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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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Jim O'Connor has had an interest in theories of everything and the integral worldview since the mid 1990's. He can be contacted at jimocpublic@hotmail.com, while his blog can be found at spiritandthenwo.blogspot.com. He currently lives in Swindon, England.
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A Mandalic Approach to Development

Part 6: The Theosphere

Jim O'Connor

1 Introduction

Thus far in this series of articles I have concentrated on applying the mandala model to the issues of individual psycho-spiritual development and collective social evolution. In so doing I have attempted to show how it can account for all the features of Ken Wilber's paradigm, while also accommodating the various phenomena of development described by Michael Washburn and the other retro-romantic theorists, all within a holarchical framework. I also endeavoured to demonstrate how it offers a new way of conceiving of human interaction, based on the concept of "meaningful communication", and how this could be used to model the structure of the integral society.

In this article I would like to leave aside both interior development and the structure of the lower levels (the physiosphere, biosphere and noosphere) and take a moment to look at the overall external structure of a higher level of the holarchy (the theosphere) and attempt to show how it can also be modeled in a one-scale schema. In doing so, I will utilise a modified form of Andrew Smith's model, which I consider to be our best current holarchical model and the one that offers the most fertile avenue for the further development of integral theory. My concept of existence being mandalic will not feature too heavily in this article.

I believe it is possible to show that the one-scale model offers an intriguing way of understanding the structure of the theosphere that can be grounded in both mysticism and science, as well as offering an explanation for how some of the phenomena encountered during transpersonal development arise. As usual, I will give just enough of an outline of the one-scale model that my ideas can be understood, while leaving a more comprehensive treatment of it to Andy himself [1]. This brief summary will form our starting point.

2 Summary of My Model

In the version of the one-scale model that I am developing, existence is divided into four or more levels, the physical (the physiosphere), the biological (the biosphere), the social (the noosphere) and the spiritual (the theosphere), with each of these levels being further subdivided into a series of stages. Following Smith, every level has an identical structure - it begins with an autonomous holon, then progresses through a series of intermediate holons of increasing complexity, and culminates in another autonomous holon, thus completing the level. The final autonomous holon of one level then becomes the initial autonomous holon for the next level and so on. For those not familiar with these terms, intermediate holons are holons that are made up of heterarchical interactions of holons from (only) the previous stage, leading (schematically) to a nested structure, while autonomous holons are made up of holons from all lower stages of the level interacting in semi-autonomous forms, leading (schematically) to a mandalic structure. By way of illustration, taking the physical level, which is made up of holons from the atom to the cell, examples of an intermediate holon (the subcellular-organelle), and an autonomous holon (the cell) are shown below.

As stated previously, every level has an identical structure. The physical level, taken as a whole looks as follows:

  • Atom (autonomous)
  • Molecule
  • Peptide
  • Supramolecular structure
  • Subcellular organelle
  • Cell (autonomous)

Following on from the physical level is the biological, which has the cell as its starting autonomous holon and is made up of holons up to and including the organism. This level looks like this:

  • Cell (autonomous)
  • Simple cell unit
  • Complex cell unit
  • Organ
  • Organ system
  • Organism (autonomous)

Following on from this, the next level, the social, is made up of holons from the organism to the complex society, and looks as follows:

  • Organism (autonomous, e.g. lone individual)
  • Simple group (e.g. tribe)
  • Complex group (e.g. city state)
  • Very complex group (e.g. nation state)
  • Highly complex society (autonomous, e.g. planetary society)

Applying this pattern whereby the final autonomous holon of one level forms the basic building block of the next to the topic of this essay, the spiritual level, which is the level above the social, leads us to hypothesise that the theosphere must be made up of the increasingly sophisticated interactions of many highly complex societies, e.g. many planetary societies. At first hearing the natural assumption to make here is that this means that civilisations made up of intelligent life that exist on many different planets within the cosmos must be interacting in some fashion to form a spiritual sphere of existence. It may initially seem unlikely that such a thing could be occurring, as at present we know of only one such civilisation that exists in the cosmos, our own, and of no mechanism by which societies interacting could create a spiritual reality anyway.

However, we do know (from the reports of spiritual practitioners etc.) that the theosphere exists and so from the principles of the one-scale model we can infer that the civilisations that make it up must exist also, even if we are not currently aware of them, nor understand how they interact to create it.

However, the idea of many interacting civilisations existing in our cosmos is not the route I want to take in this essay. Instead I will explore another way in which many civilisations exist that will offer a radically different perspective on how a theosphere could be constructed. I will outline what this is shortly, but first we need to look briefly at the findings of another branch of knowledge, that of quantum physics.

3 An Interpretation of Quantum Physics

The phenomena associated with quantum physics are notoriously paradoxical and difficult to comprehend. Several different interpretations of them have been proposed, each with its own tribe of adherents, but each also with its own problems. One interpretation that has gained a following in recent years, partly because it requires less mental gymnastics in order to be understood than its rivals and partly because it offers a parsimonious model of the area, is the many worlds interpretation. This was first proposed by Hugh Everett in 1957, with its most well-known current proponent being David Deutsch of Oxford University.

The many worlds interpretation posits the idea that the universe we inhabit is just one of an infinite number existing side-by-side. These universes exist on a continuum from those that are very similar to our own, to those that are radically divergent. In those that are similar, nearly identical versions of us exist and have lives that are almost the same as those we have in the universe we are aware of, and become more different as the universes diverge. Eventually, universes diverge so much that they become unrecognisable from the perspective of our current reality. The total set of universes is so large (infinite, in fact) that it encompasses all possible events and outcomes, with everything that could conceivably occur taking place in a universe somewhere. This complete set of universes is known as the multiverse.

Universes that are highly similar interact with one another through the phenomenon of quantum interference. Although a full understanding of this requires a high degree of mathematical ability, it can be understood in basic terms from an explanation of how light particles interact with one another to cast shadows on a surface. Experiments studying this have been performed and show that when such particles travel through space, they actually interact with particles in nearby universes, causing them to form interference patterns when they arrive at their destination. Such interference effects, while weak, are significant enough to be noticed by us and, when analysed, disclose the existence of parallel universes.

The resulting many worlds interpretation of quantum theory is one element in an intriguing four-strand theory of everything that Deutsch has proposed in his book The Fabric of Reality (FoR) [2], with the other strands being epistemology, the theory of evolution and the theory of computation. Deutsch begins his book with a description of the shadow phenomena that point to the existence of parallel universes, before traversing the other three strands and culminating in several grand conclusions about the future of the universe. We do not need to accept all of these conclusions (for example, that the universe will one day be simulated inside a giant quantum computer) to draw from Deutsch's work a few very interesting observations about the structure of the multiverse pertinent to our current purpose.

4 Constructing Higher Stages

The first of these observations is that the entire multiverse as it has existed throughout its history can be broken down into a set of snapshots, with a snapshot being a single universe as it appears at a particular point in time. Doing this allows us to represent the whole history of the multiverse diagrammatically as shown below, with each grey block on the diagram representing a single snapshot.

Universes that are similar to one another appear closer to each other on the diagram and thus interfere with one another more strongly than those that are further apart.

What I would like to propose is that these snapshots are the autonomous holons from which the theosphere is constructed, and the mechanism of quantum interference is the method by which they interact.

If this hypothesis has any validity then, following the tenets of the one-scale model, it would mean that higher-order snapshots must also exist and be created hierarchically from the interactions of these original snapshots, thus forming the progressively more complex intermediate holons of the spiritual level.

For example, if we were to take a group of similar snapshots, we could imagine them interacting with one another through quantum interference to form a higher-order snapshot as follows:

And, thus, by combining the lower-order snapshots, which make up what we will call the gross plane, we can construct a whole new plane of reality, made up of these higher-order snapshots (which we will call hyper-snapshots), and which we could refer to as the psychic plane.

Repeating this process, we can construct a whole series of higher planes, each arising from the heterarchical interactions of snapshots on the plane immediately below. For example, here is how we could construct a subtle plane through the interactions of snapshots on the psychic plane:

By combining subtle snapshots, we could then construct the final intermediate stage of the spiritual level, the causal (not depicted here).

Once we have constructed all of these hierarchical planes, we would then be in a position to construct the final holon of the level, which we know from the tenets of the one-scale mode, would be an autonomous holon and would therefore consist of the semi-autonomous interaction of snapshots from all previous planes (gross, psychic, subtle and causal), with this structure corresponding to the multiverse in its entirety.

5 Societies vs Universes

Some readers may at this point have noticed a slight problem with the model I am presenting. I have stated that the final, culminating holon of the social level is the highly complex society, and therefore following the principles of the one-scale model we would expect this to form the starting autonomous holon of the spiritual level. Yet I have postulated that the starting holon of the spiritual level is in fact the snapshot, which is an entire universe as it exists at a given point in time, and which would appear to be something very different.

I suggest that we can solve this problem by recognising that there is a close relationship between a society of organisms and the universe as a whole. In Buddhist psychology, for instance, it is said that a given world is shared by all of the organisms living within it by virtue of the fact that they all share a common karmic root. This karmic root exists at a deep level of mind and links all of the organisms that possess it into a single shared worldspace.

A universe, in this view, requires a society of organisms for its existence. It is an entity made up of a society of organisms plus their world, with the world being a projection that they collectively hold in place from the deepest strata of their group mind. It is not projected merely from the mind of any one individual, but from that of the community as a whole. Thus, it has a longer lifespan than that of any single organism and exists for as long as the society manages to perpetuate itself. A universe therefore requires a collective group of conscious individuals living within it in order to maintain its existence. Without them, it would not be. This assertion obviously touches on complex philosophical issues such as idealism vs realism and the shared world problem, which, unfortunately, I do not have the expertise to address adequately. I will therefore leave the in-depth discussion of these matters to others and assume that the argument I have put forward here is plausible, based as it is on the insight of Buddhist masters throughout antiquity.

All of this means that the collection of societies that interact with one another to form the theosphere do not exist on different planets within our universe, as we had originally suggested, but in other universes that exist in parallel with one another and which interact through quantum interference. The starting autonomous holon of the spiritual level therefore is the society and so the principles of the one-scale model are not violated, and the universe or snapshot is merely an artifact of that society projected from its collective mind.

6 Many Worlds vs Wheel of Life

This understanding of the theosphere as being made up of the interactions of gross, psychic, subtle and causal worlds opens up the possibility of meshing our holarchical model with the worldview of the esoteric traditions, particularly that of Buddhism and Hinduism. In these religions it is claimed that existence is made up of a vast and dizzying conglomeration of different realms into which beings incarnate according to their actions and intentions - the so-called "wheel of life". Many of these realms are non-material, with a minority being material in nature. For example, within Buddhist teachings of all schools, there are six different types of world into which beings are born, inhabited respectively by gods, demi-gods, animals, hungry ghosts, hell-beings and humans. The non-material environments, such as the realms of the gods, exist on the psychic, subtle and causal planes, while the material world, which appears to be exclusively populated by human beings, and from where it is said that enlightenment can be most easily attained, exists on the gross plane. The total set of realms is known as samsara, from which it is possible to be liberated through the process of spiritual development.

This conception of the multiverse as including psychic, subtle and causal universes goes beyond the current understanding of physics, which at present studies only the gross plane. Presumably scientists will only begin to study the higher planes if and when they are compelled to do so by the emergence of a convincing theory positing their existence, if they begin to take the reports of spiritual practitioners seriously, or if certain other phenomena pointing to their existence become too significant to ignore. They may also be persuaded to do so if the mathematics modeling the multiverse starts to suggest that it is structured as an autonomous holon, as I am claiming.

7 Spiritual Development in My Model

In the one-scale model as proposed by Smith, the stages of psychological development traversed by an individual as he grows come from a gradual process of him moving from the lowest, archaic stage, to the highest reached by his society as a whole. In other words, psychological growth is a process of the individual engaging with successively higher stages of the social holon in which he lives. For example, an individual looking up at the structures of a tribal community will develop to the magical structure and no further, while someone seeking to survive in a complex modern society will develop to the rational stage. Stated generally, the interiority of a particular holon is derived from it "looking up" at a higher-order holon in which it is embedded.

In the modified version of the one-scale model that I am developing, I claim that the human compound individual is made up of body, mind and consciousness, with these existing in a "Russian doll" like structure. Thus, the mind exists inside the body and consciousness exists inside the mind. I agree with Smith that an individual's mental structures are derived from him looking up at the immediately higher holon in which he is embedded, i.e. his society, but go further than this and assert that his structures of consciousness (which is a deeper entity) are derived from him looking up at the holon above this, i.e. from the theosphere as a whole.

Transpersonal growth, in this view, is a process of consciousness development, rather than the development of mentality, through which the individual makes contact with successively higher stages of the theosphere (gross, psychic, subtle and causal). As this process comes to its culmination, this level is transcended completely in the experience of liberation (moksha) and a new level above the theosphere is attained, which I term the transcendental and which is associated with a still deeper entity within the individual, which (for want of a better term) I call emptiness. (Thus, the deeper the level of the psyche, the higher the holon it is associated with). As samsara is at this point transcended, rebirth within it need occur no longer (hence the experience of liberation), unless it is desired in order to benefit beings still ensnared there (the bodhisattva motivation). In my model, therefore, all the phenomenon described in the cosmologies of the East have a completely coherent explanation, and one that is fully compatible with a holarchical, as well as a scientific, worldview.

8 Conclusion

It is because it accounts for the phenomena of spiritual development so coherently, as well as being compatible with the structure of reality described in both mystical and scientific fields, that I believe the model I am proposing should be our prevailing holarchical model and should supersede both Wilber's AQAL paradigm and the previous one-scale model of Smith. There is much more I could say about my model and how it explains the various aspects of mystical development, but in order to keep this article short and understandable, I will leave it there. I may come back to this topic in a future essay and attempt to elucidate my paradigm in more detail.

Footnotes and References

[1] Smith, A. (2000). Worlds Within Worlds: The Holarchy of Life. Self Published in E-Book Form.

[2] Deutsch, D. (1997). The Fabric of Reality. Penguin Books.




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