Comparing Views
Part One

Kent Palmerís Emerging Meta System and Integrality

Armahedi Mahzar



Surfing around the Internet sometimes will give you an intellectual enlightenment. That what I got when I stopped at the website of Kent Palmer and browsing his works. Though I have not read all of his works yet, I really got a big surprise when I read his gigantic work the REFLEXIVE AUTOPOIETIC DISSIPATIVE SPECIAL SYSTEM THEORY. This is the most comprehensive theory I have ever read in the net about holism. I think his e-book is the best in the holistic tradition of David Bohm, whose work on holo-movement is the most quoted work in the holistic movement in the West since the 70-s, followed by lesser luminaries like Leonard , Sheldrake and others.

In fact, it is Bohm's vision that has been expanded to synthesize all the great works of the pioneer philosophers from the holistic wing of postmodernism with an old philosophical perspective of the continental phenomenology that has been totally deconstructed by the French post-structuralist wing of post-modernism. It was so strange to me who was educated as a physicist far from the deep speculative metaphysics or ontology. But I want to learn more about it. This article is part of my learning process.

My strategy of studying a philosopher work is to know about his life, cultural and educational, background. For that purpose I surfed around the author's website and eventualIy discovered that Kent Palmer actually is a real-time software engineer. That explains some of my incomprehensions while reading his work more deeply. But the most significant background information to comprehend his work is the fact that Palmer was graduated as Ph.D. in sociology in the tradition of social phenomenologist such as Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

In his dissertation, he expounded the Theory of Fragmentation of Being. Almost all his works after that are intricate elaborations of the theory with the paraphernalia of current state of the art mathematics and physics such as hypercomplex algebras, topological structures and solitons. It is quite difficult to get into the author's understanding on such complex mathematical concepts, but the wildness of his philosophical speculative association is very interesting indeed.

This article is an attempt to delve into the complexities of Kent Palmer's computational sociology and social phenomenology as a part of my holosophical exploration on the diversity of worldviewings that can be seen as a complement to his theory of worlds building. If his theory is based on the concept of the Fragmentation of Being, my holosophical work is based on the discovery of the Integrality of Being. So, the starting points of both investigation, the Holonomic view of Kent Palmer and the Holosophy of Integralism of mine, are in diametrically opposite sides of mindscape.

The radical difference between our views, I think, can be traced to the fact that we live in different geographical hemisphere of the earth and different cultural parts of the world civilization. It is also due the fact that we have different approaches to knowledge brought about by different educational disciplines: the soft and the hard science. So, this article will not be a critical review but a creative examination from the other side of world and mind. Hopefully, it will synergistically enrich and deepen ach other views.

Special Systems :
from General Systems to Metasystems

Epistemologically speaking, Kent Palmer view of knowledge is based on the observation on soft systems as expounded by George Klir in his work Architecture of Systems Problem Solving

What Palmer had done is to expand the epistemological hierarchy of George Klir with the learning hierarchy of Gregory Bateson as stated in Steps to the Ecology of Mind to get a complete hierarchically view of learning.

Klirís Four-level Epistemological Hierarchy

In Batesonian theory of learning, the first level is learning to change our behavior to be more adaptive to the environmental changes. The second level of learning, the meta-learning, is learning how to learn the first level of learning. The third level is learning how to change the paradigm of learning. The fourth level of learning is changing the whole worldview. So learning1 is the ordinary learning. Learning2 is learning to learning1 and so on.

Klir-Bateson Four levels of Learning

After expanding the Klir epistemological hierarchy with the Batesonian learning hierarchy, he inserted another hierarchy. It is the special systems hierarchy : the dissipative, the autopoietic and the reflexive. The three levels systemic hierarchy form the bridge between the Klir's epistemological and Bateson learning levels to get a greater Hierarchy: the ontological hierarchy.

The ontological hierarchy seems to be a shadow of his older version Fragmentation of Being Hierarchy as shown in his book The Fragmentation of Being (page ) as it is shown in the following picture.

Palmerís Four Ontological Levels of Fragmented Being

Later on, Palmer replaced the learning levels with the four ontological special system levels to get the full fledged ontological levels hierarchy.

Palmer's ontological hierarchy is an odd combination of entities. The metasystem is a basis for the languaging realities comprising the Domain, World, Kosmos and Pluriverse as an ever expanding levels of extensional hierarchy. The System itself is a top level of a formal/structural hierarchy of parts consisting of Form, Pattern, Monads and Facets. In this lower wing of the ontological hierarchy, substratum beyond form is pattern. Substrata beyond pattern are called traces by Derrida. Substrata beyond traces are propensities or tendencies.

Let us examine the ontological hierarchy more closely. The great ontological hierarchy is divided into three parts the lower, the middle and the upper small hierarchies. The upper languaging hierarchy, up from meta-system, essentially is an ontological reality which is segmented by language. The lower systemic hierarchy, down from the system, is essentially a pre-verbal perceptual or epistemological reality. Lastly, the middle hierarchy of special systems is in fact a hierarchy of processes with increasing complexity, from the self-organizing, to the self-making and finally to the self-describing.


Palmerís Ontological Hierarchy

The three-level structure is resembling the three-story structure of reality as it is envisaged by the Chinese tradition in the image of Heaven/Man/Earth. It is also resembling the stratified worlds of the shaman who divide the world into three stories: the lower, the middle and the upper. But the three-level structureis collapsed into the binary structure of Reality, where the higher and the lower are tightly interconnected whole like the Tao of the Chinese.

Palmerís Nesting of Ontological Levels

The nesting step is quite understandable, because the epistemologic levels do not have substance of its own. It is nothing but a shadow inside the mind of the reality outside. This is so, if we talk in dualistic terms. In a neater speaking of terms, we can say that the ontological and the epistemological realities is nothing but aspects of a single Process Reality as envisaged by Whitehead.

Seen from a Whiteheadian vision of process, it is not surprising if Palmer focussed his vision on the middle hierarchy where the most dynamical process emerge. He saw it as the emergence of meta-systems from the systems through three successive intermediate special systems. So we have a five levels structure of systemic emergence process. So far what Palmer had done is nothing but reformulating of whiteheadian process philosophy with all of the latest conceptual discoveries of complex system theory. But he does more.

To crown his last step, he characterized the five systems with properties of five hyper-complex algebras from the 1-dimensional real number algebra to the 16-dimensional sedenion algebra. The ordinary system is correlated to the real numbers, the dissipative systems to the 2-dimensional complex numbers, the autopoietic systems with the 4-dimensional quaternions, the reflexive systems with the 8-dimensional octonions and, lastly, the meta-systems with the 16-dimensional sedenions.

Palmerís Emergent Meta-system Cycle

I think this association step is the most original contribution by Palmer to system theory and process philosophy, but I have reservations to accept the bold speculation until there exist some empirical evidences to corroborate the generalized system theory.

However, beside the speculative algebraic association to the general/special/metasytem hierarchy, Palmer saw another structure: the Emergent Meta-System Cycle. Following Goertzel, who suggested the algebraic association for his ontological hierarchy, Palmer pictured the emergence of meta-system as a cyclic process where each cycle is consisted of five steps. Each cycle corresponds to the discrete sub-steps of the iterative cycle of Ben Goertzel Magician System model of mind dynamics. But Palmer invented his own terminology.

He called the system as a Seed and the emerging meta-system as a Field. In between, he called the dissipative, the autopoietic and the reflexive special systems as Monad, Viewpoint and Candidate respectively. Examining the terminology we can see that the Emergent Meta-System Cycle actually is an epistemological cycle. Ontologically speaking, I think, the direction of the cycle is: the system is emerging from the metasystem, not the other way around. It is more promising if we include the reversely directed ontological cycle within Kent Palmerís holonomic espistemological cycle.

If we put the modified bi-directed cycle back to the the Palmer's ontological hierarchy, then we can see that the emerging metasystem yields the upper wing of the great hierarchy: the higher post-systemic hierarchy comprising Domain, World, Kosmos and Pluriverse. In the same way, we can see that the emerging system in the reverse ontological cycle yields the lower wing of the great hierarchy: the pre-systemic hierarchy of Form, Pattern, Monad and Facets. In a sense, the the upper hierarchy is an ontological wing and the lower hierarchy is an epistemological one.

Integral Systems :
from Natural Systems to Integrality

Where Palmer started his philosophical journey with observations on software systems, the holosophy of Integralism began with reflections on the structure of natural systems. One of the implicit philosophical basis of modern science is reductionism: the belief that any systemís behavior can be completely explained by the dynamics of its interacting structural parts. As a consequence of this belief, we have a picture of a nested system from the smallest elementary particles to the whole universe: the largest physical system.

†††††††††††† Superspace
†††††††††† Universe
†††††††† galaxies†††††††† natural
†††††† stars††††††††††††† environmental
†††† geosphere††††††††††† systems
†† biosphere
††††††††††††† ---------------
sociosphere††††††††††††††† human
Individual†††††††††††††††† system
††††††††††††† ---------------
††† atoms/molecules††††† natural
††††††nuclei†††††††††††† constituent†† 
††††††††nucleons†††††††† systems 
††††††††††† vacuum

Natural System Hierarchy

So, instead of starting with the epistemological soft conceptual system levels like Kent Palmer philosophy of holonomics, Integralism started the holosophical investigation with the ontological hierarchy of hard physical systems. In fact, I came to this starting point as an end result of the reconfiguration of the paradigmatic structure of human existence, which had been discovered in a structuralist journey, and expanding it integrally to include the fundamental belief of religion.

It is interesting to notice that each system in the natural hierarchy has its own internal hierarchy orthogonal to the external hierarchy. For example, every environmental and constituental systems has an hierarchy of subsystems comprising the structural (its material components), the dynamical (its energetic process), the functional (its informational laws) and the fundamental (its valuational principles) subsystems.

Using an informational metaphor, the four subsystems -the material, energetic, informatic and normative subsystems- are analogous to the computer hardware, the computational process, the programs and the programming paradigm of a computer system respectively. Using a computational linguistic metaphor, they are correlated to the machine assembly language, the higher programming languages, the application programs and the purpose of the application programs.

It is more interesting to observe that, beside the nature/computer analogy, there is certain parallelism that can be found between the four internal levels of the natural systems with the the four existential strata of a human individual. The four structural strata of human existence are the individual's body in the world, the behavior within society, the mind within culture, and the conscience within values.

In other words, each one of the four human existential levels is correlated to the material, energetic, informatic and valuational levels of natural systems. Now, due to the noticed parallelism, any system, natural or human kind, can be be thought as an integral system consisting four existential levels which are related to the ontological realms of bodies, forces, meanings and values respectively.

Finally, all integral systems can be thought as forming an horizontal hierarchy, from the smallest to the largest physical system. In the Kent Palmers's terminology our horizontal or external hierarchy of integral systems is not an ontological hierarchy, but an ontic one. But for now, let us concentrate to the four existential levels of the vertical or internal hierarchy.

Scientifically speaking, the physical and the only reality is the lowest level : the material or structure level. The energy or process level is just the property of the lowest level. The information or pattern level is just the property of both the material and energetic levels. The valuational level is just the property of all the three previous lower levels. All in all, the higher levels does not have an independent existence. It exist only as the properties of all lower levels.

For a scientist, the whole immaterial levels are just mental abstractions. Such hierarchy of mental abstraction is similar to logical type hierarchy as stated by Bertrand Russel and Alfred North Whitehead in their book Principia Mathematica. This logical type hierarchy is also mirrored in the hierarchical theory of learning by Gregory Bateson.

Philosophically speaking, the four existential strata of reality of Integralism are seemingly similar to Kent Palmer's four Fragments of Being: the Pure Being, the Process Being, the Hyper-Being and the Wild Being. Now, Kent Palmer, following the steps of Bateson, posited that there are no other kind of Being beyond Wild Being and called the Beyond of Being as the Unthinkable and identified it with the Void or Sunyata of Budhism.

In similar vein, integralism also posited the Beyond of the highest level of existence --the realm of values-- as the transcendental essence rather like Atman (for the human existence) or Brahman (for the cosmic existence) from the Hindu religion or simply Soul and God from the Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Negatively viewed, both Beyonds are nothing but aspects of the Buddhist Void

In Integralism, the Beyond of the vertical existential hierarchy of any integral system is seen as its essence. But in the horizontal hierarchy of integral systems, the Beyond is the Creator God whose Essence is none other than Being Itself, the Ultimate and Absolute Being of the philosophers. For the Absolute Being, its Existence is identical with its Essence, and in a sense the Essence of God is the continuous Creation of Creatures.

Religiously speaking, we are projecting our personality to the Creator God. The essences of our personality, our souls, are projected to the Unknowable aspect of God better known as The Spirit. Our super-conscious conscience is projected into the totality of infinite qualities of God. Our conscious mind is projected to His Creative Commands. Our subconscious behavior is projected to His Actions manifested as Natural processes. Finally our unconscious bodies is projected to His Creatures or Media of Creation manifested as the multiverse.

Notes on the Mathematical Structure of Reality

By comparing the Holosophy of Integralism and the Holonomic Theory of Emerging Meta-systems, I realized that my old version of Integralism lacked a mathematical framework. So, Palmer's utilization of hyper-complex algebra as mathematical paradigm for his philosophy is a very much inspiring idea.

I appreciate much such a bold speculation. But, as for myself, accepting that particular mathematical paradigm will mark another milestone to the quantitative methodological imperialism of physical sciences to other sciences, because in reality hyper-complex algebra is a generalization of real and complex number algebra that has been used to calculate natural scientific prediction for centuries.

I think, for a more fruitful employment of mathematics to deeper levels of reality, we have to search for more qualitative branch of mathematics such as Topology, Combinatorics,  Category Theory or its generalizations. Paralleling the internal hierarchy of integralities, in general terms, there should be a hierarchy of mathematical structures for describing the subsystems of an integral system correlated to their existential levels of the integrality. 

The lowest existential level of integrality, the material base, can be described as geometrical structures in the three dimensional physical space. The ancient Greek had developed the geometry as the mathematical foundation for describing the static objects of this realm of matter. Rene Descartes developed the analytic geometry to describe the physical space algebraically. 

The next existential  level of integrality is the world of energetics processes, has more coordinative dimensions. The additional dimension is time.  The additional time coordinate made possible the development of Newtonian Classical Mechanics using calculus. Differential equation systems is necessary to describe the motion, the changing of the external space coordinates.

The higher existential level of integrality is the informatic level can be described with the help of discrete symbolic substitutional grammar system. All informatic structures essentially are symbolic substitutional structures or linguistic systems. The simplest for of such grammar is algebraic symmetry group for classifying the forces between fundamental particles. The most complex grammar is the human language grammar.

In general terms, informatics can be viewed as the a form of discrete mathematical logic, a special kind of formal language, plus discrete time steps. The time dimension is helping informatics to escape from the suicidal paradox of a static formal mathematical system  by the Goedel theorem of incompleteness. It make possible form a linguistic hierarchy which relegates the paradox to higher system levels

The highest existential level of integrality, the realm of values, meanings or principles, I think, has a general lattice structure or more probably it can be described by an infinite simplicial complex of values. The last mentioned approach has been used by the well known process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World, to describe an Actual Occasion or event reality

Unfortunately, I have not yet succeeded to elaborate it as a mathematical foundation for the theory of values, but Ron Atkin structural studies in his book Multidimensional Man can be used as a starting point although he used it for describing epistemological structures. In fact, a new science has to be developed for axiological structures in the realm of values. I will call such a science as Normatics.

Invitation to the Integralist Collaborative Project

The development of a qualitative mathematical foundation of Normatics probably will be the greatest challenge of the 21-st century following the holosophical integration of science, technology, arts, philosophy and religion as it is envisaged by Integralism. Normatics is supposed to be a science of values complementing informatics as science of information.

To develop Normatics as a proper science of values I initiate a Principia Normatica Project. I am sure that this project has paralells in other peopleís thought. For example it is seemingly parallel to the Robert Pirsigís Metaphysics of Values or to Jane Robertsí vision of reality as a Fulfillment of Values

Posting this article in the Internet is a way put Principia Normatica Project in particular, and Holosophy of Integralism in general, to be more widely known, criticized, appreciated and refined. This article is the first of a  series synergistic comparisons of the integralist vision to other comprehensive visions so we can joinly enrich and deepen each of them.

Your comments, criticism and suggestions to this project will surely be appreciated. You may post it to my integralist mailing list at by email or visit my Integralism on the Web discussion forum with your browser at .


Armahedi Mahzar, Integralisme, Pustaka Salman: Bandung 1983

Kent Palmer, Fragmentation of Being and Journey Beyond the Void, Apeiron Press 1993

Kent Palmer, Reflexive Autopoietic Dissipative Special Systems Theory: an Approach to Emergent Meta-systems through Holonomic, Apeiron Press 1995

Alfred North Whitehead, Science for the Modern World,

Robert M. Pirsig, Lila : an Inquiry into Morals, Corgi Books 1992

Jane Roberts, The Nature of Human Psyche : Its Human Expression, Bantam Books 1984

Ron Atkin, Multidimensional Man : Can Man live in 3-dimensional Space?, Penguin Books 1961