A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber Summary By ebookhike

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A Brief History of Everything
A Brief History of Everything

Author: Ken Wilber

Marry Freud and Buddha

A Brief History of Everything: Ken Wilber, the creator of integral philosophy, aims to find the truth in every culture and connect these truths in the common Cosmos as the goal of his life’s searches. Various attempts at this kind of synthesis are made all the time, but what usually comes out is not so much a synthesis as a clumsy compromise.

The difference between A Brief History of Everything and this kind of synthesis and ungrateful progressivism is primarily that it is history: each stage in the development of human consciousness is considered valuable in itself. The search process is endless, development itself is the Spirit-in-action.

Wilber uses two main tools to describe this process:

1) the concept of a holon was introduced by Arthur Koestler;
2) the concept of four sectors: “I” and “We”, “This is a single” and “This is a system”.

A holon is a whole that is part of a larger whole. The whole world can be represented as a hierarchy of holons (holarchy): atoms – molecules – cells, etc. The individual and the whole can be viewed both from the inside and from the outside – accordingly, there are four sectors or four faces of truth. “A Brief History of Everything” is a path from the original unity, when a person was not aware of his separation from the world, through the great division of the Enlightenment and various attempts at connection, to the fullness of “I”, “We” and “It”, again connected in a non-dual Cosmos.

Failures at any stage of development lead to pathologies (the more severe the earlier the failure occurred): a part of the personality splits off and gets stuck at the wrong stage. This is where Freud meets Buddha: in order to merge with the Cosmos, the “I” must be healed, and regain the lost fragments.

Space as a holarchy

The term “holon” proposed by Arthur Koestler means a self-sufficient whole, which is at the same time a part of another whole. Holons are both phenomena and stages of any process. What is whole today will be part of something tomorrow.

A common example of holons: atoms, molecules, etc. And here are examples of holons-stages: the tribe at the next historical stage turns out to be part of the people, the people are part of humanity, and it is part of the cosmos.

In each holon, horizontal and vertical forces operate: at the horizontal level, the power of organization/autonomy that maintains its internal integrity and identity, and the power of interaction with other holons. On the vertical level – the forces of self-overcoming (the holon renounces itself and enters the system) and self-disintegration (return to lower holons).

Self-overcoming (entry into a more complex system) is the basis of evolution. The creative activity of the Spirit is manifested in the emergence of new, more perfect forms, and this activity is inseparable from the structure (Intention) of the Universe. Development means that the higher holon includes the lower ones, and thus ordered hierarchies are formed – holarchies.

The number of levels of a holarchy is called depth, and the number of holons per level is called width. Obviously, in the process of evolution, the depth increases due to the width.

There are fewer molecules than atoms, there are fewer cells than molecules.

The general direction of development is towards greater complexity (this does not exclude regression: the path of evolution is tortuous). However, the new stage is not “superior” compared to the previous one. All stages are equal since the Spirit is present in each stage and transcends all stages, including them all. Development does not lead upwards, to the final truth, but to the depths, where the highest unity of all levels will be revealed.

Consciousness is not the opposite of matter and not a superstructure above it. It arises not at a certain depth of the holarchy, but at any of its levels: consciousness is the depth seen from within. Depth is everywhere, just as Spirit and consciousness are everywhere. But the greater the depth, the fuller the consciousness, and the more the Spirit is revealed.

Left and right hand

Any holarchy can be viewed both from the inside and outside, as well as an individual whole and as part of a larger whole.
A significant mistake is to forget that these are only images of holarchy or four equal truths. Most delusions are the result of reduction when a phenomenon or experience is considered only from the point of view of one sector or one side.

Upper left quadrant: experience comes down to personal inner states.
Lower left quadrant: religion instead of science, culture without society, collective consciousness without the personal.
Upper right quadrant: experience is reduced to hormones, brain waves, etc.
Lower right quadrant: objective reality, indifferent to the observer.

The search for new knowledge since antiquity has followed one of two paths – either the “path of the left hand” (internal) or the “path of the right hand”

The top left sector corresponds to the pronoun “I”. Lower left sector – “We”. The upper left quadrant represents the personal world view, while the lower-left quadrant represents the collective world view of the era. The right side corresponds to the pronoun “It” in the singular and plural.

The left side is subjective and speaks in the first person. It is the language of depth, and the greater the depth, the more the holon self develops. Empirical and analytical sciences (from the exact and natural sciences to positivist sociology, history, and behaviorism) operate in the language of “It” – objective, neutral, intended for external description. This monologue language lacks depth.

Right side – external observation – monologue.

Left side – interpretation – dialogue (interaction of subject and object).

Both the upper left quadrant (“I”) and the lower-left quadrant (culture) are described from within in an intersubjective dialogue.

You can observe a person’s behavior and measure his brain activity, but only the person himself will tell what he thinks about and what is motivated.

The interpretation is related to the context. To understand the behavior, you need:

• observe it from the sidelines;
• ask me about my feelings and thoughts (to enter into a dialogue);
• take into account the context of my culture; • take into account the economic and social structure.

The evolution of consciousness and society

Social and economic structure and consciousness mutually determine each other.
A holon of a certain level cognizes itself and, having cognized it, strives to move to the next level. Each stage is distinguished by the mode of economy and production, technologies, values ​​and norms, the type of religion, and the status of a man and a woman.

In a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society, men hunted, while women gathered fruits, and took care of the household and children. During this period, female and male roles were strictly separated but were considered equivalent. The values ​​of obtaining food and reproducing offspring at this stage were united (there was a “familiarization of a man”, the placement of a man in a family). People lived in families.

“The man took over the hunt, freeing pregnant women and women raising children from it. “

This period corresponds to archaic thinking, in which a person does not separate himself from the world around him. The same feeling is characteristic of an infant.

In the next stage, there is a transition from a primitive family to a tribe, from the separated functions of a man and a woman to joint activities to ensure not only food but also supplies. Historians often place the agricultural period immediately after the prehistoric period, but the agricultural period is divided into two stages: horticultural and agricultural.

“A significant part of the garden work was done with a hoe or even a digging stick and was within the power of a pregnant woman. “

In the horticultural period, a woman becomes a breadwinner on a par with a man, society is matrifocal. This corresponds to magical thinking (early childhood) when a person separates himself from the physical world and “magically” receives what he wants from it. During this period, people live in tribes, and the tribe is the highest holon.

“The early agrarian period is characterized by the cult of the Mother Goddess, which will then be replaced by a predominantly male pantheon.”

With the transition to arable farming with the help of a plow drawn by draft animals, a division of labor occurred again, since this work was only possible for men. And since the agrarian society produced more than it consumed, other historical processes began:

• socially and culturally determined division of men and women; • dominance of men as producers and owners of wealth; • creation of large human communities – cities, countries, empires (testosterone broke free and proved itself in conquests); • the beginning of specialization and cultural activities.

There is a secondary separation: a person realizes himself not only as a separate physical being but also as a being endowed with both body and consciousness. This period corresponds to mythological thinking: the appearance of many gods, longing for the lost paradise (primary integrity).

“For a child, parents and other significant adults become such mythological creatures: he can no longer get everything he wants “magically”, but he hopes for their help and tries to earn their favor.”

In a developed agrarian society, in the so-called Axial Time (VIII-VII centuries BC), the first sages of both the West and the East (Buddha, Pythagoras, Socrates) appeared, looking for a universal explanation of all phenomena. They looked much deeper than the average level of the then consciousness, and we are repeating their path (modified in one way or another) now.

At all stages of pre-rational thinking, the “I” is not yet separated from the “We” (culture and religion) and from nature and its knowledge (science). In the form of such a Big Three, sectors also existed in the Middle Ages.

“Science was subordinated to religion. The state was punished for “heretical” thoughts. A person was completely determined by belonging to a confession, religion, estate, and state.”

great division

The essence of the Enlightenment is the division within the Big Three: “I”, culture and nature begin to differ. This is a huge step forward for mankind: from now on, knowledge can be searched for and produced in every field independently of others.

The new level of individualization achieved by the Enlightenment gave humanity a lot that we still use to this day:

Democracy – thanks to the distinction between “I” and “We”, the value of the voice of each is realized, and the individual is freed from the hierarchy of church and state.

Science – the distinction between “We” and “It”, culture and nature, led to the realization of objective reality and the flowering of sciences freed from dogmas.

The concept of human dignity and the struggle against all types of oppression (from slavery to the inequality of minorities) grew out of the distinction between “I” (mind) and “It” (nature): physical strength ceased to give superiority to some people over others and serve as the main source of production and the acquisition of wealth.

The liberation of science from the dictates of religion, ensured the development of industry, multiple increases in well-being, and an increase in average life expectancy by several decades.

Since the “I” was separated from the general cultural “We”, and objective reality (nature) began to be given more importance than culture, this naturally resulted in the abolition of religious and other boundaries, and the idea of ​​single humanity was formed.

But the Enlightenment paradigm, in turn, turned out to be incomplete: it reduces all reality to the language of “It”, considering it the language of true reality. All parameters of the left side are explained in the language of the right side (reductionism).

The paradigm of Enlightenment (Newtonian, Cartesian, mechanistic) is a paradigm of representation or reflection: there is only one reality of the sensually perceived world, and the task of the subject, the observer, is to accurately reflect the laws of this world, to draw up its “map”.

Truth is unique, objective, and comprehensible. This paradigm is dualistic: the cognizing subject and the cognized object are completely separated.

“For classical science, any personal statements are unacceptable. It relies on verifiable experience that any colleague can replicate.”

The great division was carried to the extreme in nineteenth-century philosophies that deified either nature separated from man (Eco) or man separated from nature (Ego). The struggle between these extremes continues in our time.

Everyone is familiar with both the “triumph of man over nature” – cutting down forests, exterminating animals, polluting the sea, building an advanced society, and the fierce humiliation of a person who “defiles everything he touches”.

To get rid of reductionism, it is important to understand where to look for the truth. In the deepest sense, truth in harmony with reality. Having renounced egoistic fantasies, a man appears face to face with the order of the Cosmos. But such is the Truth as the unity of all four sectors. Separately, the criterion of compliance in each sector is special.

From the point of view of the upper right quadrant, the statement “it’s raining” is true if it is true, i.e. corresponds to the reality “outside”. From the point of view of the upper left quadrant, that is, the inner space of a person, the question is different: whether a person is telling the truth or lying, that is, acting, a subjective criterion of sincerity and trust arises. (In addition, a lie can be unintentional, “subconscious”: a person does not always know all the holons of his inner world, and even more so does not always interpret them correctly.)

The subjective world is not limited by the inner space of the subject. A person is in the intersubjective space of culture. In the lower-left quadrant, the truth condition is cultural conformity. The goal of cultural fit is mutual understanding.

“People who live together need common laws, moral standards, even traffic rules. The lower left sector is responsible for such truth.”

If the upper right sector is the external side of individuals, where the truth of a judgment about a separate fact is evaluated, then in the lower right sector, the criterion becomes a functional correspondence to the system, the interaction of holons in the system.

Would it be correct to assume that there are systems in the lower-left sector as well? There, too, we are talking about conformity – about cultural conformity, the adaptation of the individual to a common culture. However, systems theory is also a manifestation of Cartesian dualism, and this must be understood in order to understand the reasons for the rebellion against the Enlightenment and the origins of postmodernism.

We are here

The monologic paradigm of the Enlightenment, the “map” without the “cartographer” is not transcended in systems theory. Both lower sectors deal with the collective space, but the fundamental difference is that the left sector displays systems from the inside as a worldview, ethics, values, and collective personality, while the right sector describes the system in objective terms. The right sector is “not interested” in mutual understanding and intersubjective transfer of values. Here, values ​​are expressed objectively and functionally coordinated in a uniquely interpreted social system.

Again there is a reduction of subjective phenomena and intersubjective dialogues to a monological functional correspondence. Compared to crude reductionism, which reduces everything to the upper right quadrant, to “atoms”, this is more subtle – and yet reductionism.

“Rough reductionism was parodied by Socrates, who said: one can, of course, explain that Socrates is sitting here by the fact that he has muscles that bend his legs in such a way that he can sit down. But subtle reductionism, which will explain Socrates’ unwillingness to escape from prison by the determinism of the social system, will also leave out of the conversation both Socrates’ personality and the general values ​​that he came to understand together with his students.”

Trying to overcome the great division, philosophers and poets roll back to much earlier states of humanity, glorifying the great unity of myth, pre-agrarian economy, and the dissolution of man in nature.

In fact, the romantic “return to nature” is just as much an industrial “religion” as the rationalism of the Enlightenment: the Enlightenment masters objective reality with the help of the mind, and romanticism with the help of the senses.

A dangerous manifestation of regression is a rollback from the universal stage reached by the Enlightenment to ethnocentric, tribal ethics.

“Isolationism, racial segregation, fascism are all manifestations of a reaction to a high level of unification of mankind and, at the same time, to a too deep separation of the left and right paths.”

The main limitation of the Enlightenment paradigm, “maps”: do not take into account the influence of the cartographer. At the new stage, the static nature of truth and its independence from the observer is overcome and the postmodern era begins, when both the external world and the inner “I” are realized in constantly changing states. In postmodernity, from the world of predestination, we find ourselves in a world where there is no certainty. Most often, the reaction to this is extreme constructivism: all worldviews are declared equal and equally arbitrary (conditioned by society and culture).

“The world of equal concepts, conditioned by the background of the observer, is multiculturalism, very fruitful for a person to know himself, but not too encouraging dialogue: if all points of view are arbitrary, what is the point in a joint search for truth?”

Multiculturalism is a high level of consciousness, which at this stage of human development is elitist (a small part of people have reached it). And this is the problem and the paradox of multiculturalism:

• Being an elitist worldview, multiculturalism is ethically egalitarian and upholds the equivalence of all worldviews.
• Impending globalism, the call to consider all cultures as equal causes a reaction of regression: people who have not reached this stage of consciousness, the more violently they cling to “their own”, again slipping into tribal consciousness.
• Multiculturalism strongly opposes tribal consciousness and intolerance, but “cannot explain” why they are bad if all points of view are equal. • Multiculturalism aims for a new level of unification, but encourages self-centeredness: if all points of view are equal, I will prefer my own.

Up the stairs leading down

The development of both man and human society occurs in certain stages that cannot be skipped. At each stage, damage and failures can occur, leading to pathologies. To reach the higher levels, it is necessary to return and regain the lost elements of the “I”.

“You can think of climbing as a computer game. At the start, everyone has 100 points. The correct passage of the level will allow you to purchase bonuses. Lost points (broken-off fragments of the personality) at first will not prevent you from moving on to the second and third stages, but the player simply does not have enough points to pass a higher level.”

Since we have already mentioned that the next stage is not better, not higher than the previous one, it would be more accurate to speak not about the upward path, but about the downward path, towards ever greater awareness. Visually, this path can be represented both in the form of a ladder and in the form of concentric circles: each level is overcome by the next and nested in it.

It is important to remember that there are not only rungs of the ladder, but also representations corresponding to each rung, as well as an individual (holon) walking on the ladder. At each moment, the holon uses its inherent driving forces – internal organization, interaction, self-transcendence (that is, advancement to the next level), and self-disintegration (regression) – to choose its path accordingly.

The first three stages of development (“fulcrum”) can be observed in a child:

sensory-motor level (the newborn feels his movements and states, but does not distinguish himself from the environment);
birth of the corporal “I” (separation of one’s physical body from the environment);
the birth of the emotional “I” (separation of their emotions from the physical body).

These three stages (points of support), which the child now passes from birth to 4-5 years old, were once the general state of mankind (magical, than mythical consciousness). These stages are also conventional: self-care.

“Violation of development in these early stages threatens with especially severe pathologies: narcissism, impulsiveness, hedonism.”

Further, the ability to cooperate awakens, and the distribution of roles begins. Care spreads gradually from a group of loved ones to a tribe and a nation, and finally to all of humanity.

There are two more conventional stages (support points):

• At fulcrum 4, care and participation extend beyond the Self to the group (ethnocentrism).
• A mature cosmopolitan ego develops at fulcrum 5.

The driving force of evolution is aimed at achieving ever greater depth and overcoming egocentrism: from conventional stages to conventional and post-conventional. At the conventional stages, a concrete-operational mind develops, and then a formal-operational mind.

“One learns to see the other’s point of view. If you put a ball between a small child and the experimenter, colored red on one side and green on the other, and ask what the experimenter sees, the child will answer that the other person sees red – like himself. When a child begins to understand that the other person sees differently, cooperation arises. “

The formal-operational mind in our culture appears at the age of 11-15 years. This is the next phase of development after rationalism: consciousness thinks about thinking itself. At this stage, the Spirit for the first time in the history of mankind (for the entire evolution of man) looks at the world through the eyes of a person and sees the global world, completely separated from the beholder, but requiring participation and compassion.

This peak of awareness of one’s own consciousness, separation from the world, and the need to “do something with this world” in the history of mankind corresponds to the existentialism of the twentieth century, and in the history of man – to teenage maximalism and despair.

The essence of the existential crisis is that the personal level of development is completed, and the transpersonal level has not yet been reached. Existential horror on the edge – on the edge of the transpersonal.

Transpersonal and post-conventional levels of development of consciousness begin for humanity (so far for individuals) now. We still do not distinguish everything in them and comprehend some of their features as we pass through these levels.

The first edition of A Brief History of Everything came out more than twenty years ago, when postmodernism, multiculturalism, and deconstructivism were just beginning to spread. At that time, Ken Wilber considered these phenomena to be part of the “integral centaur”, but in the anniversary edition, he separated postmodern pluralistic relativism as stage No. 6, and assigned the “integral centaur” No. 7.

The integral centaur, which in the socio-economic structure corresponds to the dominance of digital technologies, has a visual-logical consciousness. Rational thinking is united in it with mythic; visual logic is able to integrate parts into a whole and see the entire network of interactions. At this level, universal pluralism is organically combined with the protection of individual rights.

This is a post-conventional stage, a deep level of development, at which we can look ahead and see the future: from cosmopolitanism – to empathy for all living beings (ethical ecology) – to empathy for all holons (oneness with the Cosmos) – non-duality, merging with emptiness and possibility all forms.

With the help of mentors, while pursuing one’s development, it is possible to even now to go beyond the general level, to these higher stages. But universal sympathy obliges, following the ascending path, to follow the descending path: to return to the previous stages for their broken fragments and to help those who follow.

Ultimately, the unity of the Big Three awaits us again. You can use Buddhist terminology and say: everyone will see that “I” is the Buddha, know the Dharma (the truth known by the Buddha), and enter the Sangha – the community of knowers. And then the time of truth and truth will come in all sectors:

truthfully and sincerely a person will call himself a Buddha, the highest beauty;
The high point of both cultural conformity and fairness will be the statement “we belong to the community of the Spirit”;
the complete objective truth will be revealed: all holons have Buddha-nature and are perfect manifestations of the Spirit or the generative form of non-dual emptiness.

11 best thoughts

  1. Everything is made of holons. A holon is a whole that enters as a part into another whole. Holons of a higher level do not cancel the previous ones but include them.
  2. The spirit is present at any level of the holarchy. It is more correct to speak not of a higher level, but of greater depth. Depth is measured by consciousness.
  3. A complete understanding of the holon includes four sectors or four faces of truth: internal (“I” and “We”) and external (single and general “It”). The inner path of cognition refers to the “left hand”, and the outer path to the “right”.
  4. The personal world of a person is not limited to the upper left sector (“I”). The subject is revealed in the dialogue in the intersubjective space of culture.
  5. Consciousness moves towards complete comprehension of the “I” and complete merging with the Cosmos in non-duality, where there is no division into Spirit and matter, “I” and “It”.
  6. Stages in the history of mankind, like the stages of human development, are characterized by increasing individualization and an intensifying search for synthesis.
  7. In the pre-rational period, the unity of the “I”, culture, and nature is preserved. The physical “I” is gradually allocated, and then “I-consciousness”.
  8. The great separation of the right and left hand occurred during the Age of Enlightenment. Nature begins to be understood as an objective reality that overshadows the subjective reality of man.
  9. Various attempts to overcome the Great Separation proved to be incomplete. They led to the dominance of nature or the ego, to dreams of regression to a tribal or even pre-tribal state.
  10. The multiculturalism of the postmodern era was a response to the challenges of the Enlightenment, however, it also carries insoluble contradictions: recognizing the equality of all points of view, how to explain why some of them (racism and other forms of intolerance) are worse?
  11. The forthcoming full comprehension of the truth means that a person realizes the Buddha in himself, his belonging to the community of the Spirit, and the presence of the Buddha-nature in the holons.

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