Tonight’s presentation started with an awards ceremony for the best presentations, academic papers and honorable mentions. There was a beautiful little moment where all of the women were invited to stay on stage, after which Sean asked us to give them a round of applause. He acknowledged that so many of the presenters on stage have been men. So, it was great to see the women of the integral world properly recognized – especially Neville Kelly’s award for best theoretical paper, uniting integral theory with critical realism.
8:00PM: Now we’re introducing Edgar!
“What is a complex society? It is a society with the greatest possibility of freedom.”
It’s difficult to fully understand Morin, but he is being so beautifully passionate right now. Transmitting his insight and lifetime of wisdom. He’s over 90 years old but he came to life suddenly upon reaching the stage. Hands waving and eyes engaged with members of the audience. It’s really inspiring. I hope there is a a transcription of this talk to share with you all. Sean Kelly is on stage but quietly listening. Edgar’s moment to shine, even if this ultimately can’t be about the words.
What follows is my best understanding of Edgar’s speech.
I think it would have been a better idea if Sean Kelly worked something out with Morin about translating with him on stage. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to see him do his thing, and I can just make out what he’s saying.
“Complexity is not a solution,” he says, “it’s a challenge.” Nice way to start – and a break from the blatantly “theoretical heavyweights” we’ve been watching over the course of the conference. Morin has been a continuously refreshing presence, and I’ll get back to why in a minute.
Next thing. “Complexity is not a theory,” he says, “it is a comprehension of reality. It is a way to see.”
Earlier today in Alfonso Montuori’s “The Epistemology of Complexity” presentation (Morin was also present there), a similar idea was broached by Allan Combs. Complexity, like the rise of perspectival thought in art and physics (Gebser’s work is great for this insight, but I think the idea is common enough, check out Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light by Leonard Shlain) arises not as a set of ideas but a new set of eyes. A way of sensing the world.
Morin also recognizes that the theoretical meta-systems we’ve been discussing over this weekend are, themselves, diverse ecologies of thought systems. (There’s more than one way to skin a… meta theory? No, I don’t think this joke works).
Complexity is also something more than a “system.” Life is self-organizing, it needs energy and takes energy from its environment, in which it is dependent on. Morin seems to be relating complexity to dynamic processes in nature. He has a lovely part where he says all of theses systems need energy to happen, like our body, and so complexity is really about how dependent everything is on each other. Yes, more than a system. Complexity is life.
An important characteristic of complexity is that you have to work with contradictions. Opposing systems, ideas, beliefs, energies, religions, organisms. Morin is saying though, that these are actually, totally fine. Contradictions are O.K. You can’t avoid them, but often we like to “cut reality into little pictures… it’s impossible to avoid contradictions, because they are in fact complementary to each other. Not only in the complexities of life, but in human complexity.” Here Morin brings up an interesting cultural example: the Holy Trinity in Christianity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a seemingly contradictory affirmation of faith, one God being these three beings, is actually an example of this ability to hold contradictions in one’s mind. “They make each other, become each other… You are the individual, the society. You are spacious. The individual and sociological.” I love how he is stretching our definitions, our assumptions – our mental inertia. He gets the mind dancing.
“The part is in the whole, and the whole is in the part. The world is in the part. Inside of us is the society.”
This really resonates with me. I wonder if there is significant wiggle room in all our theorizing to make room for this notion – that the whole society is in us. That not only are there 4 quadrants but, in a sort of fractal way, you can look at the individual and through that looking, you can see the whole reflected. You don’t have to glance over to another category, another quadrant – that separates you from seeing the immediacy of connection present in a person, the immediacy that reveals that person as wholeness. I think an integral worldview needs this. Last night, we spoke of Bhaskar offering Integral Theory “gifts.” Well, this is Morin’s gift.
Seeing the person as the whole society also calls you to action. You are intimately wound up in the social. Last night, Jordan discussed the integral community’s resistance to becoming socially engaged – staying “neutral” – well, Morin’s view is implicitly suggesting that you can’t. Even a neutral scientist is affecting his, or her society. We are called to responsibility and engagement, even if what we end up choosing for our engagement is dis-engagement. Something to really consider.
There were also some heated and inspirited moments. At one point Morin exclaimed (or more like, disclaimed) “complex thinking cannot eliminate the mystery of the universe, but it is no better to specialize, fragment ourselves in the dominant technocratic age that dominates our minds today!” The audience whooped and clapped for that one!
Towards the end of the talk, Morin began to speak about “the poetry of life,” which I strongly feel is actually another iteration of what he means by complexity. He ties this idea to the imperative of social engagement:
“What is the poetry of life? It is love. It is communion. We need deeply to have a political life… The poetry of life is the connectivity of the human mind to produce goodness. It is, in another sense, spirituality. It is the integration of self in something greater, something beautiful.”
A contemplation of the complexity and interconnectivity leads one to a kind of spiritual metanoia, a call to empowered action and political activism, and most of all a “communion” with life. This is Edgar Morin’s Complexity Thinking.
“We can have a discipline,” but, he warns, “we cannot be closed in a discipline. We have to be trans-disciplinary, like Integral or Critical Theory, it is necessary.”
Finally, Morin stressed that we had to connect the humanities and the sciences. A difficult task if there ever was one, but this weekend provided some possible avenues towards that realization.
This, however, really is the crux of Complexity Thought:
“What is a complex society? It is a society with the greatest possibility of freedom. A complex society needs liberty. It is necessary that each person has an inner sense in his mind of his solidarity to the community and society. Once you have communion and solidarity, you will have a complex society, a progressive society.”
What I liked most about Edgar Morin’s presentation, in spite of the fact that it was difficult to make out everything he was saying, was that he brought us through to a very dynamic, enlivened, impassioned perspective – without much use of, well, systemization or theorizing. Somehow everything he was saying was connected to our lived experiences. The man is a shining example of imbibing brilliance with social activism – a Marxist, a WWII French resistance fighter, and an active political thinker in his country for many decades. He was able to flex our minds by being who he is. In this sense, I think, while Morin is the least emphasized in this conference (in my experience anyway, Bhaskar was sort of the emphasis throughout the panels and presentations I went to. Admittedly I couldn’t got to them all), he has the most important contribution to Integral Theory’s new direction of social engagement. But are integral theorists willing to embrace the kind of metanoia Complexity Thought actually offers? Morin’s notion of Complex Thought, and the approach he takes to understanding and grasping it, is by far the least “meta-theoretical” in the sense of singular theories. He had what I described as a “permeable” theory – a theory that leaks, and good ones leak in context that they are tools to open and extend one’s mind into reality in new ways, and not the reverse effect. Montuori asked us in his presentation earlier today: “Do you have the theory, or does the theory have you?”
Well, in my mind anyway, we need to open up Morin’s work more, so it can open us up.
Goodnight everyone. See you tomorrow for the final day of the conference!