Bonnitta Roy, A Process Model with a View. Presentation for First Integral Theory Conference 2008 at JKF University where it received an honorable mention for academic achievement in integral theory.
Section II : Processes of the Epistemological Perspectives
II.a. The Cognitive Occasion
Cognitive Microgenesis and the Structural Enfoldment of Self
The AQAL matrix is a very convenient tool for identifying the methodologies of inquiry across various domains of knowledge. AQAL analysis has proven to be remarkably successful approach for incorporating methodological pluralism in one’s work. The first two issues of AQAL Journal are filled with examples of this kind of rigor.
However, the AQAL matrix is less successful at describing one’s own Being-in-the-world—how the self experiences itself in its own situatedness. For example, although I may be able to feel my mind taking on or switching between different perspectives (first, second, third), I don’t experience my mind or myself as a 4-quadrant matrix splayed out in 4 directions, UL, UR, LL, LR. My most basic attention doesn’t “shift” up, down, right, left, when I take on different perspectives—it doesn’t “move around” in two-dimensional matrix space.
Rather, I feel I am a core self inside a mind, inside a body inside a world shared with other (core/self/mind/body)s; and I feel that these enfoldments (core/self/mind/body/world) arise and change in time and in space. This enfoldment is the nature of conventional experience and can be represented as follows:
Notice that the progression lays down levels of interior-exterior relations, such that the core is felt as a deeper interior than the self, which in turn is felt as a deeper interior than the mind, and so on until we experience a fully “exteriorized” objective world in space-time dimensions. The experience of “other” selves is similarly an “exteriorization” of an internally accessible experience of “self” onto exteriorly appearing/existing agents. How far one goes in assigning “selfhood” to other exterior agents various according to culture and individual, as both human and non-human animals can qualify, as well as inanimate objects in such as dolls in the case of children, or amulets in the case of shamanistic projection.
Notice also that what type of enfoldment determines what kind of experience arises, such that the above sequence is a formula that represents conventional waking reality, but what would the formula for conventional dream state look like? Or for lucid dreaming? There needs to be different formulas for pre-conventional experiences such as the urobic period and the period of primary narcissism; for non-normative states such as autistic, schizophrenic, and neurophysiological rarities where people loose the apperception of time or place, or of having a body or mind. There would be a different formula for the state of “flow” that artists and athletes report; and still different formula for deep meditative states, transpersonal experiences, unity experiences, out-of-body experiences, near-death-experiences, and other experiences of altered states. What would the formula for deep dreamless sleep be?
The point is, with respect to an experiential center of reality—whether that be a fully realized subject, a pre-subjective surrogate, or a trans-subjective witness—each of these arise through a process of structural enfoldment that lay down progressive layers of interior-exterior relations through whole-part (one-many) transformations in a space-time dimension. These three conditions, then, the condition of interior-exterior, the condition of whole-part (one-many), and the condition of space-time are the conditions of structural enfoldment under which the experience arises. These conditions can be mapped as a set of perpendicular vertices, which represents the aspects of interiority-exteriority as the horizontal vertex, and the tendency towards being one (unity) or many (plurality) as the vertical vertex. It is easy to see that this arrangement creates the conditions of the AQAL matrix in which the quadrants are horizontally delimited by the conditions of interiority and exteriority and vertically delimited by the conditions of singular (one) and plural (many). We can imagine these vertices as describing a process field which creates successive structures of enfoldment along the direction of an arrow of time.
The above diagram then, represents the epistemological field, and the process of structural enfoldment in time, which generates the cognitive occasion. What kinds of structures might these be—and is there any evidence that cognition arises in this way?
According to neurophysiologist Jason Brown, cognition arises in just this way, through a process of cognitive microgenesis, in which each stage in the process lays down micro-structures of cognition. The process model reminds us that these structures are enfolded in the epistemological field. Brown micro-stages are described as follows:
These “steps” can be summarized as follows:
Core: The unarticulated core is aspectless.
Presence: … is the spontaneous potential of a cognition—the simple feeling of being.
Affect: Cognitions that articulate to affect stage are primordial feelings, like a deep intuitive feeling that has not yet attached itself to an image or word. For example, it is common to wake up from a dream with a clear “feeling” of the dream without being able to ascribe images or words to the dream. For example, instead of being able to say that in the dream “I opened a door,” one would be pressed to say “it was as if there were a door and I opened it.” The affect level “meaning” is clear, but it is only after the fact of awakening that we are required to search for appropriate or sufficient symbolic or linguistic forms for it—and the measure of sufficiency of those attempts can be gauged against the clearly present affect. Affect-level cognitions are not to be confused with “emotions,” which are more complex structures.
Image: Image stage cognitions are like dreams that have an image form, thinking in pictures or symbolisms or various sorts, and visual hallucinations (pathological or otherwise); images that are not yet associated with or alternately have become dissociated from, the concretizing operation of object perception.
Object(body)Space: Further articulation of the cognitive process generates the spatial dimensioning of the kinesthetic body and its perceived “dominion”—that of the will (willing my finger to move, for example).
Object(world)Space: The furthest articulation (or discharge) in Brown’s theory of microgenesis. This is the point where cognition has articulated to object orientation that constitutes a world.
The Process model adds two crucial steps:
Intersubjective Space is the notion of pre-constitutive structures that Sean Hargens describes in his infamous Intersubjective Musings where he writes:
Intersubjectivity-as-context: the context created by multiple intersubjective structures (i.e. meshworks) which are constitutive of the subject and create the space in which both subjects and objects arise (e.g. physical laws, morphic fields, linguistic, moral cultural, biological, and aesthetic structures). These cultural contexts, backgrounds and practices are nondiscursive and inaccessible via direct experience.
Subjective Unification is the crucial step in which the self in the process of becoming, concretizes as a unified entity of being – the subject qua ego.
We can add these categories to our process diagram as follows:
If instead of focusing on the stages as structures, we adopt a more processural approach, we can further describe the microgeny of cognition as a coherent generative process that undergoes phase transformations in a field of dynamic operators with the following characteristics:
1) The dynamic operators are represented by the valences “interior-exterior” and “one-many”.
2) The duration of the process from core to world, constitutes an arrow of time, and the direction of the process, from core to world, constitutes spatial extension; thus creating a local here-and-now or spatio-temporal dimension.
3) The transformations from core to unification can be described as phases changes in the generative process as follows:
1) emergence – the initiation of the cognitive occasion and the “presencing” of sourcei
2) articulation – the further articulation of the presencing as primordial affectii
3) withdrawal (of agency) – this is the first real stage toward exteriority, as the central, now articulated presence, withdraws (or contracts) to become the witness or viewer of images (dreamings)
4) further withdrawal of agency is simultaneous with the exteriorization as/ of a “body” and with it comes the transformation of primordial presencing as will or drive—which are body-based dynamics
5) protraction is the phase that creates a fully exteriorized world, and along with it, spatial extension wherein will/drive transform into their exteriorized form, intention.
6) projection characterizes the “movement” back toward interiority, as the original aspect of interiority is now projected onto/into other fully exteriorized body/objects. This projection also has the quality of reflection—wherein one’s interiority is reflected into/onto another(s).
7) the final phase transition is unification where the fully realized subject emerges as the unit of being that stands in for its becoming—and under conventional experiences, henceforward goes on to be the “subject” that navigates experience, rather than the subject that arises as the cognitive occasioning of reality.
According to Jason Brown, each cognitive occasion is actually a symphony of innumerable “waves” of microgenies and their “traces” back as they return to the core. The core is the well-spring of renewal and source of novelty, while traces that persist in the processural field establish patterns of habit, repetition and stasis that is responsible for the appearance of stability, memory and the duration of the “specious present.”
Alternately, in purely process terms, we can say that each cognitive occasion arises through the mutual interactions of innumerable phase transitions of varying momentum (representing the stage at which the “outward” movement discharges) and attenuation (representing the traces that persist in the “inward” return) that create an “ecology” of structural enfoldments in a processural field.