The Complexity Lens

Mark Allan KaplanAesthetic, Article, Cognitive, Uncategorized

Above: Cloud Atlas (2012) and the Complex Tetra-Evolutionary Relationship Between Individual and Collective Interiors and Exteriors1

We now enter the complex domain of tetra-enmeshment and tetra-evolution with what I am calling the COMPLEXITY LENS.2

On a basic level we could say that tetra-enmeshment refers to the complex inter-relationship or tetra-enmeshment between the four quadrants or “the subjective, objective, intersubjective, and interobjective dimensions of existence” whereby “all four dimensions arise simultaneously and tetra-evolve.  No quadrant is ontologically prior or primary.  Nor is any quadrant actually “in” or “within” another quadrant” (Wilber, 2003, p.13).  From this perspective we can say that evolution is a quadratic or tetra-arising process. For example:

With regard to the LR social system and its techno-economic base, what generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)–James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor’s verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g. the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR) (Wilber, 2003, p.38).

In the domain of the cinema, the complex connection, communication and tetra-evolutionary relationship between creator, cinematic work, viewer, and world is deeply explored by Edgar Morin, whose complexity approach to the cinematic medium holds the potential for offering us a way to more fully analyze and understand this complex tetra-evolutionary interconnectedness (2005a; 2005b). Morin begins with the idea that since all human-made works are the partial product of the human imagination, the imaginary is embedded in all human-made artifacts including and especially, the cinema (2005a). Because humans imagine through imagery (mental images, dream imagery, etc.), and the cinema has the unique capacity to concretize or reify imaginary dimensions, in a sense doubling the inner image with an outer image, the cinematic image is inextricably and uniquely bound with the human imagination. This produces a complex symbiotic-metamorphicweb of interaction between the inner images of cinematic creators and viewers and the outer cinematic image (Morin, 2005a).

Morin also notes that in addition to the cinema’s capacity for this reification of the subjective imaginary dimensions or the capacity to project an experience of subjective presence between a cinematic work and the viewer, the cinema also has the capacity to capture and represent objective forms and movement, and through the juxtaposition of these objective elements replicate human-to-world meaning-making shifts of attention and perception, thus giving the viewer a sense of objective presence as well (Morin, 2005a). According to Morin, this combination of subjective/objective reification/representation and projected presences gives the cinema the capacity to induce various levels of participation or projection-identification through a complex circuit of transmutation between the multiple dimension-perspectives of the creator, the cinematic work, the viewer, and the world around them (see figure below).

The Complex Circuit of Cinematic Subjective-Objective Transmutation3

Morin defines several levels of participation, including the level of Affective Participation, which he notes as appearing to be the most immediate form of participation usually stimulated or excited by the cinematic image, and operates at the level of emotional projection and identification with the projected cinematic image and our own inner images and emotions. Morin maps two more, deeper and more visceral and immersive levels of participatory projection-identification, that of Anthropo-Cosmomorphism and Doubling-Metamorphoses;  Anthropo-Cosmomorphism being a more symbiotic and magical/mythic form adding deep psychic and archetypal projection-identifications, and Doubling-Metamorphoses being that endosymbiotic archaic/magical level of full immersion where the doubling and metamorphoses of the inner and outer images are complete and the viewer becomes fully a part of the cinematic reality. All three of these levels of participation “…inject humanity into the external world and the external world into the inner man” (Morin, 2005a, p.85) to varying degrees.

While Morin only clearly maps these three levels of participation, other levels are suggested in his work. After analyzing these references to other levels I noted several parallels between Morin’s mapping of participation and the work of both Gebser and Wilber and have attempted to integrate them into a more complete map of cinematic participation, bringing together levels of participation with worldview perspectival altitudes (see figure blow).

Mapping the Levels of Participation and Immersion4

Morin notes several techniques that appear to excite or stimulate these levels of participation and immersion, including movement, succession of shots, degree of subjective and objective presence, and the cinegenic quality or charm of the image (2005a).5 He also notes that the cinematic medium appears to be evolving toward a greater and greater capacity to use these techniques in more powerful and affecting ways, suggesting a possible evolutionary acceleration and intensification of affective excitation and participation. In addition, the complex circuit of cinematic subjective-objective transmutation, mapped out above, appears to be another evolutionary factor enabling the cinema to operate as an ontophylogenetic kernel within a symbiotic-metamorphic tetra-evolutionary complex that acts as both a mirror and a catalyst for the evolution of consciousness, culture, and society (See figure below).

Mapping the Cinematic Symbiotic-Metamorphic Tetra-Evolutionary Complex6

Using this type of mapping of the symbiotic-metamorphic tetra-evolutionary complex of cinema, consciousness, culture, and society, based on Morin’s work, we can potentially more accurately discover and fully understand the relationships that are involved in this co-evolutionary complex between cinematic creators, works, and spectators, and their surrounding and interpenetrating cultural and social domains;7revealing how…

By means of the [cinematic] machine, in their own likeness, our dreams are projected and objectified. They are industrially fabricated, collectively shared. They come back upon our waking life to mold it, to teach us how to live or not to live. We reabsorb them, socialized, useful, or else they lose themselves in us, we lose ourselves in them. There they are stored ectoplasms, astral bodies that feed off our persons and feed us, archives of soul. (Morin, 2005a, p.218)


1 Cloud Atlas (2012) is an interesting example of a cinematic work attempting to capture the complex tetra-evolutionary relationship between individual and collective interiors and exteriors. The film uses a complex mix of past, present and future life soul migrations to give a visceral feel for these complexities as we follow different souls through various incarnations and karmic journeys moving through time and space as they and the world within and around them evolves and de-evolves. For a mapping of some of these character’s complex journeys see  the image below from Cinema Blend Online Journal’s Cloud Atlas Infographic Explains The Karmic Journeys Of The Movie’s Characters available at: (Puchko, 2012).

Infographic of the Complex Karmic Journeys of the Characters in Cloud Atlas (2012)

2 I am calling this the complexity lens to honor the work of Edgar Morin (2005a; 2005b) who unpacked the domain of what Wilber is calling tetra-enmeshment and tetra-evolution for the cinema, without using this terminology and prior to Wilber’s exploration of these domains.

3 For Morin, the cinematic work as part of the complex circuit of subjective-objective transmutation, is made of the four dimensions of the embedded subjective dimension of the Imaginary, the photographic representation of objective Forms, the inter-objective/systemic replication of objective Movement, and the replication of inter-subjective and human-to-world meaning-making shifts of attention and perception in the form of the Juxtaposition of these other dimensions, including image-to-image and movement-to-movement juxtapositions created through the editorial process (Morin, 2005a). In the above diagram (Figure 1) I have added Wilber’s four-quadrants of psychological, behavioral, cultural, and social to the creator and spectator dimensions here to further flesh out the complexity in these domains that Morin refers to in several sections of his works (2005a; 2005b).

4 In the above mapping of the levels of participation and immersion (Figure 2), I have added the Worldview/Altitudinal scaling for the entire range of participation processes and structures, and the labels of Symbiotic and Endosymbiotic Participation to represent participation levels of Anthropo-Cosmomorphisis and Doubling-Metamorphoses, based on Morin’s description of these processes. I also added the Mental-Perspectival Immersion Zone levels and terminology based on Morin’s discussion and mapping of levels of participation within the schema of film language in Chapter 7 of The Cinema, or The Imaginary in Man (2005a).

5 In Morin’s references to techniques that appear to excite or stimulate levels of participation and immersion he refers to what is alternatively called the charm of the image, the photogenie, or cinegenic quality of the image, which is the moving image form of the photogenic or aesthetically pleasing capacities of the captured image (Morin, 2005a). In addition to above listed techniques that stimulate and induce participation and immersion there are a vast number of both aesthetic and technological  techniques using text, image, sound, and time including more direct physical ways of inducing immersion such as screen size, surround sound, 3D, and Virtual Reality technologies. While these direct physical techniques are very powerful on their own, they cannot induce endosymbiotic archaic/magical level of full immersion without the synchronization of the more subtle and aesthetic techniques such as character and story worldview resonance. Below is a listing of some of the techniques mentioned by Morin (2005a; 2005b), along with a few added techniques to give you an idea of the scope and capacity of these techniques and processes:

6 The above mapping of the cinematic symbiotic-metamorphic tetra-evolutionary complex (Figure 3) is my visual representation of Morin’s analysis of the cinema through the lens of genetic anthropology, exploring how the cinema may act as a sort of ontophylogenetic kernel or catalyst for symbiotic and metamorphic developmental growth of individual and collective consciousness, culture and society (Morin, 2005a). While there is ample research and theoretical analysis that supports and explores the cinema’s influence on individual consciousness, culture and society, and conversely the influences of consciousness, culture and society on the cinema, there is little exploring the intricate co-evolutionary web between these domains (Hodkinson, 2010; Kaplan, 2005; Lampropoulos et al., 2004; Lu & Heming, 1987; McLuhan & Fiore, 1967; Petric, 1973). I believe the above complexity approach potentially offers us a way to do this.

7 For an example of using a mapping of the symbiotic-metamorphic tetra-evolutionary complex of cinema, consciousness, culture, and society, based on Morin’s work, to potentially more accurately discover and fully understand the relationships that are involved in this co-evolutionary complex between cinematic creators, works, and spectators, and their surrounding and interpenetrating cultural and social domains, see my ongoing online research project The Co-Evolution of the Moving Image, Consciousness, Culture, and Society Timeline(Beta Version) at:

8The Kuleshov Effect refers to the apparent tendency for the viewer of a cinematic work to project their own constructs, interpretations, intentions and feelings onto a character when a close up of their face is juxtaposed with a visual object (Kuleshov, 1974; Polan, 1986; Russell, 2005). Kuleshov original visual experiment can be viewed at:

Related Media

Toward an Integral Cinema

Mark Allan Kaplan

Defining characteristics of what may constitute an integral cinematic work are mapped out and developed into a set of evaluation criteria using the works of Dulac, Gebser, and Wilber. A test of these evaluation criteria with the viewing of several motion pictures is summarized; the results suggest that several past and recent films demonstrate qualities that could be said to constitute an integral cinematic work.

Integral Cinema Studio: A Comprehensive Guide to the Cinematic Experience

Mark Allan Kaplan and Ken Wilber

Mark Allan Kaplan has been curating a groundbreaking integral project, something he calls the Integral Cinema Studio. In this remarkable exploration, Mark and Ken walk us through all of the main elements of Integral theory, using some of our favorite movies to illustrate the basics of the Integral approach while noting how each of these elements has shaped the cinema experience since the invention of film itself.

Mark Allan Kaplan

About Mark Kaplan

Mark Allan Kaplan, Ph.D. is a Transdisciplinary Artist, Filmmaker, Researcher, Consultant, Educator and Media Psychologist focusing on Integral, Transpersonal, and Transformative approaches to Art, Media, and Spirituality. Mark is currently exploring various applications of Integral Theory, including the research and development of an Integral approach to cinematic media theory and practice.