A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilbur

In order to understand why I consider this a personal development book, while most consider it philosophy, check out my last blog post here.

The basic gist is that personal development is a lot more than just getting a better job or a better relationship. My vision of personal growth is an optimization of your self, and that includes developing a large-scale, all-inclusive map of the world.

Books like these are a good place to start. In the same category I could also recommend Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (I won’t do a review of it, but you get the point).

What is A Brief History of Everything?

This is Ken Wilbur’s attempt to map the entire cosmos. Pretty big feat, but he does a good job.

I’ll attempt to explain his theory in a somewhat simplified manner.

In the first part of the book, Wilbur explains the structure of the universe in terms of holons. A holon is a whole that is also part of another whole, and can be just about anything. For example, an atom is a holon which makes up molecules which make up cells which make up living organisms. This can also be seen in language: letters make up words which make up sentences which make up paragraphs.

Another basic idea is that evolution is based upon the premise of transcend and include, among other things.

Think about that for a minute. That means that in order for you to grow as an individual, you not only have to transcend but also to include your past self. This can be seen if you study developmental psychology.

Wilbur then presents his theory of four quadrants. He says that every holon has 4 aspects:

  1. The inner subjective (I) in the Upper-Left Quadrant
  2. The outer objective (it) in the Upper-Right Quadrant
  3. The collective subjective (we) in the Lower-Left Quadrant
  4. The collective objective (its) in the Lower-Right Quadrant

It looks something like this:

wilbers-4-quadrants-from-integral-theory

He gives the example of the thought of going to the grocery store:

  • The inner subjective would be the thought itself
  • The outer subjective is the chemical and electrical processes of the brain to produce the thought
  • The collective subjective is the cultural beliefs and ways of being that allow the thought to mean anything
  • The collective objective is the societal structure that houses the culture

This theory is pretty sound. I didn’t find anything wrong with it.

The next main idea is the evolution of Consciousness of Spirit or however you want to call it. If Spirit is both the manifested and the unmanifested, the evolution is basically how Spirit comes to know itself.

Here are the levels:

  1. Sensoriphysical (matter)
  2. Phantasmic-emotional (body)
  3. Rep-mind (mind)
  4. Rule / Role mind (mind)
  5. Formal-reflexive Operational (mind)
  6. Vision-logic / Centaur (mind / soul)
  7. Psychic (soul)
  8. Subtle (soul)
  9. Causal (spirit)
  10. Spirit / Nondual (spirit)

The idea is that Spirit knows itself first as matter, then the body, then mind, then soul, then spirit. This all sounds very complicated, and it is a difficult concept to summarize. But if you want a roadmap of the human psyche, this is it. Or one of them, at least, but most of them follow the same approach.

The last 4 stages are all realizations of Truth, Nondual realization being the deepest.

Most people today are at Formal-reflexive, which is basically a rational mind. The next stage, the centaur, comes when you start to become aware of the mind as its own entity and dissociate from both the mind and the body in order to effortlessly use both.

This is the next stage for most of us, so briefly on how to get there: paradoxically, in order to develop true trust in yourself, you have to doubt everything about yourself.

The “self” you have to doubt is your ego: who you think you are, the idea that you are separate from reality, your mind, all beliefs, rationality and logic, your judgements, your self-biases, your moralizations, morals, culture, emotions that you are a slave to… doubt the shit out of this stuff, and in only a few years life will become effortless.

You will be able to trust your intuition, your body, your compassion for others, your direct experience, and creative muses. Now how much fun does that sound? (By the way, Wilbur doesn’t explain these details. Check out actualized.org’s video on Developing Self-Trust for a more detailed explanation).

So together with the 4 Quadrants and the Spectrum of Consciousness, Wilbur provides a wholistic map of the whole cosmos.

A good portion of the book discusses the stage of societal development we’re in now in terms of the Quadrants, and the domination of the “IT” Quadrants in today’s world.

Additionally, he has some very interesting things to say on gender wars, ecology, and psychological pathologies.

This book is written in the form of a question-and-answer, based on discussions Wilbur has had with people about his theory. This format works quite well for explaining it. You can also tell that the author is well-versed in literature, citing philosophers, psychologists, and thinkers throughout the ages.

All in all a good read. I would not have minded more examples, but the theory is surprisingly clear.

The Verdict:

Would recommend for anyone looking for wholistic growth.

Favorite quote:

“The whole game is undone, this nightmare of evolution, and you are exactly where you were prior to the beginning of the whole show. With a sudden shock of the utterly obvious, you recognize your own Original Face, the face you had prior to the Big Bang, the face of utter Emptiness that smiles as all creation and sings as the entire Kosmos—and it is all undone in that primal glance, and all that is left is the smile, and the reflection of the moon on a quiet pond, late on a crystal clear night.”

What’s the point?

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you have a wonderful year filled with much happiness and joy!

My advice for the new year is the following: don’t set new year’s resolutions.

There’s a very simple reason for this. What is the new year? It’s the Earth going around the Sun once more.

Now is that really a good motivator? Is it coming from an extrinsic motive or an intrinsic one? Which one do you think is more sustainable?

So if you’re serious about a resolution, you can keep that goal. But instead of it being based on a revolution of the Sun, find a more personal and intrinsic reason to pursue it.

For example, you want to lose weight, and 2017 is the year to do it. Great. Keep that goal in mind. Now try to find a reason for losing the weight. Do you want to be around when your kids grow up? That’s a true reason. Do you want to be able to go on adventures you never thought you could and truly experience life? Another good reason.

That’s my little pep talk on the new year. But in the same mood, I’m going to talk about what the hell is it that we’re aiming for anyway with all this personal growth?

Keep in mind that this is my idea of what growth looks like, yours could be different.

And I don’t think it is not what most people think of when they think of self-development. Most people think of only a couple of areas of life, most of which are pretty shallow. They think physical health, business skills and financial freedom, relationship skills, and a little mental fortitude.

I’m not saying these don’t have a place, I’m just saying that these are very externally-focused goals and will not bring about a deep change. Don’t get me wrong, I also study these topics. But the way I do it is mostly a means to a much deeper end.

Intrigued? Read on.

Part of this vision is a complete understanding, optimization and transcending of my self.

Lots of interpretations of that sentence, I know.

Some of the things that that includes is meditation, observing how I act, doubting my ego, doubting beliefs, becoming more natural, uncovering childhood events that explain how I act, and ultimately Enlightenment. Kind of an act of unwiring and rewiring.

This view incorporates both psychology from the West and spirituality from the East. Combining the best of both worlds to understand how we work.

The best part about this is that it’s a completely personal journey. Every man for himself. You can get the tools from other sources, but it’s not like a business book you can read and apply.

Another thing I’m aiming for is a deep understanding of reality and answering deep questions of Truth. For example: what comes first, consciousness or matter? What makes justification valid?

The more you understand how reality works, the more you will be able to appreciate it and stop living in your own little egoic world. It is the ultimate union of psychology and philosophy.

Being able to understand reality holistically means you can be at peace with it.

This all comes down to increasing your consciousness, which is your ability to see reality clearly.

High consciousness is:

⁃selfless and giving

⁃fearless and courageous

⁃not worried

⁃focused on direct experience over belief (which frees it from dogma)

⁃committed to truth and accuracy

⁃values learning and growing rather than tradition, free of culture

⁃intelligent machine

⁃creative

⁃spontaneous and organic, can find solutions on the fly

⁃takes 100% responsibility, especially for emotions

⁃humble

⁃big-picture thinking

⁃hyper-aware of back-firing

⁃characterized by indiscriminate love

 

So not a bad set of goals. Think how much better your life would be if you had all this.

Growing your consciousness fundamentally rests on six pillars:

1.Increase capacity to love

2.Increase capacity to feel happy independent of circumstances

3.Increase capacity to be intellectually open (entertain ideas and opinions that I am          unfamiliar with without getting emotional or defensive about them)

4.Increase capacity for self-governance

5.Increase capacity to face fear

6.Transcend selfish and protective motives

Now most of these are pretty broad, but you get the picture.

Another thing I think is important is life purpose. You need something to keep you grounded, and a way to impact the world in a positive way.

And this is where traditional topics of personal development come into play. You can’t be optimized on a bad diet. If you can’t manage a business well, how will you ever have time to do all this work? You may understand on an experiential level that you and your girlfriend are one, but you still need to know how to relate to them in their world. You have to learn the ins and outs of business in order for your life purpose to have an impact. Don’t discount the more basic, external sides of personal development.

I want to reiterate that you are completely on your own for this journey. Very few people ever consider, or even have a clue as to what this is all about. The good news is that so far it has made my life a whole lot richer in only about nine months. I can only imagine what this’ll turn into a few years down the line.

So if something here sparked your interest, good. Listen to that little voice.

Happy new year, and stay tuned for more!