Integration

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Integration, as a process, is not about compromise or "tolerance" of others and their ideas. It is about working together to discover what is truthful, effective, meaningful and worthwhile. For this reason, Integration is both an ethical undertaking and, often, a 'therapeutic' process requiring a willingness to examine private biases and (unconscious) motives, to consider feelings and intuitions as well as facts and logic, and especially a willingness to engage with others in exploring their unique perspectives. 

Integration can be much more than psychological or spiritual 'wholeness'; insofar as human beings participate in communities, wholeness is not an endpoint but an aim we pursue both through continual self-inquiry and in our communication and behaviour with other people, with our surroundings and the natural world.

Integration is for these reasons not merely a question of disovering a singular truth or the best methodology but a project of social justice and ethics involving sensitivity to the values and needs of others and an ability and willingness to consider extended and long-term implications within the context of an awareness of the world and of human communities interconnections and interdependencies.

—Daniel Waterman, 2018.

The process of integrating knowledge from different disciplines and acquired by different methods is certainly not an easy one. It requires painstaking and scrupulous attention to biases inherent in the methods and premises of a particular approach as well as an ability to acknowledge where various types of knowledge, insights and methodologies overlap, or don't quite fit, thus either affirming, strengthening and or complementing each other, or requiring further examination and revision to eliminate differences and conflicts.

As is very often the case, language and competitiveness often form significant obstacles to integration of different forms of knowledge and data acquired by different methods. In some instances, attempt to reconcile different sets of data require quite extensive revision or even abandonment of a deeply held conviction. In yet other instances reconciliation will yield new insights and even require a complete paradigm shift.

Understanding the many reasons why different types of knowledge and methods do or don't yield similar or exactly the same results may be easy in theory, in practice what is often missing is an acknowledgment of the limitations of a particular perspective or method. Often, the reason has to do with an underlying interest in proving a particular result. When people point to the limitations of e.g. a particular 'scientific' or 'medical' finding or theory what they forget is that the 'integrity' of science and medicine, indeed of any other methodology, rests on openness to new information. This is of course not just true of science and medicine, but also in any other area where views diverge or conflict.

The challenge of integrating knowledge and methods is thus not merely of acknowledging areas of conflict or incompatibility but of continuing to examine one's own views and premises to uncover bias, irrationality, unproven assumptions or language that prevents us from resolving conflicts.

The example of biology and psychology is relevant to our understanding of the problems posed by integration in that both disciplines refer to what were presumed to be entirely different and separate categories — mind and body — yet it should be obvious that the two are in fact connected and inseparable: we perceive our bodies and we experience physical change not just as a distant awareness but as a deeply significant personal event that shapes how we view ourselves, our beliefs and values, how we relate to others and to the world. In this sense biology plays a significant role in our psychological development. And it is also increasingly clear that psychological conditions have a significant impact on our physiology. Mind-body dualism is in this sense very much like the cartoon of two people looking at a number from different sides and arguing over whether it is a 6 or a 9. If we fail to respect perspective as a factor shaping our experiences we easily fall into the trap of believing that only one perspective can be valid. We thus loose the ability to account for different experiences.

More to the point however is the question whether 'truth' or the 'real' can ever be objectively identified and encapsulated in neutral universally valid terms. If there is anything to learn from quantum physics it is precisely that everything is relative, that what appears to be real and true at a given point in time and space from a particular perspective can change rapidly and dramatically if even one insignificant condition alters. Truth and reality are in this sense not references to an objective realm, but to the descriptive language individuals use to account for their experiences. But no matter how many individuals agree (consensus reality) meaning-making activities belong to the domain of human subjectivity. Or, as Richard Rorty observes in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity:

 

"To say that truth is not our there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is not truth, that sentences are elements of human language, and that human languages are human creations. Truth cannot be out there, cannot exist independently of the human mind because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there …. Only descriptions … can be true and false."

Before we proceed, we should note that the above is not an argument against ethics: the notion that all claims to truth are relative and subjective does not invalidate ethical arguments, rather, it emphasises a new foundations for ethics by exposing the error of attempting to construct good and evil as absolute categories of reality itself. 

 

For far too long, ethics has been confused with the existence of good and evil as absolute categories of reality. This on the premise that creation itself was a moral act, by a moral deity with moral purpose. The arguments above place ethics squarely within the realm of human subjectivity. But this is not an argument for the relativity of ethics: human experience, feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and values possess a reality of their own. The difficulty here stems from a stubborn refusal to acknowledge human subjectivity as originating in objective, valid, intelligible, experiences and conditions. This is precisely a consequence of constructing 'mind' or 'consciousness' as a separate category of reality, as a supernatural or metaphysical domain, rather than something that is thoroughly inseparable from biological, physiological and material conditions. The argument proposed by proponents of this view is that human moral behaviour is something that originates outside and independent of these 'material' conditions. In the middle-ages someone who stole food because he or she was hungry could nonetheless be treated as committing a moral transgression for 'not rising above base desires'.

What we need to pay attention to here is the extent to which experiences of pain, loss, humiliation, desire, love, hunger, etc. are products of material conditions + consciousness. It is in this sense that a universal ethics can be grounded in an understanding of the relationship between material conditions and consciousness without necessitating reliance on good and evil as absolute categories of 'reality'. In other words, the difference between an ethics grounded in some acknowledgment of the relationship between material conditions and consciousness and an ethics grounded in a belief in a moral creation is their 'source', and the way this 'source' allows or forces us to construct meaning as either referring to a person or groups experiences and the way these are constructed, or as something that is universally valid, objective and absolute, and therefore all too often beyond question or doubt.

 

The subjectivity of human experience is certainly also a source of a great deal of inauthenticity: the way we 'tell our stories' is almost always to some extent biased towards particular interests and thus exclusive of alternative interpretations and perspectives. "Authenticity" refers in this sense not to the possibility of adopting a more "neutral" perspective but of acknowledging limitations, bias, and perspective and how we 'create' our narratives to rationalise and explain our experiences. Such creative efforts are not fundamentally different from the way in which science and medicine attempt to collate observations and measurements into explanations of how the world works. The only difference is the extent to which methodological approaches in e.g. science and medicine enforce rigour in testing and repeating results and reconciling them with findings from other disciplines.

—Daniel Waterman, Mar. 2017.

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