Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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".
Joe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Collective Ritual Invocation of an Integral Post-Metaphysical Spirituality
The cosmological and evolutionary revelations of our times are, quite literally, the Second Coming of the divine revelations the traditions so frequently refer to.
Newton gave us the laws of gravity which were then refined by Einstein's general theory of relativity, but there has not yet been a refinement of the Cartesian dualism between mind and matter. There is still a dichotomy in the debate between scientific materialism and its skeptics where either physical matter or consciousness is prioritized and then given supremacy of importance and origin over the other. But this is a false dichotomy precisely because there is in fact no clear distinction between mind and matter. For matter is not merely an inert object but is filled and surrounded with information, information about size, mass, charge, spin, momentum, etc., which is in constant exchange with other matter in the environment, matter that might even be said to “know” how to respond and interact according to a fixed set of forces and physical laws.
Moreover, matter is information that is itself finely tuned to creating life and consciousness such that they may be seen as enfolded into the cosmos much like an oak tree is enfolded into an acorn. Indeed, the information in matter, and that is matter, has been pre-coded by the constants of nature to unfold into a full-blown form of life-consciousness over time wherever the right conditions exist in the universe for this to happen. Thus, matter is actually a kind of proto-consciousness, which through a series of stages of complexification over time becomes atoms, molecules, self-replicating cellular automata, life, and ultimately the full self-consciousness of culture and human civilization that we know today.
The implication this has for quantum physics is that there is no before and after the observer-effect, where the manifestation of a concrete reality requires consciousness to collapse a wave-function to realize the multiple and uncertain probability-states of matter, for consciousness (the observer) is always already there in the information of the environment. Indeed it has been an observer-participant universe from the very beginning of space-time, the primordial quantum fluctuation being the original act of “observation” (or informational difference and contrast) that collapsed the wave-function of the universe into existence. The wave-function itself laid-down the dimensions of space-time (the four quadrants), as well as the forces and parameters of the universe that would almost instantly and automatically give rise to the finely tuned constants of nature that are just right for the emergence of stars, galaxies, planets, and ultimately life and the self-consciousness of the universe of itself, in the form of human beings and who knows what other forms of advanced intelligence in the far reaches of the cosmos.
Panpsychism is the idea that mind is everywhere and in everything, and that sentient consciousness is inherent to the workings of the universe. Biocentrism is the idea not only of the centrality of sentient consciousness in the universe, but that its purpose and ultimate destiny is one with biological purpose and destiny, whatever that may turn out to be, but which most certainly includes self-autonomy and self-mastery, and to such an extent that the universe may eventually become as a single living organism capable of self-directed transformation in its own evolution, like the awakening of Brahma from His sleep. These are precisely the ideas that are proposed in James Gardner's Biocosm and The Intelligent Universe, as well as in Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machine's, Lee Smolin's The Life of the Cosmos, and others. I believe that what we are seeing in these ideas is the foundation, both mythic and scientific, for a new narrative of humankind and the cosmos for the 21st century and beyond upon which to base a collective understanding of our place and purpose in the universe.
Along with the theory of evolution, the basic revelation for our times, which is less than a hundred years old, is that we live in a universe filled with billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, many of which are surrounded by planets similar to our own planetary system, and many of those are probably teeming with life and even advanced civilizations. Upon this basic revelation a re-enchantment of the imagination is possible, reuniting us with our ancient and archaic gaze towards the heavens in what was perhaps the first glimmerings of our spiritual wonder and awe as a species. This re-enchantment and archaic revival is now perhaps inevitable given the general decline of secular materialism and the rise of a new sensibility that sees spiritual significance in the scientific discoveries of our times. Alongside the discredited and crumbling path brought to us by capitalist exploitation, oppression, and destruction in the pursuit of power and money with unbridled technology and militarism, a new evolutionary and cosmological narrative, and a new sensibility of cooperative networks in sustainable relationship to each other and the planet, promises a truly Kosmic and integral civilization.
One question that emerges from this speculation about our possible future as a civilization is what institutional and collective ritualistic forms might this new spiritual sensibility take? Of course, no one can predict or even should plan the future ahead of those who will be actively engaged in creating and living in it, but there are instructive and constructive uses of the imagination for beginning the process, and that is what I will briefly try to do here. First of all, the new evolutionary and cosmological revelations need a place of contemplative meditation, and just as the temple, church, or mosque have provided places of worship in the past, so the new evolutionary-cosmology based spirituality will need planetariums to act as places of gathering and contemplation of nature and the heavens, where visual projections and sermon-like presentations of the story of evolution and the cosmos can be shown and told. Creating these spaces for ritual solidarity is essential for ingraining the habits of thought and practice that will become the basis of a new spiritual collectivity.
Every day at sunrise (for individual contemplative-meditation) and then again at noon and sunset (for collective contemplation), there could be a scheduled contemplative-prayer and meditation ritual, as in Islam today, which brings together its members around the world in solidarity. Simply taking time-out from the secular world of daily concerns for the purpose of remembrance and reverence for the sacred journey we're all involved in right here, right now, is an important and powerful disruptor of the dominance that ordinary secular consciousness demands of us for most of the day, every day. Major media outlets as well as work-places and schools could participate in what perhaps would only be a 10-20 minute scheduled time-out each day to contemplate the cosmos and our trajectory here on earth within it. The purpose of this would be to give institutional support (LR) to an existential narrative experience (UL) based in scientific facts (UR) and shared with others in solidarity (LL).
Remembering that this would all presumably take place in a post-capitalist political economy where workers had a shorter work-week and shorter and more flexible working hours, perhaps Thursday and Saturday evenings could be designated as “solidarity days” when planetariums would present special extended “sermons” on scientific topics for a general audience, after which there would be musical dance celebrations of various sorts. Perhaps a percussion drum-along with a dance pit would be best for creating a tribal feeling, but trance, minimal-techno, and drum-n-bass music with their energetic and international appeal might also work well in creating a celebratory solidarity. The pop-genres of rock and hip-hop and other local styles might also be featured, but ones with vicarious aggression or violence and materialistic or explicitly sexual content, as well as those with more parochial and mundane themes, would be discouraged for these occasions.
Absolutely essential to the ritual contemplative meditation schedule, the planetarium presentations, and the solidarity celebrations would be the use of psychedelics on special occasions (perhaps weekly or bi-monthly) with guided visuals at the planetariums and monitors to assist those who might be having a “bad trip” or who need additional guidance. These sessions would provide much of the substantive memory and inspiration for the more routine habits of contemplative meditation and attendance at the regular planetarium presentations. The non-ordinary state of transcendence, if not inter-dimensional contact with alien intelligence, that psychedelics give us is an important part of maintaining that sense of evolutionary and cosmic space-time and purpose that is so easily drowned out of our awareness through socialization and acculturation to daily life.
Isn't all this just pie in the sky? Maybe. Doesn't this ignore the realities on the ground regarding levels of development and peoples' willingness and ability to go along with a scientifically based evolutionary and cosmological spirituality? Perhaps. But if mainstream religious leaders, in a post-capitalist cooperative world of ecological sustainability, could be convinced that the cosmological and evolutionary revelations of our times are, quite literally, the Second Coming of the divine revelations their traditions so frequently refer to, then perhaps we could see a religious revival around the world in multiple religions, one after another or simultaneously, in a religion 2.0 reboot of humanity. Each religion and each identity within it would retain its particularity but would no longer be exclusively ethnically based by being tied to a particular ethnic history. Instead, the evolutionary and cosmic Big History of life and the cosmos could be the basis of a new narrative of a contemporary divine revelation, the revelation of our conscious awareness as the universe aware of itself, purposefully fulfilling its desire for autonomy and self-mastery (liberation) right up to the awakening and self-transformative power of the universe as whole, and all within a science-based story that is unfolding as we speak and sit here right now. To me, that's some pie in the sky worth eating.