INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Joe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY JOE CORBETT
There exist subtle influences on the evolution of organisms that go far outside (and deep inside) the local system of immediate interactions.
Neo-Darwinism posits natural selection of genetic inheritance from random mutations as the engine of evolution. This is the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory proposed by people like Richard Dawkins, and whether it is or is not an entirely adequate explanatory theory is a debate that will not be resolved any time soon, so it will not be my focus here. Instead, I propose a Trans-Darwinism that accepts and uses the ideas Neo-Darwinian theory, for the most part, but then goes beyond them by providing a supplemental spiritual and holistic explanation for evolution.
The opposition between the body and the mind, the physical and the spiritual, the non-living and the living, is the Cartesian split between a mechanical world of interaction and a mental world of thought. This dualistic and mechanistic view of reality is what science still uses today in its attempt to understand the world. Even Ken Wilber, the non-dual philosopher king himself, seems to slip into a dualistic way of thinking when he views attempts like Ervin Laszlo's “The Akashic Field” and Fritjof Capra's “The Tao of Physics” as reductionist attempts to understand spiritual reality. In fact, they are merely attempts to understand how the universe may be constructed in such a way that spiritual experiences emerge from it and come to be experienced in the way they are, namely, as an undivided (but not undifferentiated) unity of wholeness, order, and meaning. Ken Wilber evidently assumes that reality is dualistic in terms of the physical and the spiritual rather than seamlessly entwined as matter/information (which is the view I will propose here), and therefore he erroneously assumes that physical explanations like Laszlo's and Capra's are necessarily reductionist.
There are alternative ways of viewing matter and causation to the prevailing view of scientific reductionism and Cartesian dualism. In David Bohm's theory all particles of matter are connected and related to all other particles of matter in an underlying implicate order, out of which they emerge into the explicate order of the manifest universe when interacting as dynamical standing-wave interference patterns that create the flowing forms of our universe. Each part of the universe is, in a sense, in-forrmed what to do by every other part in an undivided wholeness of holomovement unfolding from the implicate order into the explicate order, and then enfolding back again into the implicate in constantly flickering, flowing, and jostling vibration. The universe itself is more like an organism than a mechanism with separate parts, an entity of active information rather than inert matter.
In this view, the interior quality of physical matter is information, information moreover that is connected to a much larger whole than the organisms immediate environment, and this information acts as a kind of proto-consciousness insofar as it becomes full-blown consciousness with life (and later becomes self-consciousness) as the levels of self-organizing complexity within matter/information increases. All the while this matter/information is entangled and sometimes even quantumly coherent, and so in a sense it “knows” what it is doing in relation to the whole, and not only the whole (local) system of which it is a part, but of the larger environment as well, up to and including the entire planet and perhaps even the universe, such that evolution in the universe as a whole can be seen as a self-consciously guided process to the extent that it is a self-organizing process, in-formed by all the information past and present actively flowing into the future. To what extent then can an organism be said to influence the course of its own evolution through self-conscious, self-informing processes? Well, let's just say, probably to a similar extent that consciousness in humans has already been proven to influence the outcomes of random output generators. A small but significant influence biasing the outcome toward more coordinated order rather than more random chaos.
Therefore, it may be said that there exist subtle influences on the evolution of organisms that go far outside (and deep inside) the local system of immediate interactions we would normally attribute to evolutionary pressures. These non-local influences would include the morphic fields of forms that have taken shape before (such as the eye), which, as a cosmic habit, would guide the formation of traits in evolution through morphic resonance fields. These habitual forms, again, are not just limited to local environments but are planetary and perhaps even cosmic in their reach, and may be recorded in a quantum information field such as the implicate order, or an Akashic field, which would provide the templates for endless varieties of shapes and forms for physical matter, up to and including complex forms of life. This Form-container would act as the larger whole from which each part within it was in-formed of its relation to other parts in the whole, and from which it would be guided in the formation of its form and function within the normal (neo-darwinian) evolutionary process.
In the context of evolution, the ascending principle (Eros) is the interactions of physical chemistry, and of the organism with the environment, which builds more complexity and evolves the organism through selective pressures. But more interesting is the descending principle (Agape or involution) in the sense that it involves information from the whole (any and/or all the systems within which the organism or physical chemistry exists, up to and including Bohm's implicate order, the Akashic field, or some other quantum system) that in-forms the part toward a functional fit and therefore a purposeful efficacy within the larger whole. It is evolution from above, so to speak, rather than evolution from below.
And here is where archetypal or morphic fields are particularly important in our alternative story. In much the same way that there is within any historical moment that which points beyond itself, structured by an anticipation of its possible future (from capitalism to socialism, for instance), so biological organisms take form (in part) within such possible futures of themselves that "descend" from the potentialities within the larger whole to the part, as if the future (the whole) was reaching back to the present (the part) to influence or even open-endedly determine the future itself.
Of course, most of this functional fit is entropic waste in the form of an immediately useless or deadly mutational monstrosity, an eventual dead end, or an extinction. But in a few cases, for a temporary period of time, more order and complexity arises than existed before and builds upon prior forms of complexity continuously, so that, overall, evolution in both its ascending and descending operations tends toward ever increasing progress toward an omega point, the telos or purpose or potentiality, that was always within that form as a relational entity within the whole, which always pointed beyond itself to other horizons of what it could become. And it is in this sense that I think the recent archetype of the alien space being, for instance, may actually be one of our potential future selves reaching back from the future (the larger whole within which we have our being) into the present, calling us forth to its purposeful end, just as the gods have done for humans over many millennia.
In the new paradigm of Trans-Darwinian evolution, biological evolution is seen as coming out of the matrix of a complexly entangled space that we may variously call the implicate order, the hologram holomovement, or the Akashic field, and until Neo-Darwinian theory can account for this and how it influences evolution, it is an incomplete theory, and cries out for supplemental explanation.