Integral Eyes

see the world from different perspectives

The mind is not a vessel to be filled; it is a fire to be kindled.

— Plutarch.

This is the first post on my new blog on integral theory and how it can illuminate current events, popular culture, and the world of ideas. This is my first personal blog; I look forward to exploring the world of integral theory and sharing what I see along the way!

Online Great Books–The Riverworld Analogy

As mentioned in the previous post, there are four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary reading (“what does the text say?”)
  2. Inspectional reading (“what kind of a text is this?”)
  3. Analytical reading (“what does the text mean?”)
  4. Synoptical reading (“what do various books say about a topic?”)

There is a brief description of the first two levels in Part One, Chapters 3 and 4. The emphasis of the book How To Read a Book is on the third level of analytical reading (Part Two) and on the fourth level of synoptical reading (Part Four).

The book How To Read a Book (hereafter given the acronym HTRAB) is what we covered in our first seminar after the introductory seminar on the mechanics of the Online Great Books course. There are rules that Mortimer Adler puts forth for analytical reading, and we discussed those rules for the majority of the time.

However, someone asked the question, well, we’re Seminar 49. How far has Seminar 1 gotten up to. Our moderator Mike Cwik (pronounced “swik”) said they’re reading Cicero. That excited me because after we discuss Plato and Aristotle, we’ll be able to discuss the differences between their approach to a given topic, which starts us on our journey towards synoptic reading.

For some reason, while discussing our ultimate goal of reading the Great Books of the Western World, which is to have a discussion amongst ourselves but also ultimately with the texts contained in those books, I stumbled across a memory of a science-fiction book series called Riverworld. In the first book, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the protagonist wakes up alongside a great river on a giant planet along with numerous other people, and discovers that each person lived and died on Earth, but in a different time period. An alien civilization had been monitoring our civilization for a long period of time, and decided as a social experiment to reincarnate everyone who had ever lived to see how they interact.

I thought this is kind of an analogy to the Online Great Books club, because we are reanimating the authors of the great books of Western Civilization in order to interact with them. But then I realized where the analogy breaks down. We can read and interact with each other in discussion about the great books, but the authors themselves cannot interact with us.

But if we were incarnated in Riverworld in a specific section that was downstream, we might be able to read the works of the authors who put their messages in bottles so that they could be passed along the river. And this is closer to the truth, because we are receiving the bottles (the great books) that have been sent down the river of time.

With synoptical reading, we can construct a view that is wider and hopefully deeper than the ancients who came before. This is a worthwhile endeavor for an individual, but as a group, we can create something which can be handed down to those further downstream. I am keenly aware of this because I am in my 60s and don’t have grandchildren of my own, but I have extended family around my age who do have grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, and I constantly think about the world they are growing up in. It would be a shame if the thread of conversation were lost, and so that it is an additional motivation to pass this on the next generations.

My father tried to get me involved in the Great Books program when I was in junior high school, but it didn’t take–I was too busy with my STEM (as they would call it now) education in math and physics to have time for the liberal arts, and frankly too lazy when I look back on it. That is why when I saw the Online Great Books program being offered, I leapt at the chance to join–I always increasingly valued the Great Books as I have gotten older, and to have a conversation with others, both of my generation and those younger than me, about these books is one of the best things I have done for myself. As Heraclitus said, “you can’t dip into the same river twice.” Once you dip into the river of the Great Books, the river may stay the same but you yourself are enlarged and so the river means something different each time you dip into it.

And just as I wrote that last sentence, I thought of the old gospel hymn, Shall We Gather By the River?

‘Shall we gather at the river
Where bright angels feet have trod
With its crystal tides forever
Flowing by the throne of God.”

So as an invitation to all of those who are considering joining the Great Books online program, I say, shall we gather at the river?

Online Great Books–Books in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

In the last post, I listed the four levels of reading described by Mortimer Adler in his book How To Read a Book. These four levels are:

  1. Elementary Reading–basic mastery of what the author is saying
  2. Inspectional Reading–understanding the main points of what the author is saying
  3. Analytical Reading–gaining an understanding of what the author meant (the context)
  4. Synoptical Reading–gaining an understanding of an idea across the works of several authors

As I was reading the difference between analytical reading and synoptical reading, I remembered a science fiction novel I had read decades ago called Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. In this novel of the far future, mankind has spread to other stars and has encountered other beings that are sapient, such as a race of intelligent spiders. In the future, people are fitted with hardware in their brains that allows information to be downloaded directly into their neural nets in a future version of the Internet called General Information.

The first part of that novel is set on a planet where General Information is outlawed, because the government does not want its people accessing dangerous ideas like freedom. The novel follows the life of one man, named Rat Korga, who is sent to the Radical Anxiety Termination institute to have his brain circuitry altered so that he can became a slave and no longer have to deal with the burdens of a free will. At some point during his tenure as a slave at a research station, he is kidnapped by someone who wants him for his special ability he gained because of the procedure, which is an ability to rapidly read ANY book within a matter of seconds.

Although the General Information technology is forbidden on this planet, there is a bootleg variety which allows one to download information at a rapid pace from electronic versions of books if one is wearing a special glove which transmits the contains of the books to the brain. Normal people on this planet can use this technology and read one book every ten minutes, but she has learned that people like Rat Korga who have had this special procedure done on their brains can absorb the information in a single book in 1.32 seconds. So she wants to have him read a carton of books and explain their contains to him so she learn what’s in them without having to take the trouble of reading them herself.

The fascinating part of the narrative for me was the experience written in first-person style of what it was like for someone like Rat Korga to go from being totally illiterate to being able to fully absorb the contents of an entire book in a matter of seconds, essentially skipping to the third level of reading.

The first book The Nu-7 Poems contained the collected poems and fragments of an engineer named Vro Merivon. Rat was so amazed by being to suddenly understand the words and the images used as metaphors to describe highly abstract mental processes. He was so surprised that he dropped the book cube back into the carton, and went to retrieve it so he could read it again. He picked up instead a cube containing The Mantichorio, an epic narrative describing a fantasy world where winged monsters fought in red-walled caves and foaming black rivers.

Almost as a side thought, he realized after reading the book that the poet Vro Merivon had rewritten more than a dozen phrases from The Mantichorio into poems contained in her collection The Nu-7 Poems. He then reads another cube, and another, and he rapidly understands not just their contents, but the connections between all the works. In other words, he is starting to read synoptically as well, the fourth level of reading. In the pages of his book, Samuel Delaney shows us a portrait of the protagonist’s opening up to the mental worlds described in its books, and creating a worldview formed by not just by the books themselves, but their interactions in his mind which recreate the world’s culture.

Of course when reading the novel for the first time back in the 1980s, I enjoyed the fantasy of what it would be like to be able to read a great book in 1.32 seconds, but now in starting to read the books in the Online Great Books, I am recreating, albeit in a lot slower form, the mind-blowing experience that Rat Korga had on that planet in the future described by Samuel Delaney. I hope, in the years to come, to be able to refer mentally to the books in my pocket like grains of sand, connected in my mind in a new constellation of their own called Western Civilization.

Online Great Books–How To Read a Book (1)

How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren was the first book assigned to our seminar group. (The first seminar last week covered the Online Great Books Handbook, and was devoted to various housekeeping matters related to the online apps that the program uses.) It is the book we cover before we dive into The Iliad by Homer. This first post will cover the first four chapters of Part One of the book, which introduces the concept of different levels of reading.

  1. The First Level of Reading: Elementary Reading
    Elementary reading has four stages of its own:
    • Stage one–sometimes called “reading readiness”, it is where the child learns skills that prepare the child to read, from physical readiness (for example, making sure whether the child need corrective lenses in order to see the words on the page), intellectual readiness (for example, learning phonics and how letters correspond to sounds and combine to form words), and personal readiness (being able to sustain attention, follow directions, etc.)
    • Stage two–children start learning to read very simple materials, and the child experiences how the words on the page can unlock meaning in the mind.
    • Stage three–children start to learn to read for different purposes in different contexts (corresponding to the various subjects the child is taught)
    • Stage four–children start to assimilate their reading experiences into a worldview, where they can understand both the similarities of concepts in different pieces of writing, and the differences between the views of different writers on the same subject. The child is usually a young teen by this point, and is able to starting to do research on a theme or topic.
  2. The Second Level of Reading: Inspectional Reading
    There are two types of inspectional reading:
    • Inspectional Reading I: Systematic skimming or pre-reading–you read the title page, study the table of contents to see the overall structure of the book, check the index to show the range of topics covered, read the publisher’s blurb to get the main points of the book. Then look at the chapters from the table of contents that seem to be pivotal to the argument, and reading the summary statements either at the opening or closing pages of the chapter. Finally, look at the last two or three pages of the book because that will often contain the summary of the main points of the book
    • Inspectional Reading II: Superficial reading–especially for works that are more challenging, don’t stop to try to understand the meaning of every word, or to read footnotes or references. Remember, this is in preparation for the next stage and it will help to get a broad outline in your head before you go on to the Third Level of Reading.
  3. The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading–in this level, you are going beyond reading for information, and trying to gain an understanding not of what was said, but what the other author meant and why the author came to those particular conclusions. This constitutes the majority of How To Read A Book, so I won’t try to outline this here.
  4. The Fourth Level of Reading: Synoptical Reading–this comes from reading several books about a single topic and is the final goal of the Great Books program, to put together in one’s mind the intellectual fabric of Western Civilization, to see how the various authors represents the various threads in that fabric and how they are woven together.

When reading this summary, I realized that it is helpful not only for those reading books in English, but for those of us who like to study foreign languages. I am trying to study for the Spanish proficiency test called DELE at the intermediate level, and to do that I need to improve my reading comprehension. I realized what I was trying to do was go from the elementary level of reading right into the analytical, which meant I felt I had to understand every word of a text. But How to Read a Book showed me the importance of the second level of reading, inspectional reading. Now when I approach a passage of text in Spanish, I just plow right through and skip words I don’t know. Then I go back, underline the words I don’t know, and try first to understand them in context. Only if I am stumped will I go to a dictionary and look up the word. This is an important skill if you are a student because you don’t have the TIME to do analytical reading when you are taking a test.

Reading about the four levels of reading outlined above made me think of a science fiction work by Samuel Delaney called Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, where one chapter deals with the subject of reading. In the book, the beings in this far-off future are all wired cybernetically to a future version of the Internet called General Information, and have the ability to “read” books by having the contents impressed almost instantaneously upon their neural nets. In such a future, what would it be like to learn how to go from being totally illiterate to being able to read at the four levels of reading outlined above–in the space of less than a hour? That will be the subject of the next post…

Online Great Books–First Seminar

Last night the Online Great Books group that I joined had our first seminar. The purpose of this post is to describe, for those who may want to join the program, what a seminar is like. Admittedly, the sample size is small since I have only had the one seminar, but I wanted to write down my first impressions.

When you join Online Great Books program, you are sent a copy of the Online Great Books handbook, plus a copy of the book How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren. There is a also a sheet which gives your first reading assignment. I was expecting the first seminar to be about Mortimer Adler’s book, but it covered the material in the handbook.

Scott Hambrick, who owns the Online Great Books company, led the first seminar, and he went over some mechanics of how the Slack app (which is the portal for online written discussions) works, and then how the Zoom app (which is the portal for online conversations) works.

I didn’t realize that the OMB program offered a lot more than just seminars about the Great Books. The seminars are not recorded, but there are courses which are available which are recorded on set topics such as:

  • Close reading of a text
  • Socratic method: how to use the dialectic to get at the truth

I was excited by the fact that this extra content is free, in other words, it comes with the price of your subscription. Our particular seminar has a special number to differentiate it from other seminars that meet at other times (essentially containing members who joined earlier than we did, and so are on later books in the Great Books series). However, we can interact with members of other seminars by subscribing to channels that cover topics, like

  • Learning Ancient Greek
  • Learning Latin

I am excited because this culture blog will be an outlet for my notes on the readings and the seminars. It is also an opportunity to prepare articles of interest to the group that can be shared in what is called a colloquium. One caveat, however, is that any personal matters shared in the seminars are private, and so I will not allude to them in my posts out of respect for the members.

Now that the preliminary “tutorial” seminar on how to use the online tools is completed, I can now turn my attention to the next item on our list, which is reading How to Read A Book. We are covering the first few chapters and I will discuss them in the next few posts prior to next week’s seminar.

I am pleased so far with the contents of the seminars as well as the wealth of other material available in Slack for members of Online Great Books. With all of my time commitments to other organizations (besides where I work), I felt that having time to read the Great Books was a selfish act, but let’s not use that negative label. I’ll call it “self-care”, because it is fulfilling a need of mine to engage in a conversation with the authors of the great intellectual tradition of Western Civilization, and with those who are as fascinated by them as I am!

Online Great Books

I set up this new blog Integral Eyes because I want to discuss the various aspects of the five elements of integral theory (quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types). However, a new usage of the blog came to mind when I signed up for the Online Great Books program last week at onlinegreatbooks.com. Our first seminar will be next Wednesday, February 26th, 2020, and our first assignment is to read the book called … How To Read a Book co-authored by the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler and the editor Charles Van Doren.

I have been an enthusiast of the Great Books program ever since I was a junior high school student. There was a Junior Great Books discussion group that was held at our local library. However, as I entered high school I got involved more and more in mathematics and physics, and my reading in what might be called the “liberal arts” tapered off.

However, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I decided to get a job in the city of Chicago to earn money to return to the University of Illinois to obtain my bachelor’s degree. That’s when I started reading some of the works from the general Great Books program. However, I read them on my own and was not part of any discussion group.

So when the opportunity came recently to join a discussion group centered around the Great Books of the Western World, I eagerly signed up for the program. As the name of the program implies, the Online Great Books organizes the reading assignments, the portal for group discussion (Slack), and the actual discussion groups themselves called “seminars” which start you off with the first reading assignment, to read Mortimer Adler’s book How To Read a Book.

What I plan to do is use this blog to write notes for the various reading assignments and then to discuss them in depth in preparation for the seminars. By doing this publicly, I am also putting out the posts not just for discussion by the Online Great Books community, but with the general public as well.

The next post will start with the book How To Read a Book.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.