Integration is an important second model in Middle Way Philosophy, alongside the Middle Way itself. Unlike the Middle Way, which is focused on avoiding metaphysics, the integration model focuses on what we can take positively from opposing beliefs and opposing desires. It is concerned with how to reconcile opposing energies (with their associated beliefs) and unify them. However, it is fully compatible with the Middle Way, and might be described as the Middle Way inside out.

two-mulesThe basic model of integration can be seen from the parable of the two mules (pictured). If two desires are opposed to each other (in this case the desires of the two different mules), they can be reconciled by changing the cognitive model of the situation. The mules start off not only with opposing desires, but opposing beliefs about the situation. The mules just have to rethink their ideas about how to act in order for them both to get what they want. Their new way of understanding the situation can be described as more objective, because it addresses the conditions better, and more integrated, because it has overcome the initial conflict.

The origins of the integration model are in psychoanalysis, particularly in Jung. However, as with the Middle Way, we do not need to appeal to the origins of the theory to test it out. It assumes Jung’s principle of the conservation of psychic energy, which suggests that energies in minds are never lost, just redistributed. In the case of the mules, the energies that were previously conflicting are united. In a case where someone refuses to acknowledge opposing energies, though, they still operate, finding ways of revealing themselves indirectly or at other times. For example, think of a murderer like Macbeth about to kill his king. He represses the contrary desire in order to perform the bloody deed, but that contrary desire continues to torment him afterwards. Psychoanalysis offers detailed accounts of different ego defences we can use to try to maintain the repression of a contrary desire, such as displacement, projection, or fantasy.

To integrate opposing desires, we need to fully acknowledge the conflict (even if we suppress it for practical reasons), and then relax the opposing cognitive models until they can be stretched and reassembled in a compatible way. There are a wide variety of practices we can use to do this (see Practice page). Some of these work with the whole body and mind (meditation for example) to relax the boundaries of these opposing desires sufficiently to bring them together, whilst others (such as Critical Thinking) work within the cognitive model to stretch it and make its boundaries more supple.

Like the Middle Way, the integration model offers a connection between beliefs and desires (thus also between facts and values, and between philosophy and psychology). Broadly and loosely speaking, the more integrated the desires, the more objective the beliefs. However, we need a considerable margin of error here in suggesting any such relationship. Desires and beliefs can go some way adrift of each other, but nevertheless each will generally follow the other, like a boat being towed in shifting currents on a long rope.

The reason we need this latitude is that we can be much more confident about the Middle Way’s negative account of the relationship between beliefs and desires than that of its positive converse in integration. The Middle Way only offers us a negative correlation between metaphysics and delusion. This correlation is due to the false certainty of metaphysics, which makes judgements that neglect our embodied nature entirely and that seem immune from challenge. We can thus be confident that metaphysics is deluded. Metaphysics also prevent us from integrating our energies. Effectively metaphysics gives each of the mules the certainty that its view is the right one, so it carries on stubbornly pulling. However, there is still a correlation (just a much more flexible one) between beliefs that are based on experience without metaphysics and desires that are unified. The justification of our beliefs depends on their coherence with other beliefs and with evidence, not just on how far they have avoided metaphysics. Still, we can be fairly confident that if we manage to integrate our desires, it will probably have a positive effect on the justification of our beliefs, and vice-versa.

Types of integration

In Middle Way Philosophy, then, three types of integration are distinguished – of desire, of meaning, and of belief. All of these are ultimately integrations of desire, because integration is the process by which previously opposing energies become united. However, these energies may in some cases be associated with particular meanings, in which case we can also talk about meaning being integrated. These meanings, in their turn, may be built up into claims that we affirm within our understanding of conditions – what we can call beliefs. The  full relationship between desire, meaning and belief is discussed in more detail on the desire, meaning and belief page, but the key point here is that they are all subject to a process of integration.

Levels of integration

The integration model is also not limited to the discussion of conflicting desires within an individual psyche. The same model can be used to discuss conflicts of desire, meaning and belief at social and political level. The reason that the same model can be used is that even at social level, these opposing desires are still the desires of flesh and blood human beings, and a conflict between two people or two nations is more usefully understood as a conflict between two desires of those people or nations. This provides us with the useful reflection that an “enemy” is never wholly such, as well as providing a basic model for mediation and the resolution of political disputes. For more on levels of integration see individual and social integration page.

For audio resources on integration see the Desire and integration audio page.

4 thoughts on “Integration

  1. Hi Robert
    In Migglism you wrote:

    “.. what is integrated is not simply the left hemisphere with the right – rather it is the left hemisphere with itself at different times, with the right as intermediary. Since the right hemisphere is outward-facing and voiceless it does not itself need integrating. Rather it is the crucial provider of integration in the whole brain. ”

    If as you say the right hemisphere doesn’t need integrating, does this mean that it doesn’t have any dysfunctional aspects to it when operating normally in conjunction with the left?

    1. Hi Barry,
      Yes, that’s how I’d understand it when the right hemisphere is operating normally – because operating normally is in co-operation with the left. Obviously there can be abnormal states when the left hemisphere shuts down and a pure right hemisphere experience becomes apparently bereft of drive: Jill Bolte-Taylor’s amazing TED video about her stroke experience gives an example of that.

  2. Given that that a state of complete integration could be regarded as flawless and enlightened (although such a state could only be regarded as metaphysical) are you saying then that the right hemisphere is for all intents and purposes flawless (when operating normally/ in cooperation with the left)? Doesn’t it have any quirks or lead us astray in any way?

  3. I don’t think that’s a relevant way of putting it. The idea of ‘flawlessness’ only makes sense in relation to potential flaws, and ‘flaws’ are reasons for negative valuation. Valuation, positive or negative, can only be a feature of the whole system of left and right hemispheres operating together. By comparison, a fox by itself can’t be a ‘predator’ without something to prey on – it needs an ecosystem with rabbits or other prey to assume that role, otherwise the term just isn’t relevant. The right hemisphere by itself doesn’t differentiate between values, but rather just takes everything in. The left hemisphere by itself also wouldn’t differentiate between values, because there’s just the supreme value of its current desires and no other point of comparison without the right hemisphere to allow such comparisons. So we really can’t talk about ‘flaws’ unless we bring left and right hemispheres together and are then able to talk about interferences or lack of balance in their joint epistemological/ moral system. Similarly with an absence of flaws. I’d also say that the idea of perfect flawlessness is irrelevant for a different reason even in the whole system: because it is an idealisation of the left hemisphere rather than something we can experience across the system.

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