Editor's Intro [Chris]: This essay is an in-depth, highly sophisticated examination of the use and meaning of the term evolution in post-postmodern philosophy of science and how integral thought to date measures up (or perhaps doesn't) to this research. It's a major contribution and I thank Bonnitta for it. It is however for those interested in serious theoretical issues--in other words this piece isn't for a general audience.
I am currently working on an article about epistemic challenges to evolutionary theory, and it seemed timely to receive an invitation from Chris Dierkes to contribute to the ongoing discussion here at beamsandstruts on evolution. More specifically for this audience, I am addressing the question of what does integral have to offer to evolutionary theory as it moves into its post- postmodern phase.
The various new approaches to evolutionary thinking I am researching, are post-postmodern in the sense that the theorists are themselves aware that a theory of evolution is both created within and constrained by the epistemic, conceptual framework any particular theory is working from. These new approaches to evolutionary theory are part of a larger new inquiry into science studies in the wake of the postmodern assessment of scientific reason. There is, for example, a number of Philosophers of Science who are trying to define a “naturalistic turn” that would serve as a post postmodern re-construction of science. This, too, requires inquiry into various conceptual assumptions and frameworks that have become embedded in the scientific world-view, as well as some delicious thinking about entirely new conceptual tools with which to approach science. Evolutionary theory is reaping exciting benefits from this “naturalistic turn” in particular, through an emerging field of theory and research that is attempting a grand synthesis of evolution and development, called Evo-Devo.
All sciences, especially biology, have depended on dominant metaphors to inform their theoretical structures and to suggest directions in which the science can expand and connect with other domains of inquiry. Science cannot be conducted without metaphors. Yet, at the same time, these metaphors hold science in an eternal grip and prevent us from taking directions and solving problems that lie outside their scope. p. 37
The epistemic challenge for a naturalized science of Evo-Devo is, as Werner Callebaut notes in the same book
Theoretical perspectives coordinate models and phenomena; such coordination is necessary because phenomena are complex, or scientific interests in them are heterogeneous, and the number of possible ways of representing them in models is too large. Adequate theorizing may require a variety of perspectives and models—a point worth keeping in mind in discussing what the “right” account of evo-devo is. p.38
One primary candidates for an adequate account is Susan Oyama’s developmental systems theory. Oyama is both a psychologist and philosopher of science, and her work The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution, is regarded as the foundational text in the field. Evan Thompson’s enactive approach attempts to carry DST (developmental systems theory) forward by interweaving through it a theory of the phenomenology of autopoeitic systems.
Not surprisingly, given its postmodern sensibilities, the naturalistic turn in science has also embarked on a re-conceptualization of socio-cultural evolution. There is an interesting twist here in which the notion of socio-cultural evolution is being extended “back” into biological evolutionary theory by asking new questions about the “fundamental unit of evolution,” The answer it seems, may turn out to look more like socio-cultural adaptation and its relatedness to the environment, than any current theory based on a combination of genetic and epigenetic forces and natural selection processes in the environment.
Again, in Lewontin’s words,
Any theory of the evolution of human life which begins with what are said to be individual biological constraints on individuals, and tries to create a picture of society as the sum of those constraints, misses what is really essential about the social environment, which is that in moving from the individual to the social level we actually change the properties of objects at the lower level. This whole problem of levels of explanation, of levels of evolution, of levels of action, is one of the deepest ones with which we have to deal in our understanding not only of sociobiology, but of evolution in general.
I hope this short introduction to my research gives you a taste of how exciting these times are for evolutionary and developmental theory as well as for philosophers who are looking at the activity from a meta-theoretical level.
What does Integral Have to Offer?
Evolution, development, meta-theory and a post postmodern synthesis – one might hope that Integral Theory would have the capacity to lead the discourse. Sadly, Integral Theory comes nowhere near the level of scholarship in these fields. Worse, I see a kind of hubris in the integral community when it comes to thinking about BIG IDEAS like evolution and development. More than a few people identified with “integral” deploy simplistic concepts and overtly simplified generalizations and then stake out gigantean claims such as evolutionary imperatives, cultural evolution, the evolution of consciousness, and Kosmic development. Notions such as these have become tag lines for a kind of mainstream integral cultural groove – not because they are founded on quality research or scholarship, but because they create compelling “feel good” narratives for a generation that seems to have been starved from epistemic satisfaction. My friend and colleague, Tom Murray identifies “epistemic drives” as the phenomenology of satisfaction (a hit of dopamine, perhaps?) that the body-mind receives from enjoying grand unifying notions and elegant models conveying beautiful images that resonate with a particular epistemic desire.
As Callebaut cautions,
.. we must ask to what extent the close links that are often suggested between specific theoretical notions and specific metalevel views are really robust or even inevitable or rather the result of the contingencies of one’s scientific and philosophical education, social background, or standing. The question is important because as, for example, Maienschein has shown, “epistemology (can) actually … drive the science.” 
Epistemically pleasing, or narratively compelling visual as well as conceptual images that are particularly apt to engender intelligibility to a broader, more mainstream public, because they show “how possibly, or how plausibly” rather than how actually, things work, “must not be confounded with the correctness of an explanation.” And because “intelligibility typically evokes emotions, which may act as positive motivators,” such examplars “often will convince us even if, as shorthands for explanations, they are misleading.
One such overused exemplar of mainstream integral theory, is the notion of transcend-and-include and the holarchical organization that results from it. When “transcend-and-include” describes a dynamic, it is describing a simple, linear dynamic that creates nested sets of levels that are related in simple linear ways. If instead of associating the term “integral” with a set of exemplary beliefs and the community wit large that promote them, we identify the adjective “integral” in “Integral Theory” as pertaining to a level of cognitive abstraction, also known as meta-systematic , then no theory that entails simple, linear transcend-and-include dynamics can pass the test; and certainly none of the BIG IDEAS about evolution and development can be addressed in terms of simple linear dynamics. This holistic, holarchical world-view that is engendered by the linear forces of transcend-and-include dynamics, is neither postmodern nor modern, but harkens back to the pre-modern notions of the perennial philosophies.
Consider, for example, someone who is generally thought of as a “founding father” of mainstream integral – Teilhard de Chardin. Through his writing, he gives us a very good picture of what happens when a premodern worldview attempts to integrate a modern theory like evolution. As a devout Jesuit, Teilhard’s worldview was steeped in Christian eschatology. We could say he had a strong epistemic drive to “see” or “reason into” evolutionary change, a strong, spiritual purposiveness. That same epistemic drive persists in mainstream integral today – which tends to over-emphasize Teilhard’s notion of the evolutionary Omega point, while disregarding the counter-balancing aspects of his thought. The truth is, the notion of progress is a non-empirical value – and poses a significant epistemic challenge to evolutionary theory and its modern syntheses.
In the book Taking the Naturalistic Turn, Callebaut cautions “there is nothing in the basic structure of the theory of natural selection that would suggest the idea of any kind of cumulative progress” (p 468) and quoting Julian Huxley (the man who actually coined the term “holon”) adds:
[A]fter the disillusionment of the early twentieth century it has become fashionable to deny the existence of progress and to brand the idea of it as a human illusion, as it was fashionable in the optimism of the twentieth century to proclaim not only its existence but its inevitability… p. 469
Michael Ruse explains the problem
… non-cognitive or non-whatever-you-want-to-call-it-values are very important in what drives science. Evolutionary theory in particular has in its history been one of grappling with the notion of progress. It is no exaggeration to say that the science is a mere epiphenomenon of human hopes of social progress. I don’t mean that every evolutionist working on every problem has been thinking about it, but it permeates the theory.
In a similar vein, Zachary Stein (in my estimation one of the most scholarly integral people) has highlighted the normative assumptions that permeate integral theory in general, and developmental theory in particular.
Still, Teilhard’s own work on evolutionary theory deserves a closer look. I will narrate his story through a series of diagrams.
A holarchy can be represented as a set of nested levels as in the following diagram. You can see from the series labeled “Christianity” that this worldview would have been consistent with the kind of eschatology that Teilhard was exposed to as a Jesuit priest.
But Teilhard was also an avid student of evolutionary theory – the workings of which create entirely different kinds of organization, and can not be represented as nested sets, but need to illustrate diverse and discontinuous form branching from a kind of evolutionary tree, as Darwin sketched in his own notebooks:
Just how accurate Darwin’s insights were can be seen by comparing his early sketch with a modern schematic of the distribution of phylogenetic families:
What is noteworthy about these diagrams is that evolution produces discrete categories that are cotemporaneously discontinuous across evolutionary lines. What intrigued Teilhard was the phenomenon of “radiation” – which can be seen as the “bursts of forms” that radiate from the “nodes” representing foundational ancestors. As Teilhard envisioned it, the primary cause of the variety and diversity found in nature, was this “radial force” – a notion that is strongly visualized in this computer-generated hyper-graph of actual evolutionary processes seen in bacteria in a laboratory setting. You can literally see the forms arranged in families of Types, as they “radially burst forth” from common nodes.
Teilhard himself sketched his ideas about radial forces driving evolutionary processes in the following ways. You can see both how some original branches from the early fan-like period, are culled, to produce a dominant foundational ancestor, which in turn “radiates” other foundational ancestors, which themselves produce radial bursts of descendent forms. The twin processes of divergent radial production and natural selection was for Teilhard, the primary engine of evolution for all phylogenetic forms, including the human.
With respect to the noophere, however Teilhard envisioned a different dynamic altogether. The essential force of the noosphere, he reasoned, was convergent and therefore “tangential” – as sketched in the following:
There was something, Teilhard thought, about the human condition, which was like a flourishing or flowering toward an omega point. Starting from the Neolithic period to the present, Teilhard crossed-hatched the “social zone” (between 10 and 0, present day) as the defining characteristic of human evolution. There is an interesting correspondence to this and Lewontin’s statement above about the essential nature of evolution in the social environment “which is that in moving from the individual to the social level we actually change the properties of objects at the lower level.”
One of Teilhard’s full depiction of evolutionary dynamics looks like this:
This does not tell a simple story, but represents a complex theoretical inquiry into the nature of change through time. Only when we see one of Teilhard’s final illustrations, does his story of radial and tangential forces come into full view for the postmodern mindset:
To me, this one illustration reveals the essential piece of the story Teilhard could not have had, because it is a postmodern epistemic tool – the notion of a self-organizing system. Only if instead of a bounded sphere that posits a single omega point “directing” the tangential forces, we conceive of an unbounded whole, like the universe itself expanding and enfolding in a complex, self-organizing fashion, we can derive both the apparent radial and tangential forces that Teilhard conceived, and invite Teilhard into the post-postmodern synthesis.
Which brings me to the question of where does integral theory fit in this post-postmodern synthesis? EDU (Evo-Devo Universe) describes itself as:
a scholarly research community exploring how our understanding of the universe as a complex system might be augmented by insights from information and computation studies, evolutionary developmental (evo-devo) biology, and hypotheses and models of quasi-evolutionary and quasi-developmental process applied at universal and subsystem scales
According to that definition, then “integral theory” via Ken Wilber and Erwin Laszlo, is identified as a “devology” or “universal evolutionary development” – that is, primarily concerned with describing both evolution and development at a universal scale, with the addition of accelerating hierarchical complexity in the universal, biological and human-historical record – and states that “many of our synthetic models remain less well-grounded than modern science demands.”
This is of great concern to someone like me who identifies with “integral theory” but not with less-well grounded ideas like devology. Integral theory is interested in both development and evolution, but without rigorous distinctions and adequate epistemic tools, integral will continue to fail to make the grade. I have shared just one simple story of how an overly simplistic dynamic can trump more sophisticated scholarship in the integral community. There are several more, equally important epistemic challenges facing integral theory today, including the sloppy conflation of developmental processes with evolutionary ones, such as Spiral Dynamic’s (inappropriate) appropriation of Graves’ theory of individual cognitive development onto a narrative of socio-cultural evolution. Once again, the post postmodern scientists and naturalistic philosophers are leading the way forward, and integral is lagging behind. But that story awaits another invitation.
 . See for example his article On the Normative Functions of Metatheoretical Endeavors at Integral Review: http://integral-review.org/current_issue/metatheory-issue_index.asp