Discover more from Layman Pascal
The Integration-Surplus Model of Spirituality
Q: I’ve heard you in a number of interviews discussing the “integration-surplus model” of spirituality. Can you give a brief overview of it?
The basic idea is super simple:
Spiritual experience is the production of a numinous experiential excess (“surplus coherence”). It is produced by the balanced blending or harmonization of two or more different subsystems of our subjectivity or intelligence. It is analogous to a similar production of interpersonal and inter-genre numinosity that creates the emergent cultural phenomenon of authentic religion. Our capacity for using different interpretive “lenses” allows us to experience the evoked excessive coherence in numerous ways — e.g. a higher/deeper self, a transcendent other, or as an additional transformational energy. Our specific perceptions of this process are framed by our personal psychology and the cultural worldspaces in which we are embedded. Whether this production occurs in temporary moments or is gradually accumulated, it has several secondary effects. These include (a) new energy for mobilization (b) existential satisfaction (c) emergent stylistic idiosyncrasy (d) a new platform for understanding, evaluating & acting in the world. Our “spiritual life” consists of the acts undertaken to produce the experience and to participate in modifications of living based on our relationship to the already successful production of this quality.
This description is not meant to be poetically evocative. The entire history of human spirituality already provides that poetry in endless variations. This is meant to provide a very basic analytic framework for approaching spirituality (and religion) in a “postmetaphysical” fashion that is agnostic relative to different ontological claims. Although I personally have some ideas about the minimal external facts about reality necessary to enable spiritual experience, it is nonetheless possible to explore and cultivate these dimensions of life without any particular beliefs.
What do I mean by subjective subsystems?
Any relatively independent intra-psychic mode of organized and sensitized experience. Examples include different “lines of intelligence” (e.g. heart, mind, body), different states of consciousness (e.g. subtle, causal, nondual), different regions of perception (e.g. self, other, inner, outer), different processing modes (e.g. conscious, unconscious, linear, nonlinear, right/left). This is, therefore, a description of spirituality highly consonant with the plural nature of the psyche.
The great diversity of possible combinations between these “subsystems” is reflected in the diversity both of spiritual paths and divergent trajectories of spiritual developments. Akin to different trajectories upward from the surface of the Earth, similar altitudes can be accomplished in even diametrically opposed directions. Ten miles above Australia is a very different spot than an equal ten miles about Alaska. In this analogy the “altitude” or distance-on-the-path is the result of successful harmonizations.
Success is herein considered to be the achievement of “gestalt” effects — results that are greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts. Analogous, perhaps, to the emergence of overtone resonances between specific acoustic vibrations. An extra quality is added into the mix. It exceeds the components and responsively reflects back upon… as if from an additional or greater realm.
So an entire discussion around the proto-skills that enable this — under the guise of any (or no) belief systems and in the form of diverse traditional and innovative exercises — becomes important. These include very primitive capacities like being able to distinguish between different active subjective types of functions within oneself, being able to withstand the cognitive dissonance between contrasting inner valences and perspectives, being able to simultrack (ie use evenly split attention) separate unfolding aspects of the self and the quasi-visceral capacity to “weigh” and “adjust” types of inner experience in order to reach relative parity, balance, etc.
Fortunately, the questioner only asked about spirituality so I won’t belabor the ways in which religion operates likewise on the interpersonal stage…