Towards post-dialectical thinking

Bonnita Roy responds to my question on “grand narratives after post-modernism”

The Question

Michel Bauwens:

“It is often said that post-modernism killed grand narratives

yet post-post-modernism is about synthesis, integration and looks a bit like grand narratives …

my own feeling with constructing p2p theory is that it was necessary to reconstruct after deconstruction, but with the following caveats

the theory has to be empirical, you must be willing to change through facts

it must be coherent internally, though paradoxes and contradictions may occur and must be recognized

it must be integrative, non reductionist and

invite people to ameliorative action

nevertheless, these approaches may look like grand narratives ..

so how do you explain this type of approach to sceptical postmodern academics who always come with this argument?” (June 2013 on Facebook)

The Answer

Bonnita Roy:

“From my own view, the problem is with the conceptual limitations of the dualistic categories of dialectical mind. For 2000 years, dialectical reasoning has grown in sophistication by creating synthetic (or transcendent or meta-) narratives to reconcile contraries. Postmodernism comes along and points out that meta-narratives aren’t really doing the work that we supposed them to do. They don’t really solve the dichotomies, they basically take one of three ways out 1) reduce them to conceptually more foundational dichotomies — such that, for example, you have the ultimate contrasts in Buddhism “emptiness” and “form” and two truths doctrine (relative and absolute) , Schopenhauer gives us “world” and “representation” for Derrida we have “sameness” and “difference” or the ultimate contrast in Hegel “matter” and “spirit” or in Bhaskar “absence” and “identity” …. or 2) hold paradoxes simultaneously– as “two sides of the same coin” — this is Wilber’s tetra-emergence, or Heidegger’s paradoxical thinking, and also Nishida Kitaro’s answer to Hegel, or 3) establish a meta-theoretical framework upon which the endless synthetic narratives can be adjudicated — hence Integral theory is a meta-theory which contextualizes ‘green’ narratives as “higher” than “blue” narratives — the problem is, a different meta-theoretical framework such as Critical Realism can, through explanatory critique, counter the Integral meta- framework, and so one is left with the frustrating position of having to formulate a meta-meta framework to contextualize the meta-theoretical frameworks. It is easy to show that this pushes the situation of “grand narratives” up a notch in terms of conceptual sophistication, but it does not solve the problem of grand narratives and as such is still subject to the post-modern critique (IMO).

Now, the problem is that the only way dialectical mind grows in conceptual sophistication is through these synthetic complexifications. We have the trap wherever there is “difference” we bump it up to a “higher” or more “complexified” sophistication, of “sameness.” We are trapped into this construction where conceptual sophistication grows from difference to sameness, multiplicity to unity, concrete and particular to abstract and universal.

Adding to the problem is the shadow of post-war humanism, that embraces post-modernism and “difference” but it strives for some grand unifying principle (contract, identity, global commons) because it is afraid of “difference” and incommensurability. Hence it becomes the handmaiden of capitalism. This is why, IMO, when we have had a flourishing of pluralistic values, we have parallel with this the rapid globalization of new-liberal mono-culture. This is the big “holy fuck” of post-post modernism — because it engages capitalism in a way that paves the way for capitalism. It creates the internet (so we can all be connected) which is the best invention that global finance ever discovered. It creates the metaphor of “hive mind” and “global commons” — which is the exact structure that allows capitalism to capture the commons and the imaginations of people. It conflates the global view of humans with the planetary ecology of nature– the one a unifying principle (the image of the earth in space) at the center of an anthropocentic view, and the other a dizzying diversity of non-linear dynamics with absolutely no fixed perspectival or agentic center. This is why the grand global interventions of the environmental movement arise simultaneously with the accelerated destruction of the planet.

Something, Michel, has gone terribly wrong!

There are a few people just beginning to re-wire our conceptual software, and open up a larger choice field for problem solving without relying on grand narratives or unifying principles. Whitehead set the stage, Charles Sanders Pierce showed up how it was wrong, and Hartshorne integrated the field. Why process philosophers? Because the only way dialectical mind can conceptualize contraries is by assuming that reality is fixed and thing-like, not fluid, dynamic, and transformative. Prigigone showed us why dynamic systems have an arrow of time. Therefore, when you include time as part of the process, you have to contextualize the contraries in a temporal framework, rather than in an integrative or synthetic framework. As an example, when we think of conceptual contraries such as “subject” and “object” or “unity” and “diversity” … we can, as good paradoxical thinkers, see that they are co-dependently related. But we tend to see them as “equal” and “simultaneous” opposites — as Wilber does. But this requires us to abstract the processural nature of reality, and fix it into conceptual categories. If we add back the processural nature, then we see that the contraries are actually asymmetrically related, such that the subject depends on the object and the object depends on the subject — but the subject depends on the object in a difference way than the object depends on the subject. For example, the parent and child arise simultaneously as abstract categories (they self-define), but it is obvious that the parent depends on the child in a different way than the child depends on the parent. Once we start using the categories to represent concrete actuals in a generative process with an arrow of time — we can no longer structure the way we use them in simple dialectical ways of reasoning. We can’t force ourselves to “see” the parent and child as symmetrical contraries — we “see” them intuitively as generative structures in a process. The terms I use is that the parent is “onto-genetic” to the child (the parent pre-constitutes the child) and the child is ontological for the parent.

The promise is that *everything modern people have done in the past 200 years* needs to be re-composed outside of dialectical mind — but this is an extraordinary opportunity!

It turns out all the conceptual categories are asymmetrically contextualized by an implicit arrow of time. Hartshorne showed us that each dipolar construction can be seen to take the form of an absolute term and a relative term. “Sameness”, “unity”, “whole” “transcendence” “object” “emptiness”– are all absolute or a-terms. “Difference”, “diversity”, “parts”, “immanence” “subject”, “form” are all relative or r-terms. When we put them back into usefulness as representatives of actual reality, which is an on-going generative process, we find that all a-terms are, like “parent” onto-genetic to all “r-terms”, like “child.” And we discover our discourse, science and philosophy turn into generative systems, not meta-narrative or synthesizing systems!

Anyway, the point of all this, is that the only way to satisfy the post-modern concern with totalizing narratives is to develop a whole new mind, which does not operate under the conceptual limitations of dialectical mind. There are some immediate consequences of this.

A whole new cosmology: we see the absolute certainty that we are unified in the ground source, or origin of becoming, and therefore realize that we are not separate, and that the universal trajectory is toward increasing complexity AND increasing diversity (uniquification)

We see that the “fear” of fragmentation or separation is a by-product of establishing a static universe, where thing-like categories represent reality within the systematisizing program of dialectically structured reasoning.

That at every level or domain of existence there are exclusionary principles which are the principles which guarantee difference and generate increasing levels of uniqueness. So for example, at the quantum level there is wave-particle uncertainty, at the atomic level there is Pauli exclusion, at the level of abiotic there are things like laws that govern crystals, handedness, etc… at the level of plant there is the exclusion of space, at the level of animals there are incompatible goods, and at the level of humans there are incommensurable beliefs.

The most complex and most unique entity is forever in the future, and the ultimate unifying principle is forever grounded singularity of ever-presencing origin. (This one tenant in itself precludes synthetic grand narration)

So how does this play out existentially? Well, let’s take the domain of animals. Hartshorne said there was too much emphasis on evil and not enough emphasis on “incompatible goods.” We have the situation in nature where it is “good” for the fox to catch the rabbit to feed her pups, but it is also “good” for the rabbit to get away and go home and nurse her babies. We have ways of understanding why we cannot adjudicate between mutually incompatible goods in the animal realm — and we understand that there is something inherently creative and generative about this. As part of the animal realm, we share with animals the situation of incompatible goods. We have to eat animals. But as humans in the human sphere we have the situation of incommensurable beliefs. But there is something about post-war humanism that rejects this principle. There is always this need to adjudicate between and among incommensurable beliefs with some implicit or explicit grand narrative. And if the post-modernists of us don’t have an explicit narrative that adjudicates incommensurable beliefs, then there is just the shadow lurking there.

The truth is, we have not yet come to terms with diversity, difference and incommensurability. We believe that things will only get better if there is a flag, a truth, an economy, a religion, or a values-system that we can become unified under. Of course there are temporary unifying principles created all the time. But *the* unifying principle is a singularity– it is ontogenetic to every entity, not waiting for us somewhere in the future or on another, metaphysical plane. In fact, every unifying principle actually increases the diversity of the system, because it does not transcend and resolve the differences, it preserves and adds to them, so we are not left with a magic “third term”, as if the cosmos were a linear algorithm, no – we are left with “three terms” instead of the original two!

I can even argue, that the only fear we have, and the origin of all our pathologies as a species, is the inability to realize ourselves as the unity prinicple, in continuous process of diversification — instead all our efforts to “capture” or “achieve” unification somewhere in the future, is a consequence of amanesis, or forgetfullness, that we are not separate, that we come from unity and grow toward diversity. Every re-presentation of universality is a unique particular, because universality, origin, is not repeatable in a ever-transforming, creative universe!

I could go on and on — as there has been a lot of research and work done on this over the past 14 months.

It can be shown that there is a strong “developmental bias” that comes along with dialectical reasoning. And of course we see this developmental bias everywhere –even where people use the term “evolution” or “emergence” — they are thinking accumulatively as in development– IOW, they are implicitly ordering the system in a constitutive trajectory, that looks translate into “linear progress.” Hence, I have a system called “Generative Process Analytics” that helps make explicit what we mean when we are utilizing different process terms to describe or prescribe systems. You can’t move to a genuine evolutionary narrative if you are trapped inside dialectical categories. This is the problem that Teilhard de Chardin had, that Darwin avoided, that the evolutionary spiritualists fall prey to, and that Stephen J Gould fought against his entire career.” (facebook june 2013)

Here are some further “Post-dialectical excerpts” from Bonnita Roy:


“To participate, means to enjoy movement and reciprocity within the generative ground of our universalized becoming and the foregrounding of our being. To participate means to act and to be acted upon, to affect and effect, to mediate both spatial and temporal extension in infinite directions and dimensions. To participate means to be “in the soup”, not somehow above, beneath, behind the action, through the veil of transcendence, assumption of objectivity or inference of subjectivity. To participate means to lose track of cause and effect, agent and object, knower and known, actor and script. To participate requires a pre-conceptual or post-dialectical orientation to reality as “a movement, a happening, a transformation… as events that are constantly transformed.” (Oliver, 1989) To participate means, as Whitehead would have it, is to be in a relationship of feeling among a society of all other entities, human and nonhuman, biotic and a-biotic, within a nexus of shared history.


To be not an observer, requires awareness of oneself as what Gendlin (1997) calls first-person process which, he reminds us is not a perspective. This process, this transparency, this awareness, that is not an observer and does not observe – which I call View—is the generative process of becoming presence, feeling, image, body, self, concept, time, space … perspectival multiplicity – which only thereafter, the dialectic mind, blind to its own dualistic perversions, divides along the conceptual fault-lines of the AQAL quadratic. Whether this happens “before” or “after” its association with the dualistic phantoms deposited deep inside the enculturated psyche, doesn’t matter – because from the a-temporal view of pre-separated origin, these kinds of distinctions cannot be fixed in a static frame of reference. The problem situation we have, here in the epoch that Gebser identified as late stage Mental structure of consciousness, the problem situation is that we have concretized the evolving products of a generative process into self-made cages, by believing that this world of duality is a necessary property of being, rather than a rolling transformation in a continuum of becoming.


The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that reality arises through a series of moments which feel into the past moment as they feel for(ward) the next moment. For Whitehead, the action in-between was nothing at all like the tight wire between the physicists’ cause and effect. Rather, Whitehead thought of this feeling-process—which he called “prehension” – as incredibly sensitive, provocative, and loving; and he construed it as the long, long moment of possibility, freedom and choice, in the timeless space of becoming, before the actual occasion is concretized into being. If you situated yourself imaginatively inside Whitehead’s process reality, you would experience yourself as a living center of transformational process. Without a sense of separate self, nevertheless you would feel the act of cause-creating-effect-creating cause… and in the a-temporal pulsations between cause and effect (actual and potential) you would discover vast promise and freedom. The more you prehended your neighbors and relations, the more extensive you would become, until you felt the in-becoming of one body through the simultaneous presence of many bodies. The more stabilized your prehension, over the long slow moment of feeling, the more expansive you would become, until you realized the in-becoming of one novel moment through the simultaneous presencing of many moments.This requires a whole new mind – one which allows the range and diversity of our (humans’) ontological narratives to continuously compose and decompose ourselves as participants in a persistent plurality of novel relations. This demands a whole new view – one which becomes increasingly aware of the metaphysical necessity of plurality, diversity and asymmetry in any cosmology that is authentic to the apperception of a shared unbounded wholeness. The dualistically-constructed dialectical mind cannot achieve this scope where incommensurability of beliefs is a sign of novelty, and novelty is a sign of a unified generative process of shared becoming.

As Oliver points out:

In Western thought there is a history of difficulty, even unresolvability, with opposed aspects of reality. We commonly employ two intellectual and practical techniques in our effort to deal with such contradiction. One is domination or destruction: we either attempt to dominate one pole of the antinomy… or we attempt to destroy one pole. … The second strategy for dealing with contradiction is the dialectic: the effort to transform both poles of a contradictory set of metaphors into some new and higher state of understanding. (p.148)

As participants, then, our key role in co-creative transformative education is to “put down our defenses” in order to compose holistic cosmologies which generate persistently advancing comparative interfaces – a process wherein our being and knowing (participating and composing) would become a perfect reflection of the underlying processural continuum expressing itself as our being and knowing, participating and composing. We will have, in effect, like the few survivors of Magellan’s famous voyage, circumnavigated the globe, to discover the world is whole, again.”

1 Comment Towards post-dialectical thinking

  1. AvatarNirgal

    Hello, thanks for this interesting topic !
    I may need some time to process all of that interesting material, but i think i can already share something that may be relevant to this discussion : a semantic cosmology i’m working on.
    As the theory doesn’t come alone, this post may provide an overview of some of latest co-creations :

    You can check this video for a more immersive experience (symbolic visuals and relaxing music) :

    This video may provide additional semantic layers :

    As i have no academic background, i have no idea on how to deal with this material, and would appreciate feedback.
    These are mostly what could be called cognitive and semantic tools.
    And it allows me to rationalize many things without concluding anything.

    It is composed of Seven Bells, seven steps, from Word to Eternity :

    At first, there is a Word, a Motion, a meaning, a cell, a movement, a spark, a Reality.
    Earth, Sun, Self, plant, tree, cell, particule…

    Consciousness, the distinction between a Self and its Context.
    The Universe is a Context, every Particule is a Self.

    Self Focus
    The self aknowledge its Existence, its Roots, its Position and its Horizon.
    The choices become more complex as the Context is
    the co-creation of numerous Selves.
    Semantic Focus
    He then can decide which path to follow,
    considering Context, Words and Other Selves.

    Words become life-forms carrying Realities.

    When a Choice is made, Duality appears.
    Self versus Context,
    Word versus Word,
    or Self versus Self
    as to question the Choice.

    Birth of the Holy doubt

    Constant struggle between a Good Self and an Evil Self in a long battle where these concepts will be destroyed and re-created in every Self in every instant.
    The Selves who stop fighting these battles end up losing the War of their own existence
    and, aggregating non-solved dualities, will slowly
    build their Own Private Little Hell.

    From this Duality appears a Dialectical Dynamic.
    The Self finds a balance between
    Necessity and Creativity
    Context versus Intentions

    Sentient Selves share their notions of Good and Evil in a planetary scale.
    Slowly, they get through Dualities and, by aknowledging,
    then fighting inner fears and demons and embracing the Light they seek,
    they can transcend themselves and discover new realities, new potentialities.
    This process is necessarily collective as the Self Seeks balance with other Selves.
    This process is both outward and inward as the Self compares Selves and Words with a
    Self Focus or a Semantic Focus depending on the situations and
    the Semantic Tools he has access to.

    The Self accepts the different meanings of its Choices and Words in its Context.
    The apparent contradictions between
    Inner and Outer Selves are now
    accepted as inter-related realities..

    Sentient Selves discover that Good Selves and Evil Selves are their own Co-Creations.
    They consciously decide to use these notions as Divine Tools to transcend themselves.
    This transcendance can be collectively achieved and
    shared by developping a protocol designed to
    transmit pure meaning as a
    Sentient beings embrace their differences and recognise
    the Divine Essence of Life
    in their very words and actions.

    The Doors of Reality are open.
    The Semantic Alchemy emerges.
    Boundaries become a Context
    that can be crossed with the proper
    Choices, Selves and Contexts.

    The Word to Infinity processus is now a tool widely used and opens
    infinite doors of potentialities to the cosmos.

    From Word to Infinity, each Self becomes
    The Womb of Infinite Potentialities.
    Which has always been.
    In any Word Lies the Universe.
    And that is all we need to know.

    Also, i started building a Semantic Narrative on netention, an experimental semantic communication protocol and tools :
    See the expressions of NEEDS, CANS and NOTS semantically focused on an Open Source University abstract object.
    I also did semantic focuses for a Deux Ex Machina object and the “God Particle”, as to test the semiotics potential of netention :

    Semantic Focus on the “God Particle”, the Higgs Boson

    Wikipedia definition
    The Higgs boson or Higgs particle is an elementary particle initially theorised in 1964,[6][7] and tentatively confirmed to exist on 14 March 2013.[8] The discovery has been called “monumental”[9][10] because it appears to confirm the existence of the Higgs field,[11][12] which is pivotal to the Standard Model and other theories within particle physics.

    Some Needs, Cans, Nots expressed with Netention Demo :
    (These are tagged wikipedia pages)






    Semantic Focus on “Deus Ex Machina”
    Wikipedia definition
    A deus ex machina (/?de?.?s ?ks ?m??ki?n?/ or /?di??s ?ks ?mæk?n?/;[1] Latin: “god from the machine” pronounced [?deus eks ?ma?.k?]; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring a happy ending into the tale, or as a comedic device.
    Some Needs, Cans, Nots expressed with Netention Demo :
    (These are tagged wikipedia pages)



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