Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe CorbettJoe 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 protected].


Integral Evolution by Analogy

Joe Corbett

the trigger for development and evolution is complex and can begin from any quadrant for virtually any reason.

Evolution can be thought of in terms of an analogy between bio-physical evolution and socio-cultural development. Such an analogy will help us visualize within a 4Q framework how evolution itself may occur from an integral point of view, that is, by considering the external neo-Darwinian factors of random chance mutations in the UR and environmental selection of functional fit in the LR, as well as the interior trans-Darwinian factors of quantum potentialities in the UL and Kosmic storehouse archetypal resonances in the LL.

From a socio-cultural level of analysis, we can take the example of the invention of the printing press in the 1450s. Here we have a technology in the UR (an extension of the hand) whose impact on the individual development of minds in the UL had wide-ranging influences on both cultural values in the LL and societal structures in the LR. The widespread availability of cheap books allowed reading of a greater variety to come directly to the individual rather than being mediated through an aristocratic and religious elite, leading to such cultural transformations as the Renaissance and the Reformation. But such reading, whereby a rational autonomous ego is formed through introspective reflection on meaning, was also instrumental in creating the kind of individual spirit, or spirit of individualism, that would be so important to the formation of the new middle classes of capitalist merchants and entrepreneurs, not to mention the method of scientific inquiry.

Of course, the causal sequence of history is complex and can be triggered by virtually any event or factor from any of the quadrants, but in this case we can say for practical purposes that a cascade of developments followed from a single mutation in the UR, the invention of the printing press. From there its vector of influence moved to the UL, where minds were changed and new forms of the self were forged, not all at once and already made but as potential forms of a new individual acting in the world. Eventually these new subjective potentials would be forged into new cultural subjectivities of meaning (LL) where they became articulated and stable forms, which could then expand outward and take hold as new structures of power within society (LR) that were functionally operative.

Alternatively, it is often the case in history that power in the LR is acquired by clever, advantaged, or strategically manipulative individuals even before a new collective subjectivity in the LL has been formed as the interior basis (ideology) for the new social order. In this case, the Kosmic storehouse of resonant formation in the LL is by-passed. In such cases the risk of there being a lack of functional fit between the parts within the social order is high, such as when a tyrannical elite imposes its will on the collective consensus. Discontent will emerge and riots or revolution may break-out if something is not done.

Because dysfunctional LR arrangements lacking in resonant LL meaning tend not to last very long, being too far from equilibrium to maintain order as a functioning system without an interior stabilizer, it is essential that religion or some unifying ideology such as nationalism, capitalism, or communism be imposed voluntarily or involuntarily within such tyrannical systems. Non-tyrannical systems, on the other hand, ones with organically grown collective subjectivities that expand outward to take hold of institutional power themselves, need not have destructive, anesthetizing, or otherwise rabid forms of compensatory ideology to hold themselves together as functioning systems.

What can this brief sketch of socio-cultural development in the West tell us about bio-physical evolution in general? From a simplistic point of view, it tells us that mutations in the UR are crucial to making use of if not actually creating the potentialities of inner form in the UL that will be resonated within the collective body of the LL. And if these forms then become widespread enough to act as mobilizers and stabilizers of collective thought and action, they can then be enacted into concrete forms of power and influence within the material environment of the LR. Often times, however, the route to solidification of forms in the environment goes directly from the UL potentialities of form to the LR collective structures by way of force and manipulation, by-passing the interior foundations of the LL. In this case, a collective interior must then be imposed on the collective formation at some later time to establish a stabilizing resonance between its parts in order to prevent it from disintegrating into dysfunctional chaos.

Mutations in the UR, potentialities of form in the UL, mobilizing and stabilizing resonance patterns between forms in the LL, and solidification of functional fit within the LR. All of these are necessary for either socio-cultural development or bio-physical evolution. But as I said before, the trigger for development and evolution is complex and can begin from any quadrant for virtually any reason. In the example of the printing press as a mutation that cascaded into a series of historical developments, it is arbitrary to say that it all began with that invention. In fact, that invention could never have taken place without previous inventions that served as the possible forms of the printing press once they were combined together. And those potential forms of the printing press would probably never have been combined in such a way if there wasn't the cultural practice of reading (the Bible in particular, by monks and increasing numbers of lay people), whose demand for more books served as an environmental pressure to find a way to make them cheaply and in mass quantities.

Thus, whether evolutionary development begins with an UR mutation is completely arbitrary, but it does often provide a clear and compelling explanation. In neo-Darwinian explanations an environmental pressure in the LR selects those mutations that are best suited for functional fit, and that's pretty much the end of the story. However an integrally informed theory of evolution includes chance mutation and selection but also accounts for the potentialities of form (UL) and their resonant formations as collectivities (whether molecular, organismic, or cultural) in the LL. And where the trigger for transformation occurs, according to an integrally informed evolutionary theory, is largely arbitrary yet dependent on all four quadrants, with interior and exterior causal linkages.

Whatever changes developmental or evolutionary transformation brings, we can be sure that it comes from a totality of forces encompassing interior, exterior, individual, and collective factors at all levels. Only an integrally informed theory of evolution, a trans-Darwinian theory, can take account of all these factors. We have a map of the tools we need for analysis in the AQAL. It is time to begin an era of integrally informed evolutionary theory.

Quantum potentials
Random mutation
Archetypal forms
Environmental selection

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