An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Layman Pascal is a public speaker, nondual theologian and yoga & meditation teacher based in Victoria, British Columbia. His family has lived in the coastal islands for five generations. He is a writer on themes of cultural philosophy, shamanism and organic spiritual development. Lately he has been active as a board member of the Foundation for Integral Religion and Spirituality and a founder of the Beyond Interfaith project.
Here is some bonus content not originally on the schedule. Following up on his recent conversation with Frank Visser on "Eros and Evolution," Layman Pascal dons ritual headgear and offers a condensed, post-metaphysical statement on Eros in an evolutionary sense. - Bruce Alderman
So I am proposing that the slow drift can be associated with a kind of probability skewing in favor of greater convergence and integration.
Hopefully you will not be excessively insulted that I consider you to be my colleagues in this inquiry. It is an old investigationthis delicious puzzle is how LOVE and MECHANISM operate together over the endless history of changing forms. Contemplative minds, in 19th century Europe and America, treated this as a wrestling match between Christian altruism and Darwinian selfishness yet the basic outlines of these arguments can be found in the fragmentary writings of early Greek sages and perhaps in the haunting glyphs of even earlier civilization. We stand before the question together, now, just as they did. And if your ardent wish is to quickly make up your mind about whether or not “eros” is a real player in “evolution” then you will doubtless be confused or disappointed by my confessional testimony today. I am not intending to take sides on this issue but to enter, with greater precision, into the exquisite Hinterland between the positions...
Let me begin by saying that I embrace a particular version of the integral “four quadrants” and “four states” as a description of my experience of Realityand therefore also of my assumptions about the type of universe in which evolution occurs. This is a multi-dimensional situation. However that does not mean that it needs to be a metaphysical or traditionally religious situation. I will propose some notions of Eros that may be applicable in Reality, as I understand it, but I will nevertheless oppose the phraseology that concretizes the poetic metaphor of Eros into a pseudo-scientific fact as if that were the necessary solution to some yawning explanatory gap in the natural sciences. I will also oppose any infinite or unthinkable “force” that is imagined to enter the whole system from the non-existent “outside” in order to “drive” changes in a particular direction that “it” desires.
Darwinism is dangerous. Not because it can be used blithely by ethnocentric social engineers and capitalist predators (to justify what they would be doing anyway) but rather because we often assume we know what Darwinism means when we really don't. That is especially true today. The popular idea of Darwinism (bugaboo of many resurgent monotheists and “intelligent design”-ers) is a feeble and misleading understanding of a beautiful insight. This false impression is due, in no small part, to the unpleasant demeanour of many “populari-czars” who wish to present themselves vainly as realists... and also to present their own grievances under the protective aegis of hard-nosed science. Many self-proclaimed Darwinists are enough to make anyway flirt with Intelligent Design. But today's actual neo-Darwinism works hand in hand with neo-Lamarckian epigenetics, symbiotic evolution and the understanding that DNA provides a toolkit of flexible and combinatorial “routines” that can be used in widely different types of bodies (phenotypes) without needing to be uniquely evolved on the spot. All of that is well accepted. And legitimate debate continues about where and how well these Darwinian evolutionary insights can be generalized and applied in other areas.
Does the evolutionary process, which works primarily with integrated viral clusters (genes) as replicators, get mirrored in the unfolding dynamics of bodies, groups or cultural ideas? “Yes and no” is the main answer from all leading biological scientists. They're working on it. Nonetheless, it would be difficult to find a model that is more proven, useful and productive than the Darwinian theory. It says, simply and gracefully, that Nature has the built-in ability to carve itself rather quickly into distinct and “intelligently” adapted forms of life without a plan or overviewmerely by experimenting and reproducing where there is adequately environmental feedback. Organisms whose functional, gene-derived shapes are better adapted to their personal relationships and ecological niches are, obviously, more likely to survive long enough to reproduce fertile offspring before death. Thus these genes are more likely to get copied into the future. This is an Art great enough to produce virtually all the magnificently intelligent and glorious patterns we find in the record of the terrestrial biosphere. And although it is predicated upon a mechanism of survival, this “survival of the fittest” is fundamentally a struggle with yourself to fit into your real circumstancesand only secondarily and often infrequently a fight to outdo other members of your species.
Now, Darwininsm selects from among changes but does not care whence the changes come. It does not, in fact, insist that they are “random mutations” but, rather, that it makes no difference whether they areor not. They might as well be random. If you discovered proof that ancient aliens spliced our DNA, or that some remarkable interior process exerts intention upon gene mutation, these influences would stand before the Darwinian Gate of Reproduction exactly as if they were a product of pure chance.
If we wished to articulate this 'mythopoetically'and I view myth as psychologically important for human beingswe would require both an Eros (the improvisational production of new hopes) and a Thanatos (an appropriate culling, selection and discrimination). Cancer and Suicide would be examples of either force, Eros or Thanatos, operating excessively on its own without sufficient integration with its reciprocal.
However, to call these “forces” is to impute a kind of false physicsone that does not help much with the study of actual physics nor even with the evocative power of myth. You may get a short term boost in mythic efficacy by asserting poetry as factbut, over time, this both disturbs the growth of knowledge AND shuts down the processes by which our subconscious instincts select for nourishing mythic impressions.
Although Darwinism does not require Chance it is nonetheless closely aligned with the principle of unpredictable, complex patterning. The observations of computational complexity sciences suggest that seemingly random processes are not non-deterministic but simply complex enough that no other complex system (such as ourselves) can directly predict them. This has a bearing on the following question:
Can Chance give rise to Order?
That is a bad question. Or rather it is a good questionbut only for counterbalancing equally bad dogmatic ideas which insist that any observed contemporary order must have its source in an Original Orderly Phenomenon such as a Creator God. That is a purely metaphysical notion which is usefully re-contextualizd... when we understand it is literally just as reasonable to assume that order evolves naturally from chaos by blind mechanisms. Yet neither of these ideas are quite correct. They involve out-dated populist notions about the difference between determinism and randomness.
We see in our existing world two kinds of production of order (or intelligent design). The first kind is an extension from previous organization. A painter gives rise to a painting. A parent gives rise to a child. However, when look closely we get into a non-explanatory infinite regress where we end up having to ask where the First Organization came from! And only Chaos presents itself as something from which the First Order could emerge. On the other hand, the second kind of production of order that we see today is when it emerges naturally from disorder under certain special thermodynamic conditions. However this is not purely random. The special conditions are very precise and we also know that apparently disorderly patterns may be entirely predictable at speeds that simply exceed what the computations of human brains can accomplish.
Philosophically, we end up facing the fact that even if all Order originally comes from Disorderthis Disorder has to be already organized enough to accomplish that task. It must exhibit a minimum property of Order already in order to operate coherently as Disorder. Even to distinguish it from Order requires that it be, in some sense, precise and self-consistent. Something organized in distinction from something else. A small requirement but an important one. We cannot quite roll our thinking back to a point of original Order or Disorder. Our only option of thought turns out to be a minimally interlinked quasi-threshold of dis/order.
Philosophical reasoning like this about the preconditions of experience is not common to evolutionary biological scientistsand need not be. However such explorations ARE necessary for the evocation of integrative interdisciplinary meta-models. In that kind of work we find that certain ontological principles are required in order for a Cosmos to function.
The physical universe, for example, has certain patterns and mathematico-physical constants without which it could not operate nor come into being. Such primary parameters in physics rest, in turn, upon certain basic syntactical assumptionsinherently presupposed by all models and all observations. A minimal set of pre-requisites for “real processes to occur” are implicit in all the Sciences but, generally, are of explicit interest only to mystics, mathematicians, logicians and philosophers. Since I fall into some of these categories, I shall have to make a quick personal statement:
In my own contemplative experience I, apparently, cannot avoid the sense of a nexusor perhaps an underlying rootto this interoperable web of implicit syntax that makes physics and thought possible. Perhaps this nexus even reiterates itself temporarily at certain sites in the history of the real Cosmos where a kind of balance, between the pull-upon-pulls of the basic parameters of the universe, dovetail into something like a mandalic set of unforced teleological aesthetics. That is a speculative extension of the underlying logic I'm reporting. Wink.
It looks to me like this nexus, in its most basic form, is a functional prerequisite for the self-processing informational proto-structure of any kind of energetic reality. Sentences like that, of course, are simultaneously wild and also very sober statements. It is quite plausible that the network of proto-computational patterns (whose mutual constraints make the interactive processes of a material-energetic universe possible) has a variably holographic or distributed epicenter that provides simultaneous convergence and divergence of the informational state of the whole system in each moment. Such sentences are unlikely to please either the scientist or the mysticbut I'm not convinced that is entirely my fault.
Most models of quantum mechanics (excepting the many-worlds model) feature informational nonlocality and instantaneous, or virtually instantaneous, updated information distribution. In such a universe, I do not think it is extraordinary to suppose that a convergence of the combined momenta of all the local unfolding patterns has some centralized-but-distributed means of outputting updated “system refresh” data. This nexus would necessarily SEEM to be both implicit AND outside of the system configuration... as well as seeming to be totally-informed, radiant and ultra-coordinated. I am not asserting this “God” as a fact. I am merely reporting a repeated observation of mine that I feel need not be in conflict with the universe of the natural sciences.
Any good integrative meta-theory must be prepared to have good relations with the shifting conclusions in the Sciences. A good integrative idea, for example, should work well with our current 13.5billion year estimate about the Big Bang but also validate itself independently of either that specific time frameor the general theoretical notion of a “creation singularity”. Either conclusion could turn out, at some point, to be a fictitious artifact of 20th century physics. Thus in my reasoning I imagine only a distant and primitive circumstance at which I provisionally think of the current regime of cosmic changes “starting” to evolve forward...
From this archaic point, we find the universe unfolding in a very straightforward and chance-like manner that progressively adapts to the production and securing of local habits of organization with incremental changes in what Eric Chaisson would call improved maximal “energy-rate density” among structures. Over the aeons, many features become regular and act as the launching ground for further emergent processes of additional production and destruction.
HOLONS WITHIN EVOLUTION
Within this arena of constant reinforcing, transmuting and destructive changes, there are certain special moments at which, to us, there appears to be a significant shiftand therefore also a history of these significant shifts. We think of them as the emergence of “wholes” that enfold-but-perpetuate prior wholes.
Thus holarchic chains begin to unfold, stacked upon each other, and these local successes might be described by special constraints upon the more general horizontal process of improvisational adaptation and selection that we call evolutionwhich is a process that frequently fails or accomplishes nothing progressive and whose successes are merely those of relational adaptation. Holarchic emergence is much more particular than that....
The history of Holons is a subset of general evolutionary change that is characterized by being (a) relatively rare (b) progressive in simplexity and subjective significance (c) increasingly able to freely repattern environments.
If I can believe my inner vision then the “information-syntactic nexus of the prerequisites of physical laws” plays a peculiar role in these holonic chains. That site of informational consilience, whereupon a certain harmony of forces is super-coordinated and fed back as updated and coherent data about the current general system-state, presents itself as the junction or docking point where every next unfolding holon structurally engages the current holon. This nexus looks to me as though it is distributed TO and AS holonsbut not as heaps. It is not equally ubiquitous in all space and time but is characteristized by a variable probability topology.
A MINIMAL TILT TOWARD INTEGRATION
Assuming, wildly perhaps, that this is the case, that ontology has a probabilistic “slant” in the direction of this nexus, is that therefore necessarily significant for the natural sciences Not very much.
Natural sciences should try to explain as much as possible with their existing assumptions. Parsimony is the virtue of systems. And if there is an attraction (“slope”) exerted by this Nexus then it should be conceived of as vanishingly small. This is quite appropriate for the infinitesimal and endlessly removed status of the self-processing informational proto-syntax in which that distributed nexus may be based.
Such an influence in the Cosmos would play a role only when “all things are equal”. That means that a small skew operates when no other more prominent skews are in the way. Einstein taught us that gravity is NOT a force but, rather, a universally distributed field of “geometrical slant” that can act like a force and provide energy in any local circumstance. We humans are currently slanted toward the Earth below but if that vanished or was counterbalanced effectively then we would become more subject to the ever present, but minimal, slanting toward the Sun.
Notably, however, in the history of life on Earth there are no prominent and regular instances of physical organisms being pulled off toward the Sun. Such an influence should therefore be considered to be as minor and infrequent as it is pervasive and consistent. Its general irrelevance to local history accompanies the equally true idea that, given enough time, it will win out.
So I am proposing that the slow drift (of a special subset of evolving forms mutating into progressive but temporary holarchies) can be associated with a kind of probability skewing in favor of greater convergence and integration. However I expect this to be minimal and to play little or no significant explanatory role in the natural sciences in the immediate future.
We might want to call this Eros (if we think of it as a striving) or even Agape (if we think of it as gravitation) but either way, to keep our postmetaphysical minds clear, we should NOT think of its as a deliberate agency entering history from “the outside” and “driving” the system forward to overcome unthinkable “gaps” in the progress of Science.
EROS IN OUR MINDS
However it is very understandable that the notion of an evolutionary ur-Drive stands out in more coherent, intricate and integrated brains. The more you personally experience yourself as a great number of holarchic enfoldings, the more the process of this particular kind of emergence is likely to become salient within your self-sensation. And as your powers of coherent thought, sensitivity and abstraction increase, it is progressively more likely that you will represent clearly to yourself the processes of ongoing changes (evolution) and novel accumulation (eu-volution). Your higher-level thinking becomes more and more capable of eliciting and feeling into a common polarization from within all your biopsychological drives and desires.
Those who have more sensitive nervous systems will also be inclined to treat their amplified experience of inner flows of excitement, pervading all their neuro-cognitive mapping functions, as a primal feature of realityespecially insofar as primal features of reality must, to some degree, be implicit in everything including that inner experience of stimulation. Therefore it is easy for more complex and integrated beings (more simplex beings) to conceive a common destiny for all urges and to feel a powerful over-tone that is shared by all their yearnings and which maps roughly onto their narrative image of the holonically successful subset of evolutionary history.
And while I feel this strongly, and associate it with the notion of the “nexus” I have described, I remain insistent that we be very cautious about asserting this as the mythic fact and essential nature of cosmic, biological and future history.
There is one other form of potential “eros” that should be consideredbioenergy. It is fairly well documented that life-energy is a useful metaphor which assists in basic physical health practices, ecological attunement and our access to flow states. However it remains possible that some life-friendly subtle energy, above and beyond mere bio-electromagnetism, could be verified with experiments and algebraic methods currently not in vogue. Perhaps it could even prove to be psionically responsive to particular types of subjective intention.
This seems self-evidently true to many people but rather extraordinary proof would be required to enter into the ledger of fact. Nevertheless it remains an open possibility for the natural sciences. Adequately clear hypotheses and explanatory models would have to couple with quantitative experimental observations in order to begin such a procedure of investigationand I encourage such things to proceed sensibly. This can all be part of the natural unfoldment of the scientific method to prove, disprove, surprise or confirm our ideas. Yet it is quite possible that even the confirmation of such an instinctively affirmed (but objectively ambiguous) “energy” still might play little or no significant explanatory role in evolutionary mechanics. One cannot say for sure but it would not shock me if 99.9% of evolutionary changes remained adequately explained without such an uncertain power even if it were somehow proven. We must try to remain and balanced about all these possibilities and not treat our description of the objective universe as a battleground upon which the highest values of our being depend.
I have tried to present my sense of the sciences alongside my philosophical speculations and personal mystical observations in a more or less coherent vision using the postmetaphysical standpoint of affirmative skepticism. It seems to me there are several plausible (but unproven) ways in which “eros” makes sense in the process of evolution but that none of this, real or not, has much significance for the current progress of the natural sciencesparticularly those of biological evolution. I hope that our meta-vision can hold space for the natural sciences on their own terms without necessarily sacrificing certain “classically spiritual” patterns that occur inside us with great vividness and with a power of supra-meaningful conversion. That is, I think, what is going on in my own case...
 Personally, I find myself, like Frederich Nietzsche, very interested in the notion of a general subjective correlate to all physical energy. He called it “will-to-power”or the impulse of “self-overcoming”and he was careful to distinguish this “as if” proto-intentionality from his mentor Schopenhauer's concept of a basic will-to-live, a will-to-survive. Trying to perpetuate yourself is not an adequate description of what everything always does. However, even if we began evolution with a more generalized idea of an underlying intent that is quite indifferent to survival, we would find that, eventually, only the SURVIVING forms of beings would carry their versions of that intent onward. Thus, given time, the vast majority of pathways engaged by the will-to-power would be those that do so with a survival orientation.
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