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:


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.”