinct. With that intuitive sense, we will instantly know what we need to do without necessarily having a rational reason to do it. We’ll have a strong intuition and feeling about what needs to be done. And then we’ll apply the rational mind to the execution of things. But in that situation, the intuition leads and the mind follows. And what’s happening now is that the mind is leading and excluding anything else as valid information. Does that make sense?
N: Totally. I think this is what Krishnamurti and Bohm mean when they talk about intelligence. The intelligence leads and then the intelligence uses thought when required, rather than the other way round. Are you familiar with Aurobindo?
P: Not in detail, no.
N: Aurobindo talked about levels of evolution as well, which correlate quite well with Wilber’s model. And he talked about the development of the higher mind, which he describes exactly as you’ve just described that, that there’s a higher mind that emerges which can see things at a glance, and then it can use the mind where required for the practical outworking of that. That makes sense. And maybe that’s the kind of thing that starts to come on board at turquoise.
N: Because then you can see “Yellow” as an object. And if the cognitive mind winds down in yellow, then turquoise can see the cognitive mind as an object, but turquoise itself is something beyond that.
P: Yeah, absolutely. That makes complete sense. And it’s really, as you said, when yellow is reaching its limit — that was our experience when we were at the Center for Human Emergence here in the Netherlands. We’d started on these big, around the millennium development goals, a big complex project doing mesh working. We were trying to meshwork twenty different organizations who were trying to work on maternal and new-born health, which is one of the millennium development goals. And that system is so huge that basically what we realized is that we were trying to match complexity with complexity, and it was getting so much, it was just too much. At that point, we got a kind of collective intuition that there must be a simplicity the other side of the complexity that would enable that to become “object” as it were.
P: But then what’s that? And then we were kind of, “Oh, well, if we go back to spiral, then that would obviously be turquoise. So what is that?” And we actually had a direct experience of what you’re saying and that’s what systems thinking talks about when trying to map the whole system. Well, you can never map the whole system. You can never map the whole system and you can never predict exactly what’s going to happen, however much of the system you’ve mapped, because there’s so much of reality that we can’t map, the “invisible” that I mentioned.
N: And also you can’t map the one who’s doing the mapping. There’s a subject that’s outside of the map. What I liked about your volution model here is that you’re pairing up, at least the way that I see it is that what you’re saying is that the trans-rational levels, orange onwards, they are trans-rational versions of the previous pre-rational levels. And that can give us a very good insight into what these high levels might actually be. So if turquoise is a kind of trans-rational revalorisation of beige, then it’s a kind of higher order unity.
P: Exactly. And my experience of doing energy work is that when you’re working with energy, you don’t pick up the information through your rational mind. You actually pick it up through your body. When you’re dowsing for information, it’s nothing to do with the pendulums that people buy, all these fancy pendulums. It has nothing to do with the pendulum. These are micro-movements that your body determines. It’s an agreement that you make with your body, that your mind makes with your body. “Okay, yes or no. Yes, turn right. No, turn left.” So to be able to access and work with the information that becomes accessible to us at turquoise, we have to reintegrate the body. So that’s turquoise and beige, a mirror.
N: I think that’s right. Yes. I think that a large feature of turquoise is the body-mind integration. Once you have a fully integrated body-mind, a fully integrated organism, what Wilber refers to as a centaur, then the mind, the rational mind, is just a part of that. It’s just one organ, if you like. You wouldn’t reduce your whole life just to your right hand. That’s just one small part of your body. So the rational thinking mind just becomes one part of this entire organism which emerges at turquoise. And that’s your new sense of identity, the whole organism.
P: Yeah. And then, you see, my sense is that at that point, the seed that sprouted at beige and has gone through these different levels becomes this fruit that has kind of crystallized at turquoise. That in itself then becomes the seed for something else.
N: Right, exactly.
P: And we just can’t even pretend that we’re able to describe that because we’re so immersed in our current language. That’s the other thing, by the way, that I’m curious about. I think when that shift happened from beige/ purple into red and beyond, that with that came language to match thought and linearity. And language as we have it now, we label stuff and that labelling kind of creates an object of everything and actually breaks our relationship with everything. Whereas when we were practicing let’s say healthy magic, we were using language that was actually resonating with life around us, that enabled us to co-create with it, and therefore influence in a co-creative way, the world around us.
And probably through sound and resonance, or if you look at some of the old Celtic languages that I’ve spent a little bit of time looking at, the language and the place names often actually describe the features of the object or the place. So the language actually helps you build a relationship with something, rather than our current language which actually creates separation between us and the thing. And so I’ve got a book on my pile, which is I think is Language of the Goddess or something like that that apparently describes this process that I haven’t looked at yet. But that’s another thing—language, time, space, I mean the whole bubble really that we’re in, was I think was determined by that moment.
N: Yes. I mean, I think in language, the sharp distinctions we make between subject and object, between nouns, adjectives and verbs, these very hard distinctions we make, they then determine our reality. We look at the world through those language structures and then the world we see reflects back our own language structures to us.
P: And really ultimately nothing is an object, because everything is ultimately inter-subjective. If you reconnect the observer and the observed, then subject-object disappears as a concept. Right?
Peter Merry is co-founding Chief Innovation Officer at Ubiquity, founder of the Center for Human Emergence (Netherlands), and a founding partner of Engage!. He has worked in and across different sectors. As well as co-founding and leading the organisations above, his experience includes facilitating integral change processes in multinational corporations, and government ministries, and in multistakeholder initiatives with global stakeholders. He has also spent many years in the not-for-profit sector. He is a recognised expert in the field of evolutionary systems dynamics and Spiral Dynamics Integral in particular. His first book was published in English and Dutch (Evolutionary Leadership, 2005) and his second in 2019 (Why Work? on designing work for people and planet – www.whyworkbook.com). His third book Leading from the Field (https://leadingfromthefield.com) is due out at the end of November 2020. . He has an MSc in Human Ecology from Edinburgh University and a PhD from Ubiquity’s Wisdom School on volution theory (see www.volutiontheory.net). His personal website is www.petermerry.org.
Nish Dubashia is an independent scholar, Integral thinker, and long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation.
He lives in the UK and has an Honours Degree in Mathematics from the University of Warwick, where he studied with some of the world’s finest research mathematicians.
He is the author of The Unity of Everything: A Conversation with David Bohm (2018), an account of how he was personally invited by Bohm, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century and close associate of Einstein, to Birkbeck College in London, to discuss an evolutionary and metaphysical model that Nish had developed while still in his early twenties, and its possible correlations with modern physics and Eastern spirituality.
The book has been referenced in The Journal of Dialogue Studies and in a related academic workshop in London by Dr Beth Macy, a highly honoured and awarded organizational development consultant and Jungian scholar from Texas, USA.
Nish also writes fiction under the pen name Nishad Cote, and his works include Gifted: The Story of a Young Genius(2015) and Dancing with Angels: One Man’s Search for the Meaning of Life (2020).