Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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5.1 Assessment

1. Entries

The entries included cover a very wide range of approaches and insights, as was the original intention. It is to be expected that the inclusion of some of the entries should be queried. The question to be asked is when is it appropriate to exclude an insight into human development that can be judged as naive, misguided or even dangerously misleading. There is a case for using the procedure for descriptions of world problems in which a "counter-claim" paragraph can be inserted to present such judgements and clarifications. It should be stressed that inclusion of entries in no way constitutes an endorsement of the insights or practices described.

Given the method used, which limits the degree to which related entries are treated as duplicates, what significance should be attached to the inclusion of 3049 entries on supposedly distinct modes of human awareness ? A more rigid editorial policy could have been applied to group certain "related" entries into a single description.

More important however, the question remains as to how appropriate it is to maintain separate entries for modes of experience which are clearly similar even though they derive from different traditions. It is also clear that attempts at rationalizing the information further are liable to create as many problems as they resolve.

There is also the question as to whether the distinctions made are not to a high degree a consequence of the language and cultural tradition from which they derive (a point discussed in a following note, 5.4). It is not clear to what extent the more subtle modes of awareness are conditioned by the mindset or discipline with which they are approached. The question of "how many" modes of awareness there "really" are remains open. It may indeed be a quite inappropriate question. Taken to an extreme, the 3049 descriptions could almost be 3049 ways of seeing the same thing.

2. Challenge to comprehension

There is obviously a fundamental question concerning the significance, if any, that can be associated with many of the concepts and modes of awareness, especially by anyone from outside the tradition within which they emerge. Even within any such tradition, it is often claimed that much can only be understood after passing through particular stages in the process of human development.

The ability to produce some kind of description, whose words can be understood, is therefore no guarantee whatsoever that the reader is comprehending much of what is intended, especially for those modes of awareness which call for an experiential transcendence of conventional modes of comprehension.

In such circumstances entries can only serve to point vaguely in the direction of a domain of understanding, offering hints and allusions which may be less than helpful. This limitation is partially corrected by setting an entry in a context of cross-references to other entries, especially when these reflect a progression of modes of awareness from others that are more meaningful.

The many entries of eastern origin tend to be understood in the West as associated with the religious dimension of belief and revealed knowledge, and the same is true to a lesser extent of concepts arising from western religions. It is interesting to consider whether descriptions of such concepts can be meaningful to those who do not have belief in the religion from which they are derived, without some "reprocessing" by scientific disciplines to relate them to western concepts of human development that are largely independent of particular religions.

The challenge to comprehension is sharpened through awareness of the "pre/trans fallacy" as described by Ken Wilbur (1982). In any development of insight, growth will tend to proceed from stage pre-X, through stage X, to stage trans-X. Because both stage pre-X and stage trans-X are, in their own ways, non-X, they may be understood as similar, even identical, to the untutored eye. This is particularly the case with pre-personal and trans-personal, pre-rational or trans-rational, or pre-egoic and trans-egoic. According to Wilbur, once these two conceptually and developmentally distinct realms of experience are theoretically confused, there is a tendency either to elevate pre-personal events to trans-personal status or to reduce trans-personal events to pre-personal status.

3. Comparative evaluation

It is not the purpose of this section to provide any form of comparative evaluation of modes of awareness or forms of human development. The intent has been limited to pointing to the existence of modes distinguished in the literature and to indicate, where possible, the sequence of experiences through which it is alleged that they may be encountered.

In the light of more profound experiences, other modes may be held to be superficial and even a dangerous error. In particular, the many reactions in the West to the limitations of materialism and the suffocating constraints of finite existence tend to be governed by the Cartesian dualism which reinforced those perspectives. For many this reaction means, almost unconsciously, attraction to its opposite pole, namely the non-material, without there being any discrimination within that domain. Interest in psychic phenomena or "trips" of any kind, may tend to obscure the nature and rich complexity of the spiritual dimension.

The entries therefore reflect different degrees of delusion as much as they reflect different degrees of insight. Juxtaposing them in this way is an aid to orientation but without any attempt to recommend the more fruitful directions for any particular individual to explore.

This question is of great concern in some traditions: "From the Sufi point of view, which has always distinguished clearly between the psychic and the spiritual, so many of those who claim to speak in the name of the Spirit today are really speaking in the name of the psyche, and are taking advantage of the thirst of modern man for something beyond the range of experiences that modern industrial civilization has made possible for him. It is precisely this confusion which lies at the heart of the profound disorder one observes in the religious field in the West today, and which enables elements that are as far removed as possible from the sacred to absorb the energies of men of good intention and to dissipate rather than to integrate their psychic forces" (Nasr, 1965).

4. Comparison through related Human Values

One specific way of comparing different concepts and modes of awareness is through the human "value" words used in the title(s) or text of the description. Preliminary results following computer screening of descriptions, after some weeding, appear in the Human Values and Wisdom Section, both under constructive values (VC) and destructive values (VD). This experiment has brought out some surprisingly interesting juxtapositions and is clearly an area for further work. Of additional interest is the listing, under destructive values (VD) of world problems related to those values, which again can be seen as a fruitful means of associating concepts and modes with problems which they either aggravate or, hopefully, may be used to tackle. Currently there are 8,335 cross references to human development concepts and modes of awareness in the Human Values and Wisdom section.

5. Challenge of spiritual development

The juxtaposition of entries on many different aspects of human development and modes of awareness suggests the possibility of a continuum of distinct emphases and insights. It is the tendency to give prominence to one form rather than another which is the source of many difficulties. The neglect of spiritual development is one such consequence, whether or not it is deliberate.

Morris Berman (1989) suggests that the personal discovery of interiority, and the emergence of inwardness in society, have always been recognized as a major threat to established institutions and ways of thinking. He cites the suppression of the Cathars and the deep distrust of ecstatic experience during the Enlightenment.

Other dangers are signalled by a Quaker author, Lorna Marsden (The Guardian), "At this moment, a reawakening to the essentiality of the spiritual within the human experience carries two dangers -- a possibly excessive reaction which might induce or revive extremes of superstition, or (which is indeed happening) a retreat from challenge into fundamentalism within both Christianity and other religions."

Berman draws attention to a fundamental distinction between the "ascent experience" (with which spiritual development is most frequently understood) and embodied or "horizontal" consciousness. Entrapment by such metaphors is discussed in a following note. He argues that: "The real goal of a spiritual tradition should not be ascent, but openness, vulnerability, and this does not require great experiences but, on the contrary, very ordinary ones. Charisma is easy; presence, self-remembering (Gurdjieff's term), is terribly difficult and is where the real work lies." He sees much current interest with "spiritual development" to be basically an effort to escape the body rather than to work through it.

This kind of concern is also expressed in relation to the superficial assumption that mental understanding of some of the conditions and insights described constitutes full realization of their truths. "This illusion, which is the result of the separation between the mental activity of certain men and the rest of their being, and which is directly related to a lack of spiritual virtues, is a major hindrance in the application of sacred teachings of various traditions to the present needs of Western men....Such people mistake their vision of the mountain peak, theoria in its original sense, for actually being on top of the mountain. They therefore tend to belittle all the practical, moral and operative teachings of tradition as being below their level of concern. Most of all they mistake the emphasis on the attainment of spiritual virtues...for sentimentality, and faith...for 'common religion' belonging only to the exoteric level, forgetting the fact that the greatest saints and sages have spoken most of all of spiritual virtues" (Nasr, 1965). Without spiritual poverty, for example, "no spiritual attainment is possible, no matter how keen the intelligence may be" (Nasr, 1965).

A related point is made by a Catholic author in describing the approach of Meister Eckhart: "Real spiritual life is about loss of self, sacrifice, inner transformation and change." In this context, "mysticism" is not concerned with "trips" or results of any tangible or obvious kind. "Neither is it about what we call today 'expansion of consciousness'. It is not concerned with trying to induce abnormal states, either blissful or otherwise; it is concerned with trying to develop within ourselves a certain attitude which is healthy, realistic and life-giving, and will remain constant within us during all states of consciousness, normal or abnormal, pleasant or unpleasant...Rather than talking about 'expansion' of consciousness, we should talk of 'breaking through' consciousness; that is, finding within ourselves some inner centre of stability and unity which remains intact throughout the manifold fluctuations of conscious states." (Smith, Cyprian, 1987).