The Altitudinal Lens

Mark Allan KaplanAesthetic, Article, Cognitive, Uncategorized

When we look at a cinematic work and endeavor to discern if it is “integral” or not, what we are doing is attempting to use the term in an evaluative mode as a kind of typological categorization tool. One of the major ways of typologically mapping the Integral structure of consciousness is as a particular level or altitude on the worldview line of development (the Integral Worldview altitude). For analytical purposes I would like to make a distinction between using the Developmental Lens to analyze a cinematic work’s various lines and levels of development versus using it as a typology system to determine the particular altitude or level of development of the cinematic work as a whole “frozen-in-time” expression (artifact) created by an individual or group of continuously evolving artifact creators. This use of the Developmental Lens as a typology tool I am choosing to call the ALTITUDINAL LENS, since the central focus of classification is on the altitude or level of the work.

This is not a simple task, especially when we are working with cinematic artifacts. Firstly, while a cinematic work may be a complete “frozen-in-time” artifact, it is a temporal-based artifact, in that it is a work that has a temporal duration, so it can have its own evolutionary arc with multiple altitudes, within the boundaries of its duration. Secondly, as with all other works of art, a cinematic work has many elements within it that can act as purveyors of various fixed and evolving lines and levels of development (i.e., characters, themes, visual style, etc.).

Another factor in mapping the altitudes within a cinematic work is the various lines of development we want to track. Ken Wilber notes that the major line of development that is embedded in the creation of artifacts, including all cinematic works, is the artifact creator’s worldview, and as stated above, this is the line we are attempting to use when we try to qualify an artifact as being the product of an “Integrally-informed” expression (Kaplan, 2010; Wilber, personal communication, May 7, 2009). The worldview line is a cultural (collective-interior) developmental line that also has correlates in individual-interior (Circle of Care and Concern), individual-exterior (Fields of Spatial-Temporal Perception), and collective-exterior (Techno-Economic Structures) quadratic dimensions. Below is a table of these lines of development, along with the major altitudes or levels of development that are relevant to worldview embedding, correlated with the color spectrum scale (Wilber et al, 2008), which is one of the basic neutral altitudinal scales:

Table 1. Altitudes (Levels) and Lines of Development Associated with the Embedding of Cinematic Altitudinal Structures

Zones, which we previously explored, are a key factor in the process of how these worldview and other related altitudinal structures from the cinematic creator’s consciousness are embedded into a cinematic work: As we create, we have a 1st Person subjective (inside) intention (conscious and/or unconscious) behind all of our signification pattern choices in all four cinematic expression dimensions of text, image, sound and time;  and as we construct the 3rd Person objective (outside) structures of each of these dimensions of the cinematic work, these intentions become embedded within all these expressive dimensions. This embedding goes well beyond the level of narrative, visual, auditory, and temporal signification processes, transcending and integrating them into the underlying core meaning patterns of the cinematic work as a whole. For example, in the previously discussed film, Bee Season(2005), the expression of all eight zones in all expressive dimensions are rooted in an underlying construct-forming meaning pattern that holds that there are multiple dimension-perspectives of varying depth and span. This construct-forming meaning pattern is a reflection of an aperspectival field of perception, which is associated with an Integral Worldview or structure of consciousness (see Table 1 above), and its presence in this work suggests that one or more of the creators of this work was operating out of this particular worldview.

In addition to the underlying construct-forming meaning patterns, we can also narrow in on a particular embedding pattern and see how it plays out in the cinematic work. For example, the Circle of Care and Concern line of development can be clearly detected in individual character and character relationship development, as in the film Groundhog Day (1993), where the main character evolves vertically from egocentric to Kosmocentric altitudes or levels of development, along with their other corresponding worldview-related structures. Altitudinal embedding can also be detected in the set and setting of a cinematic work. For example, in the film Avatar (2009), the filmmaker depicts a powerful clashing between Magical (Tribal Alien), Mythic (Military), and Rational (Scientific) cultures and their related techno-economic structures, set within the context of the application of an Integral Worldview-related human-to-avatar convergence technology, along with an underlying Pluralistic Worldcentric theme of “Nature is precious, and we are profoundly interconnected with it.”

Avatar (2009)

This brings us to the expressive element of theme, which is a vital area where worldview and related altitudinal structure embedding can be clearly observed. Theme, as I am defining it here, is an overarching and underlying core meaning pattern that not is not only construct-forming, but also carries a value statement which acts as an embedded lesson statement within a cinematic work. Examples of worldview-related thematic statements, in addition to the above specific example from Avatar, include vengeance/vendetta-based stories with the Mythic Worldview-related theme of an “eye-for-an-eye;” evidence-based mysteries with the Rational Worldview-related theme of “reason can surmount any obstacle;” relational-based explorations with the Pluralistic-related theme of “truth and reality are in the eyes of the beholder;” and in evolutionary-based narratives with the Integral-related theme of “life is always evolving to deeper and more expansive levels of being and becoming.”

Inception (2010) and the Embedding of Altitudinal Structures within Layers of Waking and Dreaming Realities

Using the Altitudinal Lens on a deeper level of analysis, we can observe the embedding of  worldview and related altitudinal structures in every story-value of a cinematic work. Story-values, as defined by screenwriting theorist Robert McKee (2007), “…are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next” (p.34). These values are reflected in every action and event within a cinematic work and can range from the very simple to the complex, and include such binary values or polarity patterns as right/wrong, good/evil, love/hate, strength/weakness, hope/despair, life/death, freedom/slavery, truth/deception, etc. The film The Fountain (2006), offers us a clear example of how worldviews and other related altitudinal structures can play out through these types of story-values, in that the film takes us through the experience of death, progressively moving the value of death as a negative to a positive, from death as a painful and tragic experience to death as a powerful transformational experience. This view of death as transformation appears to be inherent in some worldview structures (i.e., Integral) and not in others (i.e., Rational). In the particular case of The Fountain, this story-value pattern combined with the other expressive element patterns all point to the embedding of an Integral Worldview.

In addition to story-values, some of the other expressive element patterns in which we can detect the embedding of worldview and related altitudinal structures include what I am calling the truth-values, story-causality value patterns, and modes of cinematic expression of a cinematic work (see Table 2 and descriptions below):

Table 2. Worldview Altitudes and Related Sub-Structures Associated with the Embedding of Cinematic Altitudinal Structures 5

Truth-Values – Worldview-related truth-values, or the type of truth valued by the characters and used in the structuring of the story (i.e., objective truth, relative truth, etc.), can be detected in a cinematic work’s general story-value polarity patterns, in individual and collective story events, and in more overarching patterns such as narrative, visual and auditory themes. A cinematic work can have one or more truth-values embedded in it. For example, one story event can hold a Pluralistic Worldview-related relative truth-value through the presentation of various, differing, and “equally-true” individual character perspectives of that event; and in that same cinematic work, another story event can hold a Rational Worldview-related objective truth-value through the presentation of a revelation of empirical evidence.

Story-Causality Value Patterns – Worldview-related story-causality value patterns, or the type of causality pattern valued by the characters and used in the story structure (i.e., cause and effect, synchronicity, divine providence, etc.), can also be seen in a cinematic work, particularly through the accumulated meaning patterns of narrative events, in that the outcome of the interaction between characters and events over time reveals a causal value. For example, a character operating from a Mythic Worldview may perceive an event or series as events as a sign of Divine providence, while another character may see those same events through the Rational Worldview-related causality value of cause and effect. In addition to the characters holding these various causality values, a more general causality pattern can be embedded throughout a cinematic work, as in the film Serendipity (2001), where the Pluralistic Worldview-related causality value of synchronicity is part of the theme itself.

Modes of Cinematic Expression – Worldview and related altitudinal structures are also noticeable in modes of cinematic expression, which include the creative use of narrative structures, visual styles, sound motifs, etc. to express meaning. For example, the film Inception (2010) uses descending worldview altitudinal-structures6 along with corresponding modes of cinematic expression, including narrative structures and visual styles, to delineate subtly and powerfully between the films various levels of waking and dreaming realities7 (see figure below):

Levels of Cinematic Reality-States along with Corresponding Altitudinal-Structures and Related Modes of Cinematic Expression from the Film Inception (2010)8

Most films are a compilation of several different worldviews, with one worldview acting as a kind of gravitational field or underlying force holding the story together, as in the previous example from Avatar, where the Pluralistic Worldview-based theme becomes the center-of-gravity of the whole film; and in the above example from Inception, where the expanded perspective of the Integral Worldview, represented by waking reality and the waking reality-based lucid awareness of the conscious dreamers, becomes both the anchor and driving force for the film and the evolution of its story and characters, as its characters and we the viewer journey through dream worlds while attempting to remain conscious of the difference between waking and dreaming.

A preliminary survey of the most successful films of all times suggests that one of the common factors in highly successful films is a creative synthesis of multiple worldviews and related altitudinal structures. This creative synthesis appears to have a foundational Rational and/or Mythic Worldview-related linear story structure, with the various other worldview structures weaving in and through this linear story stream, along with one of these worldviews and its corresponding altitudinal structures acting as the above mentioned underlying force that holds and moves the story (see Table 1). The worldview structure of this underlying force in the most successful cinematic works appears to be a reflection of the most dominant worldview structure of the general audience at the time the cinematic work is created. Currently in Western culture, this dominant worldview in most cinematic works appears to be somewhere between the Rational and Pluralistic Worldview levels. Again, the example of Avatarnoted above, is a perfect example of this type of successful altitudinal synergy.

Cinematic works with a single worldview can be equally powerful but are rarely as widely appreciated because of the more limited audience available for that particular worldview structure. In addition, cinematic works that do not have a foundational Rational/Mythic Worldview-related linear narrative structure appear to have a more limited reach as well, since a large portion of the general audience is still operating at the Mythic and Rational levels, which both gravitate towards linear temporality structures (see Table 1). A recent example of this type of worldview/audience reach limitation is the film The Tree of Life (2011), which has been considered a cinematic masterpiece by many, yet has had a relatively limited reach so far, which may be attributed to its use of a Pluralistic Worldview-related deconstructive non-linear narrative structure. This, combined with a Transpersonal Worldview-related transcendental visual style and an Integral Worldview-related evolutionary-based theme, makes for a powerful cinematic experience for mostly those audience members at these particular altitudes, which is only a select segment of the current viewing audience.

The initial research in this area suggests that the use of the Altitudinal Lens to explore the altitudinal configuration of a cinematic work has the potential to reveal the underlying communicative patterns that connect the self, culture, and world of the cinematic creator(s) through the cinematic work to the self, culture, and world of the viewer(s). The resonance of these communicative patterns between creator, artifact, and viewer appears to be a key factor in how deeply a viewer can become involved and immersed in a cinematic work. As such, the mapping of these altitudinal patterns embedded in a cinematic work has the potential to offer the cinematic artist a greater capacity to communicate more clearly and powerfully with their desired audience, while also offering an additional distribution and marketing tool to better understand and target these desired audiences. Moreover, the understanding of the process of the embedding of worldviews and other related altitudinal structures in cinematic and other kinds of artistic works is a key area in which Integral Theory could potentially contribute to the deepening of our understanding and appreciation of art in general and cinema in particular.


1 These worldview Structure altitudes are part of the worldview line of development in the Lower Left Cultural Quadrant; adapted from Gebser (1986) and Wilber et al (2008). Note: The Transpersonal Altitudes (Indigo through Clear Light) are also referred to as the Super-Integral Altitudes.

2 The altitudes of Circle of Care and Concern are part of the moral line of development in the Upper Left Experiential Quadrant and are correlated to worldview structures in various sources, including Wilber et al (2008) and Esbjörn-Hargens (2009).

3 The Field of Spatial-Temporal Perception line of development is adapted from Gebser (1986). It appears that Gebser viewed these structures as individual-exterior dimensions of our being (i.e., how we physically perceive space and time) that were directly related to the worldview structures of consciousness. These may be correlated to higher brain functions/structures in the Upper Right Physical Quadrant (Wilber, 1995). This includes possible correlation to varying levels of complexity of neural networks through neuroplasticity. In Table 1:

  • Pre-Perspectival refers to the inability to be aware of or conscious of perception itself;
  • Uni-Perspectival (1D) refers to the perception of only 1 Dimension of space or 1-Point Perspective;
  • Bi-Perspectival (2D) refers to 2 Dimensional perception or 2-Point Perspective;
  • Perspectival refers to 3 Dimensional or 3-Point Perspective;
  • Multi-Perspectival (4D) refers to the 3 dimensions of space combined with the added fourth dimension of the relative nature of time, producing the perception of various perspectives relative to subjective perception within the constantly changing field of time plus space;
  • Aperspectival (5D) adds the 5th dimension of the perception of the various perspectives and of perspective-taking itself; and Trans-Perspectival refers to the transcendence of all perspectival fields.

4 The Techno-Economic Structures is a line of development in the Lower Right Social-Systemic Quadrant and are often correlated to worldview structures by Wilber in various works. The higher altitudes of Convergence and Trans-Tech (Trans-Human) are currently emerging structures and these labels have been used by various sources but have yet to become fixed and agreed upon cultural constructs. However, the structures these terms refer to are commonly perceived to be part of these emergent altitudes (Kaplan, 2010; Wilber, personal communication, May 7, 2009; July 20, 2010).

5 Story-Value Polarity, Truth-Values, Story-Causality Value, and Modes of Cinematic Expression patterns, along with their worldview and altitudinal correlates adapted from Braudy and Cohen, 2009; McKee, 2007; Gebser, 1986; Wilber, 2000; and Wilber et al, 2008). The Story-Value Polarity pattern list in this table only lists examples of the type of pattern for each altitude; many more story-values exist for each altitude.

6 It should be noted that there is no necessary connection, in life and in cinema, between these reality-states or states of consciousness and this movie’s incorporation of these altitudinal- or stage-structures of value. This particular movie is using different altitudinal-structures or state-structures to delineate between the waking state and various levels of the dreaming-state for creative, philosophical, and transformational purposes. Here the cinematic artist, writer-director Christopher Nolan, takes us on a journey into the depths of states of consciousness, and as we go deeper into the dreaming reality-states of consciousness, one simultaneously descends deeper into the strata of altitudinal- or stage-structures, creating a recapitulation of development, the less conscious being more ancient and less developed, reversing the ascent of evolution back down into the primal depths of our being and creating a kind of archeology of individual and collective states and structures of consciousness.

7 The above Altitudinal Lens analysis of the film Inception is just a small peak at a very complex cinematic work that includes a rich and deep texturing of the interrelationship between lines and altitudes/levels/stages of development, natural states (waking, dreaming, etc.), bodies/energies (gross, subtle, etc.), state-stages, and structure-stages. A more complete analysis would include an integrated analysis combining advanced applications of several integrally-informed lenses of perception and expression, including the Altitudinal, Developmental, and States Lenses to cover these additional dimensions of the work. A preliminary application of this more in-depth form of analysis reveals even more subtle uses of modes of cinematic expression that help capture and delineate between the gross waking state, with its integrally-informed variety of evolving structures and worldviews, and the multiple levels of the subtle dreaming state, that includes isolated and discrete structures and worldviews. In addition to these patterns, the film represents various phenomenal states (including the full range of human emotions) within each of the levels of waking and dreaming realities, along with subtle state and stage differentiation patterns between memory-based and creatively imagined, designed, and constructed dreaming realities. At the same time, the distinctions between states and stages are also intentionally blurred by the use of various cinematic expression elements to make it hard to discern between what is the real waking reality and what are the dreaming realities, thus capturing the illusive nature of recognizing the dream while being inside it.

8 The above chart showing the various levels of reality-states and their corresponding altitudinal-structures and cinematic expression patterns from the film Inception includes references to the various levels of cinematic reality-states (the natural states of waking and dreaming) along with the related body/energy level (gross, subtle, etc.), worldview structure represented, mode of cinematic expression used, and the meaning patterns being cinematically expressed.

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