Ken Wilber, the philosopher whose book Sex Ecology Spirituality inspired this writing.

The essential development of the universe, from hadrons to heuristics, the journey that evolution took from unisolatable quarks and subatomic particles to the structures of mind can in effect be looked at as a series of “bootstrappings” or transcendences, wherein the layer involved grew complex enough to essentially “wind itself up” into another level of existence. Transcendence is the principle of all growth, be it from atoms to molecules or from tribes to nations. Structure and consciousness expand enough to operate upon and include the layers beneath them (the neural cord unites the sense beneath it, perception integrates all isolated sensations — these developments are one and the same), and this becomes the new layer or holon. Each new holon is always dependent upon those beneath it … this is another principle of growth.

To begin with, the universe, which was formerly thought to be chaotic or patternless, has been seen in the last part of the last century to in fact have some sort of telos or organizing pattern, an ability to “wind itself up” into spontaneous order or self-reproducing systems, from which comes the capacity for life and organisms. On the very basic level you have prokaryotes, bacteria, which are composed of proteins essentially. The proteins form based on the commands of amino acids, which are peptide sequences (essentially sequences of molecules) … thus a molecule, which forms essentially based on the principle of attraction of atoms, becomes complex enough to unify and become an “organism”, or a structure whose telos or method of survival isreproduction, not attraction (although of course its fundamental components are still those based on attraction, an attraction which itself comes from the main four forces of the universe whose main principle is balance or mediation between unequal components, or in other words the foundation of dualism, i.e. the universe after the Big Bang became dualistic, separated, as opposed to ineffable and timeless; this occurred when energy separated from non-energy [space]). And once the organisms meet their point of telos after diffracting into many different phyla and species — i.e., once they become complex enough to operate on themselves — we have the emergence of the plane of mind or the noosphere, whose entities’ fundamental method of proliferation is by diffusion or communication or transference. This is where extension gives way to intention and evolution hops up from reproductive systems to systems of thought and culture and tools and cognition and ideas, just as the biosphere consisted in the hopping up from inert matter and combination to the world of self-copying and reproductive organisms. Each layer, as we can easily see, embraces more of the Kosmos … sensation-enabled organisms embrace more than just the forces binding the universe together, and mentally capable humans understand more than just the needs to get food and have sex. 

Wilber's model of the four quadrants of existence or holonic development. The left represents inner development, the right outer development. The top half represents individual development, the bottom half social development.

To decrease the scale to just the noosphere (which is not necessarily only idealistic and immaterial but also consists in the physical manifestations of increasing cognitive structures), there are a number of hops, as psychologist Jean Piaget has shown, from sensorimotor (essentially still in the “life” mode) to preop to conop to formop (reason). Currently most of the world’s population is either in conop (marked by mythological nations, aggressive empires and rigid doctrine) or formop (reason, free citizenship, freedom of expression, establishment of universals). America sort of straddles between these two. The point is that we are still growing, even past formal operational (logical) states — or else how could there be creativity? There is a synthetic viewpoint, which Wilber calls vision-logic, which has the incredible capacity of being able to reconcile differing perspectives, cultures, viewpoints, and stages of evolution into an aperspectival synthesis of truth. This is just beginning to emerge in plenitude in advanced societies. This sort of vision logic is more tolerant than the mythological societies, who cannot admit of any with differing beliefs, and rationality, which tends, in the end, untoward the pathologies of rigidity and linearity and reductionism. Vision-logic is the power to synthesize what we see in each moment, to not cling to perspectives, to be nonattached and decentered and to merely absorb the world. Vision-logic unites the physiosphere, biosphere, and noosphere (by understanding their interrelated or relatively dependent nature — by synthesizing them), and in doing so gives rise to The Witness, the part of the self that moves above reason. That is a discussion for another time, however.

My central point in this discussion was to affirm Wilber’s idea of four-quadrant growth, of transcendences that allow holons to embrace more of the universe. With more depth or embrace comes less span, or a fewer amount of these holons that actually exist. Since the transcendence only comes when span reaches its peak point of complexity in relation to its telos, and since span or possible complexity decreases with each jump, evolution should — and has — gotten progressively faster. But evolution has always been a forwards movement, from matter to life to mind, and nothing has EVER been isolatable, as in no discipline has ever been able to exist without connections or relations to another. In this way, we see that all sciences, cultural studies, and philosophies …. everything from quantum physics to psychology … is strung together by the principle of growth.

[All these thoughts emerged because of my reading of Ken Wilber’s exhilarating and highly in-depth and admirable book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.]

One thought on “Thoughts on Evolution [Inspired by Ken Wilber]

  1. This is really insightful, Jake. I love how all these topics can all be intertwined with everything from math to spirituality.

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