Integral Epistemology

Posted on 4 November 2006


Science, as it is normally thought of, is epistemologically limited, i.e., the source of its data is limited to what can be experienced by perception. A more integral science also admits data from conception (e.g., as in mathematical science) and spiritual insight (e.g., as in contemplative science). A true integration of these three experiential modes, however, is not accomplished by merely asserting that all three must be considered. A genuine integration must show how perception, conception, and introception (as Wolff calls the spiritual faculty) are three aspects of deeper whole.

Sufficiently profound insight clearly reveals that perception is never “raw perception” but is always mixed with a conceptual framework. The visual perception of a rock, for example, involves a mental activity that distinguishes the visual field into a portion that corresponds to the rock and a portion that does not. This conceptual aspect of perceptual experience is normally unconscious, and thus gives rise to the mistaken sense that these objects of perception are simply given to us, without any conceptual contribution on our side. Thus they might seem like “raw perception” when they are not.

When the conceptual component of perception is clearly discriminated, and the mind becomes still, then one comes closer to an experience of “raw perception”. There can be awareness of the visual perceptual field, for example, without the mental overlay that distinguishes the “rock” from the rest of the visual field. At an even deeper level, there can be awareness without the mental overlay that distinguishes perceptual phenomena from mental phenomena. A thought arising and passing and a sound arising and passing are not experienced as different kinds of phenomena. They are both simply phenomena, without any inherent distinction between “conceptual” and “perceptual”. It is at this level of depth where the conceptual and perceptual modes of knowledge are truly integrated, genuinely whole. This is the real beginning of a more integral epistemology.

At these deeper levels, there are still subtle conceptual overlays that provide a structure to knowledge. There may still be a subtle sense of a knower or experiencer of a world of phenomena, a sense of a timeless knower of a changing world of form. This subtle dualistic framework is the foundation for all derivative perspectives and ways of knowing. Prior to this, however, is the true trans-perspectival integration.

At an even deeper level, integration with the nondual contemplative mode of knowledge (introception) is also revealed. Introception is an immediate knowledge that is prior to the distinction between subject and object. It is not an experience of any knower, not a perspective from any point of view. It is prior to space and time. It is pure awareness itself, which is a knowingness inherently present everywhere. For example, even though there may be a sense of these words being objects known by a subject, that subject-object overlay is not required by awareness itself. There is still awareness inherently present in the periphery of the visual field surrounding these words, regardless of whether or not objects are distinguished there or not. And the quality of immediate knowingness that is inherent to this awareness is at the basis of all forms of knowledge. The very distinction between perceptual, conceptual, and introceptual forms of knowledge is itself an overlay of this pure, integral awareness. This complete and utterly simple knowingness permeates and is the root all other forms of knowledge. Here is the ground of all knowing, the genuinely integral epistemology.

Posted in: Philosophy